The government of Singapore has decided to provide monetary assistance to parents looking to have a baby, in an endeavour to ease their financial burden amid job layoffs and wage cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have received feedback that Covid-19 has caused some aspiring parents to postpone their parenthood plans,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in parliament on Monday. “To help with expenses during this period, we will introduce a oneoff additional support for newborns.” He, however, said that the details of support would be announced later.
Any additional support will come on top of the government’s baby bonus, which is meant to encourage Singaporeans to have more children and which provides eligible parents up to S$10,000 ($7,330) in benefits. The island nation is facing its worst-ever economic crisis because of the pandemic and job and wage cuts could further hurt its fertility rate, already one of the lowest in the world.
Singapore’s fertility rate touched an eight-year low in 2018, government data show, and the rate of 1.14 (or 1.14 births per woman) remained unchanged last year.
Neighboring Philippines has the opposite problem. There, unintended pregnancies are forecast to spike by almost half to 2.6 million if Covid-induced movement restrictions remain until year-end, the United Nations Population Fund said last month.
With agency inputs
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Tourism has a value beyond lifestyle and economic factors
Going on a holiday can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being, according to a new study. A new cross-disciplinary paper from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has proposed a change in the way we view tourism, seeing it not just as a recreational experience, but also as an industry that can provide real health benefits.
The collaboration between ECU’s Centre for Precision Health and the School of Business and Law found many aspects of going on holiday could have a positive impact on those with mental health issues or conditions.
Lead researcher Dr. Jun Wen said the diverse team of tourism, public health and marketing experts investigated how tourism could benefit those living with dementia.
“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation, and adaptations to a patient’s mealtimes and environment,” Dr. Wen said, adding “These are all also often found on holidays.” This research is among the first to conceptually discuss how these tourism experiences could potentially work as dementia interventions.”
HOLIDAY FUN OR TREATMENT?
Dr Wen said the varied nature of tourism meant there were many opportunities to incorporate treatments for conditions such as dementia.
For example, being in new environments and having new experiences could provide cognitive and sensory stimulation.
“Exercise has been linked to mental wellbeing and travelling often involves enhanced physical activity, such as more walking. Mealtimes are often different on holidays: they’re usually more social affairs with multiple people, and family-style meals have been found to positively influence dementia patients’ eating behavior and then there’s the basics, like fresh air and sunshine, increasing vitamin D and serotonin levels,” he said.
“Everything that comes together to represent a holistic tourism experience, makes it easy to see how patients with dementia may benefit from tourism as an intervention,” he further expressed.
A SHIFT IN THINKING
Covid-19’s impact on travel in recent years has raised questions about tourism’s value beyond lifestyle and economic factors.
“Tourism has been found to boost physical and psychological well being, so, after Covid-19, it’s a good time to identify tourism’s place in public health and not just for healthy tourists, but vulnerable groups,” he said.
He hoped a new line of collaborative research could begin to examine how tourism can enhance the lives of people with various conditions and expressed, “We’re trying to do something new in bridging tourism and health science,” he said, adding, “There will have to be more empirical research and evidence to see if tourism can become one of the medical interventions for different diseases like dementia or depression; so, tourism is not just about travelling and having fun; we need to rethink the role tourism plays in modern society.”
‘OVERNIGHT SUCCESSES’ CANNOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO PROVIDENCE
Everybody wants to hop onto a bandwagon that is taking off, yet few of us are prepared for the toil that paves the way for it.
“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen,” goes a quote attributed to Lenin. For Eric Yuan and the team at Zoom, those weeks were in March and April 2020. That was when the world was reeling under the twin impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns; and voila, Zoom was the savior. From work meetings to birthday parties, everything started happening online. Usage of Zoom ‘zoomed’ thirty-fold in just four months, surpassing three hundred million daily participants. The company’s market capitalization smashed past the hundred-billion-dollar mark, rising eightfold over the ten months to October 2020.
‘Overnight successes’ are not confined to the world of business. In 1976, an unknown, out-of-work actor named Sylvester Stallone approached a movie studio with a script. The studio offered him over three hundred thousand dollars, but he opted to take a much lower sum if they agreed to his demand to play the lead role. The studio finally relented, and the rest is history. The movie, ‘Rocky’, smashed box-office records, was nominated for ten Oscars, and spawned multiple sequels. It left behind an enduring legacy based on its theme of the power of the human will.
