Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Giving feels good: Message from Boond

Christmas and New Year are the most festive times of the year and the moments when we remember all our near and dear ones. It is a time to share the warmth and make others know that you care and remember.

This year we at Boond decided to make this sharing of warmth and happiness a little easier and inclusive through our `Boond with Christmas` webpage.

From this site you can send your friends and family anywhere in the world Christmas and New Year cards, 2011 calendars and nice ethnic gifts (made by rural artisans supported by our partners www.eyaas.com), and the best part is that all you have to do is choose and give us the recipients address since we will pack, ship and lick the envelopes for you. And better still is that all the proceeds from your order will go towards our Boond campaign for sending Boond Development Kits to Ladakh (rather than a big office building and a know all receptionist). So this means that you will not just share the happiness of the season with your friends and family who you send the gifts but also with those who are spending a dark and cold Christmas in a remote part of India.
Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year
Russ (Cofounder Boond- a social enterprise with a powerful business model)

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Microfinance Debate: What would you do?

Minimum information and maximum media coverage has created the monster microfinance debate: greedy bloodsucking bankers or saviours of the world?.
I am particularly troubled by the fervor and timing of this debate because Diwali/Christmas/New Year is when, motivated by a spirit of thankfulness and/or spirit of saving on taxes, we do our annual bit of charitable giving. How will you give this year? The Financial Times (thank you FT) article Microfinance: small loan, big snag is a nuanced view with data from many countries. Microfinance is still about lending to people with no collateral; where traditional banking did not lend. That has not changed. What has changed is the desire to scale- more capital to benefit more poor people; while the majority of microfinance institutions, still led by dedicated entrepreneurs, stay true to the mission, different elements (in India, e.g. it is corrupt politicians worried about losing votes if the poor benefit from entrepreneurship who have garnered much media attention) have taken advantage of the situation. This does not mean that sustainability (double bottom line- do good and do well) is inherently impossible. Another FT article Perhaps microfinance isn’t such a big deal after all presents the strategy on how to deal with the pangs of going mainstream. fly under the radar- Just lets tone it down- lets not call microfinance the way to solve every problem - its just banking after all.
How will you donate this year? Whether it is Kiva or Microplace some other form of lending - I urge you to do your own homework - it is complicated and I personally do not know a single greedy bloodsucking banker in the microfinance realm.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gurgaon gone berserk

When it comes to new buildings Gurgaon, the pride of India Inc., has gone berserk. Berserk, in itself is not a bad thing, but berserk using proven to be unsound, financially, ecologically and carbon creating technologies, that even the developed world is eyeing askance is just plain "herd mentality". In my 8th floor high-rise flat, uninterrupted power is guaranteed. Actually its not uninterrupted- it comes back within a few seconds every time it goes off- ten times a day. How? At exorbitant cost from diesel fuelled generators. Gurgaon where basics like water, sewage, roads get scarcer every year, is sprouting malls and high-rises at a blistering pace. So when I walked into the spanking new T3 terminal at New Delhi airport, my heart did a tailspin. On the one hand it is nice to land in world class looking airport. On the other I wondered how they did it? Is it following my Gurgaon flat model?
The Director of Center for Science and Environment, Ms. Sunita Narain writing on the new T3 Terminal at New Delhi, in Times of India [19.11.2010] writes that the airport symbolises what we are doing wrong. I hope every architect, builder and bank in India reads this article. India must "think sustainable" for its own benefit. Eco-friendly is not just about using CFL lights or more efficient air-conditioners. First, it is about design to consume less to begin with. Second it is about using renewable energy. Technology exists for both and even if at this time the technology is expensive its pay-back for India, where energy costs are highest in the world, is attractive.
Besides the exorbitant cost of running the building (it has its own power station), the building is poorly designed for eco-promoting features like parking for public buses. "It is time we found new temples of modern India, which we can be proud of. Not another shopping mall which we want to pass off as an airport" she closes. I agree. Lets do the math. Lets think for ourselves.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Healthcare: Stuck between Scam India and Slum India

