Satellites are not the solution to everything

Edition 128

Hi! I’m Anjali Ramachandran, Director at Storythings and co-founder of Ada’s List.

What’s Up

A few things first: at Storythings we’ve just released the latest two video stories in our series on financial inclusion and identity for Experian, Identities of the World. Learn about the Shipibo-Conibo indigenous community in rural Peru and how they’d like to protect their forests through experiential tourism, and how access to financial knowledge might change the lives of women who weave to make money and preserve their culture. Also, if you’re into collecting objects of any kind and have an iPhone, we’d love it if you could test this Augmented Reality app we’re working on for a pilot project with Discovery Channel.

I’m a trustee of Chayn, an open-source feminist technology non-profit, and they’re hiring a Movement Builder, and two Tech Leads, as well as looking for an investigative journalist to work on a podcast about gender-based violence. Remote candidates who can work to a UK time zone are fine - please share if you know any suitable folks! If you also know of any organisations based in the Global South who might want to work with Chayn on a funding proposal for Bloom - remote trauma support - to implement it in their region, please give me a shout.


For fans of Star Wars and the Mandalorian (or even if you’re not!), you’ll chuckle at this: Baby Yoda has become a Latin American LGBTQ+ icon because of one Mexico City restaurant replacing the traditional Baby Jesus with Baby Yoda in the traditional Rosca de Reyes cake!

Quite hard-hitting: a long read about how one woman returned to China to sign some papers after 10 years in France, and was imprisoned in a re-education camp for Uiyghurs for two years. She got out.

The media maelstrom around WhatsApp’s privacy concerns have hit India hard, and how. This Reddit user gamed a number of Indians into downloading Signal as an alternative, by circulating the fake news that Signal was built by a ‘poor villager’s son’ to inspire them to download it as an act of patriotism!

How Wildberries, Russia’s answer to Amazon intends to go about business, according to Tatyana Bakalchuk, one of its owners and Russia’s richest woman: “… she sees no need for investors, who would require more detail. Instead, Wildberries is opting for breakneck growth and, increasingly, cultivating relationships with top Russian officials.”

The best way to fight misinformation on a platform is to use it against itself: enter WhatsCrap Africa on WhatsApp, a podcast with information can be shared as an audio file within WhatsApp by subscribers on the continent who want to debunk any claims.

Last week, I wrote about Indonesia’s alternative approach to COVID-19 vaccinations by giving them to the younger, working-age population first. This time: as part of the government’s communications strategy, social media influencers are part of the first group to get the vaccine. Not particularly well thought-through: one influencer was seen partying hours after getting his first shot. 🤷‍♀️

Fascinating long read on one of the newer emojis introduced by the Unicode Consortium: the one representing a Hindu temple, because of the Hindu fundamentalist-tendencies it depicts in the process: “The red swallow-tailed pennant that flies from the top of the temple emoji is also quintessentially Hindu-supremacist. It isn’t necessarily the case that most temples have flags, and the temples that do have flags rarely have a flag of this kind. The pennant in the emoji, however, looks exactly like the bhagwa dhwaj, the banner of the RSS.” 🛕

Ride-sharing app Ola has partnered with Siemens on the construction of a factory in Tamilnadu, India, that will build electric scooters. The factory is expected to generate almost 10,000 jobs and will cater to its customers in India (its main market) as well as those in Latin America, ANZ, UK and EU.

Interesting Twitter thread by Jaap Grolleman with observations on life in Shanghai, China. To those in Asia, probably not so surprising, but worth reading nevertheless.

Sara Menker started Gro Intelligence in Kenya in 2014, an agricultural data startup which builds predictive data models for the food industry. She has just raised $85 million in Series B funding.

Female Founder Spotlight

A long time ago I used to highlight female entrepreneurs from across the world in this newsletter. Despite being popular, that section tapered off for various reasons, but I’m pleased to bring it back! Without further ado, meet Lucy Lloyd, Co-Founder, Mentorloop.

Q: When did you launch Mentorloop?

Lucy: Mentorloop is a platform that helps people find life-changing connections - a dating site for mentoring if you will. We've been working on it for years, but we launched as a company in mid-2016.

