Big Cities on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Cool interactive map by the Financial Times today, showing how overpopulation in some megacities is reaching critical levels. Central Paris‘ population today has 2 million, having lost 1 million since the 1920s, however its metropolitan area comprises around 11 million, many of these inhabitants outside the central core have not even been born in France. This imbalance -which is also economic- between the center and the periphery, is a time bomb.



Lagos, in Nigeria (photo), is a city suffering overpopulation. Mexico DF is home to more than 24 million souls. LA‘s almost 16 million are mostly dependent on cars for mobility. The world’s largest conurbation is still greater Tokyo (photo), a city that sits on one of the most active seismic faults on the planet is also very vulnerable to tsunamis. Cities continue to evolve and some of them continue to grow out of control, making them very difficult to manage and causing an almost unbearable strain.



Fed Up with Abusive Bank Commissions in International Transfers?

TransferWise, a startup based in London and founded by Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärmann (right) in 2011. For Hinrikus this is not his first adventure, he was the first employee at that other very successful startup, Skype.


TransferWise offers a peer-to-peer money transfer service that can save you up to 85% of the fees that banks charge you for overseas transfers. It uses real exchange rates when transferring money and it is aimed especially at expats, foreign students and businesses with branches in other countries who lose a lot of money to banks that charge hefty commissions. The company only charges a £1 fee for transactions below £300 and a small percentage of any transaction above that. In its first year of operations TransferWise handled 10 million euros in transactions.


The proprietary algorithm they developed connects people wanting to wire money to another country. Imagine you want to transfer money from Britain to Spain, for example. You put your money in TransferWise’s British account, the algorithm then finds someone wanting to do the same from Spain to Britain and who has deposited the money in the company’s Spanish account. The exchange is done at the mid-market rate. To make sure there is someone at the other end, and to ensure liquidity, TransferWise works with The Currency Cloud.


The service now converts from euro to GBP and GBP to euro. It also converts from euros and GBO to US Dollars (USD), Polish zloty (PLN), Swiss francs (CHF), Danish krone (DKK), Swedish krona (SEK) and Norwegian krone (NOK). It is working on transfers in the other direction as well, but this is not available yet.

Hinrikus and Käärman believe that money, like water should flow freely, but this, of course, is not easy. Their new platform is a close as we can get.

Skateboarding Amid the Ruins of War

Skateistan - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraSkateistan is an unconventional school in an unconventional place. What began in 2007 as informal skateboarding lessons by Australian Oliver Percovich in an empty fountain in Kabul is now, thanks to international donors and skateboard industry partners, an international non-profit which offers skateboarding and more traditional education to children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.

The staff is international and they work mostly with children aged 5-18, over 50% of them streetworking kids. Skateboarding is what gets them hooked into the program. Then, once in, they learn many other things. Apart from skating, the teachers also focus on leadership skills, civic responsibility, multimedia, creative arts and they also explore culture, traditions, natural resources and peace. The students decide what they want to learn.

Skateistan 5 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

This skateboarding school, which now has more than 400 students and a 5,400m2 skatepark and educational facility,  is open to all ethnicities, religions and social classes. Streetworking children share classroom with sons of government ministers. The school has Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek or Tajik children who, united by their love of skateboarding, create bonds here that trascend social barriers and learn that they are not that different from one another. Many of these kids come from extremely poor backgrounds, and this program provides these marginalized youths with opportunities, not only to meet other children from other cultures, but also empowers them to overcome adversity, teaching them self confidence. In a country devastated by several wars, having this common bond also brightens up their lives, gives them hope of a better future and gives them a voice. Here, kids can be kids.

Skateistan 2 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

The school operates six days a week and provides all the skateboards and the safety equipment.  Most of its operating costs have been funded by the embassies of Denmark and Norway which also funded the construction of the Kabul facility, together with the embassies of Germany and Canada.  The German Federal Foreign Office constructed a second facility in Mazar-e-Sharif. Skateistan has numerous sponsors and partners from the skateboarding industry. They also receive donations and support from a network of international groups and volunteers.

