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AZERBAIJAN BOOSTS CARPET MAKING, BUT AT WHAT COST?

The Azeri Times

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Originally published by Eurasianet

Azerbaijan has a long history of carpet making, with generations of artisans – mostly women – passing on their skills one to another.

But the tradition is on the decline today.

“Machines distort the designs, regional traditions are getting lost, they have started using chemicals and synthetic materials,” said Fatima Aghamirzayeva, a carpet maker and scholar of Azerbaijani weaving. “Because of all this, Azerbaijani carpets have lost their reputation.”

That is in spite of substantial government intervention to boost the industry. Baku lobbied successfully for UNESCO to name the Azerbaijani carpet to its “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2010, and built a flashy new museum devoted to carpets on Baku’s waterfront.

The government also has tried to encourage carpet making as part of its broader strategy of diversifying the economy away from reliance on oil and gas.

In 2016, Baku launched a state-owned enterprise, Azərxalça, which manages all aspects of the carpet industry including production, exports, and research and development into new weaving technology.

By the end of 2019, the company expects to launch 30 carpet factories around the country; in the first quarter of 2018 alone the state allocated 14 million manats (about $8.3 million) to construct seven facilities.

“Carpet making, as an export product, will strengthen our country’s economy,” Aliyev said during the opening ceremony of an Azərxalça factory in the northern city of Guba in December. “We should try and we are trying to increase non-oil exports. That means in particular the development of industry, agriculture, and carpet making as well.”

Some, however, have questioned the economic logic of the state support. Azərxalça appears to be operating in the red, according to the company’s financial reports. In 2017, it lost 566,253 manats, five times more than a year before.

“This is the result when the state intervenes in the economy,” said Nazim Mammadov, an economist and former MP from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party. “It’s good to adopt a program on carpet making. But in order to stimulate the sector it would be better to create conditions for businesspeople and provide targeted loans.”

There are also concerns about the damage done to Azerbaijan’s carpet reputation.

Aliyev connected Azərxalça’s work to Azerbaijan’s heritage. “Carpet weaving is our national treasure. You are preserving this wealth, you’re developing the art,” he told the gathered factory workers, most of them women. “We also are helping to keep this art eternal and for it to be passed on from generation to generation.”

But others argue the state-run industrialization of carpet making is in fact damaging the ancient art.

“Industrial carpets use fake knots, they are flimsy,” Aghamirzayeva said. “Working with machines is much faster – a robot weaves a carpet in a month, and a person does it in six months. The yarn we use on one carpet can make three industrial carpets,” she said. “And later, when the machine-made carpets are presented as hand-made in the market, sellers of real handmade carpets are hurt.”

Aghamirzayeva added that working conditions in a factory are inherently less healthy than the traditional way of making carpets at home. “An artist should stop when she wants to; walk, sit down, and take a break when she does not want to sew,” she said. “Otherwise, after three or four carpets people will get sick. The artist must be healthy – this is how masterpieces are created.”

Aghamirzayeva, 63, was born and still lives in Guba, one of Azerbaijan’s carpet centers. She founded the Aygun Carpet Factory in 1989, and calls herself the first female entrepreneur in Azerbaijan. Her artisans choose their own schedules and use only natural dyes made on-site. She also follows old rules of what kind of wool to use – like only using wool from live sheep, and not using the outer layers of wool that have been exposed to the sun.

Her parents were both carpet weavers and she estimates that she has taught 5,000 women over her career.

In 2017, Aghamirzayeva spearheaded the establishment of a new, local government-run carpet-making facility in the village of Alpan, in the Guba region, with aid from the United States Agency for International Development. She said she expects to employ about 60 women once the small factory is at full capacity.

“Why doesn’t the government build small workshops in villages, so people don’t have to leave and go to cities?” she asked. “Why were all the [Azərxalça factories] built in the center or on highways? They did not build it for carpets – carpets don’t need big buildings, they just need a nice warm attitude.