What motivated to you start it? What problem were you trying to solve?

My co-founder Heidi and I have known each other forever, and over a wine one night 6 or 7 years ago we were discussing our quite different careers and the choices we were making. We wondered aloud why there wasn’t a dating site for mentoring relationships, a way to find and connect with that future version of yourself to help you navigate the next steps.

Mentoring captured our imagination, and it fit in with the working trends we could see all around us - people feeling isolated, people being more likely to switch careers, and the rise of automation removing the human connection from people's daily lives. So we worked on it as a "side hustle" for a while, and then just over 4 years ago - after we'd had really promising responses from our earliest customers - we bit the bullet and went full time.

The companies that are going to win the next couple of decades are the ones who will put their people first - Mentorloop helps these companies build a mentoring culture for better productivity, engagement and retention.

What geographies do you operate in?

Because we're an online platform we're global - we have clients in Asia Pacific, Asia, Europe, and North & South America

How many people do you currently employ?

12, but we're always hiring.

What did you do before Mentorloop?

I kind of fell into digital project management, and software product management - and my last "real" job, working for someone else, was digital director of an advertising agency. I helped brands use digital strategies and cloud-based tools to build better business processes, access and win new markets, and connect more closely with their customers. 

What are some of Mentorloop's biggest achievements?

When we started Mentorloop we based it on our own recognised need, but as time's gone on we've realised that by virtue of doing what we do - connecting people in more meaningful ways for personal and professional development - we always work with fantastic clients, who truly put their people first. It's a happy side-effect of the nature of our work, and I'm always very proud of the relationships we build with people leaders.

For me personally, I'm most proud of my relationship with my co-founder, Heidi. As time has gone on it's become clear that our trust and mutual respect is a superpower for our business.

What's next for Mentorloop?

More considered and active international expansion - e.g. setting up our UK-based office, and getting more involved in markets beyond our doorstep here in Australia. From a product perspective, it's continuing to build an experience that allows fabulous, organic mentoring connections to flourish.

What do you wish more people knew about when it comes to what you do?

That mentoring - connecting people in meaningful, outcomes-based, mutually-beneficial relationships - is the most powerful (and cheapest!) thing a company can do to supercharge their engagement, retention and productivity.

Thanks, Lucy!

Jobs and opportunities

Sporjo, which aims to grow sports as a profession in India, is looking for a recruiter to be based in Mumbai.

Cranfield University, in partnership with the British Council, is offering six fully funded scholarships for female students from the Americas’ region (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru or Venezuela), for Masters degrees in various STEM courses, to start this September.

Snap is looking for a Head of Japan Market Development, based in Tokyo.

The First Annual Conference of a Platform Governance Research Network has announced a Call for Proposals for a three-day online conference in late March 2021, seeking to bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers who produce work on platform governance across a variety of fields. Deadline: February 15th.

The Walt Disney Company is looking for a Publishing Manager, based in Mumbai, India.

DFS Lab, hosted by the Central Bank of Egypt and working with the Financial Regulation Authority and FSD Africa are inviting applications for a COVID-19 Innovation Sprint to develop fintech solutions that address the pandemic in Egypt.

The Centre for Internet and Society in India have a role for a three-month project for a researcher on online caste-based hate speech, law and content moderation. Deadline: 31st January.

Octagon is hiring a Creative Director in Singapore.

The title of this newsletter

…is from this BBC piece that looks at the various projects looking to provide broadband to communities around the world. Many are failed projects, like Facebook’s Project Aquila and Google’s recently shuttered Project Loon, but are precursors to satellite-based projects that continue, like Elon Musk’s Starlink, and its competitor OneWeb, funded by India’s Bharti Airtel and the UK government.


As always, if you’d like to share this newsletter with friends, please do!

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And if you know any female founders in the Global South who might like to be featured here, please email me, and feel free to fill this in if you know of any news or projects that could feature in future editions.

