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Showing posts from 2017

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections

The story of humanity is one of extraordinary cooperation but also terrible conflict. We come together to build cities, civilisations and cultures, but we also destroy these through violence against each other and degradation of our environment. Given that human nature is capable of both extremes, how can we design societies and institutions that help to bring out our better, more cooperative, instincts?
This question is not limited to humans. Life’s domains are replete with many forms of cooperation, from microbes sharing helpful molecules to dolphins providing aid to the injured. This kind of ‘altruistic’ behaviour – helping others at one’s own expense – presents an evolutionary puzzle. As Charles Darwin put it in The Descent of Man (1871): ‘He who was ready to sacrifice his life … rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature.’ The question then becomes, what kinds of conditions lead to the evolution of cooperative behaviour, when we w…

Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy

According to the grit narrative, children in the United States are lazy, entitled and unprepared to compete in the global economy. Schools have contributed to the problem by neglecting socio-emotional skills. The solution, then, is for schools to impart the dispositions that enable American children to succeed in college and careers. According to this story, politicians, policymakers, corporate executives and parents agree that kids need more grit.
The person who has arguably done more than anyone else to elevate the concept of grit in academic and popular conversations is Angela Duckworth, professor at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she explains the concept of grit and how people can cultivate it in themselves and others.
According to Duckworth, grit is the ability to overcome any obstacle in pursuit of a long-term project: ‘To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful g…

Arabic translators did far more than just preserve Greek philosophy

In European antiquity, philosophers largely wrote in Greek. Even after the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean and the demise of paganism, philosophy was strongly associated with Hellenic culture. The leading thinkers of the Roman world, such as Cicero and Seneca, were steeped in Greek literature; Cicero even went to Athens to pay homage to the home of his philosophical heroes. Tellingly, the emperor Marcus Aurelius went so far as to write his Meditations in Greek. Cicero, and later Boethius, did attempt to initiate a philosophical tradition in Latin. But during the early Middle Ages, most of Greek thought was accessible in Latin only partially and indirectly.
Elsewhere, the situation was better. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek-speaking Byzantines could continue to read Plato and Aristotle in the original. And philosophers in the Islamic world enjoyed an extraordinary degree of access to the Hellenic intellectual heritage. In 10th-century Baghdad, readers of Arabic…

Arab Cities As Learning Cities: Towards membership in the Global Network of Learning Cities

Modern cities in the 21st century are defined by “individual empowerment”, “social inclusion”, “economic development”. “cultural prosperity”, and “sustainable development”. The rapid urbanization around the world (see here), makes it imperative for cities, as they grow in population, to meet the societal, economic, and cultural needs of its citizens who are growing increasingly diverse. But  you do not have to scrutinize the Arab cities’ ecologies to know that they are conceptually and pragmatically nothing near a modern city as illustrated above. A typical Arab city, let’s say my city Tripoli in northern Lebanon, is underdeveloped, lacks social mobility, individuals are undervalued, has marginalized groups, and the city development is temporal. The marginalization or assimilation of groups in the city is only growing by the day. I have seen this in every Arab city I have visited, with the exception of a few in the GCC. A key ingredient for continuous development is life-long learning…

How One Non-profit Foundation Is Trying to Re-shape Education in Northern Lebanon

Lebanon’s long term and concentric sectarian, bureaucratic practices have left the Lebanese people dwelling away from the capital  Beirut and Mount Lebanon with less social, political, economic, and education rights. You can palpate the gradual social inequality as you move from Lebanon’s center towards the inlands. It becomes a clear social schism on the outskirts of Lebanon . This social inequality has only exacerbated as a result of the Syrian crisis with more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees officially living in Lebanon (a country of only 6 million people and an area of only 10,452 km2). Among all sectors, education has suffered the most, in particular North of Lebanon, which although incorporates Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, has had enormous problems with education equity and access to quality education for decades.

