What is Miriam currently wearing?

One day I got a phone call from a former workmate asking if I’d be interested in taking photos for her fashion blog. I was kind of blown away because most of my photography had been just a personal hobby and passion. Of course I tried to do something more with it a couple of years ago with my 2013 photo project and book without thinking too much about where it would go – it was just fun to do! While I’ve only sold a couple of books (so far), what was more rewarding was to realize that by getting other people involved with project encouraged someone else to follow their passion.

Miriam, one of the models in the November theme, started her fashion blog called ‘Currently Wearing – Chic with a positive attitude‘ which has been hugely popular within the Swiss fashion world and she even has a large and dedicated following on Instagram.

This ethical outfit now on Currently Wearing (direct link in bio). Hat and jumpsuit via @amafillech

A photo posted by Miri Ramp (@currently_wearing) on

While most of my photo gear is a mix of digital and film rangefinders and SLRs, I was glad to test out Miriam and her husband’s gear (the regular photographer) even if it was only for 15 minutes. I don’t own a Nikon so it was a pleasure to shoot with their Nikon D3200 and especially fun was taking the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1-1.8G lens for a spin. I used my favorite shooting mode on these DSLRs which is Aperature Priority where I can choose my aperture setting (blurry backgrounds anyone?) while the camera picks up on the shutter speed.

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If you’re interested in mix high-street fashion with luxury and vintage accessories from Swiss and African designers that’s unique, or as Miriam calls it “Afropean”, check out http://currentlywearing.com/.

Geneva’s network of communication professionals

Geneva’s international community is a big network filled with various organizations, of different sizes, working on issues from environment, technology, social justice, to humanitarian relief. With so many actors trying to work together, it’s a no-brainer that there are tons of meetings and networking opportunities to collaborate and cooperate. While some people might think meetings might be a waste of time, the fact that there are so many cultural differences, languages, and perspectives at play, it’s a necessity to come together to share ideas, resources, and, in general, find a way to work together… and this particularly goes for the communication industry.

You're on the air

Working in communications and in such an international place like Geneva, it’s pretty common to come across networking opportunities and groups focused on various aspects of communications. There’s the main UN Communications Group managed and run by the UN Information Service that looks at ‘big-picture’ stuff that the UN as a family is working on. As part of this group, there’s a more focused group on social media (managed by avid tweep Gisella) that share resources and discusses the latest news and updates from this online channel.

Outside the UN is the broader Geneva Communicators Network which includes a growing list of communication professionals in and around Geneva. In addition to website which hosts all the latest news and info from the network, the group is also on LinkedIn and has an active community of over 2000 members. They also post jobs on their website and regularly organize interesting lunchtime events on the latest thinking in strategy, public relations, media, etc. For example, the last event I went to was understanding the communication challenges of urban planning. The presenter Vincent Lusser said communications was a key part of making sure people are aware of and can contribute to the discussion on changes to Geneva’s urban plan.

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There’s also a technical group, set up and run entirely by volunteers and people passionate about online communications, called the “Geneva Web Group”. While the group is also on LinkedIn, I find the internal Google Group much more active and interesting where jobs are posted, ideas are discussed, and plenty of opportunity to get answers to any web-related question. Even though the group is for Geneva, many of the members are from around the world with various backgrounds on not only web issues, but also information architecture, content management, and design.

In a previous post I wrote about how communication professionals don’t consider design in their plans until the last minute, yet design is essential in any kind of communication. So it was great to hear that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) took the initiative to set up a group for designers working in international organizations in Geneva. Organized by a designer named Jesus (yes, seriously!), the first meeting took place in October at ITU’s headquarters over an informal lunch that included creative people from UNICEF, SICPA, OCHA, and WHO. While there wasn’t much of an agenda for the first meeting, the networking opportunity allowed us to talk about key challenges and issues that every organization faced. This included:

  • The politics at play when trying to establish and implement a corporate identity
  • How organizations can empower designers to ensure that corporate guidelines and styles are followed via internal communication, training, and building relationships with staff
  • Designers play an important role in communications as they understand the content and tools to produce communication and find the channels to deliver them
  • Designers don’t only design but also are in charge with maintaining the visual brand of an organization.

It’s pretty special to have all this happening in Geneva where these networks are accessible and welcoming to anyone interested in different aspects of communication. If I missed any networks or groups, let me know by leaving a comment below.

