Redefining success for business

The last couple of years have seen corporations increasingly under the pump – divestment campaigns, boycotts, fines and regulations (etc.). Considering the part many of them have played in Climate Change, tax aversion, the Global Financial Crisis, and evading sanctions (etc.), you may be thinking this is fair enough.

But not all companies will sacrifice everything in the quest for profit. Some aspire to play a role beyond reaping a financial gain for a small coterie of investors. And, in the United States, there is now a legislative vehicle for these companies. They can incorporate as a “Benefit Corporation” – a company with a stated social responsibility.

Unfortunately, legislation for Benefit Corporations has not yet spread. So, enter the B Corporation, a certification similar to Fairtrade. It signifies a company that has met minimum standards and is driven by loftier ambitions. For a piece I made for The Wire this week I wanted to find out more. So I spoke with Mele-Ane Havea, the Director of Portfolio for Small Giants – the first B Corporation in Australia. Here is our extended interview:




Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Isaac Newton by James Gleick

isaacnewtonjamesgleickLike a lot of people, I was absolutely entranced by this year’s remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. It wasn’t just the stunning visuals and mind-blowing science, it was the stories of the people who have carried us this far. The giants upon whose shoulders we now stand. Michael Faraday, William Herschel, Joseph von Fraunhofer, Cecilia Payne, Edmond Halley, and, of course, Isaac Newton (to name a few). Cosmos made them all come alive, and gave me a thirst to know more about them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the series will be continued. So, for anyone like me, its time to hit the books. Let’s begin with the man who laid the foundation of the modern world – Isaac Newton.

“He was born into a world of darkness, obscurity, and magic; led a strangely pure and obsessive life, lacking parents, lovers, and friends; quarrelled bitterly with great men who crossed his path; veered at least once to the brink of madness; cloaked his work in secrecy; and yet discovered more of the essential core of human knowledge than anyone before or after.”

Isaac Newton is a peculiar figure. Anyone who has received any semblance of a liberal education can probably name him and some of his achievements. You may even be able to recall his pointed nose and luscious hair. But what do we know beyond that? Where was he born? How did he work? What drove him? This is where James Gleick steps in. Many of you may know of Gleick. He’s a prominent science writer, with several other great books out there (a review of The Information is forthcoming). But the deftness with which he brings science to the less erudite is really on show with this biography. It’s not a long book, more of a Newton summary really, but it hits the high points. It begins with a visit to Woolsthorpe – where Newton was born, works through his education and scientific awakening, and finishes with Newton’s legacy. That last subject being something that could fill whole libraries.

“What Newton learned remains the essence of what we know, as if by our own intuition”

For a small book — my edition comes in at under two hundred pages — there is an incredible amount to be gleaned about the life of Isaac Newton. How many of us really consider Isaac Newton the ostensible orphan? When school children learn about his theories in science textbooks, do we realise how hard up the young Newton was for simple paper and pens, let alone textbooks? When we imagine him sitting under the Apple tree (surely a myth), do we conjure the ways the young Newton really did turn the natural world into a veritable laboratory? How many of us imagine a man famous for calculating his way through the mysterious of the cosmos, also filling notebooks with the ingredients for paint, the Bible’s hidden codes, and lists of thousands of nouns in different languages (etc.)? His forays into alchemy and other scorned fields are legendary, but did you know Newton had to be goaded into publishing his legitimate work? Even his famous Principia? Textbooks and popular imagination give us an image of Newton as a robot genius. But Gleick reveals him to be so much more. An irascible yet modest man, whose insatiable thirst for knowledge changed the world.

“It was nature’s destiny now to be mathematised. Henceforth space would have dimension and measure; the moon would be subject to geometry.”

Newton’s life is fascinating, and, as all good biographers do, Gleick has revealed his subject to be much more than our cartoonish popular conception. The book is well written, really, I demolished it in a day. But it’s arguable how much this is due to it’s readability as to it’s length. And it’s the length that gets me. Gleick really, manages little more than pulling back the curtain on a giant of the modern age. And when you consider how much context he must provide — on the age of Enlightenment, the wars with Hooke and Leibniz over no less than Gravity and Calculus (etc.) — it’s no wonder we emerge on the other end having barely touched his personality or character. Newton was a revolutionary, his shadow still falls over science, economics, mathematics, philosophy, theology, and much, much more. As a short dip into his life and works, Gleick’s book is more than sufficient. As a study of one of the most influential men in history, it leaves a lot to be desired.

“No one feels the burden of Newton’s legacy, looming forward from the past, more than the modern scientist. A worry nags at his descendants: that Newton may have been too successful; that the power of his methods gave them too much authority.”

Title: Isaac Newton

Author: James Gleick

Pages: 191 (Paperback)

Josh’s Rating: 3/5

Amazon Link: Isaac Newton

What does the ISAF withdrawal mean for Afghan Women?

Across Afghanistan, British and American flags are coming down. The last of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are heading for the exits. But what about the Women’s rights being left behind?

While the rationale for the invasion was the hunt for Al Qaeda and the ousting of Taliban, ISAF countries made a lot of hay about the liberation of Women – freeing them of the constraints of the Taliban. Some progress was made – Women featured predominantly in the latest election. Now, with the international presence gone, is this progress doomed?

I spoke with Jacky Sutton, a Senior Research Scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University:




Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Ebola follow up – what does the ‘fight’ look like?

West Africa’s Ebola outbreak is getting scarier and scarier. Not least because the death count is staggering – now over 4,000 – and the disease is looking less “contained” in West Africa by the day. But what can be done? What is being done?

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Dr Adam Kamradt-Scott for The Wire. An expert in bio security, Dr Kamradt-Scott lamented Australia’s lack of involvement in West Africa, especially juxtaposed with our guns blazing attitude in the Middle East. In the weeks since our interview, hundreds of millions of dollars have been committed, and thousands of troops and medical personnel have been pledged, by countries ranging from Cuba to the United States. But what does it look like when helicopters, hospitals and thousands of personnel roll into Ebola ridden areas? What are all these people doing? I called Dr Kamradt-Scott again, to ask what the fight looks like:



(Image: NIAID/Flickr)

Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Another perspective on Hijabs

Over the past weeks, Australian Muslims have received more than their fair share of scrutiny and vitriol. On television, on radio and in the newspapers, the entire community is under the microscope. Reporters have been sent out to do hit pieces and scare stories, columnists demand the “moderates” condemn the extremists for the umpteenth time, and Mosques were vandalised. The othering has been cranked up to eleven.

It became a bit more official last week, as some Australian Parliamentarians debated banning the Burqa, demanded proponents of Sharia leave the country, and generally did their best to ostracise the Muslim community. The media piled on, quick to tie these debates to new “Anti-terror” laws, the conflict in Iraq and Syria, and raids around the country.

But there is one voice we very rarely hear. Lost amid the crossfire of Male Muslims, Shock Jocks, Politicians, and Non Muslims, where are the Women who actually wear the Burqa, the Niqab or the Hijab? In an extended piece I made for The Wire this week, I spoke to three Women (including my Aunty) about why Muslim Women choose to wear the Hijab:

(Image: Nur Amirah/Flickr)

Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.

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