Weekend Briefing No. 189

Welcome to the weekend. UN week in New York is always packed with events. It was great to see many of you around town. Thanks for saying hi. It’s always fun to run into people that are members of the Weekend Briefing community.  My favorite event this week was We The Future which was put on by TED, Skoll & the UN Foundation. It was a packed day of conversations with everyone from Mohammed Yunis, to Governor Brown of California, and Mary Robinson. The Sustainable Development Goals are incredibly audacious, but I left the day feeling hopeful that we just might be able to achieve them. If you’re looking for a little inspiration to add to your weekend, check out this 3-minute video that kicked off the conference titled Still I Rise.

Prime Numbers

31,000,000,000 –Worth up to $31 billion annually, Myanmar’s mining and export of Jade is equivalent to nearly half the GDP for the country, but hardly any of the money is reaching ordinary people or state coffers. Instead, the sector is secretly controlled by networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies associated with the darkest days of junta rule.

52 – The price of Tungsten – a rare metal mined in China used for lightbulbs and jet engines – shot up 52% due in part to China restricting exports and forcing it’s mining companies to respect the environment and workers.

17 – There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Each goal has specific targets for achievement over the next 15 years.

Blockchain & Aid

A new digital-payment platform from the United Nations’ World Food Programme is bringing efficiency and stability to refugee camps. As a means of addressing the challenge of providing food assistance to over 80 million hungry people worldwide, WFP is taking early steps to harness blockchain technology to be able to deliver assistance more effectively. The program called Building Blocks aims to make WFP’s growing cash-based transfer operations faster, cheaper, and more secure. WFP is currently piloting Building Blocks in Azraq Refugee camp in Jordan. Currently, more than 10,000 Syrian refugees redeem their WFP provided assistance on the blockchain-based system. As a result of this pilot, WFP will have a full, in-house record of every transaction that occurs at a particular retailer. This allows for improved accounting and the reduction of third-party costs. WFP (5 minutes)

Trash Isles

It’s no secret that there’s a huge amount of plastic garbage floating around in the North Pacific. But in a desperate attempt to fix the problem, a group of activists are trying a new approach—lobbying the United Nations to recognize one mass of trash as an actual country, so that the world’s real governments will have to help to clean it up. A flag for the nascent state consists of a white sky, blue water and a green plastic bottle. The official currency, “Debris,” comes in denominations of 20, 50 and 100, featuring different images of the wildlife—turtles, seals, whales—brutalized by floating trash. Of course, Al Gore is the first citizen of the country. The design on the flag and currency is actually really good. Check it out. Adweek (3 minutes)


On Thursday, Jordan launched a project using seawater to produce crops with clean energy. The desert facility utilizes salt water to cool greenhouses before a solar-powered plant desalinates the water for irrigation. Outside is an arid desert, but inside the greenhouses, pesticide-free cucumbers flourish. The project is set to produce 130 tons of vegetables a year and 10,000 liters of freshwater a day. The Times of Israel (2 minutes)

Mad Libs for Designers

It’s easy to get into a slump at work. But a tool from MIT Media Lab offers a simple way to spark inspiration through random–and often nonsensical–design prompts. Think of it as Mad Libs for designers. According to the game’s structure, there are five categories that make up the basic components of a design: the artifact, the inspiration, the experience, the attributes, and the medium. In the card version, each of these categories has its own deck of cards, and you pick five randomly to give you a new design prompt. For instance: Design a glove inspired by sponges that is wearable through wrapping using paper. On the website, you just hit refresh and the interface will present you with five usually unrelated concepts that together make up something like a brief. Fast Company (4 minutes)

Like Me

Stanford University released a study indicating that Facebook may be better at judging people’s personalities than their closest friends, their spouses, and in some cases, even themselves. The study compared people’s Facebook “Likes” to their own answers in a personality questionnaire, as well as the answers provided by their friends and family, and found that Facebook outperformed any human, no matter their relation to the subjects. With information on just ten Facebook “Likes,” the algorithm was more accurate than the average person’s colleague. With 150 “Likes,” it could outsmart people’s families, and with 300 “Likes,” it could best a person’s spouse. Perhaps, computers are better equipped to make these judgements than humans because they don’t have our limitations. For starters, computers don’t forget. While our judgment of people may change based on our most recent — or most dramatic — interactions with them, computers give a person’s entire history equal weight. Computers also don’t have experiences or opinions of their own. They’re not limited by their own cultural references, and they don’t find certain personality traits, likes, or interests good or bad. Wired (8 minutes)

Kids These Days

Teenage rebellion is, apparently, a thing of the past. A study published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of adolescents in the United States (across the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum) who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who date and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade. Between 1976 and 1979, 86% of high school seniors had gone on a date; between 2010 and 2015, only 63% had, the study found. During the same period, the portion that had ever earned money from working plunged from 76% to 55%. And the portion that had tried alcohol plummeted from 93% between 1976 and 1979 to 67 % between 2010 and 2016. Kids these days! Washington Post (6 minutes)

A Life Well Lived

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. Researchers have collected a cornucopia of data on participant’s physical and mental health over 8- years. Of the original Harvard cohort recruited as part of the Grant Study, only 19 are still alive, all in their mid-90s. The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. The researchers also found that marital satisfaction has a protective effect on people’s mental health. Part of a study found that people who had happy marriages in their 80s reported that their moods didn’t suffer even on the days when they had more physical pain. Those who had unhappy marriages felt both more emotional and physical pain. But those good relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories. The flip side is that loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism. Harvard Gazette (12 minutes)

From the Community

Jonathan Lewis wrote the first installment in a 3-part series about selling goods and services in the developing world.

About the Weekend Briefing

The best articles on innovation, impact, and growth distilled into one email every Saturday morning by Kyle Westaway – author of Profit & Purpose and Managing Partner of Westaway.

Thanks for making the Weekend Briefing a part of your weekend routine. If you like what you’re reading, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. Have a restful and thoughtful weekend