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Not Trending stories: Stashing Polish packages, paying Indonesia’s poor

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  • , CEO, OZY:

    GWEN IFILL:

    Most of us spend a certain amount of time each day trying to navigate interesting and important stories on the Web. It can be overwhelming, and no one can get to it all, so we are drawn to the same stories. What’s trending, it’s called. But what are we missing?

    Answering that question is a big part of the mission of the Web site OZY. Carlos Watson is the CEO. And he will be joining us from time to time to discuss some of those stories, the ones that are not trending.

    I talked to him yesterday.

    Welcome.

    CARLOS WATSON

    Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL:

    We will start in Poland.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    OK.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Tell us about Rafal Brzoska.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    He’s kind of Poland’s Jeff Bezos.

    So, you don’t normally think of Poland when you think about great entrepreneurs. But here is a 37-year-old guy who said that the more people are using the Web, the more they want things delivered, whether they’re clothes off of eBay or an interesting book off of Amazon.

    But if you go door to door there, it costs too much. You can only deliver 60 parcels. Not everyone can afford FedEx or DHL. And so he’s created these lockers, old-style lockers where he will deliver them to the locker. They’re all around town.

    GWEN IFILL:

    They’re like you find at a bus station, those kinds of lockers?

    CARLOS WATSON:

    In a bus station.

    In fact, you remember “The French Connection”? That’s before your time.

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, certainly, before my time.

    (LAUGHTER)

    CARLOS WATSON:

    But exactly like that. He’s got 5,000 of them across the country and some other parts of Central Europe as well. People pay less than $2, which is kind of often 25 percent off of what they would pay otherwise, and are able to get a lot of goods they wouldn’t get.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Is this something that is transferable or that he’s thinking about bringing here?

    CARLOS WATSON:

    You know, interestingly enough, he — it is. And it’s coming our way in two ways.

    One is, he’s not only coming to Europe, including — the rest of Europe, including the U.K. He’s now coming to Canada. And they see that as kind of a prelude to coming to the United States. But he also noted that now Google and Amazon, some of the big boys, are starting to copy him and are testing out variations of that in London and San Francisco and elsewhere.

    GWEN IFILL:

    And those freestanding stores that we see that Amazon has opened, this is part of that idea.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    Correct, including here in D.C.

    And the idea is that there’s going to be more challenge. But he says he’s ready for it. One of the interesting things he told me is he says that, in Poland, the rules change literally year to year, new taxes come up, new regulations, and so a Polish manager, an entrepreneur has to be much more ready for competition than someone, say, in a settled place like the U.S. and U.K.

    So, he says he’s ready for Bezos and the others.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Another underappreciated, not trending story is about one of the world’s largest democracy, Indonesia, and its president, one of my favorite names, Joko Widodo, who has only been there three months, but he’s already doing an amazing thing in reaching out to the poor.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    Very much so.

    The son of the furniture salesman, Joko Widodo, they call him Jokowi, born the same year President Obama was born, so 53 years old. And some people call him Indonesia’s Obama.

    And part of what he did is, he came in and said, I think there is an opportunity to help the poor, and I’m going to do it in an unconventional way. First, I’m going to cut the fuel subsidy. And people said, oh, no, why are you cutting those subsidies? But then I’m going to offer up some cash payments to the poor, essentially $15 a month or so.

    It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a nation in which almost half the people live on less than $2 a day, that’s a big deal. He thinks that’s the opportunity to allow people to get education to move forward.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Where is this money coming from to fund something like this?

    CARLOS WATSON:

    So, again, he cut the fuel subsidies, which saved a meaningful amount of money.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    And he’s using some of that money over here. He’s saying it’s more efficient.

    Now, you would think that the markets and that investors would kind of look askance and worry about that. Instead, the stock market has gone up and people have rewarded it. And some say in part it’s because of the example of another emerging economy, Lula. Remember Lula da Silva down in Brazil.

    Remember, everyone thought this former trade unionist was going to try these programs around education and infrastructure and health care that were going the try and help the poor, but hurt the economy. Instead, Brazil boomed, became one of the largest economies. And so some think that there is a similar opportunity for Joko.

    GWEN IFILL:

    And this is one of these cases where the dropping cost of oil has actually helped him to be able to do this, because people otherwise would have resisted this idea of cutting the fuel subsidies.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    Very much so.

    And where his neighbors who are major oil exporters and rely upon it, whether it’s Malaysia or others, are getting hurt by the fact that oil prices have gone down, Indonesia, in fact, it’s actually helping Joko to get done what he needs to get done.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Is there any political resistance to this approach?

    CARLOS WATSON:

    So, so far, things are going well.

    And Joko is doing something that some would say President Obama would be wise to consider, which is he’s very actively courting the opposition. So the prior president, who was of a different party, who has been at odds not with Joko as much, but one of Joko’s colleagues, there have been a lot of wooing dinners.

    And so while Joko doesn’t have a true majority, he is trying to woo the opposition and so far has gotten them aboard.

    GWEN IFILL:

    It’s so great to go behind the headlines and find out about what’s not trending with you.

    Carlos Watson, thank you very much.

    CARLOS WATSON:

    A few hidden gems. Good to be here.

    GWEN IFILL:

    Carlos and I continued our conversation online, where he unearths undercovered story about a major literary prize that is casting a new spotlight on writers far outside the mainstream.

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