Nancy Dupree, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, explains that children who have grown up in war, surrounded by negative attitudes towards compatriots of different ethnic and secular groups can now meet children from other backgrounds, compete and learn to play with one another, respectfully, “setting patterns for future harmonious interactions through life”.

Skateistan 6 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

But this is a country still very much still grappling with violence. On September 8th, a suicide attack in Kabul resulted in the deaths of several children, four of which were students of the academy. The bomb was detonated outside the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, where many of the streetworking children of Kabul sell trinkets, scarves and chewing gum

Skateistan 4 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraOne of the most remarkable aspects of Skateistan is that 40% of students are girls, many of them having to go against the wishes of members of their families, who don’t approve this kind of activity for girls. The school promotes gender equality in one of the most gender-biased societies in the world. But amid the ruins of war…they skate on.

This is a short documentary on Skateistan:

To donate to Skateistan to their website.


The world’s first cashless country just might be in Africa

Somaliland is officially an autonomous region of Somalia with a population of just 3.5 million, mainly Muslim. In practice, though, it is an unrecognized, self-declared state. The territory, previously a British protectorate, united with the former Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form Somalia. The region declared independence from Somalia in 1991, after massacres carried out by the regime of Siad Barre. Tens of thousands were killed and entire towns were destroyed.

The government of Somaliland is now in active diplomatic discussions with neighbouring countries and the African Union, trying to get international support in its secessionist aspirations and recognition of its independence. No country in the world today recognizes Somaliland and of course this means, among other things, there is a total lack of outside investment. Despite this, it has a dynamic private sector, although poverty and unemployment are still widespread. It is a land rich in history and has important archeological treasures. It has its own president, parliament and constitution, army and police force.

Somaliland even has its own central bank that prints its own currency, the Somaliland shilling. The highest banknote in Somaliland, however, is the 5,000 shilling note, which is worth less than a dollar. This makes transactions incredibly impractical. Khat, a flowering plant and an amphetamine-like stimulant is used almost as currency in many places.

Zaad, a mobile money-transfer service offered by Telesom, the largest network operator in the territory, may prove to be the solution to the cumbersome shilling system. As in many other countries of Africa, the mobile sector is thriving here, with about 40% of the population having a phone.


About 306,000 Somalilanders today use Zaad. In a place with no ATMs and where credit cards are considered ridiculous, Zaad has been widely adopted by shops, market stalls, restaurants and hotels, despite it being considered un-Islamic by some radical groups. Telesom, the phone company, even pays its employees via Zaad.

Normally only payments of up to $500 at a time are allowed, $2,000 for merchants. The system is still not perfect, because it evades taxation, something the government wants to correct, but the inventiveness and dynamism of the private sector approach has provided the market with an appropriate means of exchange. So the world’s first cashless country may not be Sweden, the Netherlands or South Korea, after all, it may actually be Somaliland.

The 14-year-old who stood up for the rights of girls and was shot for it

The United Nations today marked the first International Day of the Girl Child. This International Day was designated by a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2011 to recognize girls’s rights, draw attention to the challenges they face around the world, and help advance their lives and opportunities.

Although this year’s theme was “Ending Child Marriage”, it was marked by the Taliban attack on Tuesday against a group of girls in Pakistan who were heading home after school. 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai -who remains in critical condition after receiving a shot to the neck- was the target, because she had enraged the Taliban speaking openly in a blog against the militants, who regularly use terror, in this region of Swat to encourage girls to stay at home instead of going to school. The militias stopped the van that was taking Malala and other girls home, they asked which one was Malala, and then opened fire. The attack has shocked the world and many politicians and artists everywhere have openly spoken against the Taliban. Madonna had the name “Malala” written on her back during a concert in Los Angeles and dedicated a song to her.

Malala, who last year won Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize for her online writing, with her courage is inspiring young people in Pakistan to stand up against the Taliban. Her fight for girls’ rights has now become a fight for her life, but her example is sure to remain forever.

More about this story:
To see an interview with Malala last year:

This is a short documentary by The New York Times about Malala Yousufzai, when she was just 11 years old, and was already a firm defender of her right to an education, despite the hardships and constant threats from the Taliban.

