Muddy water

Posted: March 2, 2015 by jennroig in English, Fiction
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Close to midnight. An ageless woman sings a blues, escorted by an organ, drum beats and a guitar. I miss a trumpet or a saxophone. white man flirts with a black girl next to the bar, and she likes the attention. They seem isolated from the rest, the only odd presence other than the Asian couple that joined last. The rest, everybody knows everybody at Showman’s. The audience seems local, familiar, perennial… Baby I love you rain or shine…  Isn’t something sweet to tell someone? The singer asks and no one answers. Nobody seems to have ever said it before.

The black girl stares to the white man, losing her smile for just that moment.I think of that first time when I listened to a jazz riff. A piano solo. A man whispering in my ear a definition of jazz.

The singer introduces next a Billie Holliday´s tune, saying that Billie believed in forgiving everything to her man, sort of a habit that she wont share… Hush now, don’t explain, just say you’ll remain, I’m glad you’re back, don’t explain…jazz-literatura-cortazar

I remember the first time I felt the jazz. Really feeling it, not reading about it in a Cortazar story…

An old black man’s just back from smoking… or from some other time, more than forty years ago, with his tight turtleneck and a beret as he could have used back then, when maybe Billie was singing that song herself… Right or wrong don’t matter, when you’re with me sweet. Hush now, don’t explain…

A Harlem postcard. So endemic as the noise of pipes in the winter.

words in earsA memory. A photo or a film engraved in some part of my brain tissue that could be real, or it could well be a fake. Words recovered or reinvented to repaint another bar, in another city, in another world.

Words coming with a tone, a texture… words like fur, or wind blowing on leaves. Words saying that jazz is an architecture built only over a naked structure, then improvisation fills the gaps, puts over layers of escapades, covers it with instinct and tacit understanding. Words in my ear, lips so close to my skin.

The singer doesn’t echo Billie anymore. It is channeling Nina, the unmissable in a bluesy night… I put a spell on you…


Thank God for my Barbieless childhood

Posted: November 26, 2014 by jennroig in Commentary, English
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I’ve heard there’s a new barbie in the market now. A Barbie that it’s supposed to be realistic, it’s smaller than classic Barbie, more curvy and… more anatomically possible. I’m not so sure about that. I haven’t read if manufacturers added anything that may remotely resemble a vagina… But that’s a discussion for another day. The thing is girls can add bruises and scars and cellulite when they play with the doll, so this one should make them feel better about themselves as females, as future women…

I grew up in Cuba, in the 80s. No Barbies in my toy kingdom back then. It was the Golden Age of the Soviet era. Everything was made in USSR.

Vintage set, exactly like mine.

Vintage set, exactly like mine.

I had a set of Matryoshkas, I had a baby boy doll with stuffed body. Or at least I thought it was a baby boy, even though it was dressed in pink… what a lovely thing to think for a girl back then. I had a lot of stuffed animals that I like to vaccinate pretending I was a nurse and they needed to receive medication via a syringe. About that baby boy doll, I remember I really liked that toy.

Of course, as a girl, there’s always this doll that you care a lot for. You don’t love it as much as you admire it. You don’t play that much with it, instead you put it in a visible place to be admired, queen among all the others, because you think it’s beautiful and you feel you would like to be like “her”.

For me, it was a tall doll, brown eyes with long eyelashes, black hair slightly curled, with a skin several tones darker than mine, like an Indian skin, or mixed race skin. Her body was solid, curvy, and with its round face you wouldn’t think it as thin. It wore a pink, loose dress and it had definitely an adult expression, a somehow distant maturity and mystery in her eyes. It didn’t look like a girl doll, but a woman doll.

Barbies actually came later to my life. My aunt came back from Angola with two of those, when the war ended or at least Cuban troops were dismissed. One was dressed in white, like a bride. The other was dressed in black, like an elegant femme fatale or a millionaire orphan. Both were skinny, so tall with impossibly long legs. They used heels, but they couldn’t stand, they needed some sort of plastic device to help them stand. I didn’t play with those either. I sat them in front of the queen, on the other extreme of the shelf.

