Panama Papers Bombshell Inspires Some Playful Musical Protests in Iceland

Originally published on Billboard.com on April 15, 2016

Iceland has made a name for itself as a country of great music, beautiful nature, elves. The island has become a hotspot for tourists over the past few years, to the point where there aren't enough hotel rooms to accommodate all that want to visit. But, following the massive Panama Papers leak, Iceland may now be known best for its corrupt politicians.

A few years ago, comedian Jon Gnarr and his friends created a satire where they formed a political party with the aim of offering jobs to their friends and getting a polar bear into the domestic animal zoo. They ran in the local election, and won. Gnarr became mayor of Reykjavik. During the campaign, it was evident Gnarr and company were making fun of the way politics have developed in Iceland, where nepotism is the rule -- the country's entire cabinet of ministers and their assistants practically forms a family tree. This might not seem strange when considering that the entire population of the country is just over 330,000, all pretty much related no more than four generations apart. When most countries have six degrees of separation, Iceland has two. You can actually run intoBjörk at the local swimming pool, and meet the president while buying ice cream at 10 p.m. on a cold winter night (yes, this is a thing). Chances are high that you went to elementary school with the Prime Minister. This is Iceland.

Then, on Apr. 3, the Panama Papers leak hit. Three members of the Icelandic cabinet were linked to offshore tax havens; the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Interior, along with around 600 other Icelanders whose names have not been publicized.

The following day, 22,000 people assembled outside of Parliament to protest. Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned, though he declined to take responsibility for his actions. Later Gunnlaugsson actually retracted his resignation, saying he was only stepping aside temporarily, before ending up handing the job to his second in command. The other two members of the cabinet mentioned in the Panama Papers remain in office. The ruling parties have announced that there will be an election this fall, but people want more.

People are angry and justly so, but out of great difficulties arise great opportunities to stimulate creativity. Fjola Dogg Sverrisdottir, managing director of Cycle Music and Art Festival, thinks this experience will become a part of the country's artistic and emotional reservoir. "I don't foresee people writing songs directly about these events, although this could become a rather exciting opera," Sverrisdottir adds. 

People are demanding that Iceland's politicians tell the truth. It can also evoke patriotism. Hilmar Orn Agnarsson, choir conductor and former punk rocker in Icelandic new wave band Theyr, tells Billboard that choirs all over the country are, following the Papers' publication, weaving patriotic songs into their concerts. "The nation is undergoing a cleanse, and in that cleanse the voice of music is the strongest influence," Agnarsson adds.

Sigtryggur Baldursson, the managing director of Icelandic Music Export (UTON) and the former drummer of Bjork's former band The Sugarcubes, agrees, adding that events such as these serve as fuel for the grassroots. They create material for songwriting and encourage artistic expression.  Baldursson is now working on a song with renowned Icelandic jazz musicians Tomas R. that goes by the title "The Forgetful Crane," in reference to Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who claimed he couldn't remember the location of his offshore account. Solo act Hemullinn has performed a song called "Sigmundur David, Where is Your Money?" at one of the protests last week. 

During a musical performance from Improv Iceland earlier this week, the protests became an inspiration when the room suggested it as a topic. The performers staged a one-time-only improvised musical highlighting the ridiculousness of these events and the lack of humility many of the country's politicians have shown.

Overcoming One's Own Prejudices

(Originally published in Markadurinn in Icelandic on November 4th, 2015)

As of November 2nd 2015, women in Europe work without pay until the end of this year, or for the next 59 days if the 16.3% pay gap in Europe is taken into account. Women in Spain started working for free twelve days ago and women in Iceland will begin on November 20th (the dates vary depending on which part of a report on the gender pay gap we look). The European Commission drew attention to this issue on the European Equal Pay Day 2015 on November 2nd.

It's been 100 years since women in Iceland received the right to vote. It is simply incomprehensible that we're still battling a systematic gap in pay based on gender, no matter which number we look at. Every number above zero is too high. UN Women and others have pointed out that if we continue at our present speed it will take another 70 years to close the gender gap. This has been cited on numerous conferences on gender equality, both in Iceland and abroad.

I think it's great to organise conferences and other events to raise awareness of systematic inequality. But I must admit that I'm getting very tired of this all talk and no action. It's not enough to meet up and talk about the latest statistics and wait for government to take action. What can we as individuals do?

Equality is a human right, and a social and economic issue. Gender inequality is in violation of democracy and morality. It's clearly stated in the 65th article of the Constitution of the Democracy of Iceland. When we discriminate based on gender we are violating the constitutional rights of our fellow citizens.

Facing our own gender biases, no matter what gender you identify with is one of the most important steps towards equality. Judging women based on their appearance first and their accomplishments second is a very common manifestation of gender biases. So is excluding men from gender equality discussions. In order to eliminate systematic biases and discrimination we need to first eliminate our personal biases. We need to start an open and honest conversation about our own biases and enter that discussion without judgement. Even though we may think we are without biases or prejudices, isn't there always room for improvement?