One might be tempted to attribute such successes to providence. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. As entertainer Eddie Cantor said, “It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” Many processes in life follow the pattern of the Chinese bamboo tree, a seed that needs to be watered and cared for over four full years before it even begins to sprout. Yet, in the fifth year, it suddenly shoots up, growing over fifty feet in just a few weeks. Plodding over those dreary four years lays the foundation for what follows.
Before 2020, the team at Zoom had spent nine years obsessing over the customer experience, product architecture and technical standards, with the founder Eric personally responding to customer complaints. Eric’s own story is testament to his persistence, of how he found his feet in the US after eight visa rejections and despite his patchy English.
Sylvester Stallone’s story is no different. To realize his Hollywood dreams, he went through many rough years, with only two pairs of clothes, sleeping in a bus station, and even having to sell his dog. To quote him, “Life is an opponent that never stops punching, so you better never stop punching back.”
In the world of business today, it has become commonplace to talk about the ‘hockey-stick’ curve, an initial period of learning followed by supposedly meteoric growth. Yet, few founders and investors have the patience to last it through the initial curve of the ‘hockey stick’. This is where setbacks happen, mistakes are made, business models come apart, and often, startups flounder and die. Eventually, this trial by fire culminates in a better product and a wiser management team. Everybody wants to hop on to a bandwagon that is taking off, yet few of us are prepared for the toil that paves the way for it.
I have also seen this dynamic in the stock markets. Whenever we hear of someone making a ‘multi-bagger’ return on a stock, it is tempting to attribute it either to luck or to spotting an attractive company early. Yet, neither of these explanations conveys the full story. The real secret of bagging a multi-bagger is often in being able to retain conviction and hold it through periods of gut-churning volatility, when the stock might be down over 50%.
This pattern is mirrored in the world of books too. Writing my first book, KaalKoot, took many years. This was a period where I had to keep at it without any external validation, and with pangs of self-doubt gnawing away at my mind. After the success of KaalKoot, writing my second book was much faster and easier. Yet, it was those difficult early years that laid the foundation for what followed.
The US Airways pilot ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who saved hundreds of lives in January 2009 by successfully landing the plane over the Hudson river after an engine failure, garnered widespread applause for his presence of mind during those critical moments. Yet, to quote him, the secret lay elsewhere. “For 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
That, then, is the secret of becoming an ‘overnight success’, i.e making regular deposits in the bank of experience, being consistent with it, and persisting despite obstacles.
S. Venkatesh is the author of AgniBaan and KaalKoot, a leadership coach and an investor who has held key positions with JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Macquarie. He writes about mindfulness and its link to creativity, business and wealth.
CLOUD-BASED TECHNOLOGY TRANSFORMING BUSINESSES
Several fintech businesses have outmanoeuvred their rivals by embracing the SaaS model.
The groundbreaking SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) idea has the potential to disrupt many industries, including banking. SaaS, being a cloud-based technology, may assist both fintech startups and banks, particularly in satisfying regulatory requirements and providing security to their consumers. Without a doubt, SaaS is gaining popularity among financial services organizations due to its promises of more business flexibility, faster deployment, and support for an open ecosystem.
Symbiotic relationship between SaaS platforms and Fintech growth
The Fintech approach, which makes use of the resourceful SaaS foundation, allows businesses to access and utilise cloud-based applications rather than purchasing or building their own software. Financial firms may reap advantages such as end-to-end cost reductions, data security, scalability, and agility from the fintech industry. PwC, a well-known rating agency, predicts that more fintech businesses will utilise SaaS to address concerns generated by the post-Covid environment.
Understanding the significance of the SaaS model is not rocket science. According to Financesonline.com, the SaaS market capitalization will reach $623 billion by 2023. The use of the SaaS model in the fintech industry may foster innovation and creativity while also improving efficiency and profitability. Fintech companies can also save huge amounts of operational capital every year because of SaaS. This is not possible with the traditional model, in which companies hire experts.
