Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Opportunities for Malaysian Changemakers

My full-time job these days is working for Ashoka's Changemakers, an international social enterprise organization that brings people together online to find solutions for different social issues. We host a number of different competitions and I just wanted to share two opportunities that the eHomemakers crowd might be particularly well suited for:

Women | Tools | Technology: Building Opportunities & Economic Power
This competition focuses on innovations that enable women to use the power of technology to expand their opportunities for economic advancement. Obviously, I immediately thought of eHomemakers but I'm sure there are other organizations and individuals in the community who have great ideas for this competition. The deadline is April 14. More...

Leveraging Business for Social Change: Building the Field of Social Business
Changemakers and Artemisia are looking at how social business initiatives can thrive and scale-up their impact on quality of life. You have a little more time to enter this competition - the final deadline is June 9 - but if you enter by April 28, you have the chance to win a digital camera. More...

Good luck if you choose to enter and if you know of any other opportunities, please share them in the comments!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Importance of Tabloids and the Stay-at-Home Writer by Avantika

Friend: What’s that you’re reading?
Avantika: A magazine.

Friend: I can see that. But which magazine?
Avantika: Just a magazine. You know I read anything and everything I can lay my hands on.

Friend: What do you mean just a magazine? What’s the name? Why such a secret?
Avantika: No-lah. No secret. Just shy to tell you.

Friend: So, which one is it?
Avantika: Errr … Hello! magazine.

Friend: W-h-a-t?
Avantika: Don’t shriek! I knew you would react badly. Stop laughing at me.

Friend: OK. OK. I’ll stop now. But, do you know how funny it is? I mean, you the oh-so-serious-writer reading a Hello! magazine. And what else do you have here? What? The Daily Mail and tabloids? What’s wrong with you?
Avantika: I told you why I read these magazines. They help me in my writing.

What I’ve listed above is an actual conversation I had with one of my friends just last week. Ever since I was in college, I’ve been reading the tabloids and also what others call ‘trashy’ magazines. I have benefitted from the detailed descriptions of the journalists, the raw emotions of everyone in the story recorded and the facial expressions of the people photographed. Those that fascinate me the most are printed copied and filed away in a suitable place. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example.

The following is a tragic story which appeared in the online version of The Telegraph.

Teenage A-level student stabbed to death by suspected robber
A teenage A-level student, Asha Muneer, was stabbed to death by a suspected robber as she walked home along a canal footpath. The 18 year-old was discovered by a passer-by lying face down on a path beside the River Kennet in Reading, Berks. A post-mortem found she died from multiple stab wounds. Witnesses said some of the contents of her handbag were strewn nearby.

A 19 year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of her murder. He has not been charged. Miss Muneer was studying for her A-levels at Highdown School in Caversham, Berks, and hoped to go to university, it was disclosed. She was a part-time shop assistant at a Laura Ashley store, and was attacked as she walked home after an evening shift at the Reading Gate retail complex. It was thought that she took a short cut home along the towpath and that her killer ambushed her from behind and stabbed her to death. Her body was found under a bridge at about 9.15pm on Monday by a jogger. Police carried out a fingertip search of the area but were not believed to have found the knife used to murder Miss Muneer.

Forensic officers removed a small kitchen knife that was found about 150ft from where the body was discovered. It will be tested for forensic evidence, but officers played down the possibility it was the murder weapon. A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said that the girl’s death was being treated as murder. “We continue to keep an open mind as to the motive for Asha’s death,” said Det Supt Karen Trego last night. “A team of detectives working on the investigation are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry. “This is obviously a deeply distressing time for those who knew and loved Asha.” Supt Jim Weems, area commander for Reading, added: “I’m confident that someone out there knows how and why this happened.” Last night, family members gathered at Miss Muneer’s parents’ three-bedroom terraced home in Reading. The family were too distressed to comment.

Friends paid tribute to Miss Muneer on Facebook. Rebecca Stanton wrote: “A beautiful young girl doing her A-levels and preparing for uni, taken by pure evil. Words can’t describe what a loss you are.” Janet Patewa said: “R I P Asha, you will truly be missed and loved. I will remember you for your charm and fun persona. You were fun to be around, always making everyone laugh.”

The canal is popular with dog walkers, cyclists and fishermen. But residents out walking near the murder scene, close to Reading’s Madejski football stadium, yesterday said they tended to avoid the area at night because it was badly lit. There are several CCTV cameras in the vicinity, however, and their footage will be examined by police.

