March 2, 2010

blog moved to

Filed under: food, life..., projects, psyche..., social economy 101, social finance — benmetz @ 2:06 pm

I’ve moved my blog over to my own hosting.  You can find me at  Everything should be working as before.  If not then please let me know.

If you RSS this blog you’ll have to update your feed to this link.

Thanks to Amanda at Red Button Design for keeping me on the straight and narrow during this process.


February 27, 2010

Ben Greeno at The Loft

Filed under: food — benmetz @ 6:32 pm

Earlier this week I attended The Loft which up until recently was Chef Nuno Mendes’ hybrid between private supper club and culinary laboratory.  Nuno has recently stepped out of the day to day running of The Loft, well technically the three nights a week running of it, to get new restaurant Viajante started in the old Bethnal Green town hall.  He handed the first guest appearance to chef Ben Greeno from Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant rated third in the world.

And what an enjoyable evening it was.  16 covers in a sparse open plan apartment and a decent sized but pretty much home kitted out kitchen was the venue for some inspired eating.  Cheese soup with raw mushroom and caramelised walnuts, duck hearts in a lettuce emulsion, beef onglet cooked to perfection.  But the cherry on top had to be the salmon confit.  Inspiring use of a sous vide (water bath) had a wedge of salmon cooked to perfection, melting in my mouth and the entire table stunned into silence.  The trick?  Vacuum pack the salmon along with a little rape seed oil (so that technically it’s a confit) and cook for 12 minutes at 42 degrees C.  I left the meal inspired to restart the supper club I kicked off back in 2007 and to, of course, go out and buy myself a sous vide !  Watch this space…

February 9, 2010

Videoblogging from Katoomba

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 9:02 pm

So I’m videoblogging from the Katoomba conference in Palo Alto.  Thanks to David Wilcox of Social Reporter for getting me up to speed with the techniques and lending me a camera.  If you are interested in following the conference from these videoblogs then you can check them out here.

February 8, 2010

Marine Conservation and Katoomba

Filed under: projects, social finance — benmetz @ 1:13 am

So I find myself back in San Francisco on my way down to Palo Alto for the first Katoomba conference focused on marine based Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).  The Katoomba Group, run by the organisation Forest Trends, is an international network promoting and improving capacity related to markets and payments for PES.  Katoomba is a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about ecosystem service transactions and markets, as well as site for collaboration between practitioners on PES programmes.

PES is a fascinating topic.  On the one hand it can be viewed as a fantastic market driven mechanism designed to realise financing for communities on the front line in the fight to preserve and improve their environments.  On the other hand it can be viewed as the systematic commodification and monetisation of something that cannot be quantified so, our environment!  I’m currently agnostic in this debate but my guess is that, over the next few days, I’ll be forming a range of opinions…  We shall see!

I’m attending Katoomba thanks to Forest Trends providing bed and board and a supporter of Blue Ventures contributing a bunch of his air miles.  The objective of this trip, other than to eat my way across the Bay area, is to identify and open dialogue with organisations working at the enterprise end of PES.  If I can find and start pulling together best practice in community based marine entrepreneurship that delivers significant ecosystem benefits, such as the mariculture initiatives of Blue Ventures I blogged about a while back then the jet lag and increased carbon footprint will be worth it.

January 26, 2010

Oxford Jam – spreading social enterprise more evenly…

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 12:42 am

I seem to have kicked off an event with life of its own.  Oxjam10 was an idea that came out of a dinner I convened last year at the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship.  85 people came together in an evening side event to meet, eat, inspire and be inspired.  It was lightly facilitated which gave maximum time for networking and learning from each other.  I was approached by numerous attendees who said the dinner was the best part of attending Skoll.  A few folk suggested upping the ante for 2010 – and this is what seems to be happening…

So here it is:

Oxjam10 will create a space for the nurturing of social economy and social finance projects the world over.  Running in parallel to the Skoll World Forum in Oxford in April 2010, OxJam10 is a human scale response to the opportunities for learning and development presented by the Forum. Time and time again, over the history of the Forum, attendees report the most valuable parts of the event are in the halls at Said Business School and the bars around the event. Oxjam10 extends and allows participants to shape this space before arrival. And it opens this space up to people previously unable to attend Skoll.

It’s being crowdfunded and content is being crowd sourced.  Indications are there is a lot of interest and some fantastic and inspiring individuals are lined up, in various guises, to be involved.

To find out more and to get involved check out the Oxjam10 blog.

To contribute to funding the event (it’s free entry on the day) go to our justgiving page here.