 

 

Að vinna bug á eigin fordómum

(Birtist fyrst í Markaðnum þann 4. nóvember 2015)

Frá og með mánudeginum, 2. nóv­ember, vinna konur í Evrópu launalaust til áramóta, eða næstu 59 dagana ef tekið er tillit til 16,3% launamunar kynjanna í álfunni. Á Spáni byrjuðu konur að vinna launalaust fyrir tólf dögum og á Íslandi hefst launalausa tímabilið þann 20. nóvember, eftir því hvaða hluta skýrslu um launamun kynjanna horft er til. 

Framkvæmdastjórn Evrópusambandsins vakti athygli á þessu á Evrópska jafnlaunadeginum 2015, sem haldinn var í gær.

Nú eru liðin 100 ár síðan konur fengu kosningarétt. Það er óskiljanlegt að við séum enn þá að berjast við kerfisbundinn launamun, sama á hvaða tölu er horft. Allar tölur yfir núlli eru of háar. UN Women og fleiri benda í því samhengi á að ef fram heldur sem horfir þá muni það taka okkur 70 ár að ná fullu jafnrétti kynjanna. Þetta hefur margoft komið fram á jafnréttisráðstefnum hér á landi og erlendis.

Það er frábært að halda ráðstefnur til að vekja athygli á kerfisbundnu misrétti. En ég verð að viðurkenna að ég er orðin þreytt á þessu endalausa tali og mig er farið að þyrsta í aðgerðir. Það er ekki nóg að hittast til að ræða nýjustu tölfræðina og bíða eftir því að stjórnvöld taki í taumana. Hvað getum við sem einstaklingar gert?

Jafnrétti er sameiginlegt mannréttinda-, samfélags- og efnahagsmál. Kynjamisrétti er aðför að lýðræðinu. Það kemur skýrt fram í 65. gr. stjórnarskrár okkar. Þegar við mismunum á grundvelli kynferðis brjótum við gegn stjórnarskrárvörðum réttindum samborgara okkar.

Að horfast í augu við eigin kynjafordóma, sama hvaða kyn þú upplifir þig eða gagnvart hvaða kyni þeir birtast, tel ég vera eitt mikilvægasta skrefið í átt að jafnrétti. Að dæma konur fyrst út frá útliti og síðan út frá afrekum er algeng birtingarmynd fordóma. Að útiloka karlmenn frá jafnréttisumræðu er önnur. Til að útrýma kerfisbundnu misrétti þurfum við að útrýma persónubundnum fordómum. Við þurfum að hefja opinskátt og hreinskiptið samtal um eigin fordóma og mæta hvert öðru án dómhörku. Jafnvel þó við upplifum okkur fordómalaus, getum við þá ekki alltaf gert betur?

 

The Future of Crowdfunding

(Originally posted on Nordic Startup Bits on October 9th, 2015)

Invesdor-Bull.jpg

Crowdfunding as a fundraising method has had tremendous momentum in recent years, with multiple platforms competing for the multi-billion dollar pie.   What does the future hold?

Crowdfunding as alternative finance has been on the rise for the past few years, with around €710 thousand being raised in 2010, €14.4 billlion in 2014, and an estimated€83 billion in 2025, according to the The European Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report for 2015. In a recent report, Massolution predicts that crowdfunding will surpass venture capital in terms of funding as early as 2016.

Which brings us to the Nordics, where crowdfunding has been growing at an average of 115% and a total of €254 million raised since 2012, according to The European Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report. The region has close to 20 crowdfunding platforms, five of which are members of the Nordic Crowdfunding Alliance (NCA), which hosted a conference in Reykjavik last month. The Future of Crowdfunding featured presentations by experts in different fields of crowdfunding, with a special emphasis on the Nordic region.

Cold hard statistics show strong success rates
Statistics were in the forefront of most of the talks, including speakers from NCA, Cambridge, and Finnish crowdfunding platform Invesdor, to name but few. So let’s get down to some of stats. To date, EUR 9.6 million have been raised by NCA members, thereof EUR 7 million in equity based crowdfunding and the rest in reward based crowdfunding. The partners of NCA are Boomerang (DK), Bidra.no (NO), Karolina Fund(IS), Mesenaatti (FI), and Invesdor (FI). Karolina Fund has surpassed Indiegogo and Kickstarter combined in terms of  sums in the Icelandic context, with 150 successfully funded campaigns from 2012 to July 2015 and a 70.9% success rate while the other members of NCA are around the 35-42% mark. Note however that equity and bond based platform Invesdor has a 78% success rate in 2015.

The fundamentals of crowdfunding came from crowdsourcing, i.e. the ability to tap into people’s resources and create a bridge over to the sharing economy. For startups, crowdfunding is an alternative way to access early seed funding, customer acquisition, and validation, and entrepreneurship, which accounts for €6 billion in funds raised via crowdfunding in 2014, according to Dr. Rotem Shneor of NCA and University of Agder, Norway. Successful Nordic examples include Sweden-based Earin, which raised €1.4 million for producing the world’s smallest earbuds, Norway based Red Thread Games, raising €1.3 million for developing a sequel to their Longest Journey game series, and Sweden based Laser Unicorns raised €560 thousand for producing a film titled Kung Fury, coined as 2015’s best 80’s film (and starring David Hasselhoff!).