Kathryn Hilliard, 28, of nearby Kennet Island, said: “That part of the footpath is a bit scary. I would never go down there in the dark on my own.” Margaret Ward, another resident, said: “It’s quite picturesque, but it’s not somewhere I’d walk in the middle of the night because there’s no lighting there. Even with my dogs, I wouldn’t walk under the bridge.”

The footpath remained sealed off with police tape yesterday.
This story is approximately 500 words long. It gives the facts of what happened. More often than not, the victim is described as ‘Ms. Muneer’. Some information about the reaction of family and friends is provided. There is one photograph of Ms. Muneer in this article. As I read it, I tried to imagine the scene of the crime and Ms. Muneer’s workplace. I had in mind that the Laura Ashley department store that she worked in was a small shop in a row of shops on the High Street of Reading – much like the one I used to go to in the UK.

Take the same incident and observe how it was reported in the Daily Mail.

19-year-old is held for knife murder of teenage Laura Ashley shop girl as she walked home from work

Murder investigation: Asha Muneer died of multiple stab wounds.

A 19-year-old man was today being quizzed by police on suspicion of murdering Laura Ashley shop worker Asha Muneer. The man was arrested at 10pm last night following the discovery of the 18-year-old's body.

Asha was stabbed 'multiple times' as she walked home from her part-time job along a lonely riverside footpath. Police revealed she had been stabbed in the head and body before being left to die alone on the bank of the River Kennett, two miles from the centre of Reading, Berkshire.

Today, as police frogmen were searching the river for a murder weapon, her family said they had lost a 'loving, beautiful daughter'. In a statement, her mother, father and two sisters, said: 'Our family have lost a loving, beautiful daughter and we are trying to come to terms with how she died and the void that it has left in our lives.' Friends also paid tribute to a 'bubbly girl' who was always there for her friends.

The scene of the attack is close to Reading Football Club's Madejski stadium and less than a mile from her place of work - an out-of-town branch of Laura Ashley. Detectives said the attack took place at around 8.30pm. Asha's body was discovered 45 minutes later by a jogger.

'Bubbly': Asha, 19, who died after walking along a canal after finishing her part time job, was described as sweet, funny and a good friend by schoolmates. Her handbag, which was found near her blood-soaked body, had been emptied and its contents scattered on the ground.

The store where the teenager works closes at 6pm leaving two-and-a-half hours unaccounted for. However, last night it was reported she had arranged to meet friends at a nearby McDonald's after work.

Yesterday members of Asha's family gathered at her home in the nearby Whitley area of Reading, a mile and a half from where she was stabbed.

Forensic experts collect evidence at the scene by the River Kennet in Reading
A man, who described himself only as Asha's uncle, said: 'We don't really know anything much about what happened. It is too soon to talk about Asha. We are not in the right place in our heads at the moment.'

Asha, who is believed to be Muslim, had four sisters aged between 14 and 21 and a young brother. Her father is a taxi driver.

A close school friend, Amy Collett, said: 'Everyone loved her. She was so sweet and funny and was there 100 per cent for her friends. She was so bubbly.'

Police taped off the riverside path where the woman's body was discovered. Police at the scene next to the Kennet River in Reading, Berkshire, after the young woman's body was found
The pair met at Reading Girls School which Asha attended for GCSEs before moving to Highdown School in Caversham to do her A-levels.

Amy added: 'Just the other week she messaged me about an event she was organising. It was going to be like a mini reunion. I'm so sad that I won't be seeing her there now.’

Another friend said she believed the teenager had an older boyfriend. She said: 'I don't know how she met him. I heard a few months ago they were having problems.'

Highdown School head Tim Royle said: 'The whole school community is deeply shocked by Asha Muneer's tragic and untimely death and all our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with her family and friends at this terrible time. 'Staff at Highdown School and Sixth Form Centre and from the local authority are working together to provide support for all the children who have been affected by this appalling tragedy.

Asha Muneer had a part-time job at Laura Ashley in the Brunel retail park. Her body was found on the towpath near the Madejski stadium. 'Asha was a much-liked and very talented student. She will be greatly missed by all her friends at Highdown and by the staff who knew her and taught her.'

