Ivanka Trump – a daughter’s triumph..

Ivanka Trump – a daughter’s triumph..

There has always been something special between fathers and daughters.

I realized that early on. A fully fledged Daddy’s Girl, the highlight of my life was when my father would take me every last week of the month to the Lake House Bookshop and together, we would buy books. Even today, I can close my eyes and smell the sweet fragrance of new books in that wonderful book store all those years ago.

Today, watching my daughter with my husband, the close bond they share, brings back memories of the father-daughter connection that lasts a lifetime.

Today, the citizens of the United States of America elected their President for the next four years. Donald Trump defied all odds and proved the pundits wrong to capture the seat of the most powerful individual in the world ; he was a true winner in the eyes of his voters. But in the eyes of Ivanka, his daughter who led the front lines and was always by his side, he will always be her father,  her true hero.

I remember a picture from the early days of their campaign – the camera captured her adoring eyes, her admiration for her father who let’s face it, built a successful empire on his own. She has chosen to wear the Trump laurels well, succeeding with her own brand of clothing and serving on the board of some of the companies of her father’s business empire. In a recent interview, she told media that she was indeed glad that not one of the Trump children had turned out to be a social liability. 

In contrast to other campaigns and other contestants, Ivanka was the constant face beside her father in the election campaign, graciously given the passenger seat by her step mother Melania. It was a sweet moment to watch the daughter beside the father – through the nail biting campaign, through the mud, the accusations, the take downs. Ever the dutiful daughter, she never wavered but stood firm in her conviction that her father was what America needed.

Not even when a few Hillary supporters chose to attack and boycott her brand, Ivanka chose to stay put and do everyday things, holding her peace. A mother and a wife and a role model in her own right, Ivanka’s devotion to her father and her belief in his capacity to lead their country, cut through it all. Here was a daughter who was standing by her father’s side. If nothing else, it bode well for everything The Donald meant to the everyday, middle America that the Hollywood pundits and Washington DC number crunchers did not care to give any credit to.

There’s something that’s credible about such a father daughter relationship ; it is not orchestrated. Her presence by his side may have reassured the voters that here was a father-daughter duo who were, celebrity status aside, just like the millions of families who wanted to vote right. It was not a well put together show nor one of Washington’s seasoned career politicians in a sassy PR act ; the honest sincerity in Ivanka’s presence by her father’s side would have convinced a million Daddy’s Girls to vote for her father.

The media have used words like quiet resilience and under stated elegance to describe the woman who would soon be America’s First Daughter. She has been identified as his closest advisor although she has tried to downplay the role. To her credit, Ivanka made it a point not to outshine her stepmother Melania. They stood side by side, flanking the man they both love, two elegant women always dressed right. Trump women were not known for their flamboyant taste and outlandish fashion sense – that is definitely more Michelle Obama territory. Ivanka and Melania have chosen to make elegant but firm statements about who they were and where they were grounded.

Now that the world has recovered from the shock of seeing a non-political businessman capture the hearts of voters in the USA, it might be time for us to move on.

But not before we celebrate the daughter behind the father. All the way.

 

 

 

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Robbed on Champs de Elysees & listening to a policeman sing..only in Paris..

Robbed on Champs de Elysees & listening to a policeman sing..only in Paris..

I had so looked forward to my first trip to Paris, the city of lights.

I pictured myself sitting at a cafe on Champs de Elysees, watching life go by…shop at the world’s biggest LV store on the fashionable street and saunter around the city.

We finally board the Eurostar and get ready for the Channel Tunnel ride, setting out from St Pancras International in London.

Two hours later, the Eurostar rolls smoothly into Gard du Nord. I can’t wait to experience the City of Lights. Yet as we step out of Eurostar, the platforms of Gard du Nord, the main railway station in Paris, is nothing like the St Pancras we left behind in London – busy but clean-  it hits me soon that Gard du Nord is dirty and not very tourist friendly. Many immigrants parade here with boards written in bad English asking for financial help. They literally walk into you, bold and unafraid. My husband, our two kids and I try to walk out of the station as fast as we can.

