Wednesday, April 29, 2009

India’s First Social Enterprise and Investment Forum: Sankalp 2009

Change doesn't just happen - It needs faith and cheerleaders. And I should add Sankalp -Determination.
And institutional change requires changemakers to gather and become catalysts for action. So I am excited about Sankalp 2009 - India’s first Social Enterprise and Investment Forum with the primary goal of bringing together various stakeholders sharing a common conviction that capital should be invested to create multiple bottom-line returns (financial, social and environmental) and not exclusively financial (profit-maximizing) or social (philanthropic) returns. Set against the background in India, where 924.1 million Indians (nearly 95% of India’s population) have incomes below USD 3000 per annum in local purchasing power, and 78% of this from rural India, India has been able to clock growth rates between 6.5% and 7% despite the slowdown. India presents us with questions of development coupled with the unlimited potential of an emerging market. The event is designed to recognise and award truly impactful enterprises and catalyze investments in sectors such as agriculture and rural innovations, affordable education, healthcare inclusion, environment and clean energy, and highly scalable social models. Sankalp 2009 featured Naina Lal Kidawai, CEO of HSBC India, Vijay Mahajan, CEO of Basix, Anthony Bugg Levine of Rockefeller Foundation, Gurcharan Das (former MD P&G), Sarath Naru of Venture East, and Vineet Rai, founder Aavishkar.
Sankalp Forum is the brainchild of Intellecap – a pioneer in the multiple bottom line investment industry. The key partners for the inaugural 2009 event include Rockefeller Foundation from the US, Rianta Capital from UK, National Bank for Rural and Agriculture Development (NABARD) and Rural Innovations Network (RIN). Sankalp Forum (held in Mumbai, April 28th) details at .
I have been spending 4 months out of 12 in India for the past 24 months, doing seminars, giving talks, attending conferences and writing (triple bottom line investing article in ISB Insight, Hyderabad) to create mindshare and thought leadership in the area of business creation for social impact so Sankalp 2009 marks a major milestone in my journey. I will be keeping you posted on the actions resulting from Sankalp.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A different kind of story - win big, think small

Have you noticed how the stock market never goes up or down? It soars or plummets. Somehow hyperbole hustles us to the same stories over and over. So whenever I see mainstream news with a story truly different I feel the need to applaud. Such is the case with CBS news story on micro-lending. Bigger is not always better. Think micro-loans. And how they are giving good returns when banks are loaded with "toxic assets" of large loans. The CBS story, on location in Peru, is one of the best explanations of micro-loans (features MicroPlace, Ashwini Narayanan) and truly inspiring. Another big player in this space is Kiva and there is a nice blog with details about the two. But here's the main point: Micro-finance isn't so much about the fact that the loan amount is small - its about the fact that loans are being made to people who the banks have declared "not creditworthy". It means loans are made to people normal banks don't give loans to. Banks, using metrics based on collateral (i.e. how much they already own), decided that these people could not pay back their loans. In other words, you have to be rich already to get a loan. Now isn't that backwards? This is the Big Idea; The Big Win of micro-lending phenomenon. Micro-loans and the fact that they get almost 99 percent payback prove that establishment thinking is wrong; can be wrong. So it is really unfortunate that micro-finance still remains in the "boutique" category (yes- just calculate the percentage of money in micro-loans versus total lending) and seems a long way from becoming mainstream. There are entrepreneurial efforts (e.g. UnitedProsperity) to make lending to the poor more viable by raising money for guarantees and this is change in the making.

Change doesn't just happen - It needs faith and cheerleaders - and -yes mainstream media can do a lot by uncovering stories like this one. Cheers for CBS.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Digital Media and Learning Awards -- 19 projects share $12M

Nineteen projects from around the world were awarded funding today to explore digital media’s ability to help people learn. Administered by HASTAC, winners include a radically affordable $12 TV-computer, a video blogging site for young women in Mumbai, India, and a cutting-edge mobile phone application that lets children conduct digital wildlife spotting and share that information with friends. All projects are fantastic - one of my favorites because it has technology, global scope, climate, and engages children is : DigitalOcean -engages middle and high school students in 200 classrooms around the world in monitoring, analyzing, and sharing information about the declining global fish population that, in its implications for humans and the ecosystem, dwarfs other food issues in our time. DigitalOcean uses multi-disciplinary teams of students, scientists, and new media experts, partnering with Google Ocean, NASA GLOBE, and ePals, to engage the next generation of consumers in a global dialogue on the interrelationships among local human customs, regulatory laws, fishing practices, wildlife management, and the future of the sea. In the young innovators section my favorite (since I worked with ACCI to promote science education) Cellcraft: Addressing a decreasing interest and proficiency in the biological sciences among American teenagers, Cellcraft seeks to engage kids in ways that make biological principles personally meaningful and relevant. Built on the powerful Maxis Spore strategy game engine, Cellcraft will put middle and high school students in control of a cell, tasked with the job of coordinating all of the organelles in order to process food, create new parts, fight off viruses, and grow. During game play, students learn valuable biological information, while also developing organizational, planning, coordination, delegation, and logistical skills. This annual competition- $2 million- is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and is a good one to track for inspiration.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mainstreaming Electric Vehicles- from Tesla to Reva

