A couple of weeks ago, I booked myself a ticket for the event “Better for Balance #1: Mind the Gap” organized by Copenhagen FinTech Lab. It meant I would have to travel from Aarhus to Copenhagen on the 8th of March and it was not exactly the Women’s March I would regularly join on this important day for the feminist movement across the world.
Then, why did I choose to spend my day in a founders and investors panel at a financial tech company in Copenhagen? I have been following the Copenhagen FinTech’s Linked account for a couple of months now, as well as his CEO’s, Thomas Krogh Jensen. As I told him personally, their updates are something I look forward to reading on my feed, both because they are carefully crafted with meaningful content and because they reflect the state of the cutting-edge Danish FinTech ecosystem.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that the person behind these “Balance for Better” series of events was Naima Yasin, as much is it didn’t surprise me either to find out – weeks ago – that there was a woman in charge of Copenhagen FinTech’s Social Media.
So there it was, my opportunity to meet two of the people that make my LinkedIn feed worth it and my chance to get a better grasp of Danish feminist concerns.
What’s the Issue?
The London-based company Atomico and partners, released the fourth edition of The State of European Tech report, a survey of 5,000 members of the tech ecosystem which gathered data from 2018.
Special attention was driven towards diversity in tech companies, where gender inequality was outstanding. Below, some of the key findings:
Women account for just 22% of participants in tech-related Meetup events in the region.
All-male founding teams receive 93% of the capital invested and account for 85% of deals.
46%of female respondents have experienced some form of discrimination while working in the European tech industry.
Only 1 woman was found to be Chief Technology Officer.
The executive position with more female representation is Chief Marketing Officer and it accounts only for 21%.
Denmark is no exception. Actually, it is the worst-performing country of the Nordic region regarding gender gap with no female CEOs in its top 20 companies, the OMX Copenhagen 20. The shameful absence, disclosed by the Route to the Top 2018 report, is only shared with another European nation: Italy.
How did the panel go?
The panel was concise, well moderated and touched upon diversity of topics, considering the time available. The discussion about whether or not there should be gender quotas or transparency reports was the protagonist, along with the debate on how unconscious gender bias affects a woman’s startup pitch.
Susanne Brønnum is a Board Member at Oslo-based – “leaders in mobile payments and e-commerce” – company Auka, Chairman of the Board at Ernit – “the world’s first kids friendly app connected to real bankaccounts” – and a member of the Danish Business Angels organization, a network of investors interested in financing start-up companies.
She argued that while quotas are not the ideal, they might be a needed step towards narrowing the gap:
“We all want to be chosen for what we can do (….) but I also think that five years down the road maybe that’s actually what we need to do, at least for a short period of time.”
It was Camilla Kerlauge the one who put on the table the unconscious gender bias card. Camilla is the CEO and Founder of Spenderlog, “an app that analyses your supermarket receipts and shows you exactly how you live (…) combining personal financial management with health and lifestyle.” She suggested to CEO Thomas Krogh Jensen that
“Copenhagen Fintech Lab could be the first one to establish an education on understanding your own bias”
as part of the solution to the gender gap in Danish financial technology companies.
Moreover, Thea Messel agreed that unconscious bias is part of the reason why, when pitching a company idea, women are more often questioned about the risks, obstacles and stability while men face more questions regarding their goals and ambitions. Thea is very well informed with updated numbers that show that women-led companies overperform, relatively to those ran by men. She seemed passionate about the issue of inequality in Fintech since recently founded Unconventional Ventures:
“Unlocking the potential of underrepresented founders in the Nordics.”
Unconventional Ventures – Thea Messel
Sophie Grønbæk, CEO at the disruptive insurance company Undo, and Sara Green Brodersen, CEO of Deemly, a startup aimed at breaking down trust barriers for users in the sharing economy, both shared their experiences as female founders and discussed how bringing up the issue of gender in the male-dominated FinTech ecosystem often backlash on them.