Outside, on the taxi line, we hail our first cab in Paris and are promptly charged 45 Euro to get us to our Air bnb apartment. Our host Didier is mortified to learn the amount – robbery, he says and quite rightly so. It seems the usual fare is only about 15 Euros. Our cab driver was an Arab looking immigrant and we didn’t ask any questions.

Having settled in, my husband and I take a walk – the street we are on is lovely, very Parisian – plenty of cafes where people sit and sip coffee, delicatessens where we buy delightfully French pates to go with fresh bread from the near by patisserie..so far, so good.

The next day, we go to Champs Elysees. Triumph de Arc looms over us majestically at one end – we walk leisurely along the tree lined road known famously throughout the world. We reach the world’s biggest Louis Vuitton store soon enough and I am feeling enthralled by the sights and the sounds.

Inside LV, shop assistants clad in chic black LV outfits present LV bags with gloved hands to eager customers, staring in awe at the world’s most coveted hand bag. It is a moment most cherish – one in which you can lose your bearings and for a moment frozen in time, forget all the warnings about the pickpockets and the street hustlers of Paris.

No one inside LV’s shiny store, knows that outside the luxury goods store, pickpockets wait, clad in finery themselves. And that they can swiftly, surely, unknowingly open your hand bag and flick your wallet in no time.

The unfamiliar lump in my throat grows by the minute when I discover, to my horror, that my wallet, with money and credit cards, is missing. We had just sat down for our dose of a Parisian cafe on the great street itself. It  was such a powerless moment that is etched, almost  frozen in my mind. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel the panic.

Push becomes a shove when my iPhone starts receiving texts of purchases amounting to over 1000 Euros on my stolen cards. I clam up and for a spilt second, cannot comprehend anything. My husband takes over and urges me to call the banks – I do and the cards are blocked. But not before one purchase goes through -albeit for a small amount – on a debit card. Increasingly, the thieves bring down the amounts they are trying to charge on the cards.

Finally, after what seemed like eons, the attempted charges stop.

I walk on, fazed. Being robbed on the world’s most elegant boulevard brings me back to earth with a thud.

I have seen the French police fully armed and ready to confront any would-be terrorist, patrol the streets of Paris. They’ll get the pickpockets, I tell myself.

At the police station on Champs de Elysees, I sit down and try to explain my predicament to the policewoman on duty. She is not impressed – I’m but one of the many tourists crowding the police with complaints of being pick pocketed. One Korean lay sits down, tears in her eyes ; they robbed her money and her passport.

The Parisian police is so laid back you want to do something but you just sit there and pretend you are ok when you are not. Suddenly, the police we grumble about back home seems very efficient to me. This is Pink Panther true to form; departing and arriving policemen and women kiss each other on the cheek in true Parisian fashion, armed to the teeth. This is Paris ; get used to it, I tell myself.

Finally, a policeman is ready to take my complaint. I explain what I lost and in halting English, he nods his head as he types on the keyboard. The French keyboard can be challenging to English speakers.

But wait – the best part in the whole drama is when he pulls out a speaker from a drawer and starts playing classical music. Right there, as he takes my complaint down. He hums and sounds like he is enjoying it all.

I will always remember the singing policeman in Paris. I had never, ever heard a policeman in full uniform, taking down the complaint of someone in distress sing as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

He hands me the complaint in French – and I leave.

Outside, the City of Lights was still the same.

Afterwards, we are hesitant to finish the rest of our touristy visits but no, I tell myself, we came for this, we’ve got to do the rest of it.

Even though Paris was hot and the crowds were pressing – we visit The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. And Notre Dame.

Later, the Frenchmen and Frenchwomen I meet in the local butchery, the patisserie and the pharmacie apologise profusely for the shame of being pick-pocketed- even the cab driver. He shakes his head and says ‘ That’s Paris of today”.

The French are not bad to tourists at all – those who live in Paris have much to do deal with. Roma gangs bother tourists at places where people gather such as Champs Elysees and Notra Dame. The pickpockets, the refugees who hustle for money and the belly of the ugly Paris still exists.

