India- Tribal traditions vs. pop culture

IMG_4108Tattoos have ancient roots embedded deeply in Indian culture. Mehndi, commonly known as Henna, is a form of temporary body art that began centuries ago and typically lasts only a month. While we now may see these intricate patterns as synonymous with the onset of Coachella or Glastonbury, they were usually reserved for festive celebrations of marriage, religious occasions and ceremonies. However the nature of its practice has come under threat in recent years.

The henna plant, also known as Mehndi in Hindu and Urdu, is indigenous to much of Asia and is used as a temporary ink in the ritualistic application of these intricate patterns. The swirling geometry is traditionally applied to the hands and feet, yet a decreasing supply of traditional Mehndi artists is contributing to the recent degradation of its popularity. As more and more people are drawn to the urban centres of India, maintaining the tradition has had to compete against its market ready counterparts of mass-produced and professionally prepared D-I-Y henna cones. Only in rural areas is the practice of grinding henna leaves with oil by stones preserved.

It is not just availability of traditional artists that is driving the design change, but the influential role that pop culture is beginning to play. Like a dialect, different regional patterns of tracery have developed across India, as well as variations that appear in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan. Each custom has a slightly different ethos and inspiration, with traditional Indian designs being representations of the sun. Mehndi’s interaction with a new urban environment is perhaps just another variant in this way- drawing on the media for inspiration rather than nature.

Recent years in India have seen a growing demand for realistic tattoos, of monuments or animals, in addition to the rising importance of personal touches and tweaks into the design. Instead of simply going for the classic Mehndi design of your region, people now look to Google for inspiration. When given the choice, the traditional patterns usually used in Mehndi applications rarely come first. The pressing presence of pop culture combined with globalisation has seen cultural relevance and personalisation over take community orientated artistic expression.

This is nothing new in Europe or America, where no traditional body art practice existed before the onset of permanent tattoos. However by joining the dwindling of the temporary, traditional Mehndi practise to the increasing demand for permanent, personalised tattoos, one thing is apparent: ease of access and customisation come up trumps.





LINE: Japan’s communications app

_63596900_japan7Arguably, one the most popular apps used in Japan is LINE. This app became available in June 2011 and by January 2013, boasted 1 billion users in the world.

Although LINE is available in other countries, the popularity in Japan is quite exceptional. It is said that 40% of Japan’s population uses this app daily when only 69% of the population owns a smartphone.

So what is LINE?

LINE is a communication/calling app. It became popular as it doesn’t use the a phone line or provider. LINE uses the internet (either mobile data or WiFi) to call/text with each other. This allows people to communicate for free, as long as they have the internet. Not only is this app popular with teens, it is also seeing a surge in use amongst people in their 40s and 50s.

Another feature of the app allows people to share instantly and also create group chats, which reportedly has appealed to businesses aiding employee communications.

After the success of the main app, others have branched out under the “LINE” brand. These include news, games, weather, picture/video editing, and a camera app.

By creating apps that are targeted for different kinds of people, LINE has become an essential upload for Japan.

Engaging Insurance

fitness-1348867_1920This month Prescient has been exploring the rapidly changing nature of the global insurance market.  We’ve been delighted to speak with co-founders of two of the most exciting InsurTech businesses driving fundamental change within the sector, Jan-Philipp Kruip of FitSense and Alberto Chierici of SPIXII.

This is not just an interesting story about how technology successfully disrupts an established market.  Nor are these businesses on a quest to shake things up in a subversive sense.

FitSense and SPIXII have captured the imagination of insurance companies and investors alike, not merely because they are innovative and clever.  Crucially they are committed to enhancing relationships between customers and insurance providers, so that everyone is better off as a result.  Consumers will benefit from accessing more tailored products at the right price, while insurers build trust with customers, a key step towards positive referral and loyalty.

Chierici, a former part-qualified pricing actuary and data scientist (and one of an elite breed of actuarial entrepreneurs) is a true ambassador for insurance.  As he explains,‘We wanted to change the face of insurance and how it is perceived.  We did a lot of research and were amazed at the confusion and perceptions of mistrust.  We wanted people to appreciate and understand what insurance brings from a societal point of view.’

Positively obsessed by customer experience SPIXII is on a mission to make insurance simple, accessible and personal, starting by redesigning the way in which people buy insurance.  SPIXII is an automated insurance agent, a conversational chat bot accessible via messaging platforms or via native mobile app.