Moving doesn’t have to be (too) painful

Moving is always a stressful process and can actually impact long-term health (according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale). Whether it’s moving house, moving cities, or moving countries, everything related to packing up and relocating isn’t for the faint of heart. In the past, it’s been pretty easy for me to move – normally everything I owned or needed to be move could fit into a couple of suitcases. This time around, it was a different story. Not only did we collect heaps of stuff over a few years of living in Geneva, but it was also the first time we had to move furniture. We were dreading the whole ordeal since we had to make a big decision about leaving our apartment because of the major construction and renovations on our building that’s planned to start this summer – we decided to move before we contacted ASLOCA, but we’ve heard this Swiss association for renters is really helpful.

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In most circumstances, a friend with a car, an offer of pizza, and a weekend of packing would have made the whole moving process a little less daunting. However, we’re living in Geneva where people are transient or have complicated schedules, parking (i.e. loading/offloading zones) are hard to come by, and elevators are tiny.

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The best investment we made for moving was to hire a moving company. Little did I know that moving is a huge business in the city, and that there’s plenty of competition out there. The first quote for moving our stuff – which “wasn’t very much” according to the movers who came by to have a look – was over 2500CHF. It would have been an additional 1000CHF if we wanted the movers to pack our stuff too. When we started to shop around, there’s actually an association or society of moving companies that sends out moving requests and then companies bid on them. Once we did that, quotes from companies dropped significantly where we ended up paying less than 1000CHF for Flche dmnagement.

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Once we chose the company, we spent 2 weeks packing up our stuff – luckily we had some family come by to help us clean and pack for a weekend. When it was time, Fleche spent the day with us moving around 28 boxes, a couch, dining table and chairs, our book shelves, bikes, and a massive wardrobe I put together from IKEA. They took apart all our furniture and then resembled everything in our new apartment… now that’s service!

Do you know who you’re talking to?

Sitting in a room today full of people enthusiastic about social media and the future it has in the world of media and communication raised a lot of questions in my mind about new vs. traditional media. The colliding worlds of social media and traditional media can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored. It’s a sign of the times, technology, and the way the public are not only consumers of information and news, but also providers.

After a couple of interesting presentations by UNIS Geneva, the World Health Organization, and the spokesperson for UNHCR, with all very different approaches to social media, it made me think about the future of news and the role of social media in organizations. UNIS Geneva was at the end of the spectrum where they’re testing the waters and starting off slow, UNHCR was about communicating life in the ‘field’, and the WHO was very much about reputation management and risk communications. A variety of approaches with very different purposes. One point that stuck in my mind from Melissa Fleming, UNHCR’s spokeperson, was the fact that social media are just tools that support a communication strategy.

My own experience working in a communication role really brings this point to light as we have regular discussions on the purpose of a corporate website, what social media should be used for, and what makes a strong communication strategy. In the past, the main way to “communicate” was the use of a press release, but with more relevant channels and flexibility to send out messages and to have your audience communicate back to you, things are changing. Did you know that Google uses a blog to announce their news? Check out “4 Ways to Rethink the Press Release” on Mashable written earlier this year.

Also, I did a quick Google search and found a few very interesting nuggets of information on the crossroads between news and social media:

“The question is no longer just a hypothetical one. With increasing convergence between social media and traditional content, what is known as a traditional news website might not exist in the coming years.” – The end of news websites.

“Knowing where your audience gathers and how they want to engage with your content will dictate how you create, publish and share your information.” – What does the future hold for press releases?

“The syllogism that helped journalism prosper in the 20th century was simple: Produce the journalism (or content) that people want, and you will succeed. But that may no longer be enough. The key to media in the 21st century may be who has the most knowledge of audience behavior, not who produces the most popular content. ” – Five myths about the future of journalism

Like the Toblerone Trail near Geneva, will we innovate in the way we communicate or remain a historic monument?

At the same time, when we talk about “communications”, what are we talking about? Media (i.e. journalism), marketing (i.e. brand value, targeting, segmentation), public relations (i.e. reputation management)… ?

And finally, speaking of the changing nature of news and journalism, who (or what) are journalists and what do they do? It cant be reduced to just one thing

Update: I just came across this interesting article about how Content is No Longer King and that there needs to be a radical shift in how we see news and communication – Content isn’t the goal. Audience is. Digital media is as much about distribution as it is about content. http://lnkd.in/67tazw

Paperless publishing to revolutionize the way we learn?