Till next time,


Edition 127: A new trend - companies providing interpreters for online conferences

Well, hello (and welcome to the bunch of you that trusted me enough to sign up in the last few months - maybe you reached here through the Sweathead podcast episode I was in recently?!). In the gap since my last email, summer and autumn came and went, I had a baby, a new year dawned and the UK remained (and continues to remain) in lockdown for the majority of that time. In the US, no one really knows quite what’s happening because it’s basically still in 2020…this made me smile amidst the chaos this week:

Back to business though - this newsletter is about what’s happening outside of the UK and the US, so let’s go.


Ruda is a collective of Latin American feminist, non-binary photographers who banded together to showcase what is happening in that part of the world from their point of view. Something I learnt: the name of the collective comes from the potent rue plant, which in ancient Roman times was recommended as an antidote to snake bites. Here’s an NPR piece on Ruda’s work, with some amazing photographs.

From a poor family in Orissa, India, Dule’s rapping has attracted attention from Bollywood musicians and others online - but the Dalit youngster wants to use his talents to highlight the condition of the Dalit community in India.

Vanessa Carballido and Paola Pagnán are just two of the inspiring women changing Puerto Rico through renewable energy, accelerating their work even through Covid. Noteworthy facts from this Forbes piece: “At 22 to 27 cents per kilowatt hour, Puerto Rico residents pay higher electricity bills than households in any state of the United States. The average energy bill for a five-person household in Puerto Rico stands at $300.00.”

Stripe acquired Paystack, a startup that similar to Stripe integrates payments into online or offline transactions via an API, for what is said to be the biggest acquisition of a Nigerian startup. An interesting point in this Techcrunch piece is the exposure to risk that this could bring to Stripe, which has a large range of fraud protection tools which may need to be built on as it forges into Nigeria, which is “the biggest economy in Africa, but it is also one of the more corrupt on the continent, according to research from Transparency International.”

India has become an unlikely fan hotspot for Korean dramas and K-pop, with viewership of Korean boy band BTS and Korean films and TV shows significantly increasing in viewership over the pandemic: BTS’ total streams on the streaming platform JioSaavn went from 0.78 million in January to 2.3 million in October 2020.

Important news in Africa: Alphabet’s ‘moonshot factory’ X has partnered with Econet Group to roll out Project Taara wireless light-beam broadband in Africa. Also interesting is that Taara came about when the X team were investigating solutions to a problem they found while deploying Project Loon, which aimed to create Internet connections through balloons flying above areas in India and Africa: they needed to create a data link between the balloons, and thought they could bring that technology from the sky closer to the ground. Read more on X’s website.

I hadn’t heard of Taihei Kobayashi, but now I’ll remember him: a Japanese homeless high-school dropout who is now the CEO of Sun*, a $1 billion company based in Vietnam.

Starting today, I’m going to be seeing a steady stream of elderly people being vaccinated against Covid-19 in the surgery across my street, which is one of the vaccination centres in the UK. In Indonesia, the government is however trying something completely different: they are vaccinating working-age people between 18 and 59 first. It’ll be worth noting how that approach goes, because as Peter Collignon, professor of infectious diseases at Australian National University says, “I don’t think anybody can get too dogmatic about what is the right approach.”

China has started construction on a $898 million e-sports arena in Shanghai as it strives to become a leader in competitive gaming. The rise of e-sports is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by people working in the marketing industry, and one can’t help but be impressed by China’s commitment to what will be a huge industry in the years to come. E-sports was estimated to have generated $1.1 billion in revenue in 2020, according market research firm Newzoo.

Netflix has spent $700 million on Korean content in the last 5 years, and is now leasing at least 9 stages in two production studios in Korea to ramp up production of Korean content.

If you’re based in India and are in the market for tote bags, check out these hand-embroidered ones by these rural artisans - they’d appreciate your business.


WeFarm, the ‘largest farmer-to-farmer digital network’ especially focussed on helping farmers in Asia and Africa, is hiring for a number of technology and product roles in London and remotely.

Thinkerbell Labs, which helps make products that improve learning outcomes for the visually impaired, is hiring for a number of roles in technology and management, as well as 4-6 month internships, all to be based remotely.

Etsy is looking to hire a Director, Business Operations in Mexico City, and they’re open to remote candidates as well.

Friends at Brink are looking for Innovation Managers to work with them on a range of technology and data projects to benefit Africa and South Asia, with the roles to be based in London.