As a woman, I left behind those dolls a long time ago. Not just because I’m a migrant and dolls don’t fit in my luggage, but they were out of sight even before, when my mom moved to Havana and I refurnished my bedroom as university student.

Now I wonder if I don’t have a lot to thank to that queen doll. Even if I envied her, even if I wished I looked more like her, with those big mysterious eyes and darker skin and less like myself. As every girl/woman, I would want to be different. Back then more than now. But also now.

Yet not to the point of having plastic surgery, or spending hours and tons of money on makeup, or rejecting who I am and how I’m made. I’m fine with the way I am, even when I’m not at my best. Maybe it’s true and I have that doll to thank for, because at least she had a body that resemble mine, because she resembled a human female, not an impossible fantasy of some feverish, sick mind.

How to spot the “right place”

Posted: November 13, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
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That may sound like an odd question. Especially to those who have remained in the same place for most of their lives. But there’s a particular group among humans who really enjoy moving around. Those may understand the point of this question.

It’s a twisted joy, I admit. Of course we all seek for that sense of belonging, for someone or something or some place that we can relate with, that can recognize us, that we can recognize ourselves there… Still, there’s pleasure in being willing to keep looking where can we be better, of not giving up and settle down for less that we really want or believe we deserve.

Then, after a while living in different places, shifting from location to location, a sense of being “rootless” starts to develop. It grows, keeps gaining space inside us in an inverse correlation to the volume of the things we own The less we have, the more light we become. With this sort of lightness, a sense of freedoms then comes to plant a flag, or maybe spreads its wings… And that’s a wonderful feeling for those who own it… The flip side to that is that not everyone gets it, o a certain solitude comes along with the bargain.

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

There’s also the feeling of not really have a “place to return”. We were there, we’ve done that. Place after place. Suddenly we realize we don’t fit in our hometown anymore. Homeland becomes a ghost, or rather a unicorn, depending of whether we believe memories were real at some point, or were they always figments of our imaginations.

But no matter how much we really enjoy that sense of freedom, that lightness, the eyes are always vigilant trying to spot that “right place”. A right place for us. A right place for me.

The sad thing is that I don’t have an answer to that question. I have fallen in love with cities before, at first sight. I have thought I had arrived to my right place to later start feeling the same urge to go elsewhere, to leave again.

Maybe there’s no right place. Maybe the new place is always right, and time tames that thrill turning it into something different. There’s placer as well in what is familiar. I guess it depends on what we are willing to give up, give in, or just give.

This is the original, unedited English version of my interview to Katie Kross, published on AméricaEconomía on September 1st.


Katie Kross, author, academic and professor

Katie Kross is the Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability (Greenleaf Publishing, 2014).

Could you introduce the goals of EDGE to AméricaEconomía’s readership?

As the world’s population continues to rise and become increasingly urbanized and industrialized, one of the biggest business questions of our time will be: how are we going to sustainably provide the energy and natural resources needed to meet that demand? The ability to access and use resources efficiently is an opportunity for competitive advantage not just in the energy sector but in nearly every industry.

At EDGE, we help current and future business leaders understand how energy and environmental challenges present both risks and opportunities for businesses. We offer education programs for MBA students, convene thought leaders, and pursue research on topics at the intersection of business, energy, and environmental issues. Fundamentally, these are issues of corporate strategy and competition that are going to be paramount for business leaders in the next few decades.

For a news consumer, it would seem that today every effort to foster sustainability is against business profits. What’s your main argument when convincing students and influencers about the need and benefits of implementing sustainable business practices?

There are different ways that sustainability practices return value to businesses. Some are direct – for instance, energy and waste reductions may lead directly to operational cost savings. But often, sustainability practices yield intangible benefits, like improved brand reputation, worker productivity, or employee attraction and retention. For example, retailers who have implemented green lighting strategies in their stores have yielded not just energy savings but also increased sales in those stores because the new lighting makes for more appealing merchandising.