One sure sign that a particular innovation is approaching mainstream consciousness is a burgeoning of obscure acronyms in that technology, and by that yardstick, electric vehicles are about about to leap onto the great American Highway. Do you know what REEV is? A Chevy Volt is one. Who would have thought! Chevrolet? EV being an electric vehicle, REEV is a Range Extended EV (when there is a gas engine also that kicks in), HEV is Hybrid EV and PHEV is a Plug-in HEV and so on - all modifications to address the main issue with electric cars - what is know in the industry as "Range Anxiety" - which is the nervousness people have about running out of charge on the highway. Tesla - is all EV, and so one of the world’s most closely watched start ups, and having the most brand recognition of any “green” or alternative-energy company- even though the Indian company's Reva EV (typical daily distance requirements being smaller in India) has been shipping for a while. So last Thursday I went to to the Stanford Law and Technology Association (SLATA) seminar with Craig Harding, General Consul, discussing the regulatory environment relating to the sale of electric cars, the batteries that power the cars, and current state and potential developments in the electric car industry. I learned about how laws obsolete as fast as technology- e.g. Tesla body designers found they could significantly extend the range of the car by replacing the side-view mirrors with digital cameras in the back - but they found they cant eliminate the mirrors because of how the car-safety laws are written- and it will take a few years of work to get the guidelines rewritten - who had heard of cameras when the car manufacturing laws got written? The biggest issue for Tesla is safety (batteries get hot and explode). The Tesla all electric vehicle has 7,800 small batteries- there are no large batteries for safety reasons. Their solution to safety and range anxiety is to lash all of these together and never let the temperature vary by more than a few degrees across the entire set. That's $25,000 of battery cost. Batteries are pretty simple in principle with just three parts - Anode/Cathode/Electrolyte and they have three main issues when it comes to passenger cars- Materials/Costs/Safety. Hence the Tesla innovation is a big deal. And yes, Craig said there is an agreement with recyclers to process spent batteries (expected life 5-7 years at this time). They say that in two years, by the time a more affordable roadster comes to market, there will be plenty of competition in the XX-EV space. I think that's good news. Though Craig was a bit down that day - saying orders are slow right now and he had to let his administrative assistant go as part of the cost cutting measure. But he is not getting much sympathy from me. The Tesla sedan, standard price tag at $60K has 165 mile range and the premium version with 300 mile range is $80K. The Reva car is expensive (for India) to buy but pays the extra off in just a few years.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Challenge-Based Learning- New Report

In the largest study to date of the practice anywhere, new findings from the New Media Consortium's K12 think tank confirm that challenge-based learning is extremely effective with 9th grade students, including those most at risk of dropping out. The report, entitled Challenge-Based Learning: An Approach for Our Time, followed six schools across the US as they implemented the practice in high school classes.Challenge-based learning is not a curriculum. It is a strategy to engage kids in any class by giving them significant that have real-world implications. More than 320 students and nearly 30 teachers in the schools, all of which had implemented a policy of providing full-featured notebook computers to every student, worked together to research, formulate strategies, and ultimately implement local solutions to problems of global significance. Students used their laptops for just-in-time research, to document their rationales, and to present the outcomes of their strategies. The outcomes of the three-week experiment, conducted last fall, were overwhelmingly positive.The study revealed that both teachers and students found challenge-based learning significantly effective and engaging, even with the students most at risk of dropping out. Teachers noted that students learned more, and produced more than expected. Students reported learning skills that overlapped almost completely with the critical competencies identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.The project was organized by and built on work by NMC Platinum Partner, Apple Education, where the concept was initially developed. (For more on the approach, see Apple's site at The NMC's role was to assess and evaluate the outcomes of the work.The teachers, students, and staff that participated agreed to allow their experiences to be exhaustively chronicled and researched. The students, primarily 9th and 10th graders, were chosen based on the desire to represent not only a variety of urban, suburban, and rural settings, but also private, public, and magnet schools, richly diverse schools and relatively homogeneous schools, and both affluent and low socio-economic status schools.The report traces the development of challenged-based learning over the last several decades, and makes a strong case for why it is needed in schools, especially in programs serving ninth graders. (Studies from the National Center for Education Statistics show that more than 30% of students will drop out before the end of their first year of high school. Challenge-based learning is offered as a strategy to reverse that growing trend.) In addition to reporting on the outcomes of the experiment, the report extensively details teacher and student experiences throughout the project. Recommendations are provided for schools that wish to try the approach themselves. The 38-page research report is available free of charge and has been released with a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution. The report is online at [PDF, 38 pp, 672 kb].
From - Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, NMC