From the community

The team at Parlia wrote in to say hello and introduce their product, which I think some of you may find interesting; they call themselves the ‘encyclopedia of opinion’ whose mission is to ‘serve the public conversation by showcasing issues around the world and sharing them with our global audience.’ They’ve showcased stories from the global South, such as the Palghar lynching and the growth of Islamophobia during Covid-19. Crucially they want to end polarisation through education - really necessary if the events of the last few months are anything to go by. Check them out. Thanks to Nushy Rose from Parlia for sending this in.

Based in Bologna, Italy, Cubbit is a distributed cloud, which provides for a higher level of security (zero-knowledge encryption), lower costs of maintenance and less pollution centred in data centres. Fun fact: it started as one of the top 1% of Kickstarter projects of all time. Thanks to Francesco Bianchi, one of the founders of Cubbit, for writing in.

The title of this newsletter

…is from this BBC piece about the surge in people learning new languages during lockdown. No I didn’t know about the existence of Luwian, a language written and spoken in ancient Turkey 3000 years ago, either.


Regular programming should be back this year, so thanks to those of you who’ve stayed loyal subscribers. If you think this newsletter is worth sharing with others, please do by clicking the button below:

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Let me know about any interesting projects you’re working on that the subscribers of this newsletter might appreciate - simply fill in this form, or email me by hitting reply. I’m particularly interested in highlighting female founders working in the Global South, so please say hello if you know of any or if this is you.

Stay safe and healthy in 2021,


Edition 126: "We made that Pope ourselves"

Hi there! I’m Anjali, Director at Storythings and co-founder of Ada’s List. This is where I collect creative and tech news that attracts my attention from the non-Western parts of the world. A big Hello to new subscribers who might have come via this kind recommendation from Patrick Tanguay (who writes the Sentiers newsletter himself) in Kai Brach’s Dense Discovery newsletter, and Steve Bryant in Noah Brier and Colin Nagy’s Why Is This Interesting (I recommend all of their newsletters!).

Image credit: @ianmwesiga on Instagram

What’s Up

Black lives still matter. At Storythings, we’ve started a discussion club where we collectively talk about an anti-racism resource we commit to reading, watching or listening to as a group. I shared most of these resources in my last couple of emails, but if anyone has any further recommendations, please send them through.

We’re hiring for a couple of freelance roles at Storythings at the moment: a 3D artist/animator and an AR/Unity developer. Do share!

If you’re a female founder looking for angel investment int he UK, Angel Academe, where I’m on the advisory board, has re-started their fortnightly calls with angels for screening. Check here to see if you qualify for investment and apply for their September pitch round.


Techfugees have launched an open-source map to highlight how refugee camps have been affected by COVID-19. Here’s more about the project in ITU News.

Ingressive Capital have closed a $10 million fund for seed and pre-seed tech companies in Sub-Saharan Africa - and recently they’ve expanded to consider firms in Egypt as well.

Facebook is working with India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to launch a “certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country.” At the same time, Google is also working with the CBSE on an online-offline blended learning approach which will use their G Suite for Education tools. They’re also going to work with the Kaivalya Education Foundation on training 700,000 teachers to provide virtual education.

On the subject of Big Tech making inroads into India, Benedict Evans has an excellent take on why everyone from Google and Facebook to Qualcomm and more are investing in India through Jio. Simply put, Jio is in it for the long haul, and it’s a smart play if a monopolistic one: “To put it another way, Jio was a bet on zero marginal costs — or, at a minimum, drastically lower marginal costs than its competitors. This meant that the optimal strategy was — you know what is coming! — to spend a massive amount of money up front and then seek to serve the greatest number of consumers in order to get maximum leverage on that up-front investment. That is exactly what Jio did: it spent that $32 billion building a network that covered all of India, launched with an offer for three months of free data and free voice, and once that was up, kept the free voice offering permanently while charging only a couple of bucks for data by the gigabyte. It was the classic Silicon Valley bet: spend money up front, then make it up on volume because of a superior cost structure enabled by the zero-marginal nature of technology.” Microsoft were reportedly considering a $2 billion investment but by the looks of it, that has not yet materialised.