Future Trends
Shneor predicted a rise in equity crowdfunding and niche platforms with increased competition and consolidation across platforms. Today around 55-80% of projects are rejected by the platform, but the predicted increase in competition for the crowd’s attention and support, Shneor said, would in turn increase professionalism of campaign management. Shneor also mentioned a need for regulation and predicted amendments and adaptations across countries to better fit a crowdfunding reality with an increased focus on educating stakeholders in the market. Tania Ziegler, Research Associate atCambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, pointed out that equity based crowdfunding has been growing at an average of +410% from €38 million  in 2013 to €113 million in 2014, compared to an average growth rate of 127% for reward based crowdfunding in Europe (excluding the UK). With projects like Oculus, which raised €2 million on Kickstarter and was later sold for €1.8 billion, crowdfunding for equity will provide some interesting investment opportunities for non-accredited investors wanting to support projects they’re interested in while hopefully getting a good return on investment.

Invesdor & Equity Based Crowdfunding
Helsinki based Invesdor is a crowdfunding platform focusing on equity-based and crowdbond based funding. According to their website, equity based crowdfunding is typically offered by early stage and growth companies, while crowdbonds are more suitable for more established companies. Invesdor currently hasm a 46% market share in the Nordics, with over €8 million raised in 41 successful rounds to date. Earlier this year, Invesdor became the first crowdfunding platform to be granted a MiFID licence by Finnish authorities, with the intent of offering debt and equity crowdfunding services across all 31 EEA countries.

Regulation brings trust. The licence has definitely helped us in our home market, and we are confident that we can also build our international competitive advantage in balance with sustainable compliance. Compliance shouldn’t hinder innovation, and we believe we have the know-how to make it work
— said Lasse Mäkelä, CEO and co-founder of Invesdor in an interview with CrowdfundInsider.

The Gender Bias
Crowdfunding does have its challenges, and gender bias is a big one. According to Ziegler, lenders on crowdfunding platforms are predominantly men aged 55 and older, while women tend to back reward and donation based projects. Although two-thirds of women-led projects reach their funding goals on Kickstarter, compared to a little less than one-third of male-led ventures and women being 13% more likely to meet their goals (according to Crowdfundinsider 2014), women generally ask for less money on crowdfunding platforms, and only 22% of investment funds that come from men are directed to women-led projects, according to Vision Launch. So although alternative finance and crowdfunding seems to be narrowing the gender bias when it comes to funding female led projects, it’s looks as if they are finding this success because they are being backed by other women.

Babou Olengha-Aaby, Founder and CEO of The Next Billion, a crowdfunding platform for female led projects says that there are several factors at play in the respect.

I don’t believe that female solidarity is the main reason why women are choosing to back other women through Crowdfunding,
— Olengha-Aaby says.

Olengha-Aaaby goes on to explain that women hold 70% of the world’s global consumer spending power, representing $20 trillion in real terms and make the majority of household purchasing decision from electronics to kids clothing.  

Is it therefore such a surprise that women are fairing much better at raising capital through rewards-based crowdfunding vs. equity crowdfunding? Especially when the very model on which rewards-based crowdfunding is built on is in fact based on the pre-sale of product and services. But beyond buying power, there is also the target audience factor. Many of the products and services presented via female-led crowdfunding campaigns have for women as a target audience. Women are therefore more likely than men to identify with the need for such products because of their own personal experiences. One could even argue that female funders on crowdfunding platforms are making ‘investment’ choices in the same way that VC’s have done. They are investing in what they know,
— Olengha-Aaby adds.

But what does Olengha-Aaaby predict when it comes to equity crowdfunding for female-led projects?

It remains to be seen whether the stronghold that women are enjoying in rewards-based platforms will translate to equity-based crowdfunding. As it stands today, the un/conscious gender bias present in private equity seems to also be reflected online with fewer women led-equity crowdfunding campaigns enjoying the same level of success experienced by their counterparts on rewards-based platforms. This is arguably because, the pool of investors on equity crowdfunding platforms remains majority male-focused. Restrictions imposed by Financial regulators worldwide on who can invest via equity-crowdfunding platforms do not serve in furthering women’s success rate on such platforms either. Equity crowdfunding – in many parts of the world – still largely remains a privilege enjoyed by accredited and sophisticated investors only – the majority of which are once again male,
— says Olengha-Aaby.

Olengha-Aaby is hopeful that may start to see the scale tip equally in women’s favour both online and offline with more gender-lens VC firms and Female Angels Networks emerging, inspired by pioneers such as Broadway Angels, Pipeline Fellowship, Golden Seeds, 37 Angels and most recently Female Founders in the US.