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Best content from the best source handpicked by Shyam. The source include The Harvard University, MIT, Mckinsey & Co, Wharton, Stanford,and other top educational institutions. domains include Cybersecurity, Machine learning, Deep Learning, Bigdata, Education, Information Technology, Management, others.

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    What Mindfulness Is — And Isn't

    Now that meditation has hit the cover of TIME, the Wisdom 2.0 conference has brought meditating executives to the headlines, and figures from Arianna Huffington to 50 Cent do the practice, a bit of backlash was inevitable.
    But I was surprised to see my friend Tony Schwartz dissenting (at least a bit) in a New York Times blog “More Mindfulness, Less Meditation.” Tony’s sense of the working world ranks first class, but this time I think he got the facts wrong, in two ways.
    To be sure, he nods to the well-established benefits of meditation: it lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, enhances the immune response, lifts mood, helps us recover more quickly from stress and sharpens focus.
    But where he gets it wrong, in my reading of the data, is in expecting that practicing meditation should mean we experience fewer distractions. In fact the mind is wired to wander about 50% of the time, a Harvard study found (and FYI, it wanders most on your commute, while working, and when you’re looking at a digital screen).
    The scientific data suggests it’s not that we have fewer distractions, but that we can handle them better. In fact, meditation takes advantage of the mind’s wiring to wander to create an opportunity for mental training.
    Wendy Hasenkamp and Laurence Barsalou at Emory University used brain imaging while people meditated and found four basic moves: you focus on one thing (say, your breath), your mind wanders off, you notice it wandered, and you shift attention back to that one thing again. And you do this over and over again.
    Turns out that this simple movement of mind strengthens connections among the brain’s circuits for concentrating. The more you practice, the stronger the connections.
    This is the basic rep in our mental gym, quite akin to lifting free weights. The idea is not to stop our mind from wandering. The point is to be mindful of its wandering and shift to where you want it to be.
    Some clarification here. “Mindfulness” refers to that move where you notice your mind wandered. With mindfulness you monitor whatever goes on within the mind. “Meditation” means the whole class of ways to train attention, mindfulness among them.
    Some meditation methods just have you be mindful of whatever goes on within your mind – thoughts, feelings, fantasies, etc – without judging or reacting; this self-awareness in itself tends to quiet the mind. But in contrast many meditation methods are concentrative – you continually bring your mind back to one point of focus like your breath or counting or a simple sound you repeat mentally. Concentrative methods use mindfulness to notice when your mind wanders so you can bring it back to that one focus.
    The other place Tony gets it wrong is in the expectation that meditation will resolve our inner conflicts or fix dysfunctional relationship patterns. It was never designed for that – psychotherapy was. Mindfulness and psychotherapy are like hammers and saws – different tools for different jobs.
    Except that it turns out the two in combination are particularly powerful – witness the rise of mindfulness integrated with cognitive therapy, which studies find to be one of the most powerful treatments for everything from depression to, just perhaps, dysfunctional relationship patterns. The first big discovery: John Teasdale at the University of Oxford found that mindfulness plus cognitive therapy reduced episodes of depression by 50% in chronically depressed patients who were not helped by any other means, from drugs to electroconvulsive therapy.
    Full disclosure: my wife Tara Bennett-Goleman was a pioneer in combining psychotherapy and mindfulness in her books Emotional Alchemy and more recently, Mind Whispering. (I just told her what I wrote here and she said, “Don’t over-simplify, honey. It’s a work in progress!”)

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    Is there Any Evidence of Inclusive Business Results? 

    Findings from the BIF Portfolio



    There is a dearth of hard data on the commercial and social results of inclusive business. So we have been scrutinising thousands of pieces of data from 40 inclusive businesses, to see if findings from the Business Innovation Facility portfolio can help address that gap. On the down side, the businesses are still early stage, often half way or less in a journey that is likely to take a decade to scale, so results are preliminary. On the plus side, there is a wealth of monitoring data, because they have received support from the DFID-funded Business Innovation Facility, and aggregated data can be publicly shared.

    So what does the portfolio show? Or perhaps the question is: is the glass half empty or half full? Across our portfolio there are clear signs of progress towards commercial return, development impacts on households at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), and even wider influence on other players in the market. But results vary enormously between businesses and, with few exceptions, are signposts of what may yet be achieved.

    In this blog, part of a mini-series, we share six headlines, but the full results are shared in our new reports.

    1.     80% progressing

    At the time of writing this report, 80 per cent of the inclusive businesses in our portfolio are progressing and 20 per cent have stalled or been iced. Amongst those progressing, over half are ‘progressing well’ or ‘flourishing’ and just under half are progressing slowly. There is no pattern by country, sector, or type of company, that links with business progress. There is, however, one pattern in this admittedly small sample. Of the eight businesses that are not progressing, seven are focused on sourcing from BoP producers and only one focuses on BoP consumers.

    2.     Turnover is increasing, but by less than projected.

    This is a fairly early stage portfolio: half had zero turnover at the start of BIF support, and so far, based on actual figures for Year 1, five inclusive businesses are in profit. None have reached scale in BoP markets yet.

    Across the entire portfolio, an aggregate 62 per cent increase in turnover in the first year illustrates progress, although it is below the estimated increase of 190%. For those that are progressing, we can say that they are on track to their destination, but not on track against their initial targets. 

    Growth so far is small compared to future ambitious targets for turnover to increase several-fold over the next few years.  Most of the inclusive businesses see a steep growth past following their pilot phase. So ultimately what matters is not whether year 1 performance is above or below target, but whether they get onto their hoped for trend line. Looking ahead, the smallest half dozen businesses expect turnover in the range of $100,000 per year, while those that have invested over $5mn to date, are aiming for turnover in the range of $5 to $25 million per year.

    3.     Strategic commercial objectives are being met

    It gets ever clearer that the companies have clear, long-term strategic reasons to invest in inclusive business and this is why they persist. Although few are making a profit so far, the majority say that they can already perceive some delivery against the commercial objectives that they originally identified, such as securing competitive advantage and new markets.

    4.     The portfolio is reaching around 100,000 households  at the base of the pyramid so far, but is on track to reach an estimated 3.5 million.

    The inclusive businesses are reaching around 100,000 households at the BoP in their first year of engagement with BIF. Estimates made by companies for the future run into several millions. We have scaled them down twice: firstly for optimism (30% decrease across the board), and then secondly to allow for variable business progress (from 0-100% decrease). The resulting  ‘revised for realism’ estimates are for total reach to over a million households at the BOP 3 years after BIF support (in about two years from now), and over 3.5 million by year 5 (in 3-4 years).

    BoP reach per inclusive business is massively variable. Producer-focused inclusive businesses aim to reach some thousands of smallholder suppliers, while consumer-focused inclusive businesses aim to reach tens and hundreds of thousands, or, in a couple of cases, a few million.
    Now here is one finding that surprised – and pleased – us.  There is little definition of ‘households at the BoP.’ Not surprisingly, few businesses know the income levels of the BoP in their value chain. But our deep dive case studies indicate that those who benefit include those living under a $2 per person per day poverty line, as well as those living slightly over. They certainly lack access to income and essential goods and services. Numbers do not capture the significance of how lives are touched. In most cases, benefits seem substantive for families, whether they are gaining access to lighting, information, or a market for their crop.
    Finally, aside from directly reaching BoP households, some of the businesses help catalyse changes in the behaviour of other players, in associated markets, or
 in other sectors. These catalytic affects were largely unpredictable. Often they occur because inclusive businesses enable other firms to engage efficiently with BoP producers or consumers by providing mobile apps, distribution networks, or energy supplies that other businesses can harness.

