Will Australia’s ‘miracle economy’ keep on winning?

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It was the year Australia went to war in the Gulf, when Monica Seles and Boris Becker won tennis grand slams in Melbourne, and The Simpsons was first shown on Aussie television, while a swooning Bryan Adams was a hit with love-struck teenagers (“Look into your heart, baby”).

It was 1991, and the last time Australia tasted the bitter economic taste of recession, defined in these parts, at least, as two or more back-to-back quarters of negative growth in real gross domestic product, or the value of all services and goods.

Since then, Australia has sidestepped the worst effects of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and its more destructive big brother that hammered global markets a decade or so later.

Australia’s economy – the “wonder down under” – has somehow dodged the unstoppable forces that sent other wealthy countries tumbling into reverse.

For this, a nation of 24 million people must thank not only sound judgement by those in charge but also good fortune, according to Shane Oliver, chief economist at financial services company AMP in Sydney.

“I certainly don’t see Australia as being a miracle,” he says. “It has had a bit of good luck and good management, but it would be dangerous to assume that it is never going to have a recession again.”

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Coal production helped the Australian economy stay afloat

The economy is growing by about 1.9% per year, according to the Reserve Bank. In 2012, that figure was 3.7%. Weaker growth means that pay packets are shrinking for many workers when adjusted for the rising cost of living, and near-record levels of underemployment are stifling wage increases.

In August, retail sales posted their biggest retreat in about four-and-a-half years, falling by 0.6%, with cafes and restaurants reporting declining turnovers.

Period of transition?

Rocks, coal and demand from China insulated this country from the global financial meltdown in 2008, as a red-hot mining industry delivered unprecedented wealth.

Surging commodity prices fuelled the bonanza in Western Australia and Queensland, which propped up under-performing states in the south-east, where most Australians live.

Shane Oliver says the situation has now “been turned on its head” and Australia is once again in transition.

The mining boom has faded, but areas that once struggled have bounced back in part because of record low interest rates that have unleashed a frenzy into the housing market.

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Meanwhile, eye-watering wads of public money have poured into infrastructure projects, which are redefining parts of New South Wales, the most populous state.

There was another critical factor that helped Australia to largely avoid the ravages of the global financial crisis – unprecedented spending by the Labor government that boosted public expenditure by a whopping 13% in an attempt to stimulate growth.

It was a classic Keynesian economic manoeuvre to use billions of dollars to sustain household spending, demand and employment.

Australia loves to win. Here international cricket matches are akin to “wars” and Olympic gold medals – or a lack thereof – are greeted with congratulatory back-slapping – or hand-wringing.

If there was a podium for economic success, this is a country that would be bending forward to accept the award. More than 25 years of uninterrupted growth is a remarkable achievement, although there is debate about the competition.

  • Australian economy has been recession-free for 25 years

Some commentators believe the recent economic prosperity enjoyed by the Netherlands lasted for (only) 22 years, putting it firmly into silver medal position behind the Aussies.

Right place, right time

Tim Harcourt, an economics fellow at the University of New South Wales, believes Australia deserves the plaudits.

“This time the ‘lucky country’ made its own luck.

“The Hawke-Keating [government] reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – the currency float, tariff changes, and embrace of Asia – set up us up for a quarter of a century of growth.

“Australia found itself in the right place at the right time and embraced the Asia century,” he argues.

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But as the economy has soared, some Australians have been left behind. At almost 13%, youth unemployment is more than twice the national average.

Labouring work had left 21-year-old Mohammad Al-Khafaji, the son of an Iranian refugee, with endless back pain and homelessness soon followed.

“I was just trying to apply for jobs online, and then people were just putting me down saying ‘you are never going to get that job’, so I just stopped trying,” he says.

‘Muddling along’

Mohammad is now employed by a hire car company in Sydney, and has ambitions to one day be the boss.

He works with Shiv Dhingra, an Indian migrant from Punjab. They are proof that much of Australia’s economic might is down to immigration.

“I am the only one working in my family,” Shiv explained. “I am the main financial support they have. I am working seven days a week for the last year. I’ve got plans for my own business.”

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Charity Bounce

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Charity Bounce runs sessions in partnership with professional athletes

Both young men were helped by Charity Bounce, a Sydney-based non-profit organisation that uses basketball to reach out to the disadvantaged and long-term unemployed, who, according to chief executive, Ian Heininger, also deserve a slice of Australia’s prosperity.

“We find a lot of the young people are desperate to find work,” he says, “desperate to find an opportunity that is going to get them into a place where they are contributing back to the world.”

But will they be part of an ever-expanding economy? Mr Oliver thinks Australia’s luck will eventually run out, but not for a while.

“The Aussie economy is probably going to continue muddling along, not fantastically strong as housing slows and consumer spending remains a bit weak,” he predicts.

“We are probably going to go for at least another few years before we have that recession some people say is inevitable.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-41643147

How can you help your local online business go global?

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Online shopping has become a $2.3tn global business

In 1995, someone sold a broken laser pen for $14 on a site called AuctionWeb. This was the rather inauspicious start for online shopping, an activity that now generates a colossal $2.3tn (£1.75tn) in global sales.

But these days, shoppers want to pay in any number of ways and this can cause headaches for retailers wanting to expand abroad; so what should they do?

Nigel Whiteoak is the co-founder of LoveCrafts, a virtual hub for knitting and crochet enthusiasts to share their creations and buy supplies.

Having a website rather than a bricks-and-mortar shop meant the team could sell their wares to the world. But taking payments for these international sales wasn’t proving straightforward.

“One of the biggest realisations we had when looking to expand was that credit card penetration is generally much lower in most markets outside the UK and US,” he explains.

“In Germany, open invoices are very common where you process the payment using a third party, deliver the goods directly to the customer, and then they pay that third party once we have delivered their crafts.

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LoveCrafts founder Nigel Whiteoak says selling abroad has significantly boosted sales

“Whereas in Brazil and Turkey they tend to use local credit cards and pay in instalments.”

These regional quirks were difficult to cater for.

But then he came across a Dutch payment company, Adyen, whose payment processing platform harnesses machine learning to customise the payment method depending on which country the buyer is in.

Adyen’s clients include heavyweights such as Netflix, Uber and Spotify, so Mr Whiteoak was surprised to find out how affordable its service was, with a minimum monthly invoice of $100 (£75) and transparent per-transaction processing and commission charges.