When speaking with MBA students, I encourage them to understand how to make the “business case” for sustainability. That means understanding how sustainability is linked to these intangible benefits and then quantifying them in terms that can stand up to shareholder scrutiny. The business case will vary by company and by industry. But sustainability will never survive as a business strategy purely because it is “the right thing to do”; it must also be the profitable thing to do.

– In the long run, what would you suggest to MBA students and candidates in terms of career choices that bet for sustainability as a center piece of their activity?

For students who are interested in sustainable business, there are opportunities to work in the corporate sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments at big corporations. There are also opportunities to work in sustainability consulting. But there are also ways for MBAs to apply their passion for environmental and energy strategies in many other roles. They might work in a traditional MBA role – in marketing, finance, or operations – but incorporate sustainability principles into how they think about those roles. They might also choose to work in business development or operations for a company that is working directly on cleantech or energy technologies.

In my book, Profession and Purpose, I try to illustrate that there are many possible paths for MBA graduates who are interested in putting their passion for sustainability into practice—whether that is as a sustainability program manager for Facebook, a green product marketer for Johnson & Johnson, a portfolio manager in the “impact investing” industry, or any number of other options.

– To what extent the private and public sector is prepared to offer such careers to students? To what extent the role of entrepreneurship can be of relevance in pushing forward sustainable business models, ideas, innovations, and practices?

Most of the world’s largest companies have established corporate sustainability or CSR departments. But sustainability is still a relatively new business practice, so the jobs within those departments are evolving as companies become more sophisticated in their approaches. The sustainability jobs that will exist 5 years from now may not exist right now. So, job seekers who are interested in these roles have to be entrepreneurial in their approach to the job search, often writing their own job descriptions.

There is also the need and opportunity for entrepreneurs who are inventing new approaches to the world’s energy and sustainability challenges. We have seen tremendous growth in energy industry hiring, and I expect we will continue to see exciting innovation opportunities for the entrepreneurs who want to address energy and environmental challenges with new solutions.

– What do you think are the biggest challenges that corporate America faces when adopting more sustainable business practices? And how do you see these challenges can be different from other regions in the world, such as Latin America?

One of the challenges that corporate America faces when adopting sustainable business practices is the challenge of measuring and quantifying the “business case” for sustainability. As I mentioned earlier, sustainability can yield substantial intangible benefits for companies, but it can be hard to measure, monetize, and report on those benefits to shareholders. Organizations like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board are working with industry to bring standardization to sustainability disclosures, but there is still much work to be done.

Another challenge is that many corporations that have an established sustainability program have already captured much of the “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to operational efficiencies. They are now moving onto address sustainability issues that are more complex, involve more stakeholders, and require more systematic change. For instance, achieving a goal of zero waste, which Walmart has set, or assessing the sustainability of all of your products’ materials, like Nike is doing, can be more complicated challenges to tackle.

– As a female leader who advocates sustainability in business, one could argue you have to face a twofold resistance. Is that so? What do you say is the biggest resistance you must overcome?

I am proud and inspired to see many female executives leading in the sustainable business realm. Some of the women whose leadership I take inspiration from, for instance, are Linda Fisher, Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at DuPont; Bea Perez, CSO of The Coca-Cola Company; Diane Holdorf, CSO at Kellogg Company; Trisa Thompsen, VP of corporate social responsibility at Dell; Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike; and author Christine Bader, among others. I’ve also found groups like the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future to be useful for making connections with female mentors and collaborators.

There is, in general, a strong collegiality among sustainable business practitioners. Further, sustainability is a business disciplines that benefits from diverse perspectives and stakeholder inclusion. The sustainability challenges that businesses and society face require ingenuity, creativity, and collaboration from all corners of the world, from men and women alike.

Linda Livingstone, current Chair at AACSB

Linda Livingstone, current Chair at AACSB

As new elected Chair at AACSB, Livingstone share her perspectives and ideas regarding current and future challenges faced by leaders -both corporate and academic- as well as the Business Schools’ role in improving the quality of education.

This is the original, unedited English version of the interview to Linda Livingstone published on AméricaEconomía on August 7, 2014. 