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All you need is a ‘hello’ to get started. From there, you can tell SPIXII about your plans, for instance if you’re about to set off to Barcelona for the weekend and want to find out what insurance options are available to you.

A good place to start is travel insurance but the scope is far more wide reaching and SPIXII is already in talks with 12 insurers to pilot the technology for selling multiple products, including motor, health, travel and home.

SPIXII is ideally situated to start the insurance conversation on a positive note, especially when addressing the needs and lifestyles of Millennials, widely documented as influential drivers of change.  Born between 1980 and 2000 the Millennial generation is the biggest in US history – bigger even than Baby Boomers.

Kruip of FitSense comes from a finance background and confirms that the needs of Millennials will require a fresh approach, estimating that within 10 years over half of people who take out insurance will seek to buy it in a different way – via mobile distribution and insurance on demand.


FitSense is in a strong position to help health and life insurance companies provide better insurance through capture and use of data from wearable devices. Kruip explains the benefits for more targeted propositions,‘We can use the data we generate to target Insurance products that are much more specific to each person.  At the moment there are four or five insurance products and they are very broad.  Everyone is engaged in the same way – underwriting is the same. This can be a limitation because insurance companies don’t know who their customers are.’

FitSense creates a much clearer profile through the data it gathers, to better inform tailored, relevant products to match specific consumer risk profiles, enabling tangible engagement and driving recruitment and retention.

If you want people to buy insurance you have to offer them something in return and healthcare is perfectly situated to adopt the FitSense value proposition – Vitality in the UK is a good example of how members benefit from data capture, with points awarded for healthy activity undertaken.

FitSense understands that initial engagement with customers with a mutually beneficial proposition is just the beginning of a long-term sustainable relationship.  It’s far easier to introduce new products to customers who are already engaged.  For instance, young, active people might not see a need for life assurance because they’re young (and invincible!), but if you can approach a keen cyclist with a bespoke proposition for cyclists then relevance is established and motivation for uptake grows.

Pioneering companies like SPIXII and FitSense are helping providers to revitalise consumer trust in insurance, bridging the emotional gap between end users and product providers.

As Chierici concludes, ‘We want to create a powerful new brand that customers will trust.  We also want to deliver value to insurance companies.’

Sounds like a healthy outcome all round.

For more information please visit FitSense at and SPIXII at I want SPIXII

You can also vote here for SPIXII to win the 2016 Virgin Media Business Award:


“… and How Do you Feel About That?” Argentina’s in Therapy. But It’s Okay with It.

tango-935221_1280Nicknamed the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires provides an abundance of culturally rich and unique experiences. The infamous Tango dancing in the streets, the exquisitely cooked steaks in exclusive and quirky restaurants, the multitude of late night salsa clubs and the art of drinking Mate (pronounced ‘matt-ay’; a caffeine-rich infused drink) whilst basking in the glorious sunshine aside one of the city’s popular lakeside parks.

However, it is the Argentine people themselves who are most intriguing, with the enormous presence of psychoanalysis and use of therapists among its inhabitants.

There are over 60,000 psychotherapists working in Buenos Aires alone. It is so popular in fact, that the neighbourhood of Palermo is nicknamed ‘Villa Freud’.

Buenos Aires is the psychoanalytical capital of the world with twice the number of therapists per head than New York. Chatting with a local ‘porteño’, the name given to those Argentines living in the port city of Buenos Aires, he explained that most of his friends had gone or go to therapy, “I have been for seven years, my mother for fifteen and my father for twenty years”.

Interestingly, the word ‘porteño’ dates back to the first half of the 20th century. Entitled the ‘Golden Age’, the country looked set to become a leading global economic power as millions of Europeans immigrated to start a new life there. It is believed that Argentines therefore felt they did not have strong roots in the local traditions and it is still ‘a country in constant search of its identity’.

Writer, actor and psychotherapist, Eduardo Pavlosky believes that Argentina is a country traumatised by a history of violent conflict, economic crisis and an uncertain future. In this regard, he suggests “In times of crisis like that, it’s very easy to go from one extreme to another. From black to white and from white to black. That’s what personality disorders are about.”

Psychoanalysis is said to be intertwined heavily with the idiosyncrasies of the Tango. The dance in its present form was developed around the mid to late 19th century in Buenos Aires with psychoanalysis beginning in Vienna at the same time. Both are born of European Romanticism, in a time of asking ‘Why?’. Why is this happening to me?’. A time heavily entrenched in melancholia.