Believing in the right to life equals believing in the right to health: a basic human right. In India, right to health comes in the form right to clean water, nutrition, waste management, clean air even before it gets to curing sicknesses. So India is solidly "stuck between scam India and slum India" said Dinesh Trivedi of the Healthcare ministry during the session on Health and Happiness at the 2010 PAN-IIT conclave in Noida. He was making a case for public-private partnerships in bringing change to India. Of the total money spent in India on Healthcare, 80% is spent by the private sector and 20% by the government (public funds). This means that 80% of the spend goes to 20% of the population and 20% of the spend goes to 80% of the population. Unless we change something this trend will continue. Obesity related diseases go hand in hand with malnutrition related ones and the twain do not meet. The formation of institutions like the All India Medical Institute (AIMS) was visionary in combining the latest in medical research while also serving the poor; but the government has not had the funds to follow through with more such institutions and indeed even the AIMS suffers from lack of funding. How do we get out of the rut we are in?
Change comes with convergence of three factors :
Feasibility: domain of science and technology - this includes Indian sciences like Ayurveda
Viability: driven by economics and policy
Desirability: Our political and social will
Public-Private partnerships can facilitate movement along all three vectors simultaneously.

I found Mr. Trivedi quite eloquent and persuasive. So if you are in the private sector looking to make things happen - contact him. PAN-IIT has said that all sessions will at some point be on YouTube. You can search for this session (its not there as of this writing) for verification. This writeup is from my personal notes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Many IITs are there in India?

I had the opportunity to attend 2010 PANIIT conclave as a IIT-Kharagpur spouse this year - i.e. as an impartial observer. One of the first things I noticed was the large number of new IITs - Its hard to miss the new banner; in places I had not even heard of. On the other hand, how many had heard of Kharagpur which houses one of the oldest IITs? I was not the only one noticing this. Alumnae discussions on the topic expressed concern of maintaining quality in the face of such aggressive expansion and the notoriously slow pace of government decision-making. At the same time Alumnae from different IITs vied with each other on how bad conditions were in IIT when they went there - from yellow water in Kharagpur to deplorable food in Delhi.
I believe that the expansion is a great thing and long overdue. And the risks of quality can be well managed for the following reasons:
1- Students: The older IIT capacity is so far below the number of brilliant available minds applying that even with the expansion- only the best will be able to get in. At alumnae meets I always hear that it is having brilliant students as companions made the IIT experience what it was. So this will not change.
2- Teachers: I personally know 2 brilliant deans who now have an opportunity to head a new IIT. Without growth they would not have the opportunity. I do not believe these teachers will compromise. As a daughter of parents (mother and father) who chose the teaching profession - I believe there is a lot more than money that attracts teachers - they will give it their best. With opportunity comes fresh ideas and new hope - it will trickle down from deans to the rest of the staff.
3- Curriculum: Nehru's vision for a free India included science and technology. And the great emphasis in IIT on that has paid a huge dividend for India. But times have changed - we are now in the knowledge economy where innovation is the name of the game. Improving the social sciences, medicine and arts curricula may be easier in the new IIT's and will certainly be a boost for students inclined towards disciplines beyond technology.
All in all, Its a great step forward for India.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fellowship Opportunity with AIF

Fellowships opportunity announcement from AIF:     http://www.aifclintonfellowship.org/

MISSION: The AIF Clinton Fellowship for Service provides a select group of young American professionals with the opportunity to serve marginalized and underprivileged communities in India by working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for a period of 10 months.

VISION: The AIF Clinton Fellowship Program is committed to developing the next generation of young Americans leaders. Equipped with a practical, field-based knowledge of international development, they will become life-long ambassadors for service to the marginalized & underserved in India.

Together, AIF Clinton Fellows and NGO leaders form dynamic partnerships to exchange technical skills and knowledge, as well as passion, commitment, and new ways of looking at the world, which ultimately transforms both the individual and organization.

Since 2001, 291 young Americans have worked with over 150 Indian NGOs through the AIF Clinton Fellowship for Service. Alumni have become transformative leaders and entrepreneurs in business, international development, academia, journalism and other fields, and together represent a collective force and organized network for sustaining a long-term agenda dedicated toward change in India.

APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 15th: Early; January 1st: FINAL

Please check out our blog which highlights stories from the field:


There is an information session: 11/3/2010, Pigott Hall, Stanford 4:30-6:30

Friday, October 8, 2010

RAFT: Resource Area for Teaching

Did you know? A bamboo pole and the stem of a papaya leaf are excellent  for teaching how waterfall-energy can be transformed into electrical-energy. I was about 8 years old when during heavy monsoon season, my father first taught us how to harness rainwater into a waterfall using a bamboo pole (its hollow). The water then falls onto a turbine made with papaya leaf stems (the texture is firm yet pliable enough to stick flat-panes into it) which would go whirring about whenever it rained. We could never get enough of it! And I did not even know this was a science lesson.
I was reminded of this story when I visited RAFT - a local bay area resource for teachers (I found out about them as they were there for National Lab Day along with HP) to support STEM education. They use materials discarded by industry to create the lessons. One activity I liked was a car made from retractable badges and discarded CDs - shown in pic. But I couldn't help comparing: bamboo and papaya vs discs and badges! How times have changed! But science education hasn't - its still about engaging young minds to make it fun and relevant.

VayuGrid Attracts Investor

VayuGrid (wind-energy) has wings! from Gerad Rego:
"I am glad to announce that VayuGrid, a company I co-founded based on a for-profit social business model that just received funding of $4.3m from a strategic investor. Also enclosing a press release of an interview with the President of Mahindra & Mahindra for your perusal. Look forward to collaborating together around the EIR program to replicate a model across industries and across the pyramid. Look forward to collaborating together with other Fellows to see how we can leverage any other work into our business."

Congratulations to Gerard Rego, fellow Digital Vision graduate, on a major milestone: For a report- Check CNBC coverage : M&M eyes majority stake in Vayugrid's Indian ops.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Health-care Books: Digital benefits

UnaMesa has opened office in Palo Alto as a hub for service innovations, including new approaches to health care, education; it provides free software tools and web services for schools, clinics, and other community organizations. When I first heard of UnaMesa in 2006 from fellow Digital Vision'er Greg Wolff it was a vision but today "UnaMesa acts as an R&D organization with projects that bring together industry, academia, and NGO's to develop and distribute effective tools for social services. UnaMesa maintains the educational materials, software, and other "intellectual property" developed by these projects as a public trust. Much like organizations that acquire and preserve land on behalf of the public, UnaMesa acquires copyrights and related intellectual property and promotes the use of those materials for the public interest."
Technology can change the game when it comes to social impact but so far, research and development has been too expensive for non-profits to take advantage of. UnaMesa is changing that. At the launch party I attended earlier this month, the story told by Sarah Shannon of Hesperian Foundation provided a vision for the future. The foundation has been around for a while and has developed health related books. These books were in English and would get out of date by the time they would get published. Working with UnaMesa, Hesperian has gone digital: books translated into 32 languages, regular updates available instantly for download and a repository that continues to grow because the staff can focus on creating the content. For example the publication "Where There is No Doctor" empowers communities who may have no health-care professional in the area with access to basic medical information.
Congratulations Greg - a DV changemaker.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lessons from Panel- Emerging Markets: Greening Tech

Emerging Markets: Greening Tech was the theme of a panel moderated by Joel Makower of GreenBiz.com at the annual WITI (Women in Technology International) Summit earlier this week. Panelists Lorie Wigle (GM, Eco-Technology Program INTEL), Melody Haller (CEO, Antenna Group) and Bill Weihl (Google with the kick-ass title of Green Energy Czar) presented credible stories of how they got into the green energy space. Lorie said she took advantage of the Intel culture- If you see a problem own it.Her program is about exploring the smart grid for Intel products (new or existing). Her team is a lens into the opportunity area - the typical team profile is a person with a key skill, rounded out by an ability to see the whole solution - what role Intel plays what roles others play - Once an opportunity is identified the standard Intel businesses take it on. She said she had a hard time finding the right mix of skilled people (even though it seems that today everyone ants to be in the green space) - since the job is so new - they are called solution architect - the closest she could find in Intel HR nomenclature.
Melody said her job is propaganda for the good guys - technology for good. She says a number of folks she gets are "technology refugees" - people tired of doing technology that makes no difference. Such people make great hires because they have the technical skills but want change. She had hired 12 people from greendreamjobs.com. Her advice - identify one strong entry point (your skill) as an entry into the field and then build out the rest.
Bill came to Google from MIT from a CS background wanting to get  into the green space. The .org part of Google is investing in renewable - about 9 companies with a total of about 65mil. The .org is 1% of Google (money, hr etc). Often .org arm searches the opportunity and google company may take on product development also. He said Google is not hiring since they already have projects in the pipeline.