While it’s hard to get women on companies’ boards, I found remarkable that Copenhagen Fintech’s Community Manager, Naima Yasin, managed to get two men to participate in this conversation: the politician from the Danish Conservative People’s Party – Det Konservative Folkeparti -, Lars Arne Christensen, who’s also a member of Danish Business Angels, and the Chairman at the Nordic Impact Investing Network, Søren Stig, who declared himself a feminist.
Final Remarks from the CEO, Thomas Krogh Jensen
Regulation matters: “If you look at many other areas and you look at where other transformations took place, much of it is actually driven by regulation. So I think that’s actually one thing that could make it happen much faster.”
Real diversity: “This is by far the most important debate within diversity: it’s color of skin, it’s religion, it’s sexual orientation, it’s more than just men and women.”
Men have their share: “They decide, we decide, I decide whom to hire, so it’s very easy, we can do it tomorrow… We can make it happen much faster so we don’t even have to wait for regulation.”
A note from the author
At the end of the event, the attendees were invited to share a beer or a glass of wine and network (the classical Danish meet-and-drinks). Although I was running out to catch my bus back to Aarhus, I reached to have a nice talk with two of the ladies from the audience.
We discussed the effectiveness of the UK’s new gender pay gap reporting rules, the Danish forms of feminism and the male-dominated work environments in corporate and startup jobs.
Nevertheless, when they heard that I came from Colombia, they asked me one question that remained in the back of my mind until today.
Do you think Danes are spoiled because this is the kind of feminist debate we have?
Participant of Better for Balance #1 event to me.
I think it’s great that this is the kind of debate that Denmark is having! This is the Danish context and this is what matters to Danish society and women… not getting killed over their gender, how is the case in many places of the world.
But I did add one thing. I think that this kind of debates are lacking the global understanding, the acknowledgement that it can only be a priority here in the Nordics to discuss how to get more female CEOs, investors and founders.
The recognition of that privileged position could be the first step towards contributing GLOBALLY to inclusion and equality.
Estefanía Zárate Angarita
I would encourage the Copenhagen FinTech Lab and its members, as well as all the panelists at the event, to think about the possibility of also investing in Scholarships and Grants for women to enhance social escalation and international mobility. To direct some of their profit to support women in vulnerable conditions in some other location of the world. To promote volunteering programs among their employees who have the means to spread their knowledge worldwide.
There is no better way towards equality than empathy.
When I first moved to London one thing strongly caught my attention: meal-kit delivery services. Not only supermarkets and retail grocery stores offered “one-click” deliveries, which was not precisely new for me, but there were also entire companies dedicated to make Londoner’s life easier when it comes to cooking.
I found HelloFresh casually, walking around Angel underground station (watch the video). There was this tent where a couple of salesmen were promoting the boxes. One of them explained to me that every box comes with three different recipes, selected by the costumer and designed by chefs, and with just enough ingredients for two portions of each. I made many questions about the model but I had a particular interest: are they making money? The salesman answer was, not yet.
I became a member and ordered for the first time in October, last year (watch the video). I was surprised by how organized the company was. All ingredients and products were labelled. Merchandise was well thought. My curiosity grew bigger and as it did, I also started finding many HelloFresh boxes in people’s front doors while walking down the streets of London. Then, I really wanted to know who was behind the desk of this – seemingly successful – business and if it was true that they were not making money yet.
Claire Davenport was the name I was looking for and yes, the salesman was right, they are still not making a profit.
The most impressive thing about HelloFresh is that without having turned to profit, they topped the FT1000 as the fastest growing company last year. Only between 2012 and 2015, HelloFresh (founded in 2011) grew its revenue by 13.16%.
During roughly 7 years of operation, the company has been awarded the UK Customer Satisfaction Award 2014 and the UK Specialist Online Retailer of the Year, 2016, 2015 and 2014, among other international prizes.