We go for a last night dessert to Avec Ma Blonde, a quaint Parisian cafe on Montemartre Damremont, 18th Arra, our neighbourhood. The cafe is run by Benjamin and his friend.

Benjamin turns out gourmet desserts as only a Frenchman can  ; as the sun goes down on a hot summer’s day, the cafe fills up and people eat, drink vine and have great conversations. It’s all very French. And very elegant too. No one wolfs down food – everyone eats slowly, digesting it well, while having the conversations with the ease that only the French can. Laughter and the sweet aroma of Benjamin’s desserts fill the room.

Taking the Eurostar back to London, I miss my cream coloured wallet. And my ID. And my driving licence. And whatever else that was in my wallet, a lot of things that people usually put in their wallets and forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

The perfect delivery of the much loved Danno Budunge in operatic style was done with both aplomb and finesse by Kishani Jayasinghe, a soprano whom we should all be proud to call a fellow Sri Lankan.

The story that goes even further, despite the ire of many social media users, is that the original melody of the Danno Budunge was the beloved Hymn for Sri Lanka, penned by Rev. W.S Senior back in the early part of the 20th century. The hymn is still sung in churches throughout Sri Lanka. Rev Senior was an educator in the style of pioneer men and women from Europe and USA who went out to the world – he was the Vice Principal of Trinity College Kandy and contributed immensely to that school.

This, really, is not about Rev Senior, the Hymn for Sri Lanka, Danno Budunge or the stellar reputation Kishani has as a soprano whose voice and talent has put Sri Lanka on the map. It is more about who we are as a nation, where we are and where we are going. About what values we are passing on to our children and in which ways we can connect to the rest of the world.

For some of us, anything western is anathema – but migration to a western country is not. It’s perfectly ok to have children here at home in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world who cannot pronounce Sinhala properly but it is not ok to sing a Sinhala song in any other style but the one it is sung in.

It’s ok to drink frizzy drinks and eat fast food – pay no heed to the mantra to return to healthier food and drinks of our forefathers. It’s perfectly acceptable to throw garbage and ruin the fragility of the scenic environment in Sri Lanka – or invite the dengue mosquitoes to breed with unclean drains and polluted environs.

But it is not acceptable for a Sinhala song to be sung in a different yet perfectly acceptable style loved by half or more of the world out there.

The list goes on – and the list is full of hypocrisy and phobias. After some 2,500 years we are supposed to be proud of – I recently came back from a visit to Polonnaruwa during which I took my 9 year old daughter around the ruins and we both fell swelled in our chests about the feats of our ancestors – we are more inward looking and insecure than we were during the days of kings.

The world runs on innovation. That’s the buzz word for economic, business, social and personal success. Granted we must be proud of our heritage and who we are – but we also must emerge as capable and relevant in the world of today. The ostrich mentality will only serve to sink us further – like some truck stuck in the sands of time unable to get its wheels out of the mire.

The world of today is not limited by race, creed, caste or religion. It combines it all, making a perfectly stirred pot of all nationalities that strengthens and reinforces the hope of humanity. The lyrics of the Hymn for Sri Lanka are penned by a clergyman who loved this land like his own and is buried here, and is set to lilting music by Deva Surya Sena, who pioneered the style of local and traditional singing of Sinhala hymns. The same melody is then transformed into the beauty of Danno Budunge and has enthralled generations with its simple yet profoundly sweet melody.

In a nutshell, this melody connects the nation at many different levels. To me,it embodies the spirit of Sri Lanka as we are – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem. The true spirit of a nation in which we all share the common space to grow, to work, to gather together to worship our God or gods.

When Kishani Jayasinghe sang Danno Budunge on 68th Independence Day, it was not the first time. She sang it last year, at a concert titled Kishani Sings With Friends – her rendition of Amazing Grace and Danno Budunge were applauded with gusto. But it took a post of her singing going viral to generate the kind of contempt that can only come from a deep sense of insecurity ingrained with a false sense of pride which is contrastingly different from the real love one feels for one’s heritage and identity.