Despite its sullen beginnings, psychoanalysis is now an integral part of Argentine society. It is so well-respected in fact that Bueno Aires has the radio station La Colifata (which literally means looney), written and produced by patients of a mental hospital. The documentary, ‘Argentina In Therapy’ explores this further, as one patient highlights, “It connects the institution with the community. It’s a way of communicating”.

Psychoanalyst Gabriel Rolon believes that the proliferation of therapists is good news. In contrast to other countries, Argentina gives as much space to emotional health as it does to physical. He explains that a history of war, corruption and persecution have made Argentines great “listeners interested in the pain of others, because we also need people to be interested in our pain”.

Intrigued by the open approach to mental health and sitting in one of the glorious parks drinking Mate, a friend summarised her reason for using therapy: “Talking about your problems can be an amazing experience, to talk and to listen is an art, it helps you understand your experiences more clearly, it helps emotional wounds to heal”.

Hannah Dean: Cultural Writer

For Disease or For Fashion?

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When foreigners come to Japan, many wonder why so many people here wear masks. On the train and in the streets, masks are everywhere. Typically in Japan, masks are used to prevent diseases from spreading. When the flu is going around school, some parents make their kids wear masks, or when someone feels that they are going to get a cold, they wear a mask. Similarly, on trains, many wear masks due to the amount of people around them and the potential to catch germs. However, recently, these masks are being used for something other than prevention of illness.

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According to Nikkei Net, some women wear these “fake” masks when they wake up late or don’t have time to do makeup.  In some cases, eye makeup may be applied but by wearing a mask they look like they have made up their whole face.

Some wear these masks because they think the masks accentuate their “V” line, which accentuates your chin to your cheeks, smoothing the face line, and the “E” line (aesthetic line), which is when one looks at your face, the tip of the nose and the bottom of the chin appear in a straight line, apparently the standard of beauty for plastic surgery.

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In a shopping strip in Shibuya, one of the most crowded areas in Tokyo, when 100 Japanese male and females aged between 10 and 30 wearing masks were surveyed, 31 people, 9 men and 22 women (31%), were not wearing these masks for any medical reason. One 19 year old college student’s reason for this was because he ‘did not want to talk to anyone’.  Additionally a 16 year old high school student who was also surveyed, said he was ‘too lazy to make facial expressions’, while a 25 year-old store clerk said he wore it ‘to hide his tiredness during his shifts’.

Yohei Harada, an analyst of young adults ‘culture, says the reason why some wear these masks may be due to people being used to internet and social media, and the need to block off communication with others.

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Some masks are being sold solely for the purpose of beauty, with the shape of the mask less square, to accentuate the “V” line or “E” line.  While common face masks have 4 pleats in total; 2 on top and 2 on bottom, the beauty mask has 1 on top and 3 on the bottom. The mask industry has been able to capitalize on this trend, since the masks which fit womens’ faces are actually better filters, because the typical square mask doesn’t fit the face and can cause particles to sneak inside from the chin and cheek areas. We are also seeing a choice of colour appear, so apart from plain white masks, some men and women are choosing complimentary colours to their outfit (black is a favourite) and even characters’ mouths, and patterns.

Temperatures Rising in Rio

It is the morning of the 18th of April 2016 and less than ten hours ago, the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress approved the impeachment motion against current president Dilma Rousseff from the Workers Party (PT). Yes, Brazil is also 109 days away from hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro; however, given the current political turmoil, the record-breaking unemployment numbers and the ongoing health threat of the Zika virus outbreak, it is easy to understand why most Brazilians are not focused on the Olympics.

Less than two weeks ago, Ms. Rousseff was speaking at the grand opening of the Aquatics Centre built for the games and made almost no reference to the Olympics itself. She actually used her speech to allude to the current political crisis and to express her intention to fight to defend herself. The content of her speech demonstrated the true purpose of the event, which had little to do with Rio, 2016. In order to better understand the real motivation for Brazil’s bid to host the global games, as well as to assess the range of potential benefits and disadvantages for the nation, we need to go back in time once again.