Dancing Inmates of Cebu Prison

When Byron F. Garcia was appointed head of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Cebu province of the Philippines, he implemented a program of choreographed exercised routines for the inmates, which originally consisted of inmates marching to the beat of a drum. This eventually evolved into dancing to pop music, starting with decidedly camp Village People songs like YMCA and In the Navy. The initiative was a huge success among prisoners, bringing down the levels of criminality –especially gang-related- inside the prison radically, because inmates are always busy practicing their choreographies, of course. Let’s not forget that this prison holds very dangerous criminals. In my opinion, this is also a beautiful example of bringing some dignity to the lives of these prisoners.

Cebu prison became an Internet and media phenomenon when five years ago, a mere 10 hours after Michael Jackson died, the inmates performed Thriller in the prison courtyard for the whole world to see. They stayed up all night in order to be able to pay their ultimate tribute to the King of Pop.

Byron F. García writes on the YouTube page where the original video is hosted: “Because of the hideous conditions in jails, prisons are like tombs and inmates are like ghoulish creatures. The only difference is that dancers in the MJ Thriller video come with make-up and costumes. The Dancing Inmates come as themselves. People perceived to be evil.” He continues saying that governments have to stop looking the other way, prisons continue to be hell, “We have to stop being entertained and thrilled by the sting of sin. We have to look at prisons beyond the cycle of crime and punishment and certainly look inside underlying social, cultural and psychological implications of rehabilitation.”

The prison of CPDRC now even has its own official choreography teachers and Byron Garcia has created a team of former “Dancing Inmates” to spread the message of “Music and Dance Therapy” to all jails in the Philippines. A Pilot Project has been agreed with authorities and is being implemented in the three largest prisons in the country: Manila City Jail, Quezon City Jail, Makati City Jail.

Dancing has not only proved an excellent way to motivate inmates and prevent criminal activities, it has also promoted teambuilding. Due to their nature, choreographies can assimilate many different types of participants. One of the leading roles in the famous Thriller tribute, for example, was played by a popular gay/transvestite prisoner Wenjiel Resane (above). It also encourages some healthy competition for the leading parts in each choreography.

The success of the initiative is such that inmates today even participate in public events and celebrations. Some of these performances receive donations from the people. In 2008 the prison started celebrating live performances for visitors, who could watch from the upper galleries. Visitors can even have their photographs with the prisoners and buy souvenirs created by the inmates.

In 2010 the inmates performed the “They Don’t Care About Us” intro from “Bad”, a choreography created specifically for them by Travis Payne, a choreographer for Michael Jackson himself.  Payne and two of the original dancers of Jackson’s This Is It show danced with the inmates, after teaching them the choreography. The video, by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was part of the global launch of the This Is It DVD. Apparently, while still alive, Michael Jackson enjoyed watching the inmates dance on YouTube.

The famous viral video of the inmates dancing the Thriller routine and their subsequent fame has also inspired a new YouTube musical called “Prison Dancer” (above) which will be about the lives of eight Filipino maximum-security inmates whose lives are changed after a video of their dancing rehabilitation program goes viral on YouTube.

In April 2011, during the Tribeca Film Festival, in New York, he was awarded the “Disruptive Innovator Award”.

And of course, due to international demand, the dancing inmates of Cebu Prison simply had to dance…you guessed it…Gangnam Style!! Even if it meant having to do so under the pouring rain. So, if you haven’t seen it yet…


BMR 05


This is the new issue of my magazine Babyshark’s Minority Report, a magazine that I write, design and lay out entirely myself with only interesting articles and no advertising whatsoever. This fifth issue has articles on Hollywood, satellites, virtual reality, Oprah Winfrey, J-pop, elegance, powerful women, abandoned race tracks in the middle of nowhere, Battersea Station, Mark Zuckerberg, an island populated by dolls, a doghouse built by a famous architect, a cathedral made of salt, African heavy metal, among others.

Download the full magazine here. (It takes about a minute, be patient)