“Before we started selling outside of the UK we had a turnover of around £6.5m,” he says. “Last year we posted 10.9 million, and with the bulk of our sales coming from overseas, this growth is directly linked to our ability to offer local payment methods.”

Sales have grown 125% over the last three years, he says, proving that knitting and crochet is big business.

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LoveCrafts

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LoveCrafts has found that people in different countries like to pay in different ways

Payment difficulties contribute to about 15% of online shoppers abandoning their virtual shopping baskets before completing the purchase, research suggests. That and difficult-to-navigate, fiddly websites.

Research from Barclaycard finds that while customers demand faster, more innovative and mobile-friendly ways to pay, the reality is one of declined cards, verification delays and annoying hidden transaction fees.

“Remove the need for consumers to set up an account first,” advises Greg Liset, Barclaycard’s head of small business, “and partner with suppliers that have reliable payment systems that work first time.

“Also, with online cross-border sales expected to soar over the next few years, being able to offer multiple currencies is essential.”

Knowing what payment options locals prefer is crucial to e-commerce success.

Research from 2Checkout finds that in the US, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and American Express still dominate the payments landscape.

But in other countries different favourite payment methods have emerged. For example, in China Alipay now accounts for 54% of online sales. In the Netherlands the iDEAL payment system is used for 44% of sales. In Japan, JCB and Konbini are popular.

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Shoppers in different countries have their own favourite ways of paying

But in India many shoppers still prefer paying in cash. So Indian start-up BookMyTrain is aiming to simplify the online purchase of rail tickets by offering a cash-on-delivery payment option with its app, as many people in India don’t have payment cards.

It is also using chatbots to take customers through the booking process one step at a time.

Simon Johnson, general manager at software provider Freshworks, the firm providing the chatbots for BookMyTrain, says: “Most customers today use messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger because they like how you can keep a conversation going with whatever device they are using.

“You don’t have to be a massive company to personalise the experience more effectively and [smaller] retailers need to have that personal touch to compete with big e-commerce players.”

Other payment platforms besides Adyen helping online retailers sell globally with tailored experiences include 2Checkout (formerly Avangate), PayU, PayPal, Stripe and Braintree.

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Costs are usually transparent and related to sales volume. With PayPal, for example, retailers can expect to pay 2.9 % of the transaction value plus about 23p per order. Similarly, Stripe doesn’t charge extra for accommodating different cards or currencies with a flat rate of 1.4% plus 20p per transaction.

But selling abroad isn’t just about offering flexibility over ways to pay and support for multiple currencies, it’s also about understanding local customs and cultures, argues Nir Debbi, co-founder of e-commerce platform Global-e.

“A common pitfall for businesses marketing themselves abroad is a lack of awareness of the different cultural phenomena,” says Mr Debbi.

Planning for international shopping events such as Singles Day in China or Japan’s “lucky shopping bags” at New Year “can improve international conversion rates dramatically”, he says, “but you need the insight, local knowledge and access to these sales peaks to be able to plan and apply an appropriate strategy.”

Later in this e-commerce series we’ll explore the best ways for online businesses to market themselves.

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Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41669030

Milwaukee Bucks aim to bounce back on and off NBA court

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The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is an emerging star in the NBA

What has historically made Milwaukee famous has been its beer and its motorcycles, but now NBA basketball side, the Bucks, is also hoping to fly the flag for the US city.

Although the team situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan has picked up just one NBA national title, in 1971, in its 50th season it is now hoping to transform its fortunes.

The club has wealthy owners in the shape of New York hedge fund billionaires, and has one of the top young players in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It has also signed a groundbreaking shirt sponsorship deal with Harley-Davidson, and as the current regular season gets under way it is moving into a new stadium.

As well as being specifically designed for basketball and offering a better fan experience, the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center stadium will also host music and entertainment events.

And the playing season has got off to a bright start, with victory in the opening game over Boston Celtics.

Championship dream

“Our aims are sporting and financial,” Bucks president Peter Feigin, who has previously worked in the theme park and executive jet industries, tells me.

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The Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center stadium is due to open in August 2018

“Our owners are very motivated about the team winning on the court, and also about growing the business to be one of the best in US sport.”

At present the club is closer to breaking-even financially rather than making a profit, but it is hoped playing success can bring wider brand exposure and enhanced commercial revenues.

Meanwhile, the new venue where the club will be the main leaseholder will also bring in increased match day income through executive boxes and improved catering.

The team has high hopes for the season ahead.

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The Milwaukee Bucks (green) won their opening match against the Boston Celtics 108-100

“There are four rounds of play-offs, we got to the first round last year and the expectation is to go at least one round better this time,” says Mr Feigin, a former head of marketing for the New York Knicks NBA team.

“It is achievable – we are in the Eastern Division, which is not as strong as the Western Division, and if we are healthy for the season and have no injuries we will do great.”

He adds: “We are in these games to win a championship; it is all directed towards ultimately winning a championship.”

‘International appeal’

Central to any playing success is up-and-coming star Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 22-year-old born in Athens to Nigerian immigrant parents.

“We have the most-emerging star in the NBA, he is already in the top seven of uniform sales, and had tens of millions of video views,” says Mr Feigin. “He has gone from ‘recognised’ to superstar in less than 12 months.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo sports a shirt with the fans’ chant: Fear the deer

“We have been able to grow our European appeal and our Asian appeal via Giannis.”

And the potentially exciting nature of the team has seen the Bucks double the number of live TV games they will be involved in this season, from nine to 18.

“That will be big for us not only on viewing impressions, but big for the brand too,” adds Mr Feigin, who prior to joining the Bucks three years ago worked for Six Flags Theme Parks in the US.

He was also previously president and chief operating officer of Marquis Jet, where he was the driving force behind Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets acquisition of Marquis in 2010.

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NBA rules allow teams to sign shirt sponsors for three years

Mr Feigin says Milwaukee as at a city is at an “inflection point” between its industrial heritage past and a newly-modernised future, something which also applies to its shirt sponsors for the next three years – local motorbike brand Harley-Davidson.

“Harley are trying to reposition themselves for the next generations, and the NBA can help them do that,” he says. “They want to reach a young, diverse, more international market.”

Public funding

Mr Feigin has been in London this month meeting to publicise the new stadium, pitching it as “a must-play for sports and entertainment” which will host 200 major events a year.

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Post-industrial Milwaukee is in the midst of regeneration

The $524m (£395m) arena is a public-private partnership, with just over half the cash coming from hedge-fund club owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, as well as $250m in public funding.