December 28, 2009

The social economy in the UK – for the Czech Republic…

Filed under: projects, social economy 101 — benmetz @ 7:15 pm

As Christmas fades from view and calorie intake returns to a more manageable level my thoughts turn to a short piece of work I’ve recently agreed to undertake – a study mapping the infrastructure of the social economy in the UK.  The work has been commissioned by Nova Ekonomika to assist their European funded work stimulating socially entrepreneurial activity in the Czech Republic.  So, over the next few weeks I will be researching and compiling a short report to provide them with:

  • An overview of the historical development of the UK government’s approach to the social economy,
  • A map of the main spheres of action in the social enterprise and entrepreneurship support sector in the UK, and
  • An analysis of successes and failures across government interventions to support the social economy.

I’m excited by the potential of being able to help shape such activity in the Czech Republic.  And I’m comforted by the fact that the subject matter is well known to me – from what I’ve done so far it feels more like meeting old friends than the archeological dig that such a piece of work might be.

Plus – we’ve agreed the entire work will be published on a Creative Commons license – and so will be free for all to use.

I’d welcome contributions and offers to review any of this work as it develops.  If this is of interest to you then please do get in touch.

December 2, 2009

Sea Cucumber Ranching and all things fish…

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 6:14 pm

So I’m back from Mexico and getting back up to speed with “normal” life, which seems to comprise short days, cycling around a damp, dark London and drinking fine real ale!  And with this my focus is turning to marine entrepreneurship (what else?!) and how to get support and new financing to fantastic marine conservation organisations such as Blue Ventures.

To this end I’m diving in, literally, and helping them raise finance and develop a number of their existing mariculture initiatives.  And I’m planning to head out there for much of the rest of the winter, coming back with a head, and a belly, full of fish and fishy ideas to finance and support marine conservation activities in developing countries…

The following gives an overview of what it is I’m hoping I can develop – essentially to create a new asset class: marine entrepreneurship!  Thanks and kudos to Al Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, who allowed me to blatantly plagiarise and adapt some of the words below.

Marine conservation – what’s the problem?

Over-exploitation, combined with the effects of climate change and sedimentation from deforestation, is degrading coastal ecosystems throughout the tropics. Reefs are no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, forcing fishers into more and more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits.

This increased fishing pressure degrades the ecosystem and a self-reinforcing negative feedback is created that pushes communities deeper into poverty. This further erodes the human and natural resources prerequisite to rational resource use. Throughout southwest Madagascar where Blue Ventures works, and indeed many other coastal regions of the world, indigenous coastal communities are caught in this downward spiral of destructive behaviour.

Until now the preservation of marine ecosystems has focussed on the prohibition of activity through the creation of ‘fortress conversation’ strategies.  These solutions imposed from on high on indigenous communities often involve the complete, or near complete, cessation of marine activity essential to the cultural identity, subsistence activity and income generation of many thousands of coastal communities.  These communities face an impossible choice: – comply with these dictats and lose their main source of subsistence livelihood, income and cultural identify or disregard them and continue to fish for individual gain while the marine ecosystem, often their sole resource, collapses.

So, what’s the solution?

Ashoka Fellow Al Harris established Blue Ventures to provide an alternative.  Started in 2004, to date Blue Ventures has used eco-tourists to gather marine data which is then “animated” into the local community so they understand the complexity and challenges of managing a marine environment, where previously they had no understanding.  In more than 75 villages so far this increased awareness of their immediate environment has caused the community to develop, design manage and then police Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which protect the environment at the same time as protecting and improving their subsistence and income generating activity.  Globally these are the very first community led MPA’s in existence.

The challenge now facing Blue Ventures is to develop a way that allows this approach to replicate across the estimated 250,000 coastal communities globally that are facing similar challenges to the communities in Madagascar.  Clearly, deriving project finance from eco-tourism will not provide the income required to develop this solution to the scale of the problem globally.  Working with Al we arrived at an initial estimation of the five-year Net Present Value of his current work (across 25 villages) at around €10 million. Should the economic case be proven for this community led approach to managing marine ecosystems a new paradigm in coastal management will have been borne, one that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of communities and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems across the world.

It is with this new approach to the financing of marine conservation in mind that I am diving in to the world of marine entrepreneurship and to a potential winter trip to Madagascar…!