For the generation of today who connect seamlessly via social media and the internet, the world is their oyster. They can relate to all kinds of music, which for them transcends all barriers.

Let us learn a lesson here from the young ones. And they surely have plenty to teach us.

 

 

 

 

Zuckerberg style paternity leave..is it relevant?

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Reading about one of the world’s busiest men running the Facebook empire wanting to take paternity leave got me thinking. Does this mean that Silicon Valley is officially recognizing paternity leave as an important step in encouraging and empowering men to share the responsibilities that come from a new born in the family? If so, it certainly sounded good.

Tech companies have always encouraged maternity/paternity leave in the hope of retaining talent. Yet most have not made much use  of the facility, it seems, for fears of missing out on the pace of work. Even in the case of Marisa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who chose to take minimum time out with both of her pregnancies, worked throughout.

Comparisons aside, Zuckerberg’s statement is a powerful one and highlights the importance of giving family due time. In tech driven businesses, this can be a tough call. Not that it is easier elsewhere. Careers have been put on hold for those wanting to go all the way in caring for children. In the case of Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, it is even more poignant because the couple miscarried earlier. The significance of wanting to spend time with the new born and be around the new mother in a role that both empowers and assists her,must mean considerably to the Facebook founder.

So, does this mean that paternity leave is important for all men whose wives are due to give birth? Or is it just more of the politically correct statements and standpoints to show the world that gender is a key issue in Silicon Valley?

Paternity leave, I’m certain, does help. I remember the aftermath of having my daughter, recovering from a bleeding fibroid and facing the post natal depression blues. Having my husband around helped. It was not just sharing the work – it was also being able to share the fears, the uncertainties, the complications and being able to be comforted and soothed by the person closest to you and the family. Sometimes, what matters is the fact that your husband is around – not even doing anything but just being there so that you can be assured everything is alright. New mothers need an extra hand in reassurance, as we all know.

Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg has set a new standard for all the young, tech driven fathers out there. As a parent who is also a millennial, his decision speaks much for the restoration of faith in families, in fathers wanting to spend time with children and in giving family priority over work. It tells the young generation that work could never replace family, which in itself is a strong delivery. It puts the concept of getting married, having children, raising a family in a new light – for the better.

Now that the founder of the social media giant Facebook confirms paternity leave is ok, we should see the concept gaining momentum at places of work. Argued, evaluated, thought over, mulled over – call it what you may. Every new mother would benefit from an extra pair of hands – especially from the one  who is closest to her.

 

 

 

“I remember distinctly meeting this little girl who was very young, probably about seven or eight, and she was rocking backwards and forwards staring at the wall, and tears streaming down her face because she had been brutally raped multiple times, you couldn’t talk to her, you couldn’t touch her. I felt absolutely helpless, I didn’t know what to do for her.”-
Those stark words were spoken by the Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie,appearing before the British parliament on the horrendous use of rape by ISIS in conflict as a weapon. I have heard of the atrocities and seen the pictures but Jolie’s words sank in deep – I had just sent off my eight year old little girl to school. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the words in total – how low could a human being sink in order to desire the rape of a child..while it is unthinkable to many of us, to the ISIS, it is merely one of the tactics they use to shock the world and pursue their agenda.

Robbing a child of his or her childhood by whatever means, in my book, amounts to a crime as worse as taking a life. The little girl Jolie saw, violated in mind and body, rocking back and forth, staring at a wall, tears streaming down her face has suffered more trauma than we can possibly imagine. For some of them, the worse memories are watching their friends and sisters bargained over and sold as sex slaves.

These children would never know the blissful childhood routines most children take for granted. Traumatized and disoriented for the rest of their lives, they will not be able to experience life in totality. As much as they need help in relocating and rebuilding, the psychological damage unleashed on them would require professional support and guidance.

As at April this year, TIME reported that over 3,000 girls, mostly from Christian minority and Yezidi community, were being held as sex slaves , a practice defended by the ISIS despite worldwide condemnation. A girl who escaped told of the brutality of rape, with girls as young as 8 being raped repeatedly by ISIS gangs who would not hesitate to hit them violently. Many girls die and others survive scarred for life. Where their destiny lies, no one can tell.