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Fintech start-up TransferWise reports second year of profit, revenue almost doubles

The Azeri Times

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Fintech start-up TransferWise reports second year of profit, revenue almost doubles
Kristo Kaarmann, Co-Founder & CEO, TransferWise, on Centre Stage during day one of MoneyConf 2018 at the RDS Arena in Dublin. (Photo By Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

TransferWise, one of Europe’s largest financial technology (fintech) start-ups, said Monday it was profitable for the second year in a row.

 

The London-headquartered money transfer firm reported an annual post-tax net profit of £6.2 million ($8 million) for the fiscal year ending March 2018.

Annual revenue nearly doubled to £117 million during the period, from £66 million the previous year, TransferWise said. Operating profit came in at £9.5 million following a loss of £519,000 last year.

The company’s accounts entered into the black for the first time in March 2017, six years after the firm was founded by Estonian entrepreneurs Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarman.

“We’ve proven that fintech can offer consumers an unbelievable experience at a low price, all whilst creating a solid business that can be trusted long-term,” Kaarman, TransferWise’s chief executive, said in a statement Monday.

“Looking forward, sustained growth and our healthy financial position means we can continue to drive down costs whilst investing in developing our product.”

TransferWise is counted among Europe’s “unicorn” start-ups — firms valued at $1 billion or more — with a reported valuation of $1.6 billion.

It has raised a total of $397 million since it was founded in 2011. Backers include asset management giant Old Mutual, Silicon Valley venture capital firms Institutional Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and British billionaire Richard Branson.

The firm says that £3 billion worth of transactions are moved around each month on the TransferWise app by its more than 4 million users.

The company makes money through fees charged on international transfers, which it boasts are up to eight times lower than those charged by banks.

Last year, it introduced its traveler-friendly borderless account to European customers, which lets users hold over 40 currencies and switch between currencies instantly. TransferWise plans to roll out the product to U.S. users later this year.

And in July, TransferWise tied up with French bank Groupe BPCE, in its first major bank partnership, to provide the lender’s customers access to its money transfer service. It has also struck deals with rival fintech firms Monzo and N26.

Monday’s earnings news could signal a changing landscape for fintech firms like TransferWise when it comes to profitability. Many start-ups in the sector have struggled to break even due to the cost of investing in their products and scaling their business while offering cheaper services than large banks.

Rival currency exchange and banking app Revolut for instance said earlier this year that it had broken even for the first time in December 2017. Meanwhile, another competitor, WorldRemit, expects to turn a profit by 2019.

The money transfer industry is a competitive one, with established giants like Western Union and MoneyGram, both of which have been investing heavily in the digital segments of their businesses.

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Business

Moonves speaks after CBS shakeup, says he’s ‘deeply saddened’

The Azeri Times

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Moonves speaks after CBS shakeup, says he’s ‘deeply saddened’

The two words that keep coming to mind are “stunning downfall.” Sunday night’s announcement by CBS is five stories in one.,

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Business

Watch Elon Musk’s boring machine being operated by an Xbox controller

The Azeri Times

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Watch Elon Musk’s boring machine being operated by an Xbox controller
boring-company-flamethrower-ashley-esqueda-cnet-4

Captura de pantalla: Laura Martínez/CNET

Elon Musk founded The Boring Company in order to drill holes beneath the earth and build tunnels that could possibly reinvent public transport. Most recently the company pitched a “loop” system that would connect Los Angeles suburbs to the Dodgers stadium in four minutes.

It was a company famously founded after Elon Musk got annoyed with LA traffic.

Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2016

Currently The Boring Company has three machines capable of digging the tunnels required to make the “loop” systems work.

Here is the second machine, being controlled with an Xbox One controller, which The Boring Company tweeted about on the weekend:

Best video game ever indeed. This is literally the machine being used to burrow into the ground, most likely at Hawthorne, where Elon Musk’s test tunnel is currently being worked on.

Elon Musk recently appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast where he smoked weed and discussed the impending threat of AI.

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