Ignite’s 24 Weeks

Five women with drastically different lives, find themselves in mutually similar situations and are forced to take the biggest decision of their lives. Ignite’s new play 24 Weeks follows these women as they each take their individual path, based on the options that life has dealt them. Unfortunately, judgement is an innate human reaction towards people, especially women, and the decisions they take in life. However, 24 Weeks highlights the importance of understanding the reasoning behind each person’s choice and the struggles faced before making the ultimate decision. The piece tackles mature themes that are not often talked about openly, portraying them in a creative and theatrical manner without losing their real-life urgency. 

Ignite Chairperson and Cast Member Alexia Manduca said, “Although 24 Weeks is not based on any real people, these stories have undoubtedly happened to many women throughout the years, we just never bothered to really listen and understand them. These stories may even be closer to home than you think. It’s ok if you don’t agree with some of the decisions women take, but it’s important to at least try to understand why they made their choices in the first place. The mere availability of a range of options can even avoid tragic consequences.” 

This debut production by Ignite is an original piece created by the organisation’s entire collective ensemble during weekly rehearsals. Additionally, company members had separate responsibilities within the production such as scriptwriting, set and costume design, props, and music, allowing young people to tackle other roles in the creative process apart from acting. 

Ignite is a new Maltese youth theatre production company owned and managed by young people for young people. It gives young creatives the opportunity to take on roles within an executive committee and learn how to manage a theatre company, a concept that has not yet been tackled in the Maltese Islands. It also provides a safe space for young people to develop their skills in all aspects of theatre production supporting them in creating and participating in high quality theatrical projects and productions. All this while also building a dynamic team with other young artists in the theatrical field. 

Ignite’s Artistic Director is Michael Richardson, who has had a flourishing theatre career both in the UK and in Malta. Apart from being the Artistic Director, he also acts as a Mentor, providing advice and support as Ignite participants tackle new production and company management roles.    

Ignite is a voluntary organisation and is proud to be funded by the Arts Council Malta and sponsored by supporting partners Planet Hollywood Malta, Suq tal-Belt, and JB Stores. Ignite would not be possible without the continuous support of these highly established companies. 

24 Weeks is not suitable for children under the age of 15 and it may contain the use of strobe lighting. 

Ignite’s debut production 24 Weeks will premiere on April 22nd (8pm), 23rd (3pm & 8pm) and 24th (3pm & 8pm) at the VCT (Valletta Campus Theatre). Tickets can be bought from www.showshappening.com starting from €10. 

Ignite your weekend with an Ignite production! 

A Car Country

alking or cycling are challenging in Malta’s car-dominated infrastructure. ‘Active Travel’ is a University of Malta (UM) scheme that encourages students and staff to ditch cars in favour of healthier, greener alternatives. But changing Malta’s car culture is no walk in the park. Prof. Maria Attard (Director, Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development, UM) and Raphael Mizzi (UM’s Green Travel Plan Coordinator) speak to Jonathan Firbank about the project.

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The SIMPOL Solution?

Global problems such as climate change cannot be tackled solely at an individual level. For meaningful change to occur, nations need to coordinate their efforts. Andrew Izzo Clarke takes a look at game theory to suggest a SIMPOL solution.

Imagine you’re out on a hunt with your friends. You are all starving and need to find something to eat soon. You can either try to catch a hare, which doesn’t require the help of your friends at all, and get a little bit of meat. Or you can go after a stag, which requires the cooperation of your friends, and get a lot more meat. Here’s the rub: you have to make your decision without the knowledge of what your friends are going to decide. Obviously this means that your friends have the exact same limitation. 

What would you do in this situation?

A Glaring Omission  

If we’re focused on our own problems, we might be tempted to hunt the hare. Yet if we want to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then collaborating and hunting the stag is the better option. 

This leads us to what is known as the Collective Action Problem, a situation in which all individuals would be better off cooperating but fail to do so because of conflicting interests between individuals that discourage joint action. It is at the heart of humanity’s battle against climate change. 