“It was very challenging to get this approved; especially at at time when there have been questions about the economy, and debates around healthcare and education,” admits Mr Feigin.

“But a professional sports team can bring in much more than the stadium outlay, through income tax and sales tax.”

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Alamy

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to their only title success in 1971

He says in return for that $250m outlay, the venue will help bring in more than $1bn over 15 years for the state.

“The stadium will also create a ripple effect in increasing nearby commercial and residential values,” he adds.

Bucks season-ticket holders and members will be offered deals on entertainment tickets. Conversely, it’s hoped music fans will enjoy the stadium experience enough to come back for a Bucks game.

Naming rights

Building work began on the new stadium last June, with the club due to move into its new home on Labor Day weekend next year – the first weekend of September.

“The current venue was not built around basketball as the lead sport, but for ice hockey,” says Raj Saha, the arena’s general manager, and formerly on the management team of the O2 in London.

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Mr Feigin and Mr Saha have been in London to get support for the new stadium

“The viewing sight lines where we currently play are not ideal for basketball,” says Mr Saha, with only one third of the seats close to the action.

The club is looking for six to eight long-term founding commercial partners for the new stadium, paying around $2m a year. Those who have signed up include multi-industrial firm Johnson Controls and bank BMO Harris.

The search is on for a stadium naming rights partner, which would pay about $7m a year for 20 years.

“We are still looking for a naming rights partner. We would have loved to have finalised it by now but are in negotiations with a number of potential partners,” says Mr Saha.

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The new stadium will host a variety of non-basketball entertainment

As well as music acts, the arena will also host attractions such as UFC martial arts, boxing, Disney on Ice, and other events.

“We have an idea of how the first four weeks will look,” says Mr Saha.

“Opening night is important and we’ll go big for that, but the first 100 days will also be very important, too, to creating a success story.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41481040

The Chinese blockage in the global waste disposal system

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In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day

Imagine the world as a global waste disposal system. Now imagine it with a blockage.

And what if that waste is backing up around the world, reappearing in places where you really don’t want it to be.

That blockage is about to happen in China and the flood is going to start seeping out into waste disposal operations around the world.

Three months ago, China decided to ban 24 different grades of rubbish as part of its “National Sword” campaign against foreign garbage.

Until now China has been importing millions of tonnes of the world’s waste every year to feed its recycling industry.

The Bureau of International Recycling China estimates that China last year imported 7.3 million tonnes of plastic scrap from Europe, Japan and USA, and 27 million tonnes of waste paper.

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China’s action in halting various categories of waste imports will hit recycling around the world

Robin Wiener, president of the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said: “More than 155,000 direct jobs are supported by the US industry’s export activities, earning an average wage of almost $76,000 and contributing more than $3bn to federal, state, and local taxes.

“A ban on imports of scrap commodities into China would be catastrophic to the recycling industry.”

The new restrictions have yet to be agreed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and China could still change its mind, but the waste is already starting to back up.

In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day.

Easy option

For China the problem is simply one of pollution. Its submission to the WTO reads: “We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously.”

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Mike Baxter says sending waste overseas was the easy option

Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry. In theory the rubbish from your recycling rubbish bin is meant to be treated or sorted before it goes in the container overseas, but the rules have too often been ignored and rarely enforced.

Mike Baxter, external affairs director at the recycler RPC Group, says: “The easiest option for years has been put it into a container and send it overseas where the labour is cheaper and it can be sorted by hand.”

But with the ban expected to come into full effect by the new year, if not before, the UK industry has written urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help with the expected overflow.

Even so, Robin Latchem, editor of the recycling industry magazine MRW believes the recyclers are not spelling out the problems loudly enough, and says: “Why no mention of growing domestic stockpiles of waste and the danger of more fires or incidents of waste crime?

“I don’t think it is scare-mongering to set out such fears, along with concern that public perception of the recycling industry in its widest sense will be heavily scarred by greater fly-tipping, larger-scale dumping and more plumes of heavy black smoke crossing housing estates.”

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Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry

No minister from Defra was available for comment, but a spokesman told the BBC: “We are aware of this situation and are looking into the potential implications.”

Opportunities

But there is flip side to the problem – an opportunity for the recycling industry.

In the UK for example, a lot of the waste is high quality, such as off-cuts from plastic manufacturing and plastic bottles that have failed quality tests but can be reprocessed.

That presents “a great opportunity”, says David Wilson commercial manager of Vanden Recycling, a Hong Kong-based company with a new plastics recycling operation in Peterborough, in the UK.

“China has voluntarily given up a six million tonne a year industry. We’ll be selective about it and we’ll go for materials we understand and markets we understand, but some of that lost capacity will be rebuilt here,” he says.

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Jamie Robertson

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Vanden Recycling’s David Wilson says the China ban creates new opportunities

Low quality waste is a different matter, however, and it requires some drastic rethinking of the whole supply chain.

As waste begins to back up through the system, like any commodity in oversupply, it loses value. In the UK, for example, local authorities have been able to generate useful income from selling that waste on to the recyclers. That income is going to fall sharply.

Andrew Bird, chairman of the UK’s Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) says as demand from China disappears, other markets are emerging, especially in India and wider Asia. Nevertheless, “there is going to be a little bit of pinch point, to say the least, and that will have an effect on price – that’s the biggest risk for local authorities”.

New technologies

One answer to tackling the global oversupply of low quality waste is the development of new technologies.

Recycling Technologies has developed a method of recycling the most unappetising mix of dirty plastic into something it calls Plaxx, a fuel oil which can be used for myriad applications, including as a source for new recycled plastic.

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Jamie Robertson

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Adopting new technologies is one long-term solution, says Adrian Griffiths

Adrian Griffiths, the company’s chief executive, admits there’s no shortage of “feedstock” – the term for all the raw material that feeds the process.

“We chemically recycle plastic. We take it back to the original material so it can become more plastic again: plastic, back to oil, and back to plastic again. Anything that goes to landfill currently is feedstock for us, and since the recycling figures are so low the vast majority of the plastic we want is not in recycling use anyway.”

Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

But tackling the global back-up of waste after China’s changes will require investment.

Surprisingly, it is waste paper recycling that can cost the most. A plastics recycling plant could require a £5m ($6.5m) investment to get it up and running, says Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association. But a paper mill could cost up to £500m.

However, RCP’s Mr Baxter says investors are not going to step in unless there is a market for recycled goods, and he believes governments have a role to play.