With a title like Emerging markets I had expected to hear more about innovation with developing countries. When asked all said that they had projects in emerging economies. Intel had an initiative around Concierge services and satellite based water management. Google, besides google earth had agriculture, cook-stoves etc on their radar. Bill agreed that the faster adoption of renewable technologies would happen in emerging markets (leapfrog effect). Melody had connections in Kubera and a couple of other funds.

In sum, the activity in green-space has ramped up considerably in the last 4 years- it means more competition but  also more opportunity for the right person.

Make a STEM Difference: Hands-on Learning

Education is opportunity. Science education is infrastructure innovation opportunity. USA faces aging roads, pipes, transportation; developed a while back with technologies that we now know to be unsustainable. In true Silicon Valley style, we want to turn the challenge into an opportunity to invent completely new methods of building roads, bridges, supply pipes, aeroplanes; not only create environmental benefit, but even build in the IT infrastructure (can't do without computers now can we?) right into it - adding tomorrow to yesterday for a better future for all.

The message was heard loud and clear by about 70 junior scientists (5th-7th graders) with the help of some 20 senior scientists (volunteers from HP, Google and others) at the bay area National Lab Day back to school event. The scientists sat on tables of 10 with the assignment of discovering "What is OOBLECK? Solid, Liquid or Gas?" by doing experiments collaboratively. Josh Becker of New Cycle Capital led the afternoon which included a fun speech from Chandrakant Patel of HP Labs exhorting the junior scientists to get back to tinkering and getting their hands dirty. Speaking from the the trenches (i.e. us senior scientists amidst  budding future inventors), the energy generated from the OOBLECK experiment exceeded our wildest expectations . In just a few hours I saw the following:
- some grasped the notion of doing an experiment to validate/invalidate a theory
- some saw the importance of writing their findings
- all were engaged: one child who had been sitting with his head down interacting with no one - started talking and sharing once the lab got started
- all had fun: simply because real life intervened - when OOBLECK was "poured" into plastic bags - many bags had tiny leaks - for some OOBLECK flowed out - for others it dripped. As junior scientists started stopping the dripping - they learned and they got their hands and lab coats messy - creating much mirth and merriment.
- many junior scientists came up with "tests" of their own to try
- the senior scientists didn't have any better clue about what oobleck was than the junior - emphasising the importance of gathering your own data (and documenting - in case you got into an argument).

I thought the experiment design was really good and I hope gets replicated in other forums. It all worked at so many levels.  I have been engaged with STEM education in various capacities for many many years now - I saw an excitement from the children in short 3 hours that I have not seen before.

Hands-on, challenge based learning works. It also brought the kids together and it is FUN!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

National Lab day: Back to School launch event

On Sept. 15, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View I have the opportunity to spend an afternoon of interactive hands-on learning with 75 fifth and sixth graders. HP is hosting the National Lab Day (NLD) Back to School launch event here in the Bay Area and participating in events like this reminds me why I am still loyal to HP.  HP’s support for NLD is part of a new social innovation in education program to help build the future generations of innovators. When I was director , Imaging Systems Lab at HP Labs I became convinced of the power of digital in attracting the young to Science and Technology Education (we did studies with K-12 through a grass roots effort called EIEIO) and this newest initiative gladdens my heart no end.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Listen to the Pauses: Power Communication

Pause and Presence: For powerful communication, active understanding  or getting your message across: listen to the pauses. If you are the speaker, pay attention to when you pause, how long and what you do when you pause. Learn from speakers you find yourself drawn to by observing their pauses, what they do to retain your eyeballs. I have come up with a way to practise that is working for me: I listen and look for the pauses in my dance class. Perhaps, as every dancer knows, if you just go from one movement to another, without a proper transition - all you do is look floppy - there is no grