Monthly Archives: August 2014

Social enterprise plan to teach Barkingside about growing their own fruit and veg

Note: This report was orginally written for the East London Guardian-Series.

A social enterprise aiming to increase the supply of organic food in Redbridge is due to open a new educational site in Barkingside.

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Toni Dipple, the founding director of Organic Ilford CIC

Starting from September, people will be able learn about growing their own organic fruit and veg on a patch of land off Horns Road, Ilford.

Toni Dipple, the founding director of Organic Ilford CIC, said: “Our aim is to provide locally sourced organic vegetables across Redbridge from small scale farms.

“By buying and producing locally you are helping to support the community and environment.”

Along with educating the public, social enterprise Organic Ilford have been offering a selection of locally produced jams, chutneys, eggs and freshly picked fruit and vegetables since May this year.

They now have over 40 regular customers with three collection points across Ilford.

Toni and her volunteers received a £6000 grant in June from Transform and Redbridge Council to create the education site in Barkingside.

The Organic Ilford box scheme has been guided by the Growing Communities Start-up Programme, which works with groups across the UK to help set up community-led box schemes.

Kerry Rankine, Assistant Director at Growing Communities said: “We’re really delighted that the scheme has taken off in Ilford.

“Toni and all the volunteers are really doing an amazing job,” she added.

6 tips to help you launch your start-up while working full time

For a long time I dreamed of starting my own business, and I’m sure there are many of you out there who feel the same way.

So what is stopping most of us from realising this ambition? A family to support, bills to pay, the complexities of daily life – quitting your nine to five to pursue a dream can seem like a big gamble.

But there is another way my friends. If you have the determination to succeed, save money, and organise your time effectively, you can start a business while working full time. This is exactly what I have done and it has been incredibly satisfying. Not only are the financial risks severely diminished, but I’ve had greater freedom to experiment and take risks.

So enough preaching, on to the good stuff. I’ve been on a quest to find some top tips from business owners and experts, who perhaps like yourselves someday, started selling their wares while working full time.

 

1. Get support – work as a team

Taking on a huge task yourself can be daunting, overwhelming, and just downright impossible. But when I first started out I was lucky enough to have a friend to work with.

In my own experience, not only did this lessen the burden, but it also made the process so much more fun. While your ultimate ambition may be to fly solo, if you want to build a successful start-up without quitting your existing job, you’re going to need support.

“It’s difficult to start a business on your own,” said Anees Ikrahmullah, owner of a small start-up called Centre Spot Events. “Having the help of a friends makes it easier to get stuff done. Just be careful who you work with though – I’ve seen failed businesses ruin friendships before.”

Alternatively, you could find a mentor or enlist the help of volunteers. Offering a few close friends free pizza and beers for an afternoon of their help is not such a big request, and can be great bonding. I find most of the time your buddies are willing to help.

 

2. Make the most of the internet

There are a tremendous amount of free resources out there for you as an aspiring business owner. The internet will be your greatest ally in this journey. In fact, you’ve already taken your first step. Websites like AllBusiness can provide the vital information and support you need to get started.

“When I first started out I had no idea what I was doing,” said Miten Sudra, a student and co-founder of ThriftyPanda, a media agency in London. “If it wasn’t for the valuable resources I found online, the tools and guides for start-ups, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Managing your online presence will make or break your business. Get to know about blogger outreach and SEO, start a website using free CMS such as WordPress and merchant plugins like WooCommerce. Make sure you analyse your traffic using Google Analytics and see how effective your website is in converting visits to sales. Investing in a website means you also don’t need to rent out a store. Digital marketing is cheap, effective, and can be managed remotely. Get smart – work less but more effectively.

 

3. Organise your time effectively

Your greatest challenge will be how to manage what little time you have. Certainly your social life will suffer unless you plan ahead. Use tools like Google Calendar to set yourself a schedule. Allocate time to work on your business, but also, time to spend with your loved ones. Use idle time to your advantage. For example, spend your lunch hour at work replying to important emails or managing your social media accounts.

“Fill your time productively,” said Daniel Berwick, owner of SkadooshFitness and a personal fitness Guru. “I found discipline to be the key to success. In my line of work it comes naturally. But even so, there is always the temptation to slack off when you could be getting stuff done.”

You may even want to dedicate parts of your scheduled time off work to getting important projects done. You will have fragmented time and as such these periods will be vital to taking big steps. Use Saturday to work on your business, take Sunday off to relax. Try to find a balance that suites you.

 

4. Reach out

Speak to your boss at work to discuss your plans. See if there is anything they can do to accommodate you. Reach out to other small start-ups that you can work with. Individually you are too weak to compete with big business, but collectively you can offer that personal touch while cutting down costs.

“Reaching out and forming a network of likeminded associates will help you get your name out there,” said Faisal Maiy, who runs a real estate agents called Steptons. “People will help if they like you and feel that it is a reciprocal relationship.”

Human beings are inherently empathetic creatures, but it’s important to remember that it’s a two way street – you’ve got to be willing to work with people towards a common goal. Making allies can help you cut corners and ultimately save on precious time.

 

5. Save, reinvest, and grow

It’s time to start penny pinching folks. While working a nine to five definitely removes the economic risks of starting your own business, it may mean growth will be slow. This is because you are simply constrained by limits on time. But a quick way to boost growth is by investing money instead. You can do this by taking steps to sort out your personal finance. Setting a savings goal can help you realise your business dream. With the money you save, you can inject the extra cash-flow into your business to get the ball rolling.

“It’s all well and good making money, but it’s what you do with it that counts,” said Zubair Patel, a business analyst from London. “You’ve got to be smart with your profits and savings, so reinvest wisely.”

After a few months you might want to think about hiring a part-time employee. You can even hire remote PA’s or a virtual assistant from countries like India to save on money. The key is thinking creatively and having a long term vision. Aim to reinvest as much of your profit back into your business for maximum results.

 

6. Get motivated, believe in yourself

For this last tip, I want to tell you a personal story about my older brother. After our father passed away when we were very young, my immigrant mum struggled to look after our family of four. Being dyslexic, he dropped out of school and soon turned to a life of crime, eventually getting caught and spending several years in prison. It was a difficult period for all of us.

“I struggled for a long time,” said Naeem, who is now the owner of Accurate-Alarms, a UK based security firm.

“After losing my dad when I was a kid, life was always tough. When I went to prison, I lost everything I had, and struggled to come back from the brink. But after getting out, I was determined to change my life. I worked a minimum wage job, used what little savings I had, and committed myself to my business. To anyone out there who’s in a similar situation, my advice to you is this; just believe in yourself.”

The moral of this story is don’t let your past failures, worries and insecurities hold you back. All of us have greatness buried deep inside of us. Be prepared to take risks, but also be ready to take the rough with the smooth. What I’m getting at is, when life gives you lemons, start selling lemonade on ebay.

To all those who have been thinking about starting their own business, I hope this post has inspired you to give it a shot. There are many obstacles ahead of you, but I know you can overcome them with hard work, positive thinking, and effective planning. Try to save what money you do make and invest some time in sorting out your personal finances. If you have any more advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, or a question to ask, drop us a message in the comments section below.

 

 

 

 

Objectivity vs. neutrality on Gaza

 

Note: This post was originally written for openDemocracy.

The Palestine-Israel conflict poses a moral dilemma for journalists. But being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement.

Choosing sides

As reporters swarm the besieged streets of the shrinking Gaza strip, there has been an inundation of harrowing images and reports throwing Israel and its motives into utter disrepute. Palestinian mothers crying in anguish over the death of their children, families searching through rubble for survivors, hospitals littered with blood drenched casualties of the Israeli war machine – these images swell up inside us contempt for the perpetuators of such crimes.

Yet despite the international condemnation, the motives for these actions have been a hotly debated. I have even found it to be a polarising topic within my own circle of friends, despite most of them being strongly against the killing of innocent civilians. Was it the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers? Are they looking for tunnels or for revenge? Is Hamas rocket fire to blame?

Disregarding the constantly changing narrative (and the fact most of these reasons have been largely discredited), social media has been rife with accusations of propaganda from both sides. I myself have been accused of spamming pro-Palestinian articles on /r/worldnews – an internet community that has been targeted by pro-Israel groups such as the JIDF.

So the question remains – is it morally acceptable for reporters to pick a side? Certainly as journalists we have a duty to be impartial when reporting the facts, even though this can be argued to be a futile task. Any effort to disseminate news on a contentious issue will inherently cause accusations of media bias, “because journalists are human beings and journalism is not an exact science,” said Hilary Aked, writing for OpenDemocracy in 2012. “There is a great deal of truth in the assertion that to some extent one’s critique will depend on how the conflict is viewed,” she added.

We are emotional beings at our very core, and view all issues through the lens or prism of our own emotional sensibilities. And so it is of no surprise then that many of us turn to social media to express our outrage when we feel an injusticehas occurred. Quite simply, a significant majority of those who stand by the Palestinians do so because it is difficult to watch an injustice and not speak out. This is in itself a biological response, and is universal to humanity. For over a century now academics have studied this very issue, using anthropological and historical evidence to conclude that this sense of injustice is found everywhere, spanning across all cultures and periods of human history.