“It’s not just a case of recycling the material. It’s having markets for the recyclates that are produced, and this is where government could come in.” In the UK, he would like to see the government push local authorities and all government institutions to purchase recycled products.

For Mr Bird, from LARAC, responsibility for tackling the long term problems of waste must lie throughout the global product supply chain, but especially with manufacturers.

And he says one particular change could have a dramatic effect – the widespread adoption of Extended Producers’ Responsibility.

“It means producers having to pay to ensure the products they are manufacturing can be dealt with in an effective, and environmentally cost-effective way.”

Meanwhile, the waste is piling up and the clock is ticking.

Listen to Jamie Robertson’s report on China’s ban on waste imports here on BBC World Service’s World Business Report programme.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41582924

From torture victim to human rights student

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Noura Al Jizawi has come to study in Toronto after escaping Syria’s civil war

Noura Al Jizawi has survived more than a decade of extreme risk. Now she’s going back to her interrupted life as a student.

Growing up in Homs in Syria, the 29 year old has been a student activist, experienced imprisonment and exile and has been a leader in Syria’s opposition.

Now eight months pregnant, she has gone back to her studies, beginning a master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

Noura’s first awareness of human rights – and of their absence – came early: “I remember when I was just a kid, I was angry because we couldn’t choose our notebooks.

“We could have only one type of notebook – one with a photo of Assad’s father on it.”

Missing persons

She soon learned that other, much worse things were wrong with her country.

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Homs this summer showing the damage of war

“Many of the students, a couple of years older than me, were mentioning their missing fathers. I became aware we had missing persons in Syria.

“While I was growing up, I remember hearing mothers supporting each other… they were the mothers of missing persons.

“Those guys were the detainees arrested by Assad’s father in the 1980s. Some of them are still until this moment missing … there were no bodies, there was nothing, just silence.”

Activism and arrests

Noura came up against the regime as an undergraduate at the University of Homs – and reading books such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm chimed deeply with her own experience.

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Noura’s increasing activism, her work as a blogger, publishing imaginative allegorical fiction, and her readiness to speak out, led to two early arrests.

Nevertheless she continued this dangerous work, accessing forbidden websites to distribute anti-regime articles, disseminating ideas of democracy and non-violent protest.

“We never believed there would be a real revolution in our lifetimes,” she said.

And then, in December 2010, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and spread rapidly, arriving in Syria with a demonstration in Damascus in March 2011.

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A mother in Homs with a locket of her lost son

“For me it was like a dream. We have a revolution.” Noura was still in Homs, but was in touch with activists around the country, and abroad.

She became an organiser of demonstrations and an advocate for the rapidly rising numbers of detainees.

Social media

In the response that followed, many of her friends were killed, many others imprisoned and tortured.

“To be honest we were not shocked, we knew too well that this regime would not allow people to demand their rights.”

They were more shocked, she said, by the lack of any effective response from the international community.

“We were saying, back in the 70s and 80s, when there were great massacres in Syria, there was no internet, there no media channels.

“But we thought, now we have the social media channels, hopefully this would protect us. But it did not protect us.”

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Noura’s young life has been against a background of war: A fighter in Homs

Noura moved from city to city, organising, motivating, dodging the authorities – until in May 2012, she was ordered off a bus in Damascus by armed men and bundled into a car.

“It was not an arrest, it was abduction, a kidnapping,” she said.

Tortured in prison

Noura emerged seven months later. During that time she was detained in some of Syria’s most notorious prisons, and said she had been tortured with electric shocks and beatings.

She plays this down, saying that so many have endured – and are still enduring – far worse.

For her the hardest experience to bear was hearing the sounds of her fellow-prisoners being tortured. Her captors realised this psychological torture would be more effective in her case – but still she remained silent.

Noura explained how she survived: “I was not afraid for myself, I didn’t care about myself… I cared only about the revolution… I cared about the people who were still continuing this revolution outside.”

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Homs this summer showing the damage of war

“We were still a non-violent movement on the ground… and I kept thinking about them… I wanted to make sure that in the questioning I would not speak about any one of those activists. I would pray to my body not to break down.”

Noura was released late in 2012, and believes that an international campaign played a part in this: “For sure, all of those activities protected me. That is why we need this advocacy, all the time, for all detainees and for missing persons.”

For Noura, the torment continued, as her younger sister, Alaa, had also been imprisoned and was suffering even worse: “They tortured her harder than me, many times, because of me.”

Alaa was released in a terrible physical state; the family decided they had to leave Syria, and fled to Turkey to get urgent medical treatment.

“She was my only reason to leave Syria,” said Noura. “Otherwise I would still be there.”

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Noura became a representative in peace talks in Geneva

In four years of exile in Turkey, she joined the coalition of Syrian opposition forces, (SNC) and became its vice-president in 2014, as well as being elected to sit on its negotiation panel in Geneva.

She joined because she realised this much-criticised group of mainly male, middle-aged “hotel revolutionaries” needed “the blood of youth” and also a strong female voice.

Geneva was a real challenge for Noura: “I felt I had to be calm and clever, I had do everything I could do, to interact.”

She worked hard to get an agreement to break the two-year siege of Homs. Many of its surviving citizens were dying of starvation.

‘Scholars at risk’

Noura resigned from the coalition in 2016, but continued working for an NGO she had created, Start Point, which provides advocacy and psychological support to Syrian women who have suffered torture and sexual violence in detention.

She had also met her husband in Turkey, another Syrian activist in exile, who was one of a network of cyber-security experts working for the Munk School’s Citizen Lab; hence the Toronto connection.

Noura came to Canada as one of 24 international students with scholarships in the university’s “scholars at risk” programme.

With her daughter due to be born next month, Noura is aware of how this might change her activism. But she’s determined not to give up the fight.

She sees the master’s degree as another step to help her continue her work to bring democracy to Syria.

“I feel also that being a mother makes me closer to the future… this baby is the future, and maybe will not have to live as our generation live.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41639458

The winemaker who battles temperatures as low as -25C

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Media captionHow the wines of Canadian winemaker Norman Hardie are winning fans around the world.

With winter temperatures regularly dipping below -25C at his vineyard, winemaker Norman Hardie definitely didn’t choose an easy place to grow his grapes.

“Minus 25 is the absolute death knell for vitis vinifera [the common grape vine], we actually have to bury our vines in the winter [to protect them]. It’s a huge job,” says the 51-year-old.

“And then we can get snap spring frosts that can quickly ruin a crop. We lost more than 80% in 2015.”