SaaS solutions are extremely scalable, allowing a financial institution to digitally alter its operations while boosting security and enhancing compliance. It is also feasible to minimise physical footprints and increase efficiency via automation. By embracing the SaaS model for online transactions, several fintech businesses have outmanoeuvred their rivals and the banking and finance industry at large. FinTech lenders, for example, might accept business loan applications online, process them in minutes, and send the money to qualified customers a day or two later.
What makes SaaS a magic sauce for Fintech growth
SaaS platforms have shown the power of open platforms in the open-platform vs. patented technology argument over the last several decades. This has given SaaS a long-term viability and scalability that was previously unheard of, particularly in the financial services sector. For a fraction of the price, fintech companies have started bringing in the bulk of the capabilities that sophisticated legacy systems had inside mega banks.
There was a chance to develop an ecosystem with the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow banks to interact with these fintech partners, who could bring in novel processes and products at a relatively low cost and with relatively low usage of resources. It is also critical to incorporate outside innovation into an internal environment dominated by legacy technologies in financial organizations. The necessity to start small, to be nimble, and to expand with the market’s and customers’ ever-changing needs is obvious.
The maturation of SaaS models has aided the rise of APIs in the financial services sector, while laws such as the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) are driving banks to establish and promote open platforms. While API-based SaaS platforms have opened up a wide market and empowered the developer community, they have also contributed to the abolition of faceless goods that dominated conventional industries. It has also aided in the extraction of enormous value from data and innovative system integrations, which is now shared across a bigger and more powerful ecosystem.
The triple-edged efficiency of SaaS
Scalability, sustainability, and convenience are the three pillars furnished by SaaS to the Fintech ecosystem. The compulsions in the financial sector are being addressed by the three pillars of a SaaS delivery model. Scalability and the need to quickly add new products to existing systems, as well as a high level of data and platform security and the ability to better control costs, are all reasons why SaaS models are the delivery method of choice for banks around the world, both big and small. It is also the best strategy for working with banks, development communities, incubator programs, and data suppliers in the ever-expanding fintech ecosystem. All of this is wrapped up in a customer experience layer that is easy to use and lets business users, with only a little technical knowledge, launch products in a way that is good for business.
This transformation of SaaS-based delivery models into revenue-generating and customer-driven ones is beneficial to all parties involved. Some issues persist, but the overall contribution of proprietary and open businesses built on the SaaS cloud to the financial services sector has been spectacular. If the total cost of ownership data for the manufacturing sector is any indication, the collaborative delivery models that have recently been brought to the market will almost certainly have an almost immediate effect on banks’ total expenses.
Rahul Meena is the founder and CEO of Treflo.
Utricularia Furcellata: Rare plant species that feeds on insects
Since our childhood, we have grown up studying the ecology of plants and memorising the process of photosynthesis, which is a process by which plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to create oxygen. But, what if someone told you that there are certain types of plant species that feed on insects, mosquito larvae, and even young tadpoles?
Although the thought of plants feeding on insects sounds bizarre, it is true. The Uttarakhand Forest department has discovered a rare carnivorous plant species named Utricularia Furcellata in western Himalayan region of India.
The rare discovery, which has been published in The Journal of Japanese Botany, was made by a team of the Research Wing of the Uttarakhand forest department, consisting of Range officer Harish Negi and Junior Research Fellow (JRF) Manoj Singh in the Mandal valley in September 2021.
“This is the first such recording/sighting of this rare carnivorous plant not only in Uttarakhand but in the entire western Himalayan region of India. In fact, after 1986, this species could not be collected from any part of India,” said Sanjiv Chaturvedi, Chief Conservator of Forest (Research).
Mostly found in freshwater and wet soil, this rare species of plant belongs to a genus, commonly known as bladderwort. It uses one of the most sophisticated and developed plant structures for trap and targets protozoa, insects, mosquito larvae and even the young tadpoles.
At this point, you might be wondering how these plants manage to do that? Well, these plants do this by simply creating a vacuum or negative pressure area to draw prey inside the trap door.
Although this discovery has extended its range of distribution westward, the rare species face the threat of extinction due to heavy biotic pressure because of being at a tourist spot.