Love this: young people from the charity Ikasi Youth in Cape Town, South Africa, are going to send ‘good vibes’ via WhatsApp to anyone who needs them in order to raise funds for their township to get through the Covid crisis. Here’s their GoFundMe.

Two of the biggest communities in Africa for expecting mothers and parents have merged to create the Bliss Group, with a combined audience of about 300,000. Mums Village Kenya and BabyBliss Nigeria will be co-headquartered in both countries.

A fascinating long read from ProPublica on the climate refugees of the future. I particularly liked the data visualisation - here’s more on how they developed their Climate Migration Model specifically.

China’s Tianwen-1 mission is on its way to Mars, due to land in February 2021. The United Arab Emirates has also sent its first-ever mission to Mars in collaboration with several US universities, and NASA is due to launch Perseverance, its own mission to Mars this week. As Tech Review reports, “They are clustered closely together to take advantage of the short period every 26 months or so when Earth and Mars are closer than usual.”

Lovely piece of creative work if you haven’t seen it yet: a 14-minute stop motion animation about a little girl who tries to make amends for disappointing her father in Mumbai. Animator Suresh Eriyat took 8 years to make this. Worth checking out the behind-the-scenes video as well.

A summary of the groundwork TikTok has been laying in Africa even as huge markets like India and the US ban it for political reasons: “It has dedicated social media accounts for Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and is aggressively drawing established influencers into its fold while organizing classes to train new influencers.”

How Japan is using AI to identify the next popular trends and designs in light of Covid, which has hit retail hard.

A documentary portrait of handloom weavers in Kerala, India and how they’re trying to stay afloat after a disastrous flood in the state in 2018, and the progress of technology. It’s slow, but quite therapeutic watching, if sad.

Jobs and opportunities

RappiPay are looking for a Product Owner based in Mexico City.

Setu, which wants to reinvent India’s legacy fintech architecture, are looking to hire several roles in India: Tech Lead, Customer Success Lead, Full Stack Engineer, Developer Relations Engineer, Automation & QA Engineer.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products are looking for a Senior Manager - Product Operations, Publishing in Mumbai, India.

Kawa Space, a startup looking to help businesses maximise the data they can get from space, are looking for a Chief of Staff based in Mumbai, India.

The Goethe Institut is “looking for artists and teams of graphic artists and writers/authors/scenarists to submit proposals for new comics on Indigenous feminist movements and activists from the Global South. Up to ten selected stories will be published in a Comic Anthology in 2021”. Details here, deadline 31st August.

From the community

Had a chat a while ago with friend of the newsletter Alex Wilson, who wrote this piece for Raconteur about how people are adapting to the WFH era in Lagos, Mumbai, Tallinn, Amman and Ho Chi Minh City.

If you’re a POC designer, illustrator, UX, visual designer or motion designer based anywhere in the UK, reach out to Andrea Limjoco on Twitter, who is building a community that might be valuable for you.

The title of this newsletter

…is from this fascinating (and I do mean fascinating) article in the Financial Times about Las Palabras (‘Words’), the Peronist shrine where Latin America’s elite meet in Buenos Aires. It’s sort of Madame Tussaud’s meets a bar meets a museum. Some of the things I learnt about: the Wincofone, an Argentine-made record player that enlivened homes in the 1960s and 1970s and ‘Michaelangelo, Maradona and the Hand of God’, a painting in Las Palabras which depicts so much socially and politically (Maradona vs. Messi being but one angle).


Thanks to all of you who recommend this newsletter to friends. If you have interesting things to share that might be relevant to readers of this newsletter, I’d love to know about them - drop me a line by email!

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Till next time,


Edition 125: An extra kick from the Earth's spin

Hey. I’m Anjali Ramachandran, and this is where I write about creativity and tech-related news from emerging markets.

What’s Up

Image credit: Murugiah on Instagram

The world continues to burn and scream and the anger isn’t going to go easily. I’ve been bookmarking resources which I hope will be of interest to many of you.