While most of us associate winemaking with warm countries, Mr Hardie has since 2004 been making wine in… Canada.

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Johnny C Y Lam

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Norman Hardie Winery is currently continuing with its 2017 harvest

Based in picturesque Prince Edward County, Ontario, a two-hour drive east of Toronto alongside Lake Ontario, the summers are more often glorious.

The winters, on the other hand, are harsh, which means that the team at Norman Hardie Winery face a race against the cold weather every November.

“I have 80,000 plants today, so that is almost a quarter of a million canes [the vine’s branches] that we have to tie down by hand, and then cover with a mound of earth,” says Norman.

“Before we then carefully open up and untie in the spring.”

If that wasn’t labour intensive enough, come April and May Norman and his team have to light fires and position wind turbines to try to drive away late frosts. But sometimes, such as in 2015, they just aren’t that successful.

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Johnny C Y Lam

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Norman Hardie says that Canada’s cool weather helps him to make excellent wine

Up against such challenges, you might question why Norman ever chose to plant vineyards and build a winery in Ontario. He says that despite the challenges, the combination of cool weather and the clay and limestone soil of Prince Edward County allow him to make world class wines.

“The great wines are always made on the edge, and we’re certainly on the edge,” says South African-born Norman, who prior to going into winemaking had been a sommelier (wine waiter) in Toronto.

“I’d rather be here than anywhere else in the world because the flavours we get out of these soils are unique.”

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Norman Hardie Winery

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While many wine regions around the world have cold winters, they aren’t as cold as Canada’s

Primarily making white wines from chardonnay and red wines from pinot noir, Norman Hardie’s wines now have a cult following in Canada, and are even said to be the favourite tipples of Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau.

But from day one, Norman – who studied winemaking in Burgundy, Oregon, California, South Africa, and New Zealand prior to establishing his own winery – wanted his wines to be sold internationally.

This brought his next big challenge – how to persuade a sceptical world to take Canadian wine seriously, when even Norman admits that 30 years ago the country made “terrible wine”.

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Canadian wine production remains a drop in the global ocean

Norman’s solution was to turn himself into a travelling salesman, and build up his wine’s global reputation “one top sommelier one top buyer, and one top wine journalist, at a time… flying around the world, pounding the pavement, speaking to people, changing people’s ideas about Canada”.

So attending wine fairs, visiting wine importers, and knocking on the doors of Michelin-star restaurants, he started to slowly build up export orders.

This is the first feature of a new 20-week series called Connected Commerce, which highlights companies around the world that are successfully exporting, and trading beyond their home market.

Focusing particularly on the UK and New York, Norman says his personal, face-to-face approach enabled him to let some of the most influential people in the global wine world “understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we are doing it”.

He adds: “You can only do that with face time, and once you have them they are your evangelists.”

From selling 6,000 bottles in 2004, Norman Hardy Winery produced 240,000 in 2016. From that 6,804 bottles were exported across eight countries – China, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, and the US.

And he still is regularly overseas promoting his wines, including spending five to six days every year in the UK.

Back at the winery, there are now six year-round employees, rising to 50 in the busy summer months and at harvest time in late September and October. The business now has annual revenues of 4.1m Canadian dollars ($3.3m; £2.5m).

John Downes, a London-based wine expert, who has the top master of wine qualification, says that Norman was right to recognise the fact that as Canada is such a little known wine region he had to do a lot of marketing work to “stand out” on the global stage.

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Prince Edward County is now home to 40 wineries

Mr Downes adds: “A lot of people in wine don’t tell stories, they say ‘here’s my wine what do you think about it?’.

“But they don’t tell the story behind the wine, and that gives the picture of the wine to the consumer. Norman does that very well.”

While exporting wine is not without its challenges, such as the need to produce different labels for each country, Norman says that building up a vibrant export business has also boosted his sales in Canada.

Now preparing to bury the vines for another winter, Norman says: “That credibility, that international credibility, says you’re doing something right.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41167977

The human cost of China’s economic reforms

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AFP

Luo Yanli is worried about the bad smell from the electric car factory over the road and what the fumes might be doing to her baby and toddler.

Mr Yu is worried that millions of workers the Chinese government plans to lay off from failing state owned companies will be “abandoned” like he says he was 15 years ago.

Mark Weinberger is worried about China’s mountain of national debt, the possibility of bankruptcies and – ultimately – what it might mean for the thousands his multinational firm employs in China.

All three tell me they support reforms to overhaul China’s mammoth economy; but their stories, from three very different parts of China, reveal the consequences and anxieties associated with the changes.

Health fears

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Media captionWhat has China’s president achieved so far?

The early autumn nights are still warm and humid in Shenzhen where Yanli lives in the south of China. But she doesn’t open the windows in her apartment because of the strong smell from the sprawling BYD electric car factory.

“Before we bought the apartment the developer told us the plant would move elsewhere” she says. “After we moved here little seems to have changed.”

The factory was inspected last year after protests. Airtight seals were installed to contain the fumes. When we visited locals told us some production had been moved to another site.

With her baby boy on her lap and her daughter playing with a plastic fork beside her, Yanli says: “The smell is very strong and it has severely affected out lives”.

They don’t know if it’s dangerous but, like most of their neighbours, they have plants in their apartment in the hope they’ll absorb the smell seeping in.

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Luo Yanli has concerns about fumes from a local factory

The complex is home to the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric cars. BYD is a global leader in a technology that China hopes it can dominate; electric vehicles, and specifically the batteries that power them.

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The big push towards electric isn’t just about industrial strategy, it’s about trying to tackle China’s immense pollution problems – the most obvious of which is dirty air.

With incentives for infrastructure and aggressive quota demands for, mostly foreign, manufacturers, this is part and parcel of Beijing’s effort to make China’s economy less focused on government investment and cheap exports – and instead to one that is technologically advanced, with a sustainable base and driven by consumer spending.

So is a bad smell and worries about fumes a price worth paying for this progress, I ask Yanli? Yes it is, she intimates. The windows are firmly shut, though.

Survival of the fittest

Almost 3,000km (1,800 miles) away in Shenyang, taxi driver Mr Yu points to where the lead smelting plant used to stand, where he worked. It’s long gone, replaced by car dealerships and apartment blocks. You can buy a Cadillac where he used to walk through the now demolished main gate.

It’s 15 years since he was laid off in the wave of liberalising economic reforms with compensation of just over a year’s salary – about $5,000 (£3,700).