While carnivorous plants have caught the attention of the scientific community across the world, this was the first such comprehensive study in the state of Uttarakhand in India. The discovery was a part of a project on the study of insectivorous plants in Uttarakhand approved by the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) in 2019.
So far, the researchers have found around 20 plant species belonging to the genus Drosera, Utricularia and Pinguicula. Prior to this, the researchers were in search of a rare orchid species Liparis Pygmaean, which was reported in the French Journal Richardiana in September 2020.
The discovery of Utricularia Furcellata adds to the long list of rare plant species found in Indian forests, which are rich in flora and fauna.
Globally, carnivorous plants have been receiving increasing attention due to their distinct manner of arranging food and nutrition through the intelligent trap mechanisms. These rare plant species also have potential medicinal benefits, which is yet to be explored and shared with the world at large.
OBSESSION WITH ONLINE GAMES LEADS TO LOSS OF SELF-REGULATION
Children fail to think beyond the animated world and at times, it replaces reality for them, resulting in familial disharmony.
Parenting in the current era comes with its own challenges, and the pandemic has made it even tougher. “Staying online” became a necessity for the parents due to their work commitments and for children to enable them to pursue academic activities. However, what started as a necessity for kids did not take time to turn into a habit and in extreme cases, addiction. The thin line between use and misuse became quickly blurred giving birth to a new generation of computer-savvy, socially awkward and internet-addicted kids. The effect this is having on kids has long-term implications. It is taking a toll on kids’ social, mental, and physical well-being. Recently, there was news of a child being so obsessed with video games that to get his way, he shot his mother dead.
There was another case of a child who committed suicide because his mobile phone was taken away from him. Such extreme cases are but the tip of the iceberg! Many problems are very subtle and non-quantifiable. Being glued to the screen day in and day out reduces contact with society and when such kids are faced with people, they are overwhelmed and do not know how to react and respond. When they are with their gadgets, they are in their comfort zone. Due to the new-age parenting, children are not able to cope with the stress when they are out of this zone. Besides, these games are self-absorbing and also provide a lot of gratification in the form of levels and medals, so children keep going back to those again and again. It leads to an obsession with games and self-regulation is lost. Children fail to think beyond the animated world and at times it replaces reality for them resulting in familial disharmony.
The brain is actively developing and processing new information in the first five years of life. At this age, children require a lot of stimulation. This commonly happens when they hear others speaking, listen to stories and songs, engage in free play, imaginative play and have a multitude of sensorial experiences by playing outdoors. If these precious years are spent glued to the screen, brain development is hampered, and children start displaying adverse behaviours like irritability, hyperactivity and at times autistic personality. Prolonged screen time also reduces physical activity and facilitates unhealthy eating habits resulting in health problems like overweight. Childhood obesity is a new pandemic for the present generation largely contributed to lack of physical exercise and screen addiction. Childhood obesity is a forerunner of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes, polycystic ovarian disease, and dyslipidemia. In addition, excessive screen viewing results in eyestrain and weak eyesight. It also results in multiple nutrient deficiencies most commonly hypovitaminosis D.
So, what is the solution? There is no single answer for this. There is no magic bullet or a permanent solution. Children need to know their limitations and should learn self-regulation. Screen time should be restricted to 2 hours every day. Playing video games or watching TV should not be the only source of entertainment. They should be engaged in structured and unstructured physical activity daily. They should be encouraged to have friends and interact with them in person. The best way to ensure is by setting good precedence. Parents should restrict their own screen times and should not offer children TV or video games to get their own free time. Parents and children should avoid screen at least 1 hour before bedtime and recreational use of television in the bedroom.
One should be vigilant and identify early signs of screen addiction like loss of interest in other activities, thoughts pre-occupied with virtual subjects, displaying behaviours like lying to watch the screen and familial discordant. It is definitely a difficult task in the current time and age to keep a child away from the screen and requires a lot of determination from the parents, but it is not impossible and is the need of the hour.
Dr Vaidehi Dande is a child specialist and neonatologist at Symbiosis Hospital in Dadar.