For the US, a list of Black-owned businesses you can support. For the design-led amongst you, a list of inclusion resources from Design Can. If you’re trying to become a better ally, a Google Doc of actions you can do every single day for the month of June. For everyone, but especially South Asians in the UK: a list of things to read/listen/watch to understand white supremacy and engage in anti-racist work to actively disinvest in anti-Blackness. A practical list of ways to support Black Lives Matter in the UK. More people and organisations you can support and things you can do, especially if you’re in the US, including donating to a fund for mothers of colour impacted by COVID-19 and helping Black female entrepreneurs raise money through iFundWomen.

If you are in the UK and want to focus on changing the curriculum in schools to help ensure future generations actually learn about race in school: look at the Impact of Omission website, a petition to update GCSE reading lists with two great books on race, and a GoFundMe to equip primary schools with a list of books about race.

For those interested in critical analysis of what’s going on in the world right now with the global protests, “an in-progress bibliography of work by historians and other social scientists that contextualizes and historicizes the multi-city protests and extralegal and state violence of late May and early June 2020” by Margaret O’Mara, Professor of History, University of Washington. This also looks excellent if you have Saturdays free: a free online course about modernity and coloniality by Ahmed Ansari, which just started over the weekend.

It’s important to support Black communities at this time, but I also found myself trying to make sense of what’s going on in my home country, India, with regard to caste discrimination, which has been ongoing for centuries. There has been heated discussion in social media about the appropriateness of supporting one when the other has been happening in one’s own backyard for ages. I wrote this blog post to try and make sense of it.


The legendary hip-hop label Def Jam has formally launched in Africa, under the wings of parent company Universal Music Group.

“She's grown up with pictures like this, sometimes the faces in the news have been people she’s met, but her parents have to be sheltered with filters: She and Rono must protect them from the psy-op epidemic of confusion and rage that still threatens to engulf the whole country, hoping all the while that the Residents' Association's guards keep the street outside their balcony free of blood.Fascinating excerpt from author Samit Basu’s latest sci-fi book, a picture of what the life of an ‘ordinary’ Delhi girl might look like in 2030.

The coronavirus has made many people very lonely. An unusual cohort are teenagers in Kyrgyzstan, who find solace in talking to strangers online, whether internet chatbots or volunteers.

In the FT, a look at how digital healthcare is giving millions of impoverished Latin Americans access to better care. But it’s not all good - private healthcare isn’t connected with government provided healthcare, which means it’s hard to scale solutions. Urban areas have access to broadband for digital consultations, but rural areas have poor connectivity, which excludes them. And data sets used to train AI algorithms can be biased, and have unintended consequences - in Chile, a diagnostic tool used by the government to identify cases of diabetic retinopathy was successful but was not trained to look for other issues, leading to bigger problems.

A Twitter thread on how the Chinese government controls WeChat accounts, which are used by millions inside China, even if your account is US-registered. No insulting the Communist Party allowed, ever (of course). As this Axios journalist said: “It's another way of creating & enforcing an environment of total self-censorship, so that you learn to flag every CCP-unfriendly thought before it finds external expression. So you can keep on being able to hail a cab with your phone, or run your e-commerce small business.”

In Japan, Seven-Eleven is going to be a sales point for life insurance via multi-function machines in their stores, including cancer insurance from June 16th. This rollout gives staff of MS&AD Insurance Group the ability to get new customers without their staff having to be in close contact with customers given Covid-19.

New Delhi’s 1 million state school children take part in a ‘happiness class’ which includes meditation and yoga and is helping them deal with stress. It has its critics, but Bangladesh, Afghanistan, the UAE and Colombia are amongst the countries that have reached out to the Delhi government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, and its partner nonprofit Dream A Dream to help implement it in their regions.

Designer Ini Archibong has launched a crowdfunder to create a temporary structure, the Pavilion of the Diaspora, to represent displaced Africans at the London Design Biennale, which will now happen in June 2021 instead of September 2020. "I realised that I have a kinship with all of us that are children of the diaspora, whether it's from the slave trade or through immigration," said the designer, who was born in America to Nigerian parents and now lives in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

A number of things Uber Africa is doing to ride out the next few years in a pandemic-affected world: they’re launching Uber Cash, a digital wallet, in partnership with tech startup Flutterwave, which means they will be able to accept money from many remittance partners active on Flutterwave. They also transport medical supplies through a partnership with the Gates Foundation, have Uber Eats (as in many other markets) and they’re looking at expanding into electric vehicles.