    In summary we can see that:
    .    As with all new business initiatives, there are some that flourish and others that do not.
    .    Timing is everything when making an assessment of commercial progress in a portfolio. What you find depends on when you assess. Businesses that were stalled a year ago have leapt forward, and vice versa.
    .    To date, more producer inclusive business ventures have been stalled or are ‘on ice’ than consumer ones.
    .    There are no other clear patterns (e.g. by size, maturity, sector) that we can observe across the five-country portfolio as to which kind
 of inclusive business venture is more or less likely to flourish.  
    .    With 80% progressing so far, it looks certainly possible that the majority will become viable businesses. Not all though will truly scale. Some but not all have strong potential. The consumer businesses that have already invested millions in development of products and distribution chains are purposely designed for operation at scale. Some have designed business models that actively seek to internalize the external constraints to scale that inclusive businesses typically face.

    The results discussed above, and others, are covered in two final reports from the  Business Innovation Facility (BIF), during its pilot phase in Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia.  

    The 4Ps of Inclusive Business: How perseverance, partnerships, pilots and passion can lead to success,">reports commercial results and BoP results .

    "Adding value to innovation:  Lessons on donor support to inclusive business from the Business Innovation Facility pilot goes into more depth on the development contribution of business (direct and catalytic), to assess it from a donor perspective. Written by Tom Harrison, Carolin Schramm and myself, they have just been launched and represent the final public outputs of BIF which worked with hundreds of companies, and most intensively with 40 inclusive businesses. The ‘4Ps’ and ‘Adding value’ reports, plus other blogs in this series, share what we have learnt about their business models, journeys and results.


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    ‘Why sacrifice domestic growth for exchange rate stability?’



    IIMB expert flays rate hike in monetary policy, quotes First Law of Holes to RBI - Stop digging, when you find yourself in a hole.
    The Reserve Bank of India unexpectedly raised its policy interest rate on Tuesday by 25 basis points (bps) but said that if consumer price inflation eases as projected, it does not foresee further near-term tightening. The RBI raised its policy repo rate by 25 bps to 8%.
    Dr Charan Singh, RBI Chair Professor, IIMB, calls the move "unwarranted" and describes it as the "last straw on the camel's back". He thinks, in emerging countries without any unemployment dole, there is no long run, for poor can be dead in the short run itself.
    The rate hike, announced by the RBI, on Tuesday (January 28), was not expected by most market players given that inflation was in check. Is the rate hike disappointing?
    The repo rate has been raised from 7.75 per cent to 8 percent. There is certainly a surprise element. I wish the hike had not taken place because prices had stabilized. To me, this affects the credibility of the Reserve Bank because in their last policy statement they had said if the prices stabilize, then they would not hike the rate of interest.
    Also, an additional factor has been brought into the monetary policy statement, which is the exchange rate concern. To me, high interest rate is not going to help in view of the avalanche that will follow the tapering, if that happens as a general trend with all the emerging countries. A 25 basis points hike is not going to stop the outflow when the time comes. Rather, it will only further stifle growth and industrial production in the domestic economy.
    There is another fundamental flaw to the policy: Why should we hold the rupee artificially at a level where it does not belong? Everybody in the market knows the CPI differential between India and the US has been massive historically; the rupee has to find its equilibrium level. Why should we sacrifice domestic growth for exchange rate stability?
    In India, we do not have employment figures. The rising unemployment, because of slowing economic growth, is not measured. If that was being measured, it would have shown critical levels already. And this additional rate hike is going to slow production, slow growth and increase unemployment.
    I am not convinced that the rate hike was warranted. Neither was I convinced when the last rate hike was done.
    Would you day the financial crisis and the Great Recession have changed the way that consumers, bankers, business managers and regulators think and behave? No one seems to assume basic economic stability any more.
    Yes, behavior has changed. The Great Recession has taken place after nearly three generations and few individuals have memories of the Great Depression. The global economy is slowing and this is impacting in a contagion manner, sequentially. But in advanced countries, there is forward guidance that runs more than two years ahead. In other words, they announce what they will do for the next two years; they have it conditional either on unemployment figures or on inflation figures and they follow it in letter and spirit.
    In India, we do our credibility no favors because we make statements but we do not follow them up. Less than six weeks ago, the statement was that in case inflation comes down, the RBI would consider not changing the repo rate. What has happened now? Inflation has come down but the rate has been raised! Forward guidance is missing in India.
    Monetary policy (the influencing of interest rates, credit conditions and the money supply) is powerful, but it is not some potion that, taken in the right doses, can magically calm the business cycle, is it?
    Monetary policy is not a magic potion, yes but it can certainly help in stabilizing a critically charged environment. This happens across the world, especially during elections, when fiscal policy is expansionary. It is very important that the monetary policy plays a stabilizing role then. However, the stabilizing role has to be played carefully. If it is overdone, it can impact growth.
    In India, the fiscal policy is expansionary and the macroeconomic and monetary development review accompanying the (RBI) Governor's statement clearly says that the deficit has shot up. The situation is grim. Tax collections are low. In a country like India, where dole is not provided to the unemployed and growth is impacted, people are left feeling desperate. This can lead to frustration and enhanced crime. This can also lead to unemployed masses joining political rallies and leading to upturn in political fates.
    Subsidies are rising because of the Food Security Act and because of rising petroleum subsidies. When deficits are rising and the monetary policy does not give cognizance to growth undercurrents in the economy, the situation will obviously turn grave.
    I understand that the monetary policy is being framed in very uncertain times. But I would have thought that in these uncertain times instead of adding the last straw on the camel's back, the interest rate should have been left untouched.
    Any other thoughts?
    Yes.
    It is very surprising that the monetary policy is unilaterally implementing the Urjit Panel Report. Are other countries targeting inflation in a crisis? Should we target inflation in a critical situation when growth is slowing? These are the issues which need to be discussed.
    Secondly, what is real rate of interest? If nominal rates are rising when inflation is stabilizing, then obviously the real rate of interest is rising. Does it not deter investment?  It is important to consider as to how is the market perceiving the intention of raising the interest rates. These issues must also be discussed widely before implementing the Urjit Report.
    Thirdly, is this philosophy of raising the interest rate like making a straw man face an upcoming storm? When the tapering starts and when the global economy is in an uncertain phase and when exchange rates of emerging countries start losing their value, would this interest rate not turn into a straw man in a storm? In the meantime, we would have impacted our domestic economy adversely. We have to understand that short run and long run are terms for the rich and for economists. A poor man, on losing a job, is finished, emotionally and socially. For a poor man, there is no long run, for he may be dead in the short run itself. Hence, sacrificing growth even in the short run, when social security does not exist is not fair policy in an emerging country but certainly is in advanced countries which support their unemployed with substantial dole.
    I would like to quote from the First Law of Holes, stated by the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!" It is time to stop digging in India.

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    ‘India Inc is an item number in a Bollywood film; the backbone of our economy is small biz’


    In his book 'India Uninc.', IIMB's Professor R Vaidyanathan argues that the non-corporate sector constitutes nearly 45-50 per cent of GDP and therefore must be supported with less harassment from corrupt regulators and more access to credit
    Did you know that both BCCI and Bollywood, magnificent Indian obsessions, belong to the unorganized sector? India Uninc., the book on India's large and productive informal sector by Professor Vaidyanathan, launched on Tuesday (Feb 04) evening at the IIMB auditorium not only redefines the Indian economic structure; it also puts the spotlight on the nation's 'unincorporated' sector and the problems dogging it.
    Released by a galaxy of eminent persons, including