The Individual vs. the Collective

To reduce emissions, the biggest business polluters, the transnational corporations, need to be taxed and regulated. However, if a corporation is taxed by the country it is based in, this won’t be sufficient to stop it from continuing its business in a country with less stringent regulations. 

As there’s no all mighty Leviathan to keep this parasitic behaviour in check, countries compete for the employment and short-term economic benefits that these businesses offer them, while downplaying global, ecological destruction. 

Individuals have a vested interest in acting selfishly for financial gain as opposed to risking losing out if they were to act differently. They follow local beneficial incentives whilst looking away from damage done to the whole. 

Simply put, tackling climate change is the stag which necessitates global cooperation. If one person goes after the stag, they’ll simply fail to catch it. No country is willing to be the first to tax multinational corporations at responsible rates, since going first will mean fewer jobs, a depressed economy, and bad times for all.

The only way to solve this problem is if countries were to act simultaneously

Working together pays more than working alone, especially when dealing with global issues, such as Climate Change.

The SIMPOL Solution

SIMultaneous POLicy (SIMPOL) aims to tackle this particular problem (a problem that, alarmingly, isn’t being raised in many places) by galvanising  citizens to support this change. It places the citizen at the centre of this change by allowing them to choose a political candidate that recognises this problem and acts in accordance with the greatest good. 

To be clear, SIMPOL is not a political party. It’s a pledge and a process for bringing about global cooperation in order to deal with global problems. Anyone can sign up, from any party, from anywhere in the world, while retaining the membership of whichever party they happen to be associated with at the moment. 

When a politician recognizes this fundamental issue, they can choose to provisionally sign up for SIMPOL, meaning that they support the process for bringing about global simultaneous cooperation in principle at some as-yet-undecided future date. Remember, the whole point is to get governments to act simultaneously on the global level so that they don’t lose out individually to transnational corporations, but this has to start from a slow, bottom-up process.  

Citizens, on the other hand, who also recognize the fundamental issue, can choose to endorse those political candidates that have taken the SIMPOL pledge because they are the ones who have shown themselves to support a practical solution to global issues that go beyond petty party politics. Indeed, this solution can be a practical method of leveraging parties against one another for the benefit of everyone; once people realise the benefits — and necessity — of global cooperation, they’ll want a piece of the pie. As citizens, we can further encourage other politicians to sign on to take the pledge, which will create a domino-effect as others will similarly take heed. Politicians who fail to join SIMPOL risk losing votes to those who support it. 

There are three criteria that define a Simultaneous Policy:

  1. It must be implemented simultaneously across the globe to stop any individual nation from losing out to destructive global competition.
  2. It must follow the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that if a policy can be decided unilaterally by a single nation, there’s no need for its implementation in SIMPOL. 
  3. It must tackle related issues together, to avoid having some nations win out at the expense of others. For example: a global carbon tax will discourage the countries who are directly affected from negotiating tax rates. Combined issues here could include tax on profits, employment incentives, and government infrastructural support. 

As SIMPOL’s democratic process is decided by the people, once a sufficiently large enough percentage of the world has signed on, then policy committees (which are open for anyone to join) will decide on the actual implementation of policies. A date in the future is agreed upon, and the policy will be implemented worldwide. 

Ultimately, SIMPOL is based on a very simple premise: working together pays more than working alone. Worker’s Unions employ the exact same logic. There’s strength in numbers, but only if you wake up to recognize this fact can words truly manifest into actions. 

SIMPOL Expanded

As a concept, this simple idea can be used to tackle any collective action problem. If a group of competing individuals realise they would achieve more by joining interests and fighting for a common cause, then a SIMPOL-like solution can help impel them towards an emergent level of organisation that will ultimately be to everyone’s advantage. 

It’s no easy task, and it is certainly not flawless. However, this idea presents us with the possibility of working around the perpetual collective action problems that we encounter in our daily lives and shows us how it’s possible to overcome them. Will it definitely work? Not necessarily. But seeing the issues we face in our world today, it is worth trying. One thing is certain, if we want to tackle a global problem such as climate change, we need to stop hunting hares and focus on hunting the stag together.