We all know TikTok, but here’s some news: parent company ByteDance is in discussions with Singapore’s influential Lee business family on obtaining a banking license, which would be in many ways a smart business extension.

Jobs and opportunities

TikTok is looking for an APAC Agency Development Lead based in Singapore.

Netflix is looking for a Partner Marketing Creative Manager based in Seoul, South Korea.

From the community

Giles Rhys-Jones from what3words wrote in to let me know that a new partnership with Vodacom in South Africa will enable millions of residents to find their precise three-word location in an emergency. How it works is simple; as they say on their site: When dealing with callers who are struggling to describe their location, call handlers can send an SMS to the caller’s phone with a link to the what3words FindMe website. This opens a simple web page displaying three words: the what3words address for the caller’s current location. The caller reads the three words to the call handler, enabling the emergency control room to identify exactly where the caller is and to dispatch help straight to the location.

The title of this newsletter

…is from this article about how Gilmour Space Technologies in Queensland, Australia hope to launch their own space mission, inspired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. They’ve picked Far North Queensland as a launch site because of its proximity to the equator, which means rockets get that extra kick from the Earth’s spin.


That’s it for this edition! As always, I’m happy to hear about projects you’re working on that are of relevance to this audience - send me a note. Sharing this newsletter would also be cool :)

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See you next time,


Edition 124: Digital Narnia

Hello again! I’m Anjali Ramachandran, Director at Storythings, co-founder of Ada’s List, and this is my regular space to comment on noteworthy things happening outside of the Global North.

Shibuya Girls by Yacoyon. Shibuya Pixel Art 2020 is accepting submissions till the end of June.

What’s Up

It is incredibly anger-inducing to witness the world as it is today. I could say that it is heart-breaking and tragic that more and more black people have to die for racism to come back on the agenda - but it’s more than that. A few resources that I’ve gone back to again and again recently: this Twitter thread on ideas for people in the UK to read/think/do in response to what’s going on in the US. A list of US bail funds to financially contribute to if you’re so inclined. A way to empower black communities in the UK by becoming a part of the Kwanda village. This Google doc of Anti-Racism Resources For White People by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein. The Conscious Kid, an ‘education, research and policy organisation dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth’ - they sell books with underrepresented groups as lead characters.

And a reminder that being livid, fearful, just overwhelmingly sad is all OK and well warranted - but also, remember that what we need more than ever is for people to be kind.


Useful to read about a project by N-Frnds, Quicksand and Microsoft’s Kaizala (no, I hadn’t heard of Kaizala before either) to digitise informal supply chains which were previously paper-based. N-Frnds’ digital distribution platform can be reached by any device, even without mobile data - which makes a big difference to its usability in the hinterland, whether in Asia or Africa. Watch this 2-minute video where you see its impact in Indonesia:

Mini-grids are “small-scale, self-sufficient electricity distribution networks” which electrify low-income communities that are not served by the main grid. However they can be time-consuming and expensive to operate. So Elizabeth Nyeko, who grew up in Uganda, set up Modularity Grid in 2017, which uses AI to streamline the operation of mini-grids. Read more about her work in Wired.

A glimpse at Thailand’s digital ID through the biometric profiling of Malay Muslims in the country. As an interviewee in this piece says, reminding ourselves of the context under which such ID systems are introduced is always, always important: “So, when any new digital policies are introduced, we have to remind ourselves that those technologies will be implemented under a military mindset.”

A shopping mall in Delhi requires customers to download the government of India’s Aarogya Setu coronavirus tracking app to check their health status before allowing them in. A Public Interest Litigation has been filed.