November 17, 2009

Climbing Volcano Iztaccíhuatl

Filed under: life... — benmetz @ 11:19 pm

I’ve not been blogging recently.  You might be aware that I’ve spent the month in Mexico, a combination of holiday, some pro bono work for a couple of social entrepreneurs, an unexpected foray into the country’s social finance arena and the climbing of Volcano Iztaccíhuatl with a group of blind and partially sighted folk from Mexico and the United States.  I’m coming to the end of the trip, am back in Mexico City and finally am finding time to document what was a profound and remarkable adventure!

Ojos Que Sienten (trans. Eyes That Feel) is an organisation founded and led by Ashoka Fellow Gina Badenoch.  OQS works equally to empower blind and partially sighted people and to sensitise sighted and able bodied people to the skills and potential of people society considers to be disabled.  For the last year or so Gina and her team have been working to bring a group of blind and sighted folk to the top of Iztaccíhuatl, a +5,000 metre high volcano about two hours outside of Mexico City.  The team made it to the summit on Wednesday 11th November after a four-day adventure.  The event proved to be a profoundly moving and life-changing experience for many of the participants.  Thrown into the mix was a dinner in the dark for 150 people, a series of fantastic workshops, a number of presentations to universities and corporate sponsors and a book launch….  All in a days work for the OQS team!

The climb was led by Erik Weihenmayer, a blind climber who summited Mount Everest in 2001 and who has climbed the highest peak on every continent.  Erik proved to be a source of great inspiration for the climbers, sighted and blind, for the organising team, for the tens of media teams who interviewed him and for the hundreds of people who attended the various events OQS organised and for whom I seemed to become production assistant for.  For me the inspiration provided by Erik wasn’t limited to climbing alongside him.  Erik can eat anything at any time of the day or night, has the ability to back to back interview from dawn until way into the night, manages to retain an optimism and humour regardless of inane questioning and has pioneered the concept of positive pessimism (more on this in later blog posts).

Volcano Iztaccíhuatl

Day one – Acclimatisation to the new altitude, meeting the team and the first sensitisation workshop.  Prior to Erik’s arrival climbers and support staff met in Amecameca, a nearby town at 2,800 metres to get to know each other, begin to get our lungs used to the altitude and learn a little about what it’s like to be blind and what unique abilities this makes for.  The ‘lightbulb’ moment for me on this trip was the moment I put on a blindfold and was led around to explore a small garden by Steve, a 24-year-old US army veteran who lost both his eyes 17 months ago in Iraq.  Steve led us off at a blinding pace (pun intended!), scaring the living daylights out of us.  His sense of place in the world, confidence in movement, understanding of sound-scapes and positive go-get-‘em attitude immediately placed him as capable and those of us blindfolded as incapable.  Disability and ability – in concept and practice – evaporated in seconds.  Profound and hugely important is the only way to describe this workshop.

Steve and me at some point of the climb…

Day two – Acclimatisation walk.  Sleeping at 2,800 metres we wake early and head, by van, to base camp at 4,000 metres.  A four-hour walk up to 4,500 metres has me spinning, nauseous, gasping for breath and with a headache of monumental proportions.  I wonder if I’ll actually make it to the summit!  Guiding our blind colleagues makes for interesting learning.  Bear bells are used on ski poles to gauge direction.  Poles are used to tap out the location of rocks.  Words snatched between gasps of air are used, minimally, to highlight features and dangers.  Consequences to your left… Death fall to your right…  Rock step up…  Run the gauntlet!

Day three – Waking on the stone floor of the Televisa television relay station before dawn.  4,000 metres.  Mustering the team ready for the days climb to 4,700 metres and our campsite for the night.  My lungs seem to find more air but my head is still exploding.  Ibuprofen and Tynadol all round.  Diamox for those suffering the worst.  This, and exaggerated stories, are what real climbers seem to run on.  Our Mexican participants seem to be faring much better than the US folk.  Or the single brit…  I spend my time working with Steve and Eric (little Eric or little E rather than ‘big’ Erik W) a 16-year-old participant from Arkansas in the US, who has been blind since the age of ten.  Eric is nervous on his size 15 feet but committed and we make our way, thankfully slowly, up to what’s been termed advanced base camp.  On the last leg of the day we devise a new strategy.  One hand wound into the webbing of my backpack and one hand using a walking pole as a guiding cane.  We make phenomenally fast progress and I feel as if I am being driven by Eric up the last sections of the days exertions…  Once again society’s capable are left wanting.  I think Eric’s lungs match the size of his feet.  Inspirational words from Erik W over an awful meal of freeze dried vegetables and pasta (that tastes amazing at altitude – pretty much anything does!).  A sleepless night at minus five Celsius ceaselessly gasping for oxygen.