    Mr. Rangachary, former chairman, IRDA; Mr. Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services, and Mr. Murali, Managing Director, Sriram Properties, the book delves into the non-corporate sector, explains how the many proprietorship and partnership firms, small manufacturing units, kirana stores, single entrepreneurs and household enterprises are the true future of the economy in the long term.
    Published by Tata Westland, the book urges a wider view of the national economy, with Professor Vaidyanathan stating that the needs of small entrepreneurs should prevail over crony capitalism.
    "Erudite yet accessible, and offering a wealth of information on an uncharted territory, India Uninc. is a must-read for anybody who aspires to understand the Indian economy -as well as India itself," declared Mr Rangachary.
    Describing the birth of the book, Professor Vaidyanathan, revealed that 'terminology terrorism' had triggered in him a need to coin a new word - Uninc. He said, "I do not call the informal sector 'unorganized' as the word has a negative connotation. They are certainly better organized than some MNCs, believe me!"
    He drew attention to the fact that this 'Uninc' that India must be proud and supportive of actually contributes 45-50- per cent of the GDP and therefore needs access to credit. "Instead what they find themselves dealing with is corrupt regulation," he added.
    Highlighting the uniqueness of the Indian economy, he explained how the engine growth for India lies in the unincorporated sector, an idea seconded by Mr. Mohandas Pai, who suggested that the unincorporated sector be incentivized for growth and job creation.
    Mr. Murali, who described Professor Vaidyanathan as his mentor, hoped that policies framed by government would show a real connect with real society.
    Earlier in the evening, Professor Devanath Tirupati, Director Incharge, IIMB, welcomed the gathering of scholars, business heads and students to the book launch, describing Professor Vaidyanathan as a researcher whose work finds resonance with the common man. And true to character, Professor Vaidyanathan kept his audience engrossed with his wit and wisdom. "I was worried that the vegetable vendor, down the road where I live and who works from 7 am to 10 pm is described as unorganized but the Government is described as organized, and that's when I decided to research the subject," he said only in half jest as his audience erupted into wild applause.
    He also laid bare the lopsided viewpoints of policy-makers and 'experts', and urged a broader vision of the country's economy.

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    Case study on INDCOSERVE by Professor Seema Gupta and Professor B Mahadevan ranked #1 in ISB-IVEY Case Competition, 2011

    The case study "INDCOSERVE: Stirring Up" by Professor Seema 
    Gupta and Professor B Mahadevan was ranked #1 in the ISB-IVEY Case Competition, 2011.
    The competition witnessed overwhelming response with over 220 faculty members representing more than 75 business schools registering for the competition.  Submissions came in from top Indian B Schools including  IIM-A, IIM-B, XLRI, S.P. Jain, MDI, IIT-B, NMIMS, Welingkars as well as many upcoming B-schools. Cases covered topics like Social entrepreneurship Microfinance, Leadership, Change Management, Governance etc., in addition to regular management topics of strategy, marketing, and organizational behavior etc. Competition was intense.
    The case was judged by Ariff Kachra - Strategy Professor & Director of India Development, Richard Ivey School of Business and Sharon Armstrong, VP Business Development CMA, Ontario.
    ABSTRACT
    INDCOSERVE: Stirring Up
    Seema Gupta and B Mahadevan
    Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
    In January 2011 A.S. Jafry, Special Officer and Managing Director, INDCOSERVE, a tea producing and marketing cooperative, was reflecting on the marketing strategy of the company. Jafry's main concern pertained to putting more money in the hands of the small growers. He can do this only by increasing the profitability. The moot question is do we increase profitability by improving the quality of tea or by strengthening existing marketing channel or by exploring new channels?  
    Agricultural commodities often are characterized by seasonality and shelf-life of the produce. Further, in countries such as India there are significant public policy dimensions (governmental regulation on pricing and markets etc.) that critically influence production, distribution and marketing of several agricultural commodities. Unlike their counterpart in manufacturing, agricultural commodity supply chains typically are not well organized in such countries. Therefore, prevalence of cooperatives as an organization structure for managing several supply chain activities is also a common feature. This case has contextually been set under these conditions and it deals primarily with the issue of marketing of tea. In addition to issues pertaining to marketing of agricultural commodities, tea poses unique challenges arising out of numerous varieties/grades. Due to several of these aspects understanding the factors that influence profitability of a firm engaged in procurement, production, marketing and brand creation of tea makes an interesting study for a student of management.
    The case offers a multidimensional perspective to the problem of improving the profitability and points to various alternatives in the hands of the management to address the same. The case can be used in the core marketing course, perhaps, as a capstone case towards the end to highlight the interrelationships among different elements of marketing. The case can also be used in other courses to introduce challenges of managing cooperatives, use of auction as the procurement mechanism and also to illustrate the use of Internet as a primary marketing channel.
    B. Mahadevan is a professor of operations management at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, where he has been teaching since 1992. He was also the Dean (Administration) of the institute. Professor Mahadevan has more than 18 years of wide-ranging experience in teaching, research, consulting and academic administration at IIM Bangalore and other reputed institutions such as IIT Delhi and XLRI, Jamshedpur. He was earlier Chief Editor of the IIMB Management Review, the premier Indian journal for management educators, consultants and practitionersProfessor Mahadevan was earlier the EADS-SMI Chair Professor for Sourcing and Supply Management at IIM Bangalore. He was a visiting scholar at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in 1999-2000.  He was also a retainer consultant to Deloitte Consulting LLP, USA, in 2001-2002. Professor Mahadevan is on the board of trustees of some NGOs providing valuable community and social service.
    Professor Mahadevan is a member of the editorial board of the Production and Operations Management Journal and the International Journal of Business Excellence. He served in the editorial board of Six Sigma and Competitive Advantage. Besides being on the advisory boards of several business schools and management journals in India, Professor Mahadevan has published several of his research findings in leading international journals such as the California Management Review, the European Journal of Operational Research, the Production and Operations Management Journal, the International Journal of Production Research, the International Journal of Technology Management and the Asian Journal of Operations Management. He is a lifetime member of the Society of Operations Management and a member of the Production and Operations Management Society.
    Seema Gupta is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.  She has earlier worked with RPG Enterprises in Sales and Marketing function.
    Professor Gupta's current research interests are Marketing strategy, Corporate Reputation and Marketing Communications. She has published papers in international journals such as Corporate Reputation Review and Public Relations Review. Her recent research includes identifying new dimensions for communicating change in corporate identity; building an experience brand; and building image through advertising. Some of her recent cases are on The Park Hotels, Coke-Pepsi and Bosch.
    Professor Gupta is the academic affiliate of Reputation Institute (RI) a premier international research and consulting organization, for India. She is an invited speaker in forums of Marketing, Corporate Reputation, Corporate Communications and Public Relations.
    She has conducted several training programmes on Marketing and Marketing Communications for executives. She has done consulting assignments for public as well as private sector organizations in the field of Marketing Strategy and Corporate Reputation.

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    Facebook likes WhatsApp

    $19-bn deal for text messaging firm includes $12 bn in stock and $4 bn in cash


    The frenzy to acquire fast-growing technology start-ups reached new heights on Thursday as Facebook announced its largest acquisition ever, saying it would pay at least $16 billion for WhatsApp, a text messaging application with 450 million users around the world who pay little or no money for it.

    The hefty price signals the lengths to which Facebook's co-founder & chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, will go to protect his company's turf as the dominant social network on the web, and is sure to fuel the debate on whether consumer internet companies are overvalued.

    Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, will pay $4 billion in cash and $12 billion worth of shares for WhatsApp. But the ultimate cost of the deal could rise to $19 billion, with WhatsApp employees and founders receiving an additional $3 billion in restricted stock units, which would vest over the next four years.

    By any measure, Facebook is paying a steep price for a service that is widely used internationally but is less known in the US. WhatsApp does not sell advertising and has very little revenue. It charges users a flat fee of $1 a year to use the service, and the first year is free.

    The purchase price dwarfs the $1 billion Facebook paid for photo-sharing service Instagram. At the time of that deal in 2012, critics assailed Facebook for overpaying, and this megadeal is sure to attract similar scrutiny. And, the price is also much higher than the $3 billion Facebook unsuccessfully offered to acquire Snapchat, another messaging service, late last year.

    But Zuckerberg is clearly willing to spend big to acquire hot messaging technologies, which typically attract younger people more than Facebook does.

    "Facebook is constantly working to not lose anybody," said Nate Elliott, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Sometimes that's them innovating on their own, sometimes mimicking competitors, and sometimes buying competitors."

    The acquisition also reflects a new strategy at Facebook: The company intends to acquire or build a family of applications instead of simply buttressing its core social network.