For the love of the chair
Back in 1975, the ruling Congress under Indira Gandhi had organised mass protests outside the PM’s house. The so-called “spontaneous rallies” and “people’s rallies” were against a high court ruling, which restrained the PM’s right to vote or draw a salary as a Member of Parliament. The conditional stay had allowed Indira Gandhi to retain the prime minister’s post. Indira Gandhi’s misuse of power had put her in a spot when Allahabad HC accepted a petition filed by Raj Narain, which found her guilty of corrupt practices under Section 123(7) of the Representation of People’s Act during her Lok Sabha campaign in 1971 at Rae Bareli. The mass rallies in support of Indira Gandhi were a desperate attempt to cling to the chair when the moral authority and legal tenability of the government was fast slipping away. Gandhi was in no mood to exit gracefully. To insulate herself from the court verdict, she declared an Emergency on 25 June 1975 on the grounds of internal disturbances.
A similar situation is playing out in Maharashtra as CM Uddhav Thackeray desperately clings to power. In the evening of 20th June 2022 when the political observers, media and politicians in Maharashtra were focused on the Vidhan Parishad vote counting exercise, about 30-40 MLA’s in the assembly quietly made their way out of the state. The surprising BJP victory in the fifth MLC seat proved what the LoP Devendra Fadnavis was saying all along “that inherent ideological contradictions and dissatisfaction within the ranks of MVA will fuel our victory”.
When news about the 40 MLA’s who left the state in rebellion against the MVA government in Maharashtra broke the next morning, CM Uddhav Thackeray found himself in a similar situation to Mrs Gandhi in 1975. The Uddhav Thackeray government has lost moral authority as most of his MLAs have deserted him and the government can no longer claim a majority. Realising this, the CM left the official residence Varsha in order to claim the high moral ground and bring back the MLAs. After emotional appeals failed, he tried to convince, cajole and even threaten the MLAs. He attempted a show of strength on the streets and removed the security of MLAs’ family members. After every attempt failed, he is still clinging to power and repeats what Indira Gandhi did—organising protests in solidarity with him even though he clearly knows that numbers in the Vidhan Sabha don’t favour him.
A graceful exit and the forming of a “natural alliance” with the BJP is what his rebel MLAs have demanded. A “graceful exit” for CM Thackeray is exactly what the NCP under Sharad Pawar wants to prevent, even though the NCP is under no illusion about the future of this government. The NCP is egging the Shiv Sena Chief to fight this losing battle, prolong this humiliation, conduct floor test and face more ignominy. How else can Shiv Sena be thoroughly humiliated than fighting for a lost cause? For two and a half years, the NCP worked in tandem with the MVA government in denying their share of power to Shiv Sena MLAs. Today, the NCP under Sharad Pawar is working on its design to weaken the Shiv Sena further by making them fight a losing battle despite a lack of numbers.
If Indira Gandhi’s experience is any indication, Uddhav Thackeray will face the same fate as Indira Gandhi faced in the 1977 elections immediately post-emergency. The protests on the streets notwithstanding, the Indian electorate has consistently demonstrated a preference for democratic ideals. The excesses and desperation to cling to power of the emergency era had paved way for the first non-Congress government in India. A similar trend will be visible in Maharashtra post the 2019 elections.
In 2019, Shiv Sena had fought elections in alliance with BJP under the leadership of CM Devendra Fadnavis. Uddhav Thackeray abandoned the alliance after elections and formed an unnatural alliance with the NCP-INC combine, thereby insulting the voter’s mandate. The Shiv Sena rebel camp led by Eknath Shinde today is merely calling for the undoing of this insult to the people and a return to the Hindutva fold. If CM Thackeray continues to cling to his chair, the people of Maharashtra will punish his group heavily in every upcoming election, while the “original Shiv Sena” of Eknath Shinde adhering to Balasaheb’s ideals will be rewarded by the voters. The post-emergency era brought non-Congress parties into prominence and led to the eventual decline of Congress. The Love of the chair on the part of CM Thackeray will lead to the same results. CM Thackeray can either choose to respect the mandate of the people and their elected representatives or risk losing his party altogether.
The author is BJP spokesperson, advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, and executive director of Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation.
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