“Blockchain Island”

Malta’s steps towards becoming the ‘Blockchain Island’ have seen some criticism lately. Dr Joshua Ellul is the chairperson of Malta’s Digital Innovation Authority and co-ordinates UM’s Masters Degree in Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies, both new enterprises. Jonathan Firbank is in conversation with Dr Ellul about Malta’s efforts.

Cryptocurrency’s meteoric rise is faltering. The value of Bitcoin and alternative projects has fallen sharply. Major world powers have legislated against blockchain technology, the means by which cryptocurrency is recorded and traded. Public figures have manipulated the market. Projects that were started as a joke, like Dogecoin, have overshadowed those with practical value. But amidst all this uncertainty, Malta is becoming a self-proclaimed ‘Blockchain Island’ in a sea of crypto-scepticism.

A False Start

However, proclaiming something doesn’t make it true. Malta’s efforts to develop a regulated blockchain industry seem fraught with problems. Investment from local banks, vital for new enterprises, has been extremely limited. Binance (the leading cryptocurrency exchange) was popularly considered to have a future in Malta — but this was dispelled by a statement from the Malta Financial Services Authority, and Binance quietly dropped Malta from its PR content. Last year headlines cast light on 70% of the companies invited to Malta’s initiative not pursuing a licence. Most importantly, Prime Minister Muscat, whose administration touted ‘Blockchain Island’, was forced to resign. As many in Malta will know, this was a consequence of the assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Galizia had famously cast light on Maltese political corruption, including the administration’s links to offshore accounts exposed by the Panama Papers. Cryptocurrency is celebrated as a means of concealing monetary value; ‘Blockchain Island’’ doesn’t sound as good when the phrase is coming from alleged money launderers who attempt to silence critics. But there are two sides to the coin. Malta’s engagement with blockchain may have had a disastrous start in the public eye, but it may also have a productive future.

Malta’s efforts to develop a regulated blockchain industry seem fraught with problems.

A Blockchain Sandbox

Dr Joshua Ellul is the chairperson of Malta’s Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA), which helps regulate technology-related aspects of the new industry. He does, of course, champion the MDIA but is able to be candid about the project’s initial shortcomings: Malta could have done things better in regards to licencing faster — whilst at the same time the quality of diligence processes should not sacrifice speed for quality. The strategy could have been different; perhaps to be louder later.’ 

The MDIA now has a brand new ‘flagship utility’, a residency for tech operators and startups called the Technology Assurance Sandbox (TAS). ‘Sandbox’ might sound familiar to those with a tech background. It’s used to describe a closed environment where software can execute in a safe environment, but this sandbox is a regulatory one focused on providing regulatory assurances instead. Dr Ellul describes the TAS as ‘the first technology regulatory assurance sandbox in the world’. Its goal is to nurture new, innovative tech companies in order to gradually bring them in line with Maltese and international standards and requirements, ‘sandbox residents will be required to agree to certain restrictions to ensure operational risk is kept low, whilst being flexible as every company is different.’ It’s a process that is more cost effective than retroactively bringing a project to standard. ‘For example, let’s say there’s a company that is going to process transactions, we might start them processing 100 transactions a day, and then scale up together as they reach certain milestones.’

This gives developers a level of assurance that they wouldn’t normally benefit from. ‘Once they’re in the sandbox, they can approach investors and say, “listen, a national authority is overseeing me to ensure everything’s fine.”’ Investors and consumers also get more peace of mind, something that can be hard to come by in this rapidly evolving industry. The constant change in the blockchain space means that regulators need to be flexible as well, something that Dr Ellul believes the sandbox is perfectly suited for, as ‘regulators are learning along the way as well, seeing what to adopt and adapt. I would say we’re a bit ahead of our time.’ The EU, as of June 2021, has announced that they are going to start looking into this method of regulator-developer collaboration, so it seems Dr Ellul is right.