The process of evolution itself has carved this sense into humans. Those who witness others being subjected to injustice often respond as though it was an act of aggression towards themselves. This can be a powerful motivational condition. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote it in 1963: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Cognitive dissonance

Despite damning evidence of disproportionate aggression and international war crimes, many Israelis argue that they are the ones who have been demonised, and claim it is they who are in fact the victims of injustice. In turn many such persons choose to discredit opposing views as unduly partisan. But can it really be the case that those all over the world who all condemn the violence – international bodies, humanitarian organisations, world leaders, and so on – are simply liars, paid shills, or anti-Semitic?

In 1956, Leon Festinger and two colleagues released a classic work of social psychology that studied this very kind of unwarranted belief. When prophecy fails follows the story of a small cult that wholly committed themselves to an apocalyptic prophesy told by a woman named Dorothy Martin. She claimed to have received a message from a fictional planet, which revealed the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. What they found was that some of the group became increasingly dogmatic in their beliefs when the supposed prophesy was unfulfilled. The authors described this as a coping mechanism, and was one of the first published cases of cognitive dissonance – the discomfort one feels when confronted by information that conflicts with or significantly alters their worldview.

Fast forward half a century – in 2013, Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law, gave compelling evidence to the source of this diminished ability to reason. His paper, entitled Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government”, demonstrated hard evidence of motivated reasoning, a symptom of cognitive dissonance and part of this coping mechanism. His conclusion, as described by journalist Chris Mooney, is that partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [those] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”

Essentially, Kahan found that even when presented with the facts, motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe by ignoring contrary data. As summarised by Marty Kaplan, writing for AlterNet:

“It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem. The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are. We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalise what our emotions already want to believe.”

This finding is very problematic, for if we are to come to any kind of truth on this matter, or any issue in fact, we must open our hearts and minds to honest and open discourse. As objective observers we must accept that there is propaganda from both sides, but quite often this fact is used to validate unreasonable beliefs.

For instance, to assume Hamas have the same capability as Israel and its allies when it comes to disseminating propaganda seems wholly illogical. From government backed Hasbara to organisations such as CAMERA, this battle of hearts and minds has not been fought on a level playing field. It is only due to the concerted efforts of activists and the public at large that world opinion is now firmly on the side of the Palestinians. This change is largely attributed to the advent of the digital age and the feeling of injustice we have touched upon.

Impartial judgements

Some argue that as reporters we have a duty to remain neutral in such conflicts, and certainly, this is reflected in the ethics of journalism, particularly when it comes to broadcast in the UK. In his paper, Delivering trust: impartiality and objectivity in a digital age, Richard Sambrook, a professor of journalism at Cardiff University and BBC journalist for three decades, outlines some of the key issues surrounding objectivity after the advent of the internet and social media. In the papers abstract he states:

“The ideas of impartiality and objectivity – at the heart of serious news journalism for most of the last century – are now under pressure and even attack in the digital a…Today, in the digital age of plenty, notions of special responsibilities being placed on those with a public voice, and different approaches for print and broadcasting, are rapidly breaking down. As the disciplines of impartiality and objectivity disintegrate, there are increased signs of propaganda, entertainment and fiction seeping into journalism. Broadcasters, regulators, politicians, and journalists are struggling to make the solutions of the last century fit the changed media characteristics and conditions in the new century.”

Through the course of the paper Sambrook proposes a number of principles to help journalism adapt to a world that increasingly demands partisan reporting. He calls for “a growing need to encourage critical awareness of the media” within the public that equips them “with the knowledge and tools to understand what they are consuming”:

“There are currently serious concerns about the quality and practices of news media and their impact on public debate. These principles, supported by greater media literacy, can help us navigate in the new digital world of information abundance and deliver journalism that is trustworthy and fulfils its public purpose.”

Yet despite our need to place an emphasis on trust and objective reporting, we as human beings have a moral obligation to, and often feel a strong impulse to, put an end to perceived injustices perpetuated on innocent victims. Martin Bell, a BBC Foreign Correspondent during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, said: “You can be fair to everybody, but you can’t stand neutrally between good and evil.”

Sambrook writes that Martin embraced “bystander reporting” while avoiding moral equivalence between the opposing sides. He says:

“Impartiality does not have to strip reporting of moral judgement (as distinct from personal opinion) as long as there is strong evidence to support it…Independence of mind, clear sourcing and evidence, accuracy, openness, and honesty are all characteristics of impartiality as well – and none of these qualities are necessarily require a report to be morally agnostic…In the circumstances of genocide, or a climate of hate speech, it might be argued that the discipline of objectivity (if not impartiality) becomes even more important … [as these] encourage free debate.”

Being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement. While the two may be interlinked, when the facts are laid out in front of us, free of political spin and misleading narratives, the truth does not and should not allow us to remain impassive. Ultimately if we truly believe in a practicable solution to this war of attrition, we must be objective when looking at the facts, but also brave enough to speak out against the injustices these facts reveal.

As so eloquently put by Peter Benenson in 1961, the founder of human rights charity Amnesty International:

“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”