You are assuming as Chair of AACSB in a time when B-schools from all over the world are competing even more to attract the best candidates and faculty. But there’s also a need to foster collaboration in order to give students exposure to various cultural and business environments. How will the AACSB balance its relationships with individual schools, and its role in improving management standards in different regions of the world?

We see those two issues as really working together. As we work with individual schools to help them improve and get better and to advance what they are doing, it obviously has an impact on the quality of management education in whatever region of the world that they are part of. In addition to working with individual schools and with schools within a region of the world, we are also working hard to find better ways to connect schools across regions of the world. We see how a lot of that has already happened. The more we can do about that, the more we can learn from each other, because in different places of the world, people think differently, have different challenges and different opportunities.

So it is about working at those three levels, individual schools, schools within a region, and connecting schools across different regions.

There are a lot of new concepts and notions claiming what the best management standards or strategies are. Looking at the bottom line and seeking efficiency is neck to neck with the need to take risks fostering innovation and creativity. How are the AACSB standards assessing the new programs that schools create to tackle new needs and concepts?

The way standards are written in AACSB, they very much focus on schools’ missions, wanting to ensure that any new program, anything the school is doing, is driving that condition as an institution. That’s at the upper level.

We are really trying to apply those across all process at the school, whether it’s existing programs they had for many years or its new programs, to ensure that they are really seeking to provide high quality at any program they are providing.

And they have standards for the kind of faculty they have in the classroom and the kind of services of support they provide to students. The standards are really applicable to all programs.

It’s all about helping the school to think about its mission and how it’s playing out in the different programs.

In terms of keeping up with new developments, we have conferences and seminars we give around the world, where deans and faculty and staff of business schools come together and share with one another what they are doing, what’s working, what the challenges are. What we are really trying to do is creating learning communities of business schools professionals to share and learn from each other.

It’s about the standards but also about other things business schools are doing. As we all think differently, we spend a lot of time learning from each other. Learning best practices of others.

Other thing that has been discussed about it’s this issue of efficiency kind of versus fostering innovation and creativity, which is a great issue we are all dealing with. I do think that the need for efficiency and finding the most cost effective ways to do things in business, as opposed to creativity and innovation and making think differently on how we do things, I think often they can work together. They may seem to be mutually exclusive and working against one another but I think in reality in many cases is the need to be more envisioned as to think differently helps us to be more creative and to be more innovative as business schools.

There has been a polemic around MOOCs. Despite different visions, opinions and implementations carried out by different B-Schools, it seems that online courses are here to stay and will impact even more the management education worldwide. Where is AACSB standing in this regard? Is there any debate, or consideration towards creating standards, or offering accreditation to some MOOCs?

The way accreditation works with AACSB is that we accredit institutions or business school units. We don’t accredit individual programs. When the business school unit is accredited, all of the programs within that institution are looked at. If the institution is accredited, then all programs are accredited.

When we revised the standards in 2013, we had a pretty significant discussion whether we should have a separate set of standards for online courses or online programs, meant for more traditional online programs, and we made a decision that we would not do that. We would have a set of standards that would apply regardless of the delivery mode, the location of the program.

We try to determine always if schools are delivering programs in a high quality way, regardless of the delivery mode.

The standards look across all kinds of delivery systems in a school.

What happens when a school creates an alliance with another school, which maybe not be accredited? Would that affect the initial accreditation received?

A school is reviewed every five years, taking the standards into account for that revision. As such, the school would maintain accreditation through that whole period. If it adds new programs during that five years period, then it would fall under the review of the next revision on schedule. Unless something very unusual happens, we would not go back to review a school that had received accreditation after one or two years.

If the school is partnering with another school that is not accredited, the program in which they are partnering has to meet the accreditation standards, even if the other school is not.

Today female leaders are under the spotlight -both in the public and private sectors. As female leader, what do you think will be the most important challenges that a woman in a leading position faces now and will be facing in the near future?