A Facebook group page was last night set up in Asha's memory. A poem dedicated to the schoolgirl finished with the lines: 'Asha was definitely a star to those she knew - like a sister to everyone.' Emma Leigh Brennan wrote: 'Asha, you brightened so many peoples days with ure jokes and how you never used to think before you said things lol (laughing out loud), you had the whole class rolling up and no one will ever forget you for that.
'There is not many people in the world that were as good hearted as you were.'

One local woman, housewife Leanne Marlow, a 21-year-old mother of one, told how she had walked the path where Asha died just two hours before the attack. She said: 'It was very dark. 'It can be very gloomy down there, especially at night.'

Kathryn Hilliard, 28, from the nearby Kennet Island housing estate, added: 'That part of the footpath is a bit scary and there's a lot of graffiti down there. I would never go down there in the dark on my own.'

White-suited forensic officers yesterday trawled the site immediately around where Asha's body was found. A kitchen knife was found on the ground nearby but it was unclear if it was used in the attack. The underpass, which runs under the A33 road, is often used by pedestrians to walk between the various retail, industrial and housing estates that line the road into Reading town centre.

Thames Valley Superintendent Jim Weems said he was 'keeping an open mind' about the motive for the killing.
This article is almost double in the amount of words used to describe the same incident.

This is how I used these articles to help in my fiction:
  1. Setting: There are 8 photographs in this story – from the 2 pictures of Asha Muneer, the police at the scene of the crime and even a picture of a blade of a knife found at the murder scene. It’s like a dream come true to help an author ‘visualise’ a scene in her head.
  2. Dialogue: There are such emotional quotes from members of the victim’s extended family, her co-workers, school friends and nearby residents. When writing dialogue, nothing destroys a story more when readers say, “I don’t recognise that person. People who live in my town don’t talk that way.”
  3. Plot and Structure: Ever heard the saying, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’? Well, with these stories, you’ll know what the truth is. If there are twists and turns in your story, you’ll know just where to tweak it to make it sound real.
The question now is this: can you see why it’s important for writers to read anything and everything they can lay their hands on?

eHomemakers Profiled by International Development Research Centre

I just wanted to draw your attention to a few great features on the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) site. First is a short profile of eHomemakers and its basket weaving program and the second is a case study by eHomemakers' founder Chong Sheau Ching in which she shares her experiences leading the company.

And while we're on the topic of women and technology, check out the report "Bridging the Gender Divide: How Technology Can Advance Women Economically" by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). It's a great read and just in time for International Women's Day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Presupposition and the Stay-at-Home Writer by Avantika

Anthony Robbins wrote: ‘The specific words we select and the very order of the words that we use in a question can cause us not to even consider certain things while taking others for granted. For example, during election campaign people were asked, “Does it bother you that Dan Quayle used his family’s influence to go to the National Guard and stay out of Vietnam?” People actually believed this. They never questioned it. No such fact was ever substantiated. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting presuppositions.

Just last month, I had a visit from a family friend. She is not someone I particularly respect nor is she someone admire; however, she wanted to know about my writing career. I tried to tell her about it. But the conversation didn’t go well. The presuppositions she made about my life made me boil at the time. I’ve recounted the conversation below. I wonder what your reaction will be. . .

Ignorant Person: Avantika, can I ask you something personal?
Avantika: Y-e-s?

Ignorant Person: Oh, it’s nothing bad. You don’t need to sound so defensive. I’m not a writer so I’m not going to know. I just want to learn what it’s like for you.
Avantika: I’m not defensive. I’m just … You know, let’s not go there. What is it you want to know?

Ignorant Person: But, you mustn’t get angry, OK? It’s not something bad, I promise you.
Avantika: O.K. But can you just ask me the question?

Ignorant Person: O.K. I want to know something about you. I want to know … you know … how things are?
Avantika: What do you mean how things are? I don’t understand you. And why are you moving your arms all over. Explain.

Ignorant Person: Aiyo, can’t you understand or what?
Avantika: Understand what? You’re not asking me what you want to know. Say it. I think I know what you’re trying to ask, but I want to make sure it’s the right thing. Don’t worry. I won’t get angry. Just say the words.