They describe themselves as “the leading global provider of fresh food”, operating in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Australia, Austria, Switzerland and Canada. With 69% more active users at the end of 2017, compared to the end of 2016, HelloFresh has now more than 1.45 million customers worldwide.
(Figure from Q1 2017)
According to Markets Insider, at this pace, HelloFresh will turn to profit in 2019. Next March 21rst, the company will release its latest annual report and guidance for 2018, after it started trading shares at the final offer price of EUR 10.25 per share on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in November 2017. The share price is today EUR 12.30.
Last January 30th, the company announced preliminary revenues for 2017 of EUR 902 million – 905 million, almost double the revenues of EUR 597 million for the year before.
The woman behind the UK desk
When HelloFresh appointed Claire Davenport (43) as the UK CEO on July 3rd, 2017, Dominik Richter, CEO of HelloFresh Group, said: “with her experience across a broad range of disruptor and tech brands, she is the right person to lead HelloFresh to the next stage of growth in the UK.” And he was probably right.
Claire Davenport has over 20 years of experience in the disruptive innovation business. At the beginning of her career, she worked for both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. Then, she switched to tech taking over as Chief of Staff at Skype in 2009 and later held leading positions in start-ups for marketing and education. Right before arriving to HelloFresh, the British businesswoman spent three and a half years as General Manager of VoucherCodes.co.uk, the market-leading voucher and coupons site in the UK.
Her studies are as diverse as her experience. Davenport has an MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, a degree she admits that she has barely used since she left the University. Later on, she got an MBA from the European Institute of Business Administration, INSEAD, in 1998.
“I joined HelloFresh just because I discovered the product, loved it and realized it could change the market”, she explains. Davenport believes that HelloFresh is definitely disrupting the food retail sector, which according to her “is one of the least disrupted by online so far.”
Davenport is also well known in the UK business market for her interest and contribution to gender equality in the field. “I mentor a number of women, organize panels on disruption and innovation where there are always at least as many women leaders as men”, she claims.
Her life is equally disruptive, as her husband has been parenting their two daughters at home. She admits that her role at HelloFresh is as time-consuming as her former senior positions but that her leadership has inspired one of her daughters, who wants to be a CEO.
Claire Davenport is very reserved about the strategies she is implementing to counterbalance the incursion of online shopping giant Amazon in the meal-kit delivery market; also about the impact of the UK users in HelloFresh Group finances. Nevertheless, she describes her first nine months as the Head of the UK segment of the company as “a lot of fun and hard work.”
While the world is discussing if
Bitcoin is a bubble or not, Nakamoto (whoever this is) is probably smiling,
watching his experiment succeed. “Bitcoin is changing finance the same way the
web changed publishing”, can be read in weusecoins.com.
Bitcoin’s technology solves the problem of inflation, double spending, censorship and costly intermediation. No wonder banks are so against it (and investing in it at the same time). The so-called cryptocurrency reached an astonishing value per unit of US$17,539 at the time this article was written.
Bitcoin is a cryptographic file, with a specific number on it which we can use to make transactions online. So far there is nothing to freak out about considering that 92% of all the traditional money in the world today is not physical, as reported by The Money Project. In their research, The Global War on Cash, they state that only in five years, from 2010 to 2015, cashless transactions increased 50%, from 285.2 billion to 426.3. Due to the inflation-based economic system, the buying power of a US$100 bill in 1915 is equivalent today to US$2,390, according to Dollar Times.
Bitcoins can be divided into a
hundred million (100,000,000) fractions. There are 21 million units (enough to
give each person in the world 276,315 fractions, valued today in $US48.4),
which makes them “completely inflation free”, as explained by their unknown
Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. They can represent many kinds of property,
currency or stuff but their truly revolutionary aspect is the technology they
roll on: the blockchain.
In words of Alex Tappscot, founder of a firm
that invests in blockchain market companies, it is “the internet of value”.