A Fresh Start

This highly active approach, described by Dr Ellul as ‘handholding’, predominantly caters for startups. Higher risk crypto activities (such as those with money laundering potential), on the other hand, require VFA (Virtual Financial Assets) licencing under the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) as well as a full systems audit from the MDIA. In the past the MFSA has come under fire for its licencing processes. But the well publicised statistic of ‘70% of firms not pursuing the licence’ could be misleading. ‘A number did leave because it was taking a lot of time to get the licence. I think Malta could have done that better in regards to either being loud about the vision later, once everything was set up, or being quicker in processing. But out of these hundreds, realistically, were they all going to be big players? Good players? Professional players? Probably not. It’s a startup market.’

It’s no secret to people familiar with crypto that a lot of startups are revealed to be scams or simply fail. Hundreds of new companies failing in Malta’s relatively small economy could cause a great deal of harm to the country. ‘We can actually see this happening elsewhere. A lot of companies went to Estonia because of its very lightweight approach to regulation. Estonia ended up having to revoke their licences because of corruption scandals.’ Malta’s regulatory regime is very strict in comparison, giving a Maltese licence credibility, a rare asset for such new technologies.

The MDIA now has a brand new ‘flagship utility’, a residency for tech operators and startups called the Technology Assurance Sandbox (TAS).

The word ‘corruption’, of course, leads us to Malta’s greatest problem. But Dr Ellul believes wider acceptance of cryptocurrency is unlikely to make things worse. A popular perception of crypto, exploited by its critics, is that it is a technology for illegal activity. But Dr Ellul brings up a counter-argument that has ‘hidden in plain sight’ throughout debates on the criminal aspect of blockchain technologies: cash and conventional banking, of course, is used for illicit activity just as much. There have even been banks set up specifically for money laundering or sheltering criminals’ funds. ‘However, cryptocurrency keeps an immutable record of transactions. Unlike cash, the blockchain keeps that record forever. This is helping investigators to do post mortem investigations and find various bad actors.’

Education is Key

In addition to his work with the MDIA, Dr Ellul also co-ordinates the Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies Masters Degree. It was launched in 2019 as a direct result of the ‘Blockchain Island’ rhetoric: ‘When the government announced Malta would become the ‘Blockchain Island’, we reached out to ask what they were going to do, obviously sceptical. How do you create a blockchain island?’ After some dialogue, Dr Ellul and his colleagues were asked to help review and draft the legislation. Helping review and draft laws involved interacting with lawyers, technical specialists, and people with a background in business. A communication gap problem began to emerge: how could people with such different specialisations communicate effectively? ‘We realised that we have very different vocabularies, different lingo. We saw that the blockchain sector, the crypto sector, is bringing tech together with finance and law, and there needs to be a way to bridge the communication gap.’

They decided there was a need for a multidisciplinary masters degree that could bridge those gaps, allowing individuals to gain an understanding of the other disciplines that they would interact with professionally. But, like the Technical Assurance Sandbox, the course plays to people’s strengths, ‘digging deeper into the individual’s area of specialisation’ rather than applying the same, jack-of-all-trades approach to every student. ‘Our IT guys learn about building blockchains, our lawyers learn about regulating, and our business guys learn about tokenomics.’ If, for example, you have a tech background, you’ll be introduced to law but you won’t study it as deeply as a colleague who specialises in it. Conversely, lawyers would be introduced to programming to facilitate their understanding, but they wouldn’t be expected to become experts in it. ‘It’s the first programme of its kind, to have a multidisciplinary nature that really digs deep into specialisations but also provides introductions to the other areas. To tell the truth, I can’t find any other programmes in the world like it,’ admits Dr EllulValuing unique needs and optimising strengths takes centre stage here, the same ethos that the Technology Assurance Sandbox promotes. It seems inevitable that this conscientiousness will lead to success stories in Malta, while innovators elsewhere are held back by increasingly hostile attitudes to cryptocurrency. But if Malta truly wants to become ‘Blockchain Island’, its government may need to wholeheartedly adopt that same conscientiousness to keep pace with these new technologies. This time, ‘inevitable’ isn’t the word that springs to mind.