    Now a 10-year-old social network with 1.2 billion users globally, Facebook has become so ubiquitous in many countries that it risks losing some of the attention of users.

    In buying WhatsApp, which is growing faster than its rival Twitter and other social services, Facebook gains access to customers who prefer communicating one-on-one or with very small groups rather than sharing information more widely.



    Facebook also has struggled to gain traction in the message space in recent years, a big motivation for its failed offer for Snapchat. While Facebook Messenger, the company's chat platform, is popular with users, recent attempts to create its own direct messaging service have failed.

    Facebook is justifying the price of this deal by citing WhatsApp's startling growth, which has been even faster than Facebook's own in its early years. On a conference call with analysts, David Ebersman, Facebook's chief financial officer, compared WhatsApp to companies with the potential to grow to one billion users.


    View at the original source

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    IMF punches holes in India's growth revival story

    Says RBI may have to continue raising rates; prescribes floating sovereign bonds, going for NRI forex swaps again.

    But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) doesn't seem to agree. It questions all these assertions in its staff report, prepared after discussions with Indian authorities and released on Thursday. It attributes much of India's economic slowdown to domestic factors, such as "heightened policy uncertainty". It projects a growth rate of 4.6 per cent this year (against the government's estimate of 4.9 per cent) and a CAD level of $61 billion, or 3.3 per cent of GDP.

    However, in a teleconference call later in the evening, IMF's mission chief in India, Paul Cashin, clarified the CAD might come to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

    IMF has said in its staff report, under Article IV consultations: "About two-thirds of the slowdown in India can be explained by domestic factors." Besides policy uncertainty, domestic causes of the slowdown include supply bottlenecks, delayed project approvals and implementation.

    The report was released three days after the Interim Budget was tabled in Parliament, where Finance Minister P Chidambaram said: "I reject the argument of a policy paralysis."

    Even on inflation, which has been persistently high for some time, IMF appears to be singing a different tune. It says India's growth slowdown is unusual among emerging markets both in terms of severity and because it coincides with elevated inflation.

    It has said the rate of retail inflation is likely to remain near double digits well into next year. It expects the inflation rate to be 7.4 per cent by March 2014 - above the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) comfort zone - and falling only slowly to 6.3 per cent by March 2015.
    It has also said that RBI might have to continue raising policy rates in the coming months. "The ingrained nature of inflation and inflation expectations mean that reducing inflation - even over a protracted horizon - might require significant increases in policy rates," the staff report said, though it admitted that any such move would weigh on economic growth. In his interim Budget speech, delivered on Monday, Chidambaram had said: "RBI must strike a balance between price stability and growth while formulating monetary policy."

    The IMF report also carries authorities' viewpoints. It says Indian authorities agree that inflation is too high and that monetary policy will need to remain vigilant over the near term.

    "At the same time, they (authorities) noted that supply-driven food inflation was a key driver of the headline number... With good monsoon this year, they believed food inflation should fall and that, in any case, monetary policy had a limited role in tackling food inflation."

    The Indian authorities consider there is a significant risk of over-tightening, particularly in the light of the need to create jobs to absorb the country's growing labour force, the Fund says.

    IMF has projected twin deficits higher than the authorities' projections. It pegs fiscal deficit at 5.3 per cent of GDP in 2013-14, against the government's hope of 4.6 per cent. As a proportion of GDP, the IMF staff expects India's CAD to be 3.3 per cent, against less than three per cent pegged by the finance minister in his Budget speech.

    IMF does not take into account disinvestment receipts in its estimation of fiscal deficit, so the deficit will be magnifies to that extent.

    Agreeing that the opening of sectors to foreign direct investment and portfolio flows in 2013 will help finance CAD, the multi-lateral agency warns that a further relaxation of external commercial borrowing rules should be undertaken only incrementally and cautiously, alongside a deeper domestic financial markets.

    It has prescribed that issuing a maiden international sovereign bond and seeking entry into global bond indices should also be explored. Similarly, its recipe includes again going for foreign exchange swaps for non-resident Indian deposits - after RBI undertook such a step in September 2013.

    IMF also recommends taking oil marketing companies out of the spot market and offering them a short-term bilateral foreign exchange swap window at market prices.

    View at the original source

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    Govt mulls setting up 'social bourse'

    To provide platform for non-profit entities raise capital in transparent manner


    The Union finance ministry has sought the views of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for the creation of ‘social stock exchanges’, people with direct knowledge of the matter said. These exchanges will provide a platform to help non-profit entities such as non-governmental organisations, trusts, cooperative societies and even political parities raise capital in a transparent manner.
    Sources said the idea behind the exchange was aimed at providing a transparent, technology-based platform for investments in social welfare projects in India.

    The UK, South Africa and Brazil have experimented with public trading platforms for social entities. On these platforms, capital is raised by dividing the cost of a project into smaller denominations that are made available for purchase. Investors can choose from a number of projects for investments and keep a tab on the status of the projects by following the disclosures and announcements made by the company.


    STOCK EXCHANGE FOR A CAUSE
    What is a social stock exchange?

    A platform for raising capital for social purposes
    Who can list on this exchange?
    Non-profit organisations like NGOs, trusts, cooperative societies and even political parities
    What's the investment rationale?
    Not to earn any economic return but to make a social impact
    Are there such exchanges in other countries?
    Brazil, South Africa and United Kingdom are said to have experimented with the concept
    When will it be launch in India?
    The ministry of finance is said to have floated a concept paper on ‘social stock exchange’. It has sought feedback from stakeholders such as Sebi

    “It is a wonderful concept. There are many people who want to invest in a social cause, but are not sure about where to invest,” said J N Gupta, former executive director of Sebi and founder of proxy advisory and corporate governance firm SES. “If social enterprises become as transparent as listed companies, it will give them more credibility.”

    According to people in the know, the ministry has sought Sebi’s suggestions on various aspects such as trading, disclosure requirements and monitoring.

    Some experts said the initiative might involve a number of challenges such as selection of companies, pricing, and market-making. “Scrutinising social enterprises, to keep away the bad ones from listing, will be a difficult task. Such an exchange will have hardly any liquidity and might end up being just an electronic capital-raising platform,” said an official at a stock exchange, on condition of anonymity.

    Gupta of SES said the move would help the social economy, but added there could be concerns such as pricing of securities, liquidity and settlement.

    Globally, social projects have been listed on exchanges such as Brazil’s Socio-Environmental Investment Exchange and the South African Social Investment Exchange. However, these exchanges have ended up as mere online donation platforms.

    About a decade ago, the government had floated a similar idea — that of creating a trading platform for listing of a large number of small and medium enterprises () in India. It was felt an SME exchange would help small entrepreneurs raise capital to fuel growth and expansion, with less stringent regulatory norms.

    In 2011, Sebi had cleared a framework for listing SMEs, with listing and disclosure requirements that were easier compared to main stock exchanges. In 2012, the  had started India’s first SME exchange. Subsequently, the National Stock Exchange also launched its SME platform. Currently, about 50 companies are listed on the SME platforms of these two exchanges.

    Experts said setting up a social stock exchange might be difficult compared to an SME exchange, an extension of the main stock exchange.



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    Why a 30-Year-Old Education Company Just Landed a $1 Billion Valuation 



    Silicon Valley treasures its shiny, new startups. They're the ones who typically get all the adoration, the attention... and the cash.
    Renaissance Learning is not one such company. And yet, on Wednesday, this Wisconsin Rapids-based education technology business, which was founded way back in 1985, announced a $40 million cash infusion from Google Capital. But wait, there's more. The investment values Renaissance Learning at a whopping $1 billion.
    Patience, it seems, really is a virtue.