Ignorant Person: O.K., since you insist, I’ll ask you directly. How do you live? Where do you get your money from? I heard that writers never really make any money.
Avantika: Yes, that’s what I thought you were asking. Well, I’ll explain to you. A lot of my work until now has been fiction. Fiction rarely brings in money unless you’re a famous, well-established writer. Non-fiction work, like fiction work, does bring in money but it’s hard to get into the market.

Ignorant Person: Hmmm…
Avantika: Like everything else, writing takes time. You need to work at it before you can reap the rewards. Just like when you set up your restaurant business. Weren’t the first two years hard work?

Ignorant Person: Yes. But this is Malaysia. Everybody likes to eat.
Avantika: Huh?

Ignorant Person: I mean, people will always want to eat. Not like writers. They take so long to write even one book and then, what? What are you going to write about? Also, the money is not steady income. You have no EPF, no pension. Nothing.
Avantika: You think I’ll run out of things to write about?

Ignorant Person: Yes. You’ve written this book and your stories. But, what else can you write about? Your book is all about what’s happening today in the world? People have already written about the past. And no one knows about the future? So, what’s left?
Avantika: You know, I don’t even know how to answer you right now.

Ignorant Person: You see, you can’t even defend yourself properly. And you call yourself a writer. Don’t frown like that. I don’t know why you had to give up that well-paying job in the first place? Now, you’re really struggling and you won’t even admit it.
Avantika: I think you’ve said enough. I’m not going to listen to any more of this.

Ignorant Person: Just as I thought. You have no money. If you did, you would tell me now not to worry.
Avantika: I’m not saying anything because I’ve realised that even if I explain it 100 times to you, you’ll never have any clue what I do. In your mind, all writers are poor and that’s it. Even if I begin to explain that, with time, you can become an editor, a proof-reader and earn far more than I ever could working for someone else, you’ll never understand. So, why bother.

Ignorant Person: Even if you are earning money, I think you’re really lonely and you should get out more. You never see anyone. You’re becoming a recluse. At least in the office, you could see other people around you.
Avantika: A recluse? You actually think that when I sat in an office, surrounded by people, I was happy? You have no idea what it’s like. I’m only going to say this to you once. I don’t know whether you’ll understand, but I’ll say it anyway. You’ve presupposed that my life is really dull, boring and I am, somehow, in need of company. Well, I was lonelier when I was at work full-time. I went to work at 8 in the morning and was forced to work non-stop. I saw people throughout the day but never really communicated with another person. Now, when I talk with someone, even if it’s for 5 minutes, that’s enough. That meaningful conversation will take me through the day. I love writing. I can pour my heart into it and I answer to myself. Not a boss. Not a manager. Not another person. It takes a lot of discipline to do what I’m doing. But you’ll never see it because in your eyes, since I’m not working in an office, I’m not doing work. Understand?

Ignorant Person: Hmmm … I can’t talk to you. You’ll never listen.
Avantika: You know what? We’re done. You live your life and I’ll live mine. Don’t ask me about my writing career again. Deal?

Ignorant Person: Deal.

Building Communities Half-Way Around the World and Nice to Meet You

Or perhaps the other way around.... Before I get started, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Alexis and I'll be writing occasionally on social enterprise issues for the eHomemakers blog. I've been working/volunteering in digital media and marketing for the past five years and I also have experience in harm reduction health outreach. I'm looking forward to sharing my perspective from the United States while learning more about the challenges and joys of doing business in Southeast Asia.

I've recently been exploring the eHomemakers website and corresponding with its founder. In case you're not familiar with eHomemakers (although considering you're reading this blog, you must be somewhat familiar), they are based out of Kuala Lumpur and they provide networking, support, and an online community to women who work from home. What I love about their philosophy is their focus on empowering women economically while understanding the cultural and personal obligations that may limit a woman's opportunities outside of the home.

While in South Africa this past fall, I encountered other models of job creation and community support for women, including Monkeybiz. When we visited the store in Bo-Kaap (and admittedly bought a few too many adorable beaded penguins), they told us about how the women create their beaded animals at home based on their own designs and how Monkeybiz provides health and additional support services to the women and their families.

Monkeybiz is successful because they've created a niche for themselves in the marketplace. Not only is the product cool (step one), the mission resonates with their target audience. Business models that allow individual entrepreneurship to thrive while responding to changing market tastes seem like the best candidates for long-term success, and in the case of organizations like Monkeybiz and eHomemakers, long-term social impact.

(Part of this post originally appeared here. It is reposted with permission.)