Absolutely fascinating episode of Changed My Mind, a podcast by my friend Alison Goldsworthy, CEO of the Depolarization Project, with behavioural insight expert Alex Chesterfield and director of campaigns and communications at London First, Laura Osborne. In this episode the trio talk to Aimen Dean, an ex-Al Qaeda bombmaker who became an MI6 spy and is now in banking, helping banks to combat terrorist financing. Also part of the conversation is Thomas Small, an academic who was born into an evangelical Protestant family, became an Orthodox Greek monk in training, studied Islam and Arabic and then became a filmmaker. (Aimen and Thomas have their own podcast called Conflicted). In this episode the group traverse all sorts of issues along the path of learning what and how made the two change their minds during their intriguing lives. One of my favourite parts is Aimen’s analogy for why Saudi Arabia is a hotbed of interference by foreign powers: “But as I have always said about the village analogy, when I said basically imagine the world as a village and you have four corners and a centre. So at the four corners you have industry, in one corner you have commerce and another you have agriculture and in another you have finance. So the finance industry, agriculture and commerce and in the centre, there is water. And the people in the four corners are depending on the centre to give them water. So agriculture can flourish. So basically there is a commerce. So there is the finance and there is an industry. But if there is instability in the centre where the water becomes disrupted, the water supplies become disrupted. Then one of the corners or two or three of them will interfere. So I always tell Muslims it's where you are, where the oil and the gas is, this is the water in the story. It's not because of who you are.”

Instances of domestic violence are up during the coronavirus crisis as people are forced to spend longer periods at home, potentially with their abusers. So Chayn, a volunteer run project that provides resources for survivors of abuse in multiple countries around the world, have adapted a trauma resilience course they were planning to run in person and made the recipe available online via Catalyst.

Definitely worth paying attention to the telco wars in India: in less than a month, Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, attracted more than $10 billion in investment into his Jio Platforms, the telecom and digital services holding company he owns. Investors include Facebook who have a 10% stake, along with various private equity firms. Twitter, Microsoft and the Abu Dhabi State Fund are rumoured to be interested. Meanwhile, Google is considering taking a stake in Vodafone’s India-business Vodafone Idea, which is mired in debt as they owe the government a huge amount in adjusted gross revenues. Google’s parent company Alphabet on the other hand is considering taking a stake in the above-mentioned Jio Platforms, so I don’t know how that will play out.

In a previous newsletter edition recently, I wrote about India’s problems with fintech apps that have essentially become digital versions of loan sharks. Here’s a link to what the situation is like in Kenya and Nigeria, as OKash is doing a similar thing, but with even bigger repercussions: it threatens to notify everyone on your contact list if you default on payments.

Fans of Japan’s football teams could have their voices beamed from their smartphones into stadiums that are otherwise empty of audiences post-COVID, via speakers: “In a recent field test, users in multiple remote locations chose from a range of on-screen options that sent their cheers, applause, chants and boos into the 50,000-seat Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa via 58 speakers set up among the empty seats.” Somehow I don’t see this working in the UK!

A mobile app in Mongolia allows citizens to have a say in where local taxes get spent. Part of the Asia Foundation’s Urban Governance Project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, it is an ongoing collaboration with the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar (MUB) to find creative new approaches to public services and civic engagement. It had 43% of the population voting in 2020, significantly up from the previous 2 years, and priorities reflect where citizens live: “those living in apartment complexes mostly voted for children’s playgrounds, more green areas, and the installation of more security cameras.” This is the kind of thing that just makes sense for any municipality/district/state government to do.


DFID’s COVIDaction initiative has launched an Open Call to explore the role of technology and innovations in supporting countries, particularly those in Africa and/or South Asia, to build resilient health systems as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The deadline for applications is 18th June. More information and how to apply here.

The title of this newsletter…

…is from this piece in The Atlantic asking why the US can’t be as digital as Estonia, which is often lauded as an example of using digital identity with perhaps the most efficiency of any government that has tried to or has implemented a digital ID system. Yes, Estonia is a tiny country compared to most others who want to or have implemented similar systems (the US, India, the UK), but in response: “In 2007, the country was the victim of a digital offensive, known as a “distributed denial-of-service attack,” that originated in Russia. Some media and banking sites were overwhelmed, but Estonians’ personal data was not compromised. Awareness of what is perceived as an ever-present threat from its much larger and more powerful neighbor is part of the reason that Estonia is so far ahead of the U.S., Lorelei Kelly, who studies congressional modernization at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, told me. Estonians “see democracy as a defense issue,” she said.” Food for thought.


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Till next time,


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