The private education market in Lebanon outweighs the public education market by leaps and bounds  (see my earlier post) with 1.5 billion and 0.3 bill…

Capturing Solutions for Organizational Learning and Scaling Up

The World Bank has published a much needed guidebook for organizations on how to document operational experiences for organizational learning and knowledge sharing. It also discusses the significance of organizational capabilities at two levels: Enabling Environment for Knowledge Sharing and Technical Skills.The  publication asks a simple, yet important, question: Is your organization missing important lessons from its operational experiences?
This step-by-step guide shows you how to systematically capture such knowledge and use it to inform decision making, support professional learning, and scale up successes. The captured lessons--knowledge assets, the central element needed for learning--are consistently formatted documents that use operational experience to answer a specific question or challenge.
The guide describes how to create and use knowledge assets in five steps: (1) identify important lessons learned by participants, (2) capture those lessons with text or multimedia documen…

A Mobile Application Provides All relevant Information for Incoming Asylum Seekers

Almost 3 million people are expected to reach Europe by the end of 2017. This creates a tremendous geo-cultural challenge for refugees, especially at the outset. Being forlorn, destitute, lost in translation – and with a mobile phone, new comers do not have enough local information and are held back by language barriers. As much as they get help, especially in Germany, there is a mismatch between public aides and refugees. The is why Integreat app was developed.
Integreat provides comprehensive local information for refugees, is multilingual, has simple administration, and is connected to local authorities, is linked to job platforms, and is free of charge. Creators of Integreat asked these two simple questions that lead to the creation of the app : Can we provide all the relevant information to incoming people in our city in their own language as quickly as possible – without permanent internet access and without confusing paper chaos?

Integreat is available in the App Store and Googl…

A Cigarette Lighter that Makes You Want to Quit Smoking

In an earlier post, I wrote about the increasing risk factor of cancer primarily attributed to smoking. I also wrote that Lebanon has the highest smoking rate among Arab countries, the highest cancer rate among developing countries, and competes developed counties in cancer rates. Many smokers want to stop but do not know how. They start with the will to do so, but often falter because there is no incentive. Telling them that they might die or get cancer as a result does not have an effect, as suggested by studies in psychology. This is  where Samer Gharib invented  Slighter (Smart Lighter). He used tracking technology and gamification to help the smoker track and v lessen his smoking by first having him being aware of the smoking habit and then by getting incentives to lessen his smoking. Slighter follows the basic routine of Learn, Control, Break.


Slighter tracks your smoking habit so that you are aware of it. It triggers whenever you use it to light your cigarettes. Slighter then an…

In Lebanon, a Socio-culturally Fueled Cancer Is on a Steady and Alarming Rise

Last week, we had a visitor from a nearby village in Bekaa, Lebanon. He kept apologizing for  his not paying frequent visits, as the wont with typically Lebanese villagers, because his brother’s wife, Amal, was still undergoing excruciating  larynx cancer treatment in Beirut. Amal is only 19, has a son, and her husband is only 20. The villagers call him ‘walad’, kiddo,  because he got married at a young age. The doctor says that the cancer has spread in most parts of her larynx and that ostracizing the malign cells without killing the healthy ones is getting harder by the day. The doctor says, “ Don’t let your hopes high”.  The listeners hearken at the story of Amal’s ordeals of the invasive, malignant cancer with compassion but not with surprise.In this in-land Lebanese village, and many, many others in Lebanon, cancer incidences are ubiquitous. During  my short summer stay, I incessantly hear about or know of the death of a man, the diagnosis of a woman, or the loss of a child with …

32 Year Satellite images Time-lapse Shows the Immense Change of Tripoli, Lebanon

It is no a secret that the past 50 years have seen a tremendous leap and bounds in technologies and (mega) construction. Although everyone is excited about it, this also raises the question, whereto? The idea that out of the thousand years humans have been in this world, only the past half a century has seen an unparalleled spring in materialism (humanism has deplorably spiraled down, perhaps this shows a reversed correlation?). Using Google Earth Engine Timelapse, I have captured how my hometown, Tripoli, Lebanon, has transformed (amorphously) in the past 32 years (1984 – 2016). Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016. Using Earth Engine, we combined over 5 million satellite images acquired over the past three decades by 5 different satellites. The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that …

198 METHODS of Nonviolent Actions to Instill Change

In 1972, Gene Sharp produced  a brochure listing 198 methods on nonviolent actions to instill change. Since then, his methods have become a blueprint for nonviolent actions around the world. I publishing it here in the hope that this might spark done ideas for change. Practitioners of nonviolent struggle have an entire arsenal of “nonviolent weapons” at their disposal. Listed below are 198 of them, classified into three broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention. A description and historical examples of each can be found in volume two of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, by Gene Sharp.THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT PROTEST AND PERSUASION
Formal Statements
                    1. Public Speeches
                    2. Letters of opposition or support
                    3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
                    4. Signed public statements
                    5. Declarations of…