    The Backstory

    Renaissance was founded by Judith and Terrance Paul with a single product called Accelerated Reader, a reading assessment tool for students. Back then, however, "You had a student to computer ratio of 15 or 20 to 1," says Jack Lynch, Renaissance's current CEO, who joined the company after it was acquired by a private equity firm in 2011. Thirty years since the Accelerated Reader was invented, however, all that's changed. As Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, recently explained, schools across the country are rapidly transitioning to Common Core Standards, a more rigorous standard of instruction, and as they do, they're investing heavily in technology to help students meet those standards. For Renaissance, and indeed all education technology startups, it's a perfect storm of opportunity.
    "At the intersection of these two forces is the teacher," says Lynch. "Where we come in is we deliver insight to teachers to help them unlock the learning potential of students."
    For its current fleet of education products, Renaissance has effectively sequenced every skill a student should learn between kindergarten and 12th grade, and has developed tools that help teachers figure out what skills students have mastered and are now ready to learn. It's still up to the teacher, however, to help students advance to the next level. "Teachers are the lifeblood of education. We're not an avatar virtual tutor," Lynch says. "So we're not really looking to harness the power of technology. We're looking to use technology to unlock the power of a teacher."
    According to Lynch, Google Capital first expressed interest in Renaissance last summer, noting the obvious opportunities for collaboration between Renaissance's assesment tools and the educational apps Google is developing through Google Play for Education. Already, Renaissance's tools are being used by 18 million students in 45 school systems in 57 countries. If Renaissance's assessments can link to Google Play's instructional materials, it's good news for both companies.

    The Startup Opportunity

    If you're an ed tech entrepreneur, it could be good news for you, too. As the K-12 market heats up, Lynch says Renaissance is on the lookout for startups it can collaborate with, and in some cases, even acquire. Last summer, Renaissance scooped up Subtext, an e-reading startup whose technology enables students to have a discussion about a book within the digital pages of that book.
    "That's an example where spending a long time with startups uncovered the opportunity for an acquisition," Lynch says.
    Renaissance is also looking to partner, he says, with startups that are innovating in big data analytics and instructional education technology. Recently, Renaissance opened an office in Fremont, California, in part because of this interest in startup activity.
    "There's always gong to be groundbreaking great new ideas coming from entrepreneurs coming into the space," Lynch says. "We like to think we're good students of innovation."

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    • Are you ready to party? Because this kid sure is.


    • 2
      Oh yeah, she's double fisting it.
    • 3
      Three feet of bubblegum? Now it's a party.
    • 4
      Forget your mind-altering substances. This kid's got TICKETS.
    • 5
      You know it was a good night when you wake up surrounded by lollipops.
    • 6
      Step 1: Loosen bow tie. Step 2: Party.
    • 7
      When was the last time you rocked out his hard?
    • 8
      Or THIS hard?
    • 9
      ...OR THIS HARD?!
    • 10
      Popcorn bowls make excellent party helmets.
    • 11
      You know you can't have a party without food.
    • 12
      Leaves. Yum. Party.
    • 13
      SHE CAN TASTE COLORS.
    • 14
      Every party needs a leader. Even if that party's in the fridge.
    • 15
      She forgot the first rule of partying: never pass out in front of your friends.
    • 16
      This guy partied his way right into a dinosaur's mouth.
    • 17
      Party on, little one. Party on.

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    Is Facebook Paying Too Much for WhatsApp?

    With $19 billion, Facebook could have purchased Sony or Gap or four aircraft carriers.  Instead, it bought WhatsApp, a tiny startup that so far had accumulated barely $60 million in funding, mostly from Sequoia.  This is nuts, you might say; although the world of mobile messaging is upon us, that is an awful lot of money.
    But think about what exactly Facebook is buying:
    Young users.  WhatsApp acquired about 450 million monthly active users in 5 years, 70% of whom are active each day, which is about three times as many as Facebook had after 5 years and almost 10 times more than Twitter or Skype had.  To be sure, these numbers translate into minuscule revenues and most of the users are probably on Facebook anyway.  On the other hand, they are just the people Facebook is most worried about losing.
    A new business model. Unlike Facebook and most other Internet giants of that generation, WhatsApp employs a subscription-based revenue model, charging its users $0.99 a year after the first year of use. Further, in a decidedly different approach from Facebook, there is a commitment to no advertising and presumably no commercial exploitation of user data. The acquisition could help Facebook understand how to successfully execute on a business model that could replace its own.
    Enhancements to the existing business model. The daily messaging volume of WhatsApp approaches the SMS volume of the entire global telecom industry, and while Facebook has become the medium for big announcements of life events, daily connections are better captured by metadata from messaging apps. Undoubtedly this data could much enhance Facebook’s ability to pick out people’s most important relationships from among their acquaintances, which would presumably lead to better-targeted advertising.
    Internationalization. Facebook Messenger is big in the USA but not in other countries.  In key markets like India and South America WhatsApp is MUCH more popular than Facebook Messenger.  And this is where, we think, the majority of the immediate real value is: the global turn to mobile is quite evident and Facebook wants to be a part of it as soon as it can.
    If you list all these reasons for the deal, and throw in some competitive pressure from the likes of Google, the $19 billion number might not look so silly after all. Time will tell.  But regardless of how this deal turns out, the one unambiguous loser, in our opinion, is the telecom industry, which currently enjoys about $100 billion year in revenues from SMS services globally.
    Moral of the story: If you don’t create an alternative yourself, others will disrupt your business model for you.

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    What Mark Twain, Van Halen and Dan Rather Teach Us About Failure

    Mark Twain remains one of the most-quoted authors in American history, the creator of masterpieces such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Life on the Mississippi.”
    And much of what he wrote was dreck.
    That last fact ought to be inspiring to all of us, notes author Megan McArdle in her clever, surprising fast-paced and enlightening book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success. McArdle explains that a college English course she took recast Twain as a writer who failed like the rest of us: 
    In the 1890s, Twain “churned out lackluster prose on an almost industrial scale, just to get enough money to maintain his household and pay his debts,” McArdle writes. “But almost no English class reads the eminently forgettable stuff he produced during this period.”
    Tom Sawyer, Detective isn’t on too many college reading lists. But reading this poorly-structured throwaway work was a lesson to McArdle that even great writers aren’t great all the time — that they suffer from misbegotten ideas, false starts and off-days like the rest of us. Knowing that makes it easier to take on a career as a writer — or an entrepreneur. “The reason we struggle with insecurity,” notes Pastor Steven Furtick, “is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
    It’s okay to fail, and as Americans we understand this liberating fact better than, say, Europeans or Asians. When you meet business executives who have worked in different cultures overseas, they’ll tell you that having been a leader of a company that failed in these countries generally means you no longer have a career. 
    Not so here: having a big stinking failure in your past is “often a résumé booster–particularly in the fertile fields of Silicon Valley,” notes McArdle, who put a couple of startup meltdowns on her own résumé before becoming a renowned economics blogger.
    Trial and error with complex systems led the rock band Van Halen to an ingenious tripwire system that inspired a colossally misunderstood celebrity factoid: the band’s insistence that no brown M&M candies be seen backstage has become synonymous with daft rock-and-roll  imperiousness. The band’s singer David Lee Roth, though, explained in a memoir that Van Halen was the first band to take mammoth stage productions to third-tier markets. 
    Often, the result was technical error — “the girders wouldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in.” The contract rider that carried all of the specifications necessary to avert catastrophe was mammoth, and laden with safety warnings about, say, the proper spacing of fifteen amperage voltage sockets. Out of nowhere, in article 126, would come this addendum: “There will be no brown M & Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
    VAN_HALEN_2008
    Van Halen in 2008. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