In the meantime, are we doing enough to at least shock the world into realising that these are someone’s daughters and sisters that are being violated without any regard for them? Are we doing enough in spreading the word? Can condemnation of the manner in which ISIS is using their faith to justify the horrendous sexual violence come from within the Moslem community?

We live in a world no longer shocked by what it hears and sees – we have become numb to pain and suffering of others. As these girls continue to suffer more psychological damage than even physical, can we do our little bit and share the word? Can we in our own little ways replicate what Angelina Jolie is doing.

Let’s join hands on social media – let’s create awareness of the fate of girls just like our daughters, girls who should be smiling and laughing, going to school and singing the Frozen theme song.

“Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it.”

Aysha Taryam

Women & Sustainability – Lessons from China..

Women and sustainability- lessons from China…

 

China has grown into a dynamic powerhouse of business. Among the men, there are women who have displayed the traditional Chinese knack for good business sense. Zhang Yin, who founded and chairs the Nine Dragon Paper (Holdings) Ltd, believes in sustaining forests and keeping the checks and balances in keeping the environment alive. This is more so relevant given the fact that China’s cities are under attack from excessive pollution and environmental damage.

 

Under the aegis of a former academic Jaclyn Shi, a global network of professional women engaged in sustainability set up a group known as Women in Sustainability Action (WISA). WISA stays on top of issues that involve women in sustainability, making a connection that is both real and relevant in today’s world of increased environmental concern.

 

Sustainability is more than a buzz -word for women engaged in sustainability related businesses. Maybe it has something to do with women as mothers and care givers, who get concerned and involved with environmental issues at various levels. The agro chemicals found in our fresh produce, the safety of drinking water and city pollution that can trigger asthma attacks concern women as mothers. Women connect better with sustainability as a real life issue rather than a concept that can be tackled along with a host of others, according to the experts.

 

Professor Kellie McElhaney, founder of the Centre for Responsible Business at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business says that companies that empower women are more likely to be companies that practice sound environmental practices.

That’s not all. A research paper authored by experts McElhaney and Mobasseri found that companies that had women on their boards were committed to energy efficiency, were likely to measure and deduce their carbon emissions, reduce the impact of their packaging, invest in renewable power sources, improve access to healthcare in developing countries , form strong partnerships with local communities, offer products with nutritional benefits and the list goes on.

The study also found that such companies typically have anti-corruption mechanisms in place and  seek to maintain transparency in all endeavours. They are also likely to avoid fraud and criminal activities, price fixing and other malpractices frequently found in the corporate world.

 

Does testosterone fuel the exploitation of  the planet and its resources, asks one woman involved in sustainability related work.  Are women better equipped and able to introduce and manage sustainability as an everyday thing that can be put to work in homes and communities, companies and societies?

Elle Carberry, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the  China Greentech Initiative says that most women consider sustainability from a social perspective. Having been in business for over 20 years, she says she has met more  women engaged in sustainable business ventures than men,  be they in China, US or elsewhere.

 

Going back to our story on the Nine Dragons Paper started by Zhang Yin, one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, the company purchases scrap paper from the US and imports it into China where it is recycled into cardboard and is used to export Chinese goods back to the US and elsewhere. 

 

Yin is the queen of sustainability – in 2006, she was at the top of the list of the richest in China. Fortune placed her alongside Oprah and JK Rowling in 2010. 

Yin says her business is based on the philosophy of “Waste paper is like a forest – paper recycles itself, generation after generation.”

The 2012 Ernst & Young ranking of country attractiveness for renewable energy investments shows China leading the way in the world, ahead of the US and Germany.

Yin and Carberry represent the faces of the pioneers among women who support sustainability in China. There are others such as Jin Jia Man, Director of the Global Environmental Institute, Chen Zhili, Chairperson of the China Women’s Federation, Li Chun Mei, Founder and General Manager of Wealth Environment Engineering Co, and Anne Myong, CEO of Walmart.