Blockchain is a public ledger in a network where transactions are not
reversible and allows trade without intermediaries, just like cash. In the
introductory video of the official website bitcoin.org: “this means that the fees are
much lower, you can use them in every country, your account cannot be frozen
and there are no prerequisites or arbitrary limits.”
Even if the financial establishment finds a way – which probably will – to monetize Bitcoin in their favor, the blockchain is already in motion and it will be to the financial system of the 2020s what bar-codes were to commercial one in the 1980s. But greater.
“This is grade-A. 100% pure Colombian cocaine, ladies and gentlemen. Disco shit. Pure as the driven snow” – said Johnny Depp with a seventies’ junky look, after sniffing a line of coke in some sort of basement with a few old friends.
The iconic scene from the 2001 movie, Blow, in which Depp played George Jung, a cocaine smuggler known as El Americano, is one of the hundreds of references to Colombian drug cartels and to the supremacy of drug lord Pablo Escobar that have been made by Hollywood. The year before, Brendan Fraser was turned into a Colombian drug dealer, resembling Pablo Escobar, after wishing to the devil to be a rich man in the comedy Bedazzled.
But these are not the first representations of the Colombian Cocaine Empire on the screen. Chuck Norris’ Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (1990) shows the aggressiveness and power of South American drug kingpins controlling the flow of cocaine to North America. In 1994, Donald Moffat, as President Bennett, told James Cutter, his National Security Advisor, that Colombian drug cartels represented a ”clear and present danger” to the U.S., in the movie named by that exact quote.
But it was the new millennium the one that marked the beginning of an era – still ongoing – in which Colombia is condemned to be top-of-mind when speaking about cocaine. Nowadays, there is even a whole television series dedicated to drug lord Pablo Escobar’s life, Netflix production “Narcos”; hip hop singer Wiz Khalifa visited Escobar’s grave in Medellín, the kingpin homeland; Escobar’s sicario, John Jairo Velásquez a.k.a. Popeye is a writer, YouTube superstar and consultant in the making of his own film after spending 23 years in prison.
It might be that the stories behind cocaine production and distribution fit in the prime-time-perfect-formula of “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. In addition, the gunshots, the violence, the bombs. The – also – perfect fitting location of Colombia, characterized by perpetuated stereotypes of a mysterious region, full of superstitions, heavy jungles and warm Caribbean beaches in the unexplored south of the American continent. And Latinas.
A reloaded prime-time-perfect-formula
Narcotrafficking has provided for years a source of inspiration to producers, very profitable. From the series Miami Vice (1984 – 1989) to a more recent one, The Wire (2002 – 2008), both of them categorized in the genre crime drama, “the war on drugs” script has not only amazed the audiences for its creative narrative but also has been a money-making machine.
So the puzzle is solved. Isn’t it?
The relation between the U.S. and Colombia is almost bicentennial. Started in 1822, a few years after Colombian independence from Spain, but since 1971, when former U.S. president Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs and proclaimed that “public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse”, the all-out offensive strategy of the North American country involved military operations in Colombia as part of the efforts for interdiction and eradication of cocaine crops.
And Nixon was right. Drug abuse is the public enemy number one in the U.S., which has historically been the country with more consumers in the world. Based on the latest World Drug Report, released last year by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, that shows data from 2014, 18.3 million people over the world are cocaine users and “North America has been the world’s largest cocaine market for years”. According to the Cocaine Signature Program of DEA, more than 90% of the cocaine trafficked to North America originates in Colombia.
Cocaine production in Colombia has been highly linked to cocaine consumption in the U.S., even when there is no real evidence about the impact of coca leaf cultivation fluctuations on the number of coke users in North America. On the other hand, the same UNODC 2016 report stated that, while there has been a net 30% increase in global cocaine use from 1998 to 2014, “growth in users is attributable to population growth”. This means that the increase of cocaine users is directly proportional to the general population and not to the hectares of crops.