The year is 2009 and the governing Workers Party (PT) led by Ms. Rousseff’s predecessor, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) made a passionate and enthusiastic pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claiming that Brazil was “a progressive, democratic country”. At this point in time, Brazil was riding high on the commodities wave and attracting significant foreign investment, leading respected publications such as The Economist to claim that Brazil was “Taking Off”. Such a positive and widespread economic narrative surrounding the country was enough to convince the IOC to give Brazil the chance to be the first-ever South American Olympic host.

It is important to note, however, that the real motivation behind the PT’s bid to host the Olympics (and the 2014 World Cup for that matter) was not to bring “entertainment to the distressed Brazilian population and put Brazil at the center of the international stage”  – as the highly charismatic leader Mr. da Silva had claimed. As was apparent in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian population did not reap any of the benefits that the event was supposed to yield: not only were the tickets heavily overpriced, and therefore inaccessible to the average Brazilian, but many of the stadiums built were locked away once the event was finished.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Brazil faces an unparalleled economic recession and political instability. The root cause is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever registered: reportedly an intricate money laundering scheme involving the PT, Petrobrás (Brazil’s government-owned oil company) and several major construction companies. The latter were not only responsible for building the majority of the stadiums for the World Cup but are also building many facilities for the Olympic Games. Unsurprisingly, many PT politicians have been charged with benefiting from overpaid constructions, refurbishments and other bribes to make the constructions viable.

What is happening in Rio now is strikingly similar to what happened in the country a mere 2 years ago: constructions for the games are running overdue, are over budget and built with dubious quality. To top it off, the city is facing an outbreak of the Zika virus – a direct consequence of the governmental cuts on the money devoted to Healthcare. This has prompted some delegations to boycott the games.

Even the subway expansion, which could prove advantageous to the city’s population has been postponed following the mayor’s decision to divert funds to the construction of velodromes and other Olympic facilities. It is possible that the 2016 Olympic Games may yield some positive indirect benefits to Rio and to Brazil as a whole – through new facilities for sports or other infrastructural improvements. Unfortunately for the PT, Ms. Rousseff might not be around to claim any of the credit.

Moscow’s Anti-Cafés: Where Time is Money

image russianSince their conception by Russian writer Ivan Mitin, anti-cafés have been spreading from Moscow to all over Russia, and now Europe. Mitin’s chain ‘Ziferblat’, established in 2011, reached London in 2013 and Manchester just last year. The main concept of the anti-café is that the customer pays for time spent in the space rather than for food or drink. More to the point, however, the anti-café aims to encourage socialising and communication, thus providing a cosy, comfortable atmosphere for people to make new friends and spend time with old ones.

An anti-café will usually offer hot and cold beverages, cakes, free Wi-Fi and board games, with some even hosting Xbox or PlayStation consoles at no extra cost. The customer is also at liberty to bring their own provisions and use the kitchen to cook – though they should expect to share!

The process is simple: you go in and register, take a clock and your time starts. The going rate is typically only around 2-3 roubles per minute (the equivalent of 2-3 pence at the moment). Therefore, two hours amounts to what you’d typically pay for a coffee in Starbucks.

Unsurprisingly, these cafés have really taken off with students who are looking for a space to hang out and have a drink or snack within a sustainable budget. Stepping into ‘Zelyonaya Dver‘ (Green Door) in Moscow, paints a typical picture of anti-café life: ping pong tables in the garden, students singing with guitars on the sofas, and others sipping tea and playing Jenga.  It is a common occurence for people to strike up conversations with strangers and make new acquaintances – a sight rarely seen in a standard Western café.

Indeed, a key part of their popularity is that anti-cafes provide a removed space with an informal atmosphere where social norms and rules are relaxed.  In a city like London where interaction between strangers is rare, this might be just what is needed to escape the nonstop rush. As Mitin himself outlined, the concept of a ‘free space’ is key; the customer is autonomous and able to create his own world within the café setting.

The past five years have not only allowed the concept of anti-cafés to spread, but also to develop into some quirky approaches to the idea. Perhaps one of the most weird and wonderful is ‘Kotiki i Lyudi’ (Cats and People) near Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. Claiming to make Moscow ‘warmer and fluffier’, this is the perfect place for cat lovers to enjoy pastries and tea whilst playing with the 14 house cats, and of course only paying for time (

So if you’re travelling to Moscow any time soon, and looking for a place to study, eat or just take some time out on a budget, why not pop into an anti-café, where time really is money.

Image: The Calvert Journal