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Urbanization Can Be Good For The Environment

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Urbanization degrades the environment, according to conventional wisdom. This view has led many developing countries to limit rural—urban migration and curb urban expansion. But this view is incorrect. There are a number of reasons urbanization can be good for the environment, if managed properly.

First, urbanization brings higher productivity because of its positive externalities and economies of scale. Asian urban productivity is more than 5.5 times that of rural areas. The same output can be produced using fewer resources with urban agglomeration than without. In this sense, urbanization reduces the ecological footprint. The service sector requires urbanization because it needs a concentration of clients. As services generally pollute less than manufacturing, this aspect of urbanization is also beneficial to the environment.

Second, for any given population, the high urban density is benign for the environment. The urban economics literature shows that compactness is a key determinant of energy use. High density can make public transport more viable and reduce the length of trips. Urban living encourages walking and cycling rather than driving.

Third, environment-friendly infrastructure and public services such as piped water, sanitation, and waste management are much easier and more economical to construct, maintain, and operate in an urban setting. Urbanization allows more people to have access to environment-friendly facilities and services at affordable prices.

Fourth, urbanization drives innovation, including green technologies. In the long term, environment-friendly equipment, machines, vehicles, and utilities will determine the future of the green economy. Green innovations in Asia’s cities will be supported by the region’s vast market as the billions of people who will be buying energy-efficient products will create opportunities and incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in developing such products.

Finally, the higher standard of living associated with urbanization provides people with better food, education, housing, and health care. Urban growth generates revenues that fund infrastructure projects, reducing congestion and improving public health. Urbanization fosters a pro-environment stance among property owners and the middle class, which is crucial for the introduction and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

Of course, urbanization also comes with costs. Millions of people are migrating to Asian cities and companies are locating there to employ them. Urban sprawl and industrial activities, such as power generation, transportation, construction, garbage and waste disposal, harm the environment. An assessment of the impact of urbanization on the environment must balance its benign and adverse effects. Figure 1 shows that the Asian environment–urbanization relationship varies, depending on the level of development. Once a certain threshold has been reached, urbanization becomes good for the environment in terms of lower emissions of CO2 and particle pollution (PM10).

Figure 1: Environment–Urbanization Relationship in Asia

Figure 1 Environment Urbanization can be good for the environment

CO2 = carbon dioxide; PM10 = particulate matter with diameter of 10 micrometers or less; μg/m3 = micrograms per cubic meter; t = ton.

Source: ADB estimates.

The graph’s curves show that cities in the 2000s enjoyed a better environment at the same level of urbanization than cities in the 1990s. To ensure green urbanization, developing countries need to continue the downward shift by adopting the following recommendations.

The first priority is to improve energy efficiency and conservation through appropriate pricing, regulations, and public sector support. It is vital to get prices right so that they incorporate the full social costs and benefits, and ensure the efficient allocation of resources. This can be done by imposing congestion and emission charges, as in Singapore, and by removing inefficient subsidies, as in Indonesia. Other examples are the introduction of carbon taxes, as in the Republic of Korea, and increasing block pricing for water, electricity, and other public utilities, as in the Philippines.

Countries need to introduce regulations and standards in a timely manner. These can correct for market or coordination failures on air, water, vehicles, and appliances, as in India. The government can build green industrial zones to attract manufacturing, as in Indonesia. Improved regulations can reduce or prevent urban sprawl.

Cities need to build rapid public transport systems to improve connectivity and reduce pollution. Speedy connections to and from satellite cities can ease congestion in central megacity hubs. Rapid bus transit systems, as in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and subways, as in India, can reduce environmental degradation in densely populated cities and improve the quality of life.

The second priority is to promote renewable resources and new energy technologies. Waste-to-energy plants reduce pollution and generate energy, as in the Philippines and Thailand. Green technology can be acquired either by importation or innovation through research and development, as in the PRC.

The PRC is building new towns and satellite cities using renewable energy as primary energy sources. Urban sprawl can be tackled by reviving city centers and developing compact, walkable satellite cities centered on efficient train, light rail, or subway systems, without heavy reliance on highways and major roads.

The third priority is to help the poor by reducing disaster risks and improving slum conditions. Disaster risk reduction can be done by building dwellings in safe areas, improving housing affordability for the poor, and investing in drainage infrastructure and climate forecast technology. Policies to improve slum conditions include providing basic services, granting land titles to slum dwellers, and issuing housing vouchers linked in value to the length of a resident’s tenure in the city.

The fourth priority is to strengthen public finance, transparency, and accountability. Public finance can be improved by broadening the tax and revenue base and by increasing the access of urban governments to broader and deeper capital markets in order to lower infrastructure and public service costs.

Politicians can be encouraged to do the right thing by disclosing city government performance to the public and nongovernment organizations, and having national competitions and campaigns to encourage a “race to the top” to reward high achievement.

Reference:

ADB. 2012. Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012. Manila www.adb.org/publications/key-indicators-asia-and-pacific-2012. The arguments in this post are covered in greater depth in the Key Indicators volume.

 written by Dr. Guanghua Wan is a principal economist at the Asian Development Bank .See more

Callum Connects

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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