Nevertheless, the myth of the direct impact of the offer on the demand for cocaine is still strong and it is constantly replicated by the media. Earlier in March of this year, the Washington Post published an article headlined “American cocaine use is way up. Colombia’s coca boom might be why”. On it, their Latin American correspondent Nick Miroff argues that the increase on cocaine crops in Colombia due to the suspension of glyphosate aerial spraying since 2013, “the boom is starting to appear on U.S. streets”.
While the first part of the statement is well documented by authorities and researchers that have provided evidence on the impact of switching from aerial to manual eradication of coca leaf crops in Colombia, the alleged cocaine “boom in the U.S. streets” is still just a common assumption. The director of the Anti-Narcotics Colombian Police, General José Ángel Mendoza, acknowledged that the consequences of the suspension of spraying with glyphosate due to the probability that the substance is carcinogenic “are not at all favorable” for Colombia. He emphasized on the great effort that Colombian Police and other institutions make in order to favor the international community but recalled that “just as we make the effort to reduce supply, they at a world level, must also seek to reduce the demand”.
In agreement with General Mendoza, Colombian sociologist Fabián Sanabria, former director of the Sociology Faculty of the National University of Colombia, qualified North American society as “tremendously hypocritical, punishing the producers and not the consumers who are actually the North Americans”. Sanabria added that “in that sense, the fight against drugs has been a failure: Colombia has put the dead, also the murderers, it must be said, but not necessarily the fault is only of the producers but also a great responsibility relies on the consumers”.
But billions of dollars have been injected by the U.S. into this fight against drug trafficking in Colombia, particularly to the eradication of illicit crops. The most important intervention, after the contribution of two DEA agents on the hunting of Pablo Escobar that ended in the drug lord’s death in 1993, is probably Plan Colombia.
Plan Colombia is an aid package, originally estimated on USD$7,5 billion announced in 1999, mainly directed to the military force and the National Police to combat drug cartels. The implementation of the strategy – with 71% of the budget focused on military training and intervention – started in 2001 and celebrated 15 years of operation in 2016 with a meeting between Barack Obama and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.
During the “celebration”, Plan Colombia was described as successful and as a “very useful and effective instrument”, in Santos words. Nevertheless, analyst, journalists and scholars have gathered enough evidence regarding the great failure and the side effects of this strategy, including the intensification of violence in Colombia over the years.
In an investigation published last year in the Social Justice Journal, named “The Mass Incarceration of Nations and the Global War on Drugs: Comparing the United States’ Domestic and Foreign Drug Policies”, the author Daniel Patten explains in detail the real effects and underlying goals of the U.S. with Plan Colombia: “the U.S. government has ‘incarcerated’ the country of Colombia with the justification of drug trafficking, much like US prisons have incarcerated US citizens on drug charges”. Patten argues that through Plan Colombia, the U.S. mainly sought to contain the insurgence of the anti-imperialist and leftist guerrillas, more specifically the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces – FARC, and the National Liberation Army – ELN, also – and conveniently – involved in drug trafficking, just like domestic drug policies allowed them to maintain under control particular population groups like immigrants and African-Americans.
Current BBC News correspondent in Colombia, Natalio Cosoy, published an article at the time of the Obama – Santos meeting, in which pointed out eight “unexpected consequences” on Plan Colombia: more cocaine, more victims, human rights violations, surge of illegal mining, the threat of criminal gangs, soldiers turned mercenaries, a non-exportable model and influence over peace processes.
But the strong critiques have not stopped the U.S. government from providing more military aid to Colombian authorities. General Mendoza, in command of Colombian Anti Narcotics Police, explained that still now they send to the U.S. each year around 1,000 men, out of 7,500 that belong to his department, to be re-trained on the war on drugs: “many are the resources that are received from the international community, not only economic and tactical means, also elements to work at the technological level”, Mendoza assured.