Day four – Waking at three thirty to begin the ascent.  The first hour: a 60-degree scramble up scree and loose rock.  Both Little E and Steve have doubts.  I would too but thankfully they are displaced by my focus on role as guide.  Stirring words and professional advice from Jeff Evans, pro-climber, doctor and long time friend of Big E, gets everyone moving and ensures I have my work cut out for the day with Steve and Little E.  Dawn breaks a couple of hours in and we get our first sight of Volcano Popocatépetl, the male partner and neighbour of Iztaccíhuatl, our target for the day.

The sun reveals our next challenge: two hours of climbing and scrambling over real rock faces.  The guides have set up lines and we start climbing for real.  Steve is challenged.  He lost 70% use of his left arm when he lost his sight.  We pick our way carefully, scarily (more for me than him).  We make it to the next pitstop and eagerly refuel.  The last section flattens out a little (45 instead of 50 and 60-degrees).  An hour to go. We are some way behind and hear the cheers of those making the summit.  A long 45 minutes later we too, are cheering…  28 of the 30 participants make it.  Some laugh, some cry, all agree how beautiful it is and how captivating the adventure has been.  But we are only half-way.  Now begins the descent…..

The team on the summit!

In retrospect and over a beer or two – the descent was slow and in some places dangerous for all.  I led Steve the whole way and saw how frustrated he became towards the end.  Aggravated by sheer exhaustion the mountain became an annoyance, no longer the friend it had been on the way up.  Despite this we agree to partner up for Mount Kilimanjaro in August 2010.  Steve’s on a mission and it’ll be an honour to be a small part of his next big adventure.

During this adventure I have been profoundly moved by each of the blind participants, commitment and capabilities.  I have found my own capabilities often turned on its head.  I have had my senses opened to a new level of experience.

My thanks to Gina and her team, to each of the participants and to those professional climbers and guides who kept watch while a bunch of crazy, inexperienced folk made it to the summit of Volcano Iztaccíhuatl!

And finally my thanks, on behalf of Ojos Que Sienten, to those of you who sponsored me.  At the time of writing my climb has raised almost £3,000 for OQS at a critical time as they begin expansion of activities across Mexico.

If you would like to donate to Ojos Que Sienten simply visit my JustGiving page.

October 21, 2009

Social Economy 101 – Egypt

Filed under: social economy 101 — benmetz @ 7:25 am

This is the shortest in this series of posts, and was the toughest to write.  Egypt is a challenge for me to find purchase on.  Plus the social economy is in such an early stage of development there’s not a lot to write about…  Still, it’s fascinating stuff once again and is contributing to a broader, global, view of social economy development that I’m developing.

The nascent social economy in Egypt

Historically the Egyptian state has been the provider of the overwhelming majority of public services and it was only in the 1980’s did the social economy start to emerge in any way.  This emergence was partly driven by a large influx of international donor funding (in excess of $2billion) during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

In the 1990’s smaller, more innovative, third sector organisations began to develop, in part fuelled by a reaction to what was perceived as funding led approaches of the larger and more institutionalised NGO’s.  Many of these younger organisations derived their inspiration from the increased globalisation of third sector thinking and activity.

The concept of social enterprise and the social economy has only emerged in the last three or four years, mainly as a direct result of the work of Ashoka, whose Middle East / Arab World activity runs out of Cairo.  As a result it would appear that most notable social entrepreneurs in Egypt are Ashoka Fellows.  Ashoka’s work has been instrumental in an increased level of innovation across the third sector in human rights, education and linkages to the business sector as well as the emergence of environmental activity as a new strand of third sector activity in Egypt.

In the words of one interviewee “the social economy is in kindergarten in Egypt, we have a very long way to travel”.

Infrastructure and support for the social economy in Egypt is nascent, comprising in the main a small number of indigenous players with very limited capacity and an even smaller number of international development foundations and support providers who have extended their activity to include either Egypt, North Africa or the Middle East.

October 14, 2009

pinchito tapas

Filed under: food — benmetz @ 7:36 am

a welcome addition to eating in london is pinchito tapas just south of old street.  authentic and funky, pinchito does classic spanish tapas with ease and informality.  pimientos de padron, chorizo stewed in cider and a fantastic fillet steak, cooked rare, were highlights…  only lowlight is this darn hangover – picked up thanks to knocking back soberano, that sweet ridiculously drinkable and horribly rough spanish brandy!  oh gosh – never again, until next time!


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