    Roth would stroll backstage before the show, and if he saw that no one bothered to spend two minutes removing the brown M&Ms, he guessed that staffers didn’t exercise much attention to detail when it came to the important matters either. The presence of brown M & Ms was a warning to “line-check the entire production,” he wrote. 
    “They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.” Economists call this kind of negligence “normative error,” and the members of Van Halen protected themselves against this level of failure by hiding an alarm system in Article 126 of their standard rider.
    What happens when massive failure happens anyway? McArdle suggests studying the case of Dan Rather, who during his CBS CBS +0.14% career was one of the most revered television journalists in history until the presidential campaign of 2004, when his career unraveled quickly after he aired a report purporting to prove then-president George W. Bush had shirked his duties in the Vietnam era while a member of the Texas Air National Guard. Rather failed to notice a problem first identified, McArdle relates, in comment no. 47 about the story on the Free Republic blog.
     “A champagne glass was probably still clinking at CBS,” writes McArdle, when this pseudonymous commenter pointed out that the documents that appeared likely to cost President Bush re-election appeared to be faked. (Said by Rather and Co. to date from the 1970s, they used proportionally-spaced fonts unlike the monospaced fonts that would have been used on a typewriter in that period.)
    The inability to notice such obvious details while the attention is focused elsewhere is called “inattentional blindness,” but that’s not what cost Rather his career.  “The truly amazing thing about the story of Dan Rather and [producer] Mary Mapes is not that they let a hoax get on air,” writes McCardle. “It’s their dogged inability to recognize that they’d done so after it was pointed out to them.” Urged on by Rather, CBS continued to stand by its story for 12 days of increasingly untenable followup reporting, even resorting to the ludicrous stance that no one had proven the documents were fake, as though the burden of proof were not its own.
    Though it’s unpleasant and sometimes even humiliating to do so, news organizations retract incorrect or unverifiable stories all the time. Rather didn’t, and so CBS retracted him. What happened with the veteran news anchor is what McArdle calls “bending the map.” She cites psychologist Edward Cornell’s point, “Whenever you start looking at your map and saying something like, ‘Well, that lake could have dried up’ or ‘That boulder could have moved,’ a red light should go on.
     You’re trying to make reality conform to your expectations rather than seeing what’s there.” Rather bent the map so badly he didn’t notice that his wrong turn was about to result in his falling off a cliff. Acknowledging failure, McArdles teaches us in her engrossing book, is a necessary first step in learning from it.

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    How to Thrive While Leading a Family Business


    We’ve seen both sides of the spectrum: family executives hating their jobs, their businesses, their families, feeling underappreciated for their efforts, exhausted by all the “craziness,” wanting nothing more than to “sell the damn thing.”  And we’ve seen family executives thrive with rewards that are richer and more profound than a leader of a publically traded company could possibly derive.  The company flourishes, the family has a collective purpose that brings them together, and the kids prosper.

    So, naturally, we wonder, “Why do some executives thrive while others wilt?”
    Family businesses are inherently messy.  Work and life are almost inextricably intertwined.  With so many things going on concurrently, family executives either get swept up in a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle with very little in between.  Leaders who thrive in this environment embrace and use this messiness.  They can be all sorts of people – introverts, extroverts, operations-oriented folks, great sales people, men, or women.  But what we see in common in thriving family business leaders is that they get four things right:
    Four separate rooms
    Life in a family, business can really be a pressure cooker because the business discussions continue around the dinner table and in the bedroom.  There sometimes is no separation between work and family, home and the office.  The CEO leaves a meeting at the office with the CFO, his daughter, and he goes home to her mother, his wife and joint owner of the business.  This entanglement of relations runs so deep that the only leaders who thrive are those who have learned to explicitly separate their lives into four separate rooms: one for the business managers, another for the board of directors, yet another for the owners, and a separate one for the family members.
    Consider your own home:  You have different discussions in the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, and the living room.  Of course there’s some overlap: Nothing is hermetically sealed.  There are doors and windows that open, but there are rules – spoken and unspoken – regarding what can be discussed where.  And things must be discussed.  Owners, for example, need to talk about ownership issues away from board directors, family members, and employees.  The thriving leaders we see know how to get their own houses in order.  They build discussion rooms – not silos – and teach others to work within the spaces that they’ve created.
    The crocodile brain
    Thriving family business leaders know how to manage what neuroscientists have named the “crocodile” brain, so-called because it is controlled by gut emotions; thought processes are limited, and impulse control is nonexistent.  The crocodile brain is the reason that people are not rational actors; it explains why decisions should never be made without trying to help people process their feelings, their passions, their rivalries, and their egos.
    After placing people in the right room, thriving leaders deal explicitly with the irrational side of decision-making.  Think about it:  in a family business, owners can never decide to buy or sell a business based entirely – or even primarily – on the basis of money.  When they are on the surface deciding whether or not to acquire a company, thriving leaders in a family business are really thinking about that acquisition’s impact on the identities, roles, relationships, and personal finances of others.
    Thriving leaders don’t ignore the crocodile brain and are not afraid of the crocs’ behavior.  We see these leaders putting the croc issues on the table for careful conversation.  “Gosh, it hit me, this acquisition could really change your role in the business.  Let’s talk that through,” is the type of leadership behavior we see them exhibit.  They make the emotional side of business safe.
    A place to land
    Thriving leaders in family businesses help to create places to land when their gig is over.  They build for themselves and others a number of attractive paths forward after the day-to-day spark goes out of life in the C-Suite.  Often in corporate businesses, you’re either in that executive suite, or you’re out – you go to work at another company.  By contrast, in the best family businesses, the aging executive doesn’t just move over to the curb.  He or she stays around as a board member or shareholder or special advisor, or on special projects.  Thriving leaders embrace the reality that they can add real value after life as a business executive.  Their identity is not all tied up with living and working in the C-Suite.
    This is the other side of succession.  Thriving executives don’t just say, “Who is going to be our next CEO,” but also, “What can I do next?”  Think of the four rooms we talked about earlier.  Once they depart the C-Suite, thriving executives still use their wisdom and experience to make valuable contributions in the other three rooms.  They can go up to the board. They can go up to the shareholders’ council.  Or over to a family leadership role.  They may also decide to take up a philanthropic role in the family foundation.  Thriving leaders appreciate that all of these roles are vital and necessary in family businesses.
    Passion and wisdom to develop the next generation
    Thriving leaders’ greatest joy is to see their children succeed in their business and as owners.  They get it that their own role, while central, is temporary.  For example, in a recent cross-generational ownership meeting with a client, a 26-year old, introverted next generation member surprised the eight owners in the meeting with a fundamental insight into the future of their business.  You could feel the leadership baton starting to be passed.  The current generation, three seasoned business executives in their late fifties, beamed with pride.
    Developing the next generation is really tricky.  These thriving leaders have great wisdom in how they do it:  They don’t coddle, they challenge.  They know their kids will lead differently than they did and accept that fact.  They provide real jobs with real challenges.  They let their kids fail and then help them up.
    As you can see, we are talking about a very different leadership task than in corporate environments.  The rewards are different and deeper.  These thriving leaders find meaning, money, and mentoring in ways not available outside family businesses.
    Are you a thriving leader?  Do you know of others who are? As a test, ask yourself, “How many of these four leadership behaviors are shown by you and others in your family business?”

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    Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants


    In a typical year, slightly more than 2,000 highly driven people are interviewed for admission to the prestigious MBA program at Harvard Business School. They’re subjected to a 30-minute grilling by an admissions official to see if they are Harvard material.
    Other than some Q&As that are held via Skype or a few in some far-flung cities, the vast majority of the interviews are on the Harvard Business School campus. In earlier years, they were held in small rooms in Dillon House, where the admissions staff makes its home. These days the interviews are scheduled in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall.
    HBS admission interviews are now held in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall
    HBS admission interviews are now held in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall
    The questions in these sessions usually come fast and furious, with little comment from the person asking them. It’s as if the admissions officer doesn’t want to waste any of the 30 minutes with an applicant and wants to get in as many questions as possible.
    The queries cover everything from an MBA candidate’s undergraduate experience to an applicant’s leadership ability. Many of them are routine: Why do you want an MBA degree? Why do you want to come to Harvard to get it? Walk me through your resume? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How did you choose your undergraduate major and why?
    Almost always, however, there are a few unpredictable zingers, the kinds of questions that can take a person by surprise. These are questions that can easily throw an applicant completely off his or her game. They are designed to narrow down the more than 2,000 interviewees, chosen from 9,315 overall applicants, to about 1,100 who were accepted for one of the 941 seats in Harvard’s Class of 2015.
    What are the ten most unpredictable questions?
    The following queries, along with advice on how to approach the answers, are from current HBS students who have successfully gained admission into the school. They’re among 96 questions gathered by the staff of The Harbus, the school’s MBA student newspaper, for its recently updated “Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide.” The Winter 2014 edition includes brand new questions that Class of 2016 applicants received in Round 1.
    The most intriguing questions below are reprinted with permission from The Harbus.

    Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old?

    This question gauges your ability to distill the essence of your job into very simply language. Think of how you would explain accretion/dilution to your grandmother at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Take the question quite literally, but don’t talk down to the interviewer. The ability to communicate complex information to laymen who may not share your grasp of the subject material happens to be a very important business skill. Clever metaphors can add color or flair (as in Sherman McCoy’s explanation to his daughter of what selling bonds entails in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities).

    Describe something that you should start doing, do more of, and do less of?

    This question is driving at your ability to step outside of yourself and perform an honest appraisal. Can you see and act on your areas for improvement? Self-awareness and the ability to make sound judgments are important here. HBS is looking for someone who knows they don’t have it all figured out yet and is reflective about what they can strive towards.

    What’s the one thing you’ll never be as good at as others?

    If you respond ‘nothing’ to this, it indicates a lack of self-awareness. If your response is ‘modesty,’ you’d better hope your interviewer has a good sense of humor. There are so many honest, personalized answers to this question that it should not be difficult to come up with an example. Be honest: don’t try to hedge it or spin it. Just own it.


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    A new University of British Columbia study identifies an important molecular change that occurs in the brain when we learn and remember.
    Published this month in Nature Neuroscience, the research shows that learning stimulates our brain cells in a manner that causes a small fatty acid to attach to delta-catenin, a protein in the brain. This biochemical modification is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning, the study finds.
    In animal models, the scientists found almost twice the amount of modified delta-catenin in the brain after learning about new environments. While delta-catenin has previously been linked to learning, this study is the first to describe the protein’s role in the molecular mechanism behind memory formation.

    “More work is needed, but this discovery gives us a much better understanding of the tools our brains use to learn and remember, and provides insight into how these processes become disrupted in neurological diseases,” says co-author Shernaz Bamji, an associate professor in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute.
    It may also provide an explanation for some mental disabilities, the researchers say. People born without the gene have a severe form of mental retardation called Cri-du-chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder named for the high-pitched cat-like cry of affected infants. Disruption of the delta-catenin gene has also been observed in some patients with schizophrenia.
    “Brain activity can change both the structure of this protein, as well as its function,” says Stefano Brigidi, first author of the article and a PhD candidate Bamji’s laboratory. “When we introduced a mutation that blocked the biochemical modification that occurs in healthy subjects, we abolished the structural changes in brain’s cells that are known to be important for memory formation.”
    Background
    According to the researchers, more work is needed to fully establish the importance of delta-catenin in building the brain connectivity behind learning and memory. Disruptions to these nerve cell connections are also believed to cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington disease. Understanding the biochemical processes that are important for maintaining these connections may help address the abnormalities in nerve cells that occur in these disease states.

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    Opioid abuse initiates specific protein interactions in neurons in brain’s reward system



    Identifying the specific pathways that promote opioid addiction, pain relief, and tolerance are crucial for developing more effective and less dangerous analgesics, as well as developing new treatments for addiction. Now, new research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reveals that opiate use alters the activity of a specific protein needed for the normal functioning of the brain’s reward center.
    Investigators were able to block the protein, as well as increase its expression in the mouse nucleus accumbens, a key component of the brain’s reward center. It altered the actions of opioids like morphine dramatically. The preclinical study, published online Feb. 24 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, is the first to show that opioid use changes activity of the protein RGS9-2 and alters both the threshold for pain relief and affects opioid tolerance.
    “We were able to block addiction-related behaviors, but increasing the activity of the protein also lowered the pain relief response to morphine, and mice developed morphine tolerance much more quickly,” said the study’s senior researcher, Venetia Zachariou, PhD, Associate Professor, Fishberg Department of Neuroscience, Friedman Brain Institute, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
    Dr. Zachariou explained that because the brain’s reward center has such a strong impact on analgesic responses, non-opioid medications should be used for the treatment of severe chronic pain conditions. Pain specialists have several alternatives for the treatment of chronic pain. For patients that are already addicted to opioids, “an alternative pain medication could offer more analgesic relief without the adverse effects of opioids.” Additionally, with this research in hand, the research team points out that targeting this molecule may eventually lead to a novel treatment for addiction.”
    In the study, investigators used a novel technique known as optogenetics, which allows the activation of specific neurons via blue light in real time, to determine the exact cell types of the brain reward center responsible for the reduced analgesic response.
    “In our earlier work, by inactivating RGS9-2, we saw a tenfold increase in sensitivity to the rewarding actions of morphine, severe morphine dependence, a better analgesic response, and delayed development of tolerance,” said the study’s senior author. While opiate analgesics act in several brain regions to alleviate pain, their actions in the brain reward center may also affect analgesia. The nucleus accumbens may also affect the development of morphine tolerance, via mechanism that are distinct from those described in other regions of the brain.
    Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, praised the research. “These discoveries provide important new information about the role of the brain reward pathway in the analgesic responses to opiates”.

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    Dyslexia may not exist, warn academics

    Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning

    The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia

    Millions of children may have been wrongly diagnosed as dyslexic after academics found the condition probably does not exist.
    Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning.
    They claim resources are being wasted by putting youngsters through diagnostic tests and say the umbrella term is used too readily for children who often display vastly different reading problems.
    In the book The Dyslexia Debate, Professor Julian Elliott, a former teacher of children with learning difficulties, said more focus should be put on helping children to read, rather than finding a label for their difficulty.
    The author, a professor of education at Durham University, said: "Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis.
    "In every country, and in every language, a significant proportion of children struggle to master the skill of reading and some will continue to find it difficult throughout their childhood and into adulthood.
    "Typically, we search for a diagnostic label when we encounter problems because we believe that this will point to the best form of treatment.
    "It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the parents and teachers of children with reading difficulties believe that if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic, clear ways to help them will result.
    "Research in this field clearly demonstrates that this is a grave misunderstanding."
    The authors found that symptoms in one person leading to a diagnosis of dyslexia are often absent in another person similarly diagnosed. Therefore a typical education invention for one pupil may not help another who has also been diagnosed with dyslexia.
    While the researchers do not question the existence of the real, sometimes complex, problems some people have with reading, they are critical of the term "dyslexia" because it is too imprecise.
    They suggest the key task for professionals is to spot reading difficulties early in any child and intervene as quickly as possible rather than search for a questionable diagnosis.
    Children are diagnosed with dyslexia for a range of reasons including those whose difficulty in reading is unexpected, those who show a discrepancy between reading and listening comprehension or pupils who do not make meaningful progress in reading even when provided with high-quality support.
    The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia.
    Dr Gay Keegan, District Senior Educational Psychologist for Hampshire County Council, said: “As an applied educational psychologist I do not find the term ‘dyslexia’ helpful since there appears to be no unifying identifying characteristics, prognosis or response to interventions which all people with ‘dyslexia’ share.
    “So, rather than considering a single entity, I find it helpful to consider different reasons for reading difficulties, using a functional analysis rather than looking for a label.
    “My approach involves assessing what the child can do and what they find difficult, assessing and enhancing their learning opportunities and measuring their response to well-delivered, evidenced-based interventions over time.”
    However charities have challenged their assessment claiming that the term is important and should not be dropped.
    Dr John Rack, head of research, development and policy, for Dyslexia Action insisted the term retained a scientific and educational value.
    He said: "We don't buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle.
    "And for very many, those reasons fall into a consistent and recognisable pattern that it is helpful to call dyslexia.
    "Helpful for individuals because it makes sense out of past struggles and helpful for teachers who can plan the way they teach to overcome or find ways around the particular blocks that are there."