 

With such strong role models, women in China should be leading the way for others to follow. Yet Kaying Lau, Country Director of the Global Reporting Initiative in China says that millions of women are still under represented in a region where women are engaged in thousands of ventures.

 

What lessons can we in Sri Lanka learn from our Chinese sisters? Where are the sustainable ventures that we too can initiate to not only empower women but also introduce sustainability and a concern for the environment to our society? How can we as mothers, sisters, wives, caregivers, CEOs and corporate leaders device ways of making our businesses better in terms of delivering sustainability and can we make sustainability a key topic of relevance for us here in Sri Lanka?

 

 

Is the 9 to 5 routine becoming a relic of the past?

Back when the internet was not around and entrepreneurship did not garner the same level of respect it does today, a traditional climb up the ladder was the expected path – for women and men. Today, enter the world wide web, work-from-home careers, social networking and everything else in between, men and women are increasingly finding themselves attracted to different career paths that do not always keep the traditional 9 to 5 routine.

Working from home, freelancing and entrepreneurship are becoming empowered career paths – working times have changed beyond recognition. As more and more people work on line and across time zones, the 9 to 5 routine no longer applies the way it did before. According to estimates, 60% of the Generation Y or the Millennials, generally referring to the generation born during the eighties onwards, are leaving companies in less than three years  to pursue different goals. They are not sticking around for a long term career – 9 to 5 office routine that once so faithfully adhered to, is no longer the game plan. The game plan, in fact, could be just about anywhere, thanks to internet powered smart phones and tabs.

The concept of an office as in a smart cubicle, accompanied by the traditional corporate trimmings, is no longer the icing on the cake for smart women (and men). More so for women because working from home, meeting deadlines and developing individual schedules have never looked more attractive , especially to career mothers.

Flexibility,  a greater understanding of the vast market out there and the infinite possibilities the world wide web opens up are some of the main reasons why most women prefer turning their backs on the 9 to 5 routine. Yes there are the ones who actually benefit from physically going to office. After five or six years on the job, it becomes second nature. Some, in fact, look forward to going to work, having the first cup of tea or coffee, catching up on the week’s gossip before attending to work but for others, the 9 to 5 routine robs them of flexibility and opportunities to reach the stars.

According to the recent Millenial Branding Report, 45% of the Generation Y chose flexibility at work over a higher pay. Take for an example web based companies who built their success on innovative platforms. Lionbridge is one such company – they started as a translation focused site but soon expanded to provide crowd sourced employees to a wide range of companies. Their crowd workers include stay at home mothers, retirees and of course Millennials who seem to prefer flexibility over fixed routine.

While seeking to work on assignments on their own terms, the Generation Y also prefers work that generally targets a greater purpose like changing the world. In a study conducted in the USA, 72% of students as compared to 53% of workers, preferred a job that could make an ‘impact’.   The ‘impact’ was not necessarily social but could also be personal. As a result, social entrepreneurship has exploded in the last few years and continues to draw faithful adherents.

There are other aspects – values, building lasting relationships and forming bonds with others at work – all of these are emerging as key employee indicators. More and more of the young generation are seeking jobs that are culturally ‘sound’. Companies such as Google that work on totally different platforms from the traditional office model, are popular and are sought after.

As novel as these concerns are, they do not filter down always into being financially viable. The young generation sometimes does not realize that there is number crunching involved in most ventures that bring in the dough. There are some innovative platforms that could rival the 9 to 5 office routine but they are too far and in between to make an impact large enough to be felt in the market place.

What they also do not realize is that success still means hard work that takes commitment. While some can accomplish work wherever they maybe, others still may benefit from the traditional office environment. Not everyone is cut out for the kind of intangible but highly successful work models involving flexibility and web based portals.

Technology has already made its impact in the way we live and work – the world wide web has changed the way we communicate, think and apply ourselves to different situations. It has transformed the office environment, the study environment and the home environment. Yet, it will continue to do all this and more, co-existing beside the traditional models of the already established parameters.  At least for now.