Despite the years he gets visibly emotional when I ask if there’s any part of the city that’s still recognisable from his time as a steel worker.

He says he was “abandoned” by the government. There was no training for a new job, no support aside from the pay-off. But two children and a taxi licence later he’s a believer in reforms that bring competition to the market place.

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Mr Yu was laid off from his job as a worker and now drives a taxi

“I think the rule ‘survival of the fittest’ should apply”, he says as we drive around, “baggage should be cast aside” he adds. But there is also this, “isn’t it true that the people should be properly settled?”

They know a lot about “settling” workers in Shenyang. It’s the capital city in China’s weakest performing province.

Liaoning was once the manufacturing heartland. Now it’s trying to rescue the towns and cities around the coal mines and steel plants that help make up this country’s “rust belt” and is about to get its first privately owned bank, called the “revitalisation” bank.

Away from car dealerships and the mega malls we go to Linsheng on Shenyang’s outskirts. Food and rubbish is dumped in piles on its main street. One ground floor apartment in a housing estate has a home-made pigeon coop in a bay window. Parts of the building are decaying. It’s home for the workers at the nearby coal mine.

As China tries to tackle chronic over-capacity in its traditional industries it’s also moving away from dirty coal to heat homes and power its economy. Many mines are being mothballed.

A bus driver outside Linsheng’s pink-painted community hospital tells me he used to do 17 trips to the mine every day, now it’s just seven. “A lot of people have retired but the company is not able to hire new employees – nobody wants to come because the salary is low.”

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AFP

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A construction site in Shenyang, the capital of China’s weakest performing economic province

As the sun goes down a woman who runs a fruit stall says her business had taken a 30% hit in the last two years, which she puts down to workers’ salaries falling.

The market boss claims people are buying pork and making it last for two or three days instead of buying daily. A retired miner, who like most of the people we talk to in Linsheng doesn’t want to go in front of a microphone, says income for some is down 50%.

Still growing

So what of taxi driver Mr Yu’s call for “survival of the fittest”? President Xi Jinping shows little sign of going that far. It looks like his government’s early pledge to enhance market forces – giving them a “decisive role” has remained just that, a pledge.

Thousands of factories have been closed but that’s as much about their polluting effect than their productive inefficiency.

There have been consolidations in various sectors of the myriad state-owned enterprises. The (almost all state-owned) banks have come in with debt for equity deals – something close to a bail out – for the most troubled companies.

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But there hasn’t been a wave of bankruptcies. Preserving social stability is likely to be the main reason for this. A wave of concentrated unemployment could see protests that could threaten order.

Indeed 2016 actually saw increased cheap credit and a boost in government spending. Rather than an assault on inefficient state-owned entities, many going, only with increased – and cheaper – debt.

Still, the world’s second largest economy continues to grow, at rates many in the developed world would envy; 6.7% last year, but the rate of growth is slowing, a plateau is approaching.

Debt bubble?

Debt and risk are the two things that some think will combine to produce an economic catastrophe in China – but not Mark Weinberger, the CEO of EY, one of the big four accountancy firms.

“I don’t see an impending catastrophe,” he says, when we met in Shanghai: “The growth is still there to be able to pay off debt”.

Such optimism is perhaps not surprising from a man who advises the mayor of China’s second city. But Mr Weinberger warns nobody should be complacent: “When the debt gets so large it crowds out growth because of the cost of that debt – that becomes a problem”.

And China’s debt is huge; it is currently about 260% of annual economic output and is predicted to rise. What makes it particularly worrisome is that the bulk of this is held by state-owned corporate entities.

Risky practice has been growing too, particularly around the so called “shadow banking” sector. So much so that Beijing cracked down on the insurance market in particular, and went after some of China’s best known private firms who were deemed too risky in the way they raised money.

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EY chief executive Mark Weinberger says he doesn’t see “an impending catastrophe”

Firms who owned or had stakes in New York’s Waldorf Astoria, Deutsche Bank, Club Med and Wolves FC were all targeted. It’s steadied the boat, but that appears all.

Other far more significant reforms have not yet happened; financial market reforms, substantial rural land reform, changes to the internal passport-like hukou welfare system.

One thing that is happening though is a deepening of the role of “the party” at the top of China’s state firms. There were reports this summer that foreign owned firms or joint ventures have been asked to give the Communist Party equal say over their major corporate decisions.

Xi Jinping faces a multitude of challenges in his country’s economy as he embarks on his second term at the top. Strengthening the party’s hold on the means of production is one of Beijing’s responses.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41605843

From sweets to furniture: The secrets of selling online

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Geoff Pugh

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Lavinia Davolio says selling her luxury sweets on Amazon Marketplace has been good for business

What are the best ways to sell online? And how do you make sure you have a website that really works? Part one in our eight-part series exploring all things e-commerce.

Lavinia Davolio makes luxury handmade sweets inspired by her Italian heritage. She says her business received a boost when she opened a store on Amazon’s Marketplace.

“It’s easy for clients to discover something unique and handmade if it’s available through such a trusted online platform,” she says.

“And it means we can offer convenient next day delivery at a competitive price and give our boutique confectionary an incredible reach and visibility.”

Lavinia is one of thousands of small businesses who’ve decided to set up shop on an e-commerce marketplace – Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Alibaba’s Taobao, Rakuten to name some of the largest – rather than go through the hassles of setting up their own websites.

Amazon charges retailers a 15% commission, but in return even the very smallest entrepreneurs can get a slice of the retail titan’s global pulling power just by uploading images and descriptions of their products and then setting their pricing.

For an additional fee, Amazon will store and dispatch your goods – the kind of one-stop convenience that is ideal for newbies, suggests Alan Braithwaite, a visiting professor at Cranfield School of Management.

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Media captionDespite the convenience of online shopping, people still love the physical store

“Something like Amazon Marketplace is a no-brainer,” he says. “Entry costs are very low and straightaway you have a very wide marketplace at your fingertips.

“When you’re starting out with your own website you’re having to attract the traffic, which means a lot of search engine optimisation [SEO]. This can be complicated and mean extra costs if you need outside help.”

Some e-tailers want more creative control over their online shops, however – and to keep more of the sales income for themselves.

Going it alone is certainly a lot cheaper than it used to be, but according to payment processor WorldPay, the average small business spends £2,500 on setting up an e-commerce platform.

At its most basic this will cover product display and listing, navigation structure, a shopping cart facility, search features and secure payment gateways – a checklist that swells with business growth.