“In the United States, the Mafia makes witnesses disappear so they can’t testify in court. In Colombia, Pablo Escobar made the whole court disappear”. The voice that narrates this terrifying story, the one that leads Netflix original series Narcos, is Boyd Holbrook’s, who plays DEA agent Steve Murphy, the main character of the show.
The real Steve Murphy posed in 1993 next to Escobar’s corpse, covered in blood, on top of a roof in a wealthy neighborhood in Medellín. Nobody knows if Pablo Escobar shot himself in the right ear, as his son Sebastián Marroquín has publicly stated, or if he was killed by Colombian policemen or DEA agents in a crossed fire, as the official reports declared.
The only well-known fact about Escobar’s death is that he would have preferred “a tomb in Colombia than a jail in the United States” because it was his most popular saying. But the price on admitting that “the greatest and most dangerous drug kingpin of history” died under his own law, that he did what he wanted until the end, that both nations, Colombia and the U.S. – especially the last one – had failed on the hunting, is simply too high. Probably not as high as recognizing a bigger failure, the one on the war on drugs.
According to Steven Cohen, New-York-based, North American journalist, who lived two years in Medellín and has observed and researched Colombian narco-culture closely, “we [the U.S.] have to tell these stories to resolve the contradictions; we have to look at that moment, that was the great success of the war on drugs, to feel calm and comfortable with the way we are leading the war on drugs now”. He believes that a television series like Narcos, that looks like innocent entertainment and that also reflects “a lack of commitment to reality that is very blatant”, has “important political repercussions” thanks to imperialist and colonizing cultural and historical processes.
And he is not the only one who thinks so. “Is U.S. Influence Dwindling In Latin America? Citizens’ Perspectives” is an extensive analysis of the Latin American Public Opinion Project Americas Barometer 2014 survey. On it, the author Dinorah Azpuru assures that “beyond institutional influences, throughout the years the U.S. has attempted to influence Latin American countries through soft power measures”. Azpuru adds that citizens perceive influence by a foreign country “more directly through products they buy, programs or movies they watch”.
Julián Quintero, CEO of the Corporation Social Technical Action (ATS for Acción Técnica Social) that works for the reform of drug policy in Colombia, has a similar interpretation of Wiz Khalifa’s recent and very controversial visit to Escobar’s grave. Quintero points out the marketing strategy behind the event that gave the artist a lot of free press but highlights the gesture as a way of protesting against the current drug policy model: “is an act of resistance, an act of rebellion against a policy that does not work, a policy of prohibition, persecution and is claiming to the institutions and to the government more practical options, more realistic, more modern”, he explains.
Thus, it makes sense that the peaks in the emergence of pop culture’s portraits of Colombian drug empire correspond to significant moments of the U.S. war on drugs: the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993; the beginning of the implementation of Plan Colombia in 2001; and the present, when the war on drugs policy is becoming obsolete.
While western pop industry looks backward and perpetuates myths that justify the U.S. failed drug policy and the military interventions in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs – and at the expense of all Colombians reputation abroad -, the world is looking forward.
Responsible drug use, risk reduction, harm mitigation and the rights of users of psychoactive substances, are slowly but strongly entering the international agenda that is replacing the old war on drugs one.
According to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2016, from the U.S. Department of State, “Colombia’s new counter-drug strategy highlights increased focus on a public health model based on demand reduction and treatment programs, and by reducing domestic consumption through strengthening the institutional capacity of the government, promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing initial drug use, reducing the negative health and social effects for current users, and improving access to treatment for those suffering from substance use disorders”. Decriminalization is the key concept.
Activists like ATS Corporation have a very clear view of the future of Colombian drug issues, facing the post-conflict era. Their project ”Regulated Coke, Guaranteed Peace” is probably the best example of a proposal based on cocaine regulation/legalization as the only path for eliminating drug smuggling: “the illegal cocaine market is the main threat to sustainable and long-lasting peace in Colombia”, claims their project that invites the international community to stop ignoring the problem and delaying the debate.