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    With up to 10 new designer drugs every year, more 

    education is needed to convey risks ·

    In the span of a decade, Canada has gone from ecstasy importer to global supplier of the illegal party drug. At the same time, even newer designer highs—sometimes just a mouse-click away—are flooding the drug market faster than legislation can keep pace.

    It’s a worrying problem that University of Alberta researchers say requires more education to help Canadians understand the very real, deadly risks of designer drug use.
    “The chemists who are making these drugs are coming up with about 10 new drugs per year; the legislation cannot keep up with the market,” said Alan Hudson, a pharmacologist at the U of A who studies how ecstasy and other drugs affect brain neurochemistry. “The best way forward is to educate people that they’re playing Russian roulette—the health risks from taking these drugs are high, and potentially lethal.”
    In a new paper published in Drug Science, Policy and Law, Hudson and his U of A co-authors—Maggie Lalies, Glen Baker, Kris Wells and Katherine Aitchison—warn the recreational drug scene is growing in Canada, fuelled by an appetite for designer drugs and legal highs such as K2, spice, Benzo fury, Barts, Homers, bath salts, plant food and other “party pills.”
    “This is a pressing public health issue,” said Wells, director of programs and services with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. “The profile that we’re seeing of someone taking ecstasy or these so-called recreational drugs is not perhaps your average user when we think of drug use. It could be one of our own university students going to a party on the weekend—where they haven’t experimented before—and then take a tablet of ecstasy. It doesn’t have an effect and they take another one; pretty soon they’re in emergency fighting for their life.”
    Designer highs, massive profits
    Newer designer drugs, often purchased online from Asia, can represent big business in Canada.
    “For some of these legal highs, you only need a milligram to get high,” Hudson said. “If you can buy a kilogram for $200, the mark-up can be huge.”
    Although Health Canada statistics show ecstasy use is down slightly among young people across the country, a 2006 report from the RCMP shows Canada has become a “major production and export country,” a situation that developed over just two years and a significant departure from the mid-1990s, when Canada was an import-consumer nation.
    During the same time, Hudson notes, ecstasy has become increasingly toxic, cut with a mix of, at times, deadly chemicals. In a 2007 Health Canada study, only three per cent of seized ecstasy tablets contained pure MDMA, the drug’s main ingredient, compared with 69 per cent in 2001.
    Two such contaminants are PMA and PMMA; the latter may cause severe serotonin toxicity and has been linked to as many as eight deaths in Alberta over the past two years. Hudson and his colleagues caution that even pure ecstasy can have toxic side-effects that vary by individual, due to genetic factors.
    “There is no safe dose of ecstasy,” Hudson explained.
    Rise of legal highs
    Head shops and online operators have increasingly turned to peddling legal highs such as BZP and TFMPP, often sold as “party pills,” “Barts” or “Homers” for shapes resembling characters from the Simpsons TV show. Both ingredients were declared illegal in 2012, but have given way in popularity to newer drugs such as “plant food” or bath salts, which have been sold legally as variants of mephedrone, methylone and MDPV—the latter of which is known for inducing a “zombie-like” state and paranoia.
    The federal government banned the drug, but Hudson said there will always be others like Benzo fury and various online options to take their place, underscoring the need for more education.
    Research grounded in the community
    In their efforts to raise awareness, the research team has forged relationships in the community, including the Edmonton Police Service.
    Wells co-chairs the Chief’s Advisory Council, a role that helped facilitate access to newer drugs for research, and his work at iSMSS puts him in constant contact with at-risk youth. Sexual and gender minority youth are three times as likely to take drugs and alcohol as negative coping mechanisms, he said, which underscores the importance of creating positive environments that help youth feel supported, and allowing them to make informed, hopefully healthy decisions.
    “It’s about taking the research to the next level—communicating it, mobilizing the knowledge to all the stakeholders and, ultimately, to all those young people who may be facing a choice in their lives,” Wells said.
    When youth do turn to drugs, Hudson said, parents can turn to resources offered by  Alberta Health Services and look for warning signs such as
    • depressed moods after the weekend (a common symptom of coming down from euphoric highs of ecstasy)
    • mood changes, often associated with drugs such as K2 or spice
    • sudden nosebleeds, from snorting designer drugs such as plant food
    This U of A research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Government of Alberta.

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    University education: steer towards a career

    Universities and graduate recruiters are working together to maximise students’ chances of success in the jobs market.

    Universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment
    Universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment 
    With future job prospects high on most students’ list of concerns, universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment. Graduate recruiters, keen to snap up emerging talent, are following suit.
    “Employers maintain that a degree is very valuable to them, and they’re increasingly looking to engage with students,” says Jane Goodfellow, head of careers and employability at Cardiff University.
    According to Brian Staines, head of guidance services at the University of Bristol careers centre, “There’s more focus nowadays on questions of employability. Students want to know how their university careers service can help them get where they want to go.”
    Thankfully, universities have strong answers. Besides running recruitment fairs, most organise workshops and offer careers advice services, including support in writing CVs and preparing for interviews.
    Beyond this, many university careers centres are strengthening their relationships with industry, which requires graduates to have the right grades, soft skills and experience.
    Companies including multinationals, public sector organisations, NGOs and SMEs across a range of sectors are therefore being invited on campus to run workshops and give talks addressing teamwork, leadership, time-management and other skills.
    In the battle to help graduates win jobs, universities are also coming up with ever more inventive schemes.
    At Cardiff, an alumni mentoring programme links successful graduates with students in their field, and panel-format events provide the chance to question employers in a specific sector. A growing number of institutions are also offering their own “employability award”.
    Endorsed by recruiters, they enable students to gain a certificate by, for example, attending workshops, completing work experience and giving presentations. “Our award, Bristol Plus, can give job applications that added edge,” says Staines.
    Creating a cycle of support, the University of Leeds careers centre helps entrepreneurial students start their own businesses via its Spark programme.
    As well as supporting students in gaining access to grants and funding, it hosts events and modules to get them started, offers advice and mentoring, and provides access to resources. In return, once up and thriving, these new businesses hire younger Leeds students as interns and graduate recruits.
    As Dr Bob Gilworth, director of the University of Leeds careers centre, puts it: “Setting up internship opportunities with SMEs is great, but how about giving students a hand to set up the SMEs in the first place?”
    Former students Becky Edlin, 26, and Gerard Savva, 29, have proved the project’s success. They started their design and marketing service, Magpie Comms, in 2009. Initially benefiting from Spark support, they now provide opportunities for the next crop of students.
    “There’s no shortage of students who want enterprising careers,” says Chris Phillips, UK information and research director at GTI Media, a graduate careers media company. He advises undergraduates to look beyond the obvious recruiters and consider smaller, high-growth businesses, as they “often give earlier responsibility and greater autonomy”.
    In companies both big and small, however, internships can lead to great things. During her aeronautical engineering degree at Imperial College London, Zoe Versey, 24, did a summer internship at Jaguar Land Rover.
    She enjoyed the experience, and secured a place on its graduate scheme. “Completing my final year at uni with a job lined up meant I could concentrate on exams,” says Versey.
    The internship has also helped to make sense of her academic studies, allowing her to “apply things I had learnt on my degree to a work environment”.
    This practical application of university teaching has long since been the aim of vocational degrees — many of which are developed and imparted by industry partners.
    The IT Management for Business (ITMB) degree, for example, is run by 20 universities in conjunction with E-skills UK and supported by 60 employers, among them Hewlett Packard, ITV and the Cabinet Office.
    “It’s about building relationships between students and employers,” says Irina Fotache, 22, who is on a placement at CA Technologies as part of her University of Manchester ITMB. “I’ve met potential employers from day one; it’s great for developing a strong professional network.”
    Overall, the increasingly productive relationships between universities and employers allow students to build skills, contacts and experience before hitting the jobs market.
    “Research shows that students who undertake work experience and consider their employability carefully make better career decisions and have better employment prospects,” says Good fellow.

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