DIY website providers such as Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace, help the technical novice with design templates and SEO support from as little as $4.50 (£3.40) a month.

And these days, off-the-shelf “software-as-a-service” add-ons can give a basic website selling and fulfilment functionality that “means you can be online and trading for as little as £500,” says Prof Braithwaite.

But “cheap isn’t always best,” he warns. “It’s your front window so it can be worth spending a bit extra – around £5,000 on a developer.”

And Clare Jackson, founder of e-tailer The Wooden Furniture Store, points out that you have to be prepared to improve and adapt your website constantly or risk losing sales. You can’t pay your set-up fee then sit back and relax.

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The Wooden Furniture Store

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Clare Jackson says she had to adapt her website’s content for mobile screens

When they discovered that most customers were coming to their website from mobiles, they had to completely rethink the design.

“With mobile users likely to be on slower connections it’s crucial to get more speed into the user experience, so we introduced image optimisation and a content delivery network.

“This adapts content to the sizes of screen and devices being used, meaning that the images load much quicker.”

A fast website loading speed is crucial for e-commerce success.

Research by application performance company, Apica, finds that 40% of online shoppers refuse to wait more than 10 seconds for a website to respond.

The website change cost just $200 but has contributed to a 500% hike in sales from mobile and a 230% upturn in mobile visitors, says Ms Jackson.

“As a small business, we combine our agility with the kind of technologies which just a few years ago would have been unaffordable for someone our size,” she says.

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Iffley Road

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Wife-and-husband team Claire Kent and Bill Byrne moved their running wear business to Shopify

Claire Kent and Bill Byrne, the husband-and-wife team behind luxury running wear, Iffley Road, found that replacing their bespoke website with the “easy and intuitive” e-commerce platform, Shopify, made a big difference to their online business.

They liked the fact that they were no longer reliant on a third party but could make changes to the site themselves in minutes.

Ms Kent, a former Morgan Stanley equity analyst who had never used Facebook or Twitter before, and who admits to being “completely untechnical”, says she has found analysing customer data surprisingly straightforward using Shopify.

A range of tools gives her data on purchase frequency, customer lifetime value, gross margins and net profit – insights she credits with doubling sales.

“It’s like I’ve suddenly got glasses on whereas before I was blind,” she says. “I’d say to anyone that you really need to be looking at analytics every day as you learn so much.”

More Technology of Business

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She advises retailers to accept that a website will need to evolve with customers’ changing expectations.

“Many SMEs prioritise aesthetics over function; you can have a site that looks amazing but if you don’t have the right platform then it just isn’t going to deliver.”

Listening to feedback and acting on it is also crucial, argues Prof Braithwaite.

“Get friends and families to transact on [your website] and listen to feedback, making sure that payment is secure and seamless is an absolute priority; customers won’t come back if this isn’t right.”

“Fail fast, fail often” may be the mantra amongst the technology giants in Silicon Valley, but it is also apt for online retail entrepreneurs. You have to make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt quickly to achieve success in this global online marketplace.

The next feature will look at the best way to take payments and market your online shop.

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Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41636026

Can these beads stop ‘history’s biggest mass poisoning’?

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Media captionA handful of these resin beads can save lives

The beads of resin may not look like much but they could save hundreds of thousands of at-risk people in Bangladesh and parts of India.

Human Rights Watch says up to 20 million people are at risk from arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh.

Millions have already suffered from what the World Health Organisation calls “the biggest mass poisoning in human history”.

Millions of “tube-wells” have been dug across Bangladesh since the 1940s. The simple pumps were rolled out across the country by the government and NGOs from the 1970s onwards as a way of delivering cost-effective bacteria-free water.

However during the 1980s cases of arsenic poisoning began to emerge.

Arsenic can not be seen or smelt; the first signs of its impact are skin lesions which only emerge once the poisoning has taken place.

The poisoning can set off a range of heart diseases and cancer and the external symptoms look a lot like leprosy, which can lead to victims and their families being shunned by the local community.

A heavy price

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Siaton Nessa says arsenic poisoning has ruined her life and affected her family as well

Siaton Nessa Meherpur has lesions on her skin from arsenic poisoning. She’s in her mid-50s and she says the disease has blighted her entire family.

“Because of this well my whole skin is filled with black patches,” she says.

“I am worried about my children because no one is prepared to marry them.”

While the government has made efforts to replace the wells, in many rural areas they are still the primary source of water especially as many families have dug their own tube wells.

Human Rights Watch estimate 43,000 people die each year in Bangladesh from illnesses caused by arsenic poisoning.

New solutions

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Minhaj Chowdhury’s Drinkwell is offering an “entrepreneurial solution” to the water crisis

Minhaj Chowdhury, 28, was raised in the United States but visited family in Bangladesh during school holidays.

“It shocked and deeply saddened me to think how we never had to worry about water being fatal in the US but here in Bangladesh one in every five deaths was associated with unsafe drinking water,” Mr Chowdhury says.

After his grandfather died due to a disease linked to water he decided to take action.

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The BBC’s Innovators series reveals innovative solutions to major challenges across South Asia.

Ever heard of the concept of “jugaad”? It’s a Hindi term meaning cheap innovation.

If you have created a life hack or innovation that you are proud of, or spotted one while out and about on your travels, then share your picture with us by emailing [email protected], use the hashtags #Jugaad and #BBCInnovators and share your picture with @BBCWorldService, or upload your submission here.

Learn more about BBC Innovators.

In 2013 he founded Drinkwell, in partnership with Dr Arup K SenGupta who invented a particular type of resin technology and had already been active in implementing it in India.

The resin removes arsenic and other harmful substances from water and once it has been used Drinkwell filters the water through a series of other tanks to take out other harmful substances.

The water is sold locally by “Drinkwell” entrepreneurs and the money raised is used to maintain the system.

The pricing is set depending on location but a monthly subscription costs anywhere between $0.05 (4p) and $0.12 for 20 litres (4.4 gallons) a day.

Entrepreneurial opportunity

According to the United Nations, 30% to 50% of all water projects fail after huge investments because of a failure to maintain the facilities.

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Drinkwell entrepreneur Habibur Rehman’s plant in Manikganj, Bangladesh sells 150,000 litres a day

Dr Khairul Islam, the country director for the charity Water Aid in Bangladesh’ believes that social entrepreneurs have a role to play in tackling the arsenic poisoning.

Dr Islam told the BBC that the main problem so far has been operation and maintenance.