Are we still going to rely on paper and pulp to give us books and publications in the future? According to this article, Apple may be revolutionizing the way we think about “books”. In it, the author Joshua Benton writes that a new iPad app may make “publishing” a breeze and paving the way for easy to produce and publish e-books. From an environmental standpoint, this might be a godsend since the mounds and mounds of paper needed to produce a single publication might be the thing of the past. From a social and cultural perspective, this might also be a positive sign since more and more people are turning to their mobile phones and tablets to read the news, books, surf the net, etc…

Towards the end of the article, Benton explains that even Apple is targeting this new concept of publishing e-books specficially for non-traditional forms of computing (i.e. not laptops or desktop computers) – do I hear more iPads being sold and marketed to the public and schools? Could this be a way Apple will target it’s corporate social responsibility – “we’re saving trees and the environment!” Not long ago, I heard that an international school here in Geneva is also giving away iPads as part of compulsory school materials! Is this the death of education as we know it, or just a radical adaptation of how we learn, research and access information for education, and in general? Only time will tell, but perhaps the kid in the below photo will find that books and paper-based materials to be a rarity…

Long shadows on a bright sunny winter afternoon in Geneva

With the right pitch, you can sell an idea in 4-minutes.

Honestly, on Friday night I wasn’t too enthusiastic about spending a weekend “locked” in a room with eight strangers to come up with a ‘start-up’ company. But, after listening to the 60-second pitches, the buzz of energy from the 100+ people who turned up, and the persistent and friendly Scottish brain behind the idea that interested me, I decided to give up 54 hours and a bit of sleep to get a crash course on building a business.

While there was a huge demand on all sorts of people with different skills (i.e. marketing, strategy, HR, communications, web developers, programmers, etc.), what we realized was it was all about the “idea” and how well we thought it through… basically to convince the jury and audience that our business ideas was worth an investment. We spent all weekend refining what we thought was a good idea to something to the point and valuable to a customer. Did I mention that we only had 4 minutes on Sunday to explain this idea to them?

Roughly 40 ideas were pitched on Friday night, with 15 of these eventually getting “developed” by Sunday. Finding out the “pain” – what it is, who has it, and the solution for it – was one of the hardest things to do. Focused, targeted and measurable – any business idea is possible taking these three things into account… it doesn’t sound as easy as it seems. In the end, StartUp Weekend Geneva was all about selling and presenting an idea and inspiring potential investors to throw money/resources at the idea… don’t ever underestimate the power of sales and communication to get your point across.

It’s kinda the same thing with information… we’re producing so much of it these days that if we really want to get our message across, it has to be sorted, organized, and put together in a way that makes sense. Not only do we need to understand the information, the people we want to communicate to and what kind of impact we want, we also need to communicate it in a way that gets the point across, otherwise it’s just a lot of wasted energy.

Difficult is easy, simple is hard… we eventually didn’t reach the finals, but the group we formed really sees the potential in the project and we’re looking to continue working on it – I’ll keep the idea a bit of mystery for now!

“I cannot change the laws of physics! I’ve got to have thirty minutes.”

Whether we like it or not, there’s no doubt that the World Wide Web (aka the Internet) has changed the way we live, work and communicate. And it all started here – at Cern, commonly known as the place where they smash really tiny pieces of the universe together. The ultimate research facility for physicists, Cern stands for the European Organization for Nuclear Research and we went for a visit last weekend since it’s only 20minutes away from Geneva.

While it’s commonly known to many as a research hub for scientists interested in studying the origins of the universe, it’s also a place where a lot of new technology and innovations happen to facilitate this studying. Most of the most well-known ‘discoveries’ is the WWW. The concept of the Web was originally used to meet the demand for automatic information sharing between scientists working in different universities and institutes all over the world. The Web has now grown into something that most of us can’t live without – whether its Facebooking, using your mobile phone, paying your bills, or anything that requires the collection and transferring of data, it’s become a necessity. Now I just hope that we can generate enough energy/electricity to keep this going!

I was told by our tour guide that it costs about $15 million every year just for electricity at Cern to run all the different experiments and the facility!

This is a half-scale size of Alice, A Large Ion Collider Experiment, one of the largest experiments in the world devoted to research in the physics of matter at an infinitely small scale. It’s about 100 metres below ground.

Lots of different experiments go on at Cern and this is one of the ones our guide showed us on a more personal tour of the Cern facilities. While Alice (above) is about doing massive experiments colliding small particles, this is an experiment on a smaller scale looking at creating anti-matter.

(Title/quote comes from Star Trek’s Scotty)

DevInfo – is it about the data or the people?

What are the more interesting products that the UN has been working on since early 2004 is DevInfo. It’s one of these software programs to help governments and UN agencies have easy and quick access to social and census information to help their development work. I first came across it in Timor-Leste and didn’t have a first good impression of it because of how complicated and complex it seemed.