I don’t really think that the challenges women leaders are going to be facing in the future are going to be much different from the challenges male leaders will be facing. I do think sometimes society is expecting women to respond differently to those, which may or may not be the case. But I think in general, whether it’s in higher education or other areas, being able to drive innovation and change, and help lead an organization through change, it’s critically important.

Technology is having such an impact, also education reforms around the world is a bigger issue, we are getting a lot of pressure on pricing and cost of higher education. There’s also increasing competition and increasing quality of higher education around the world. Being able to manage in this ever changing environment, being able to innovate in it, in the middle of resource-constrains circumstances, it is a true challenge for anybody leading an organization, particularly in higher education.

As emerging economies, especially in Latin America, keep developing and attracting FDI, it is crucial to produce professionals with management skills able to perform at global levels. From the AACSB perspective, is there a perceivable evolution in the quality and competences of business graduates in Latin America? Is there any strategy or initiative or actions that AACSB will be supporting, or leading or contributing to within the next years?

We have already seen a significant growth and development in the quality of management education in Latin America. There are some outstanding schools in Latin America that are producing exceptional graduates. We are seeing an increasing number of schools in that region desiring to participate in the AACSB activities and seminars and conferences because they want to continuously improve what they are doing. I believe we will continue to see the enhancement of quality of programs and graduates.

In terms of strategies or initiatives from the AACSB, we have a task force now looking at how we can best serve management education around the world. We spend a lot of time in focus groups with different leaders from different regions of the world including Latin America. From what we learn, I think we will be seeing more and more tailor offering, based on the specific needs of that region. An example is a seminar we did, our first seminar in Spanish in Latin America. It was very well received, great attendance.

I think we will see a development of the quality, if in a somewhat different way than in other regions of the world.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown

I made a mistake this week. A rookie mistake, to be honest. I was assigned with an article for a specialized news outlet I managed to get in touch with some weeks ago. This was my second publication and, admittedly, I’ve been as at edge about it as a recent graduate could be. I messed up by not scrolling down enough the initial mail my editor sent me, so I didn’t see the report that was supposed to substantiate my research and writing. Instead, I went on reaching out to sources and writing my analysis based on the main idea the editor pointed me to.

When I received his mail asking why wasn’t there any mention on my text about that report he had shared with me, I checked the mail and… horror! There it was. I didn’t know what to do, what to say that could make me sound at least just a bit smarter. But there was no honest excuse so I opted for the truth: I hadn’t scrolled down enough to see the complete content of his email.

During some hours I feared the worst, while waiting his feedback. What do you want me to do? I had asked –do you want me to rewrite some parts to include relevant content from the report? I’m happy to fix this anyway you see it better…I’m so sorry! I Apologize!1000w-1

This afternoon, I’ve found an amazing TED Talk by Brené Brown which at this point I may believe is the best TED Talk ever as I felt it talked straight ahead to me. Brown summarizes how she spent years trying to find out what makes us, Humans, happy or unhappy. She found that it’s all a matter of connections. People’s need to connect is universally shared, so basically our joy or misery is pretty much originated in the same way, whether you live in Denmark or Mozambique. It turns out that those who can connect more effectively are those who feel they are worthy; they feel there’s beauty on their imperfections, so they are not afraid to be vulnerable.

Later at midday I got a new email from the editor. He appreciated my honesty and told me what to do next. It was such a relief. My piece is published by now. I’m expecting now for the next week to complete my next assignment, hopefully, no more rookie mistakes.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Posted: August 29, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Photography, Travels

This week’s photo challenge, as posted by The Daily Post, is “Dialogue”. And a great one indeed!

(c)jennroig, Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 2010

(c)jennroig, Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 2010

This shot was taken on the spring of 2010 in Madrid, Spain. There’s this big park in the heart of the city -Parque del Retiro- where I found this particular frame. I liked it because it was a harmonic ensemble of nature and human work; because it was an obvious evidence of the human need to control chaos, and still chaos hits us back; and because it was a breeze of color in an otherwise quite gray day.

Today, I believe it fits perfectly in that definition of dialogue: “When it comes to photography, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images.”