Because Drinkwell includes operational and maintenance costs at the centre of its model he says it is the kind of model “this country needs”.

The first Drinkwell plant began dispensing water in the Manikganj district in 2015. Today that one plant alone has 750 daily customers and dispenses 150,000 litres a day.

The network has grown across the country, often by going into schools to deliver safe drinking water for students’ meals, from there the word spreads across communities.

There are now 30 Drinkwell filtration plants in India and Bangladesh serving more than 100,000 people.

Mr Chowdhury believes this is just the start for Drinkwell. He hopes to eventually reach hundreds of millions of people across Asia.

He is already talking to the Bangladesh government about rolling out the technology across the country.

By involving the communities in the maintenance through their entrepreneur network Mr Chowdhury believes the system can provide clean water “forever”.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40446049

The ‘working class boy’ who built a £1bn business

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RationalFX

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Mr Davdra’s wife recently treated him to a new Harley Davidson

Paresh Davdra is thrilled about the brand new Harley Davidson waiting for him in a friend’s garage.

It’s not a sign of a mid-life crisis, he insists, but a wedding present from his wife who he married in August.

He just has one more test to pass to get his motorcycle licence, then he can hop on the bike and whizz around London for meetings.

The boss and co-founder of money exchange firm Rational FX, which reported revenues of more than £1bn ($1.3bn) last year, has a life that’s worlds apart from his parents and grandparents.

They were forced to flee Uganda in 1972 when dictator Idi Amin gave the Asian population just 90 days to leave the country.

“They came to the UK with just £50 between them,” says the softly-spoken Mr Davdra. “My grandfather had his own tailoring shop, but they had to leave everything behind.”

His family pulled together and bought a house in Harrow, north London, with his dad securing a job as clerk, and later as a financial controller, at a foreign exchange broker.

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RationalFX

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Paresh Davdra co-founded RationalFX in 2005

Their fighting spirit rubbed off on the younger Davdra. “We were never really given anything – if I wanted something, I had to earn it.”

From the age of 16, he spent the school holidays holding jobs in a mobile phone shop and in telesales, while out of term at Middlesex University, he worked at his dad’s firm, taking up roles from filing to working in compliance.

He studied marketing and computer science at university, but tells me that technology does not come naturally to him.

“If you told my team I had this degree, they wouldn’t believe you. I’m always the one calling IT to connect the laptop to the printer,” he laughs.

As soon as Mr Davdra graduated, in 2003, he joined his dad’s company as a foreign exchange dealer, helping clients to buy and sell large quantities of foreign currencies.

He was in the role for just over a year, working with Indian-born Rajesh Agrawal, a friend of his father’s who had arrived in the UK in 2001. But two factors would spur him to quit.

“I’d tried to buy a property with my dad but the bank rejected the mortgage application,” Mr Davdra says. “It deflated me.”

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RationalFX

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RationalFX is based in Canary Wharf, London

At the same time, Mr Agrawal resigned from his IT manager role. “When he decided to quit, I badgered him. I asked him to tell me what he was doing,” Mr Davdra says.

The two met for coffee and quickly agreed they wanted to set up a company together. The idea was to support customers buying property abroad with their currency needs.

“Everything we were doing at the old firm was manual, but we thought we could offer the same service online,” Mr Davdra says.

However, the duo faced a serious challenge: money. Mr Davdra was only a year out of university and had already taken out a personal loan to buy a BMW.

When Mr Agrawal took their business plan to the bank and asked to borrow £10,000, he was swiftly rejected. But he returned a few days later and asked for £20,000 to buy a car.

The bank said yes.

“I then sold my BMW and we were set,” says 37-year-old Mr Davdra, who also moved into Mr Agrawal’s home to save on rent.

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RationalFX

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Mr Davdra’s grandfather had to flee Uganda in 1972

With just £32,000 between them, the pair launched their foreign exchange brokerage, RationalFX, in 2005.

Like many start-ups, the next difficult task was signing up customers.

“We got on the phones and started pitching to estate agents and attended every property industry event there was,” recalls Mr Davdra.

“We’d be in the office all day from 8am, then we’d just be at it in the evenings.”

Their big breakthrough came when they signed a number of estate agents who were selling properties in Dubai.

However, just two years after launching, the financial crisis hit. Mr Davdra reflects candidly on how it changed his young mindset.

More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:

“I was 27 at the time and the business was doing great guns, and I was well on my way to being rich. That’s all I thought about it.

“It wasn’t really about building a business – that comes with time and maturity. But the crash brought that along. It was a good learning curve.”

Rational FX also felt the fall-out from the crash, with its growth slowing. But it weathered the storm and went on to diversify.

Today, its clients range from high-net worth individuals, either buying property or making investments, to medium-sized businesses, such as firms exporting cars or importing textiles.

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RationalFX

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RationalFX employs 110 people

It reported revenues of £1.3bn in 2016, up from £1.1bn the year before, and pre-tax profits of £2.3m – largely because the firm reinvested heavily in its business, Mr Davdra says.

After enjoying success with Rational FX, the founders had an idea for an offshoot company – an online money transfer platform aimed at individuals sending lower sums to family overseas.

“We felt that Rational FX was driving revenues, but Xendpay [the new company] was more of a social initiative, to try and bring the costs of remittance down for people working hard to bring their families out of poverty.”

Xendpay has a “pay what you want” model, although it does suggest a minimum commission of 0.3-0.4% of the transaction.

Mr Davdra says that more than 70% of users pay the suggested fee, 10% hand over more, and the rest pay nothing.

The platform isn’t profitable yet, although Mr Davdra expects it to break even next year. “It was a bit of gamble but a risk we were willing to take.”

‘Still growing’

Last year Mr Agrawal stepped down from the firm after he was appointed Deputy Mayor of London for Business. He still owns 70% of the business, and is a non-executive director, while Mr Davdra holds the remaining shares.

Mr Davdra says he “misses him”.

“Apart from business, over the last 12 years we have developed a good relationship. He’s a very very close friend.”

For now, there are no plans to sell RationalFX, although private equity firms approach the firm “an average of twice a day”.

“Our brands are still growing and are quite young. It’s all about the right opportunity,” Mr Davdra says.

Headquartered at Canary Wharf, RationalFX and Xendpay together employ 110 members of staff.

Despite his penchant for expensive bikes and cars, Mr Davdra – who still lives in Harrow – has his feet firmly on the ground.

“I think we’re pretty humble. We’re working class, and we just do normal stuff. It’s the way we’ve been brought up.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41412635