As the website says:

DevInfo is a powerful database system for monitoring human development. It is a tool for organizing, storing and presenting data in a uniform way to facilitate data sharing at the country level across government departments, UN agencies and development partners. DevInfo has features that produce tables, graphs and maps for inclusion in reports, presentations and advocacy materials.

Coming from a background and work experience on analyzing data and information and using it for planning purposes, the program seemed too strict and inflexible. But as I got to know the program, I began to realize that for people, governments, and organizations that didn’t have the same expertise I had, this program provided a good overview of health, social, population, etc. statistics in forms of graphs, maps and tables. And it gives a good indication of where we are now and where we want to go… keeping track of information and statistics, whether it’s the number of people living in a city, or how much you spend a month, helps to understand your habits and also how to make improvements where necessary.

From my experience, DevInfo and this kind of database-type systems are only as useful as to how much effort is put into maintaining and updating them with new information, AND getting people to use it. Putting together a system or technology is one thing (and usually the easy part)… it’s getting people to use it and understand what it’s for that’s the hard part!

PHOTOS: The Fete de Geneva (Geneva Festival) is an annual thing that happens in July/August. It’s a time where Geneva turns into a party town with free concerts and events all around the city. Swiss national day is also around this time and it’s not an uncommon sight to see people in red and white (strangely, the same colors as Canada). The Fete ends with a huge fireworks display between Switzerland and a guest country (this year it was India).

What They Teach You at Harvard Business School.

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through 2011? That means it’ll be six months since I first landed in a still balmy Geneva spring morning. Where does the time go? Speaking of time, how long does it take to make friends and build a social network? Of course there’s the online kind where a lot of time is spent on (re)connecting with family and friends. But what about the good-ol-fashion “hey, you wanna go for a movie or something?” type where you actually meet new and interesting people?

Check out this interesting TED talk about the hidden influence of social networks and how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know. He throws a lot of numbers and technical details around, but the overall idea is fascinating.

In a place like Geneva, where it’s rumored that there’s more foreigners (i.e. non-Swiss and definitely non-Genevois) than locals, you’d think the international vibe would make it easy to find new people to hang out with. Surprisingly though, it’s a little bit more difficult than you think for both French and non-French speakers. There’s a couple of online social network places where people can find things to do with people that have similar interests (i.e. Glocals and InterNations), but building connections beyond one-off activities takes a surprisingly long time. Maybe because of the transient nature of the city, the fact that it’s a hub to many destinations in Europe where people jet-set on weekends, or just because it’s so damn expensive in the city that most people tend to avoid living in the city limits if they can afford to.

There’s definitely a draw to the city with many of the big international organizations headquartered here and lots and lots of banks. The city is oozing with money… and there’s no end to the high-fashion, fast cars, and opulent attitudes. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book to read to see if having an MBA would improve my quality of life. It’s an interesting read into one of the most prestigious universities in the world and one that churns out high-profile politicians, bankers, CEOs and the like. The author writes about his experiences with the program, the professors, and the student personalities at Harvard Business School, and the kind of stress, reflection, and tribulations of someone going through a mid-life crisis. It’s a fun and easy read that still makes you think about the underlying social and economic forces that shape the world we live in today. After reading this book, I’m convinced that it’s actions and attitudes that shape/make a person and not what they’ve studied, especially when it comes to business and corporate/financial responsibility.

Living in a grey period – enjoying the black and the white

I was just visiting my blog and realized that it’s been about a month since I last wrote something. Well, let’s see, what’s been happening? For one thing, we went to a cooking class last night to learn a few French dishes. If you’re in Geneva and want to go to a cooking course, check out Katrpices. They have lunch, afternoon and evening classes. Book early as many classes fill up!

Here’s the menu. The menu sounds better in French, but whether in English or French, the taste was amazing.

  1. Gravlax de saumon, dakon & mangue, vinaigrette ciboulette crmeuse – Dill-rice vinegar marinated salmon sashimi and mango-carrot-radish salad with a chive vinaigrette
  2. Cuisse de canard braise aux chicons et rutabaga confits – Roasted duck and sesasonal vegetables, truffle-oil infused mashed potatoes topped with a port reduction sauce
  3. Gratin d’ananas & gingembre, sorbet banane au sirop de vanille – Caramelized ginger and pineapple topped with baked custard and homemade banana sorbet

Rather than bore you with the finer details of the past month, here are some photos:

The port of Sanary looking from the town tower
Chinese New Year in Toulon with some suprisingly decent Chinese red wine!
Studio photography class with a photogenic model - this reminds me of MJ.
This was really interesting shot I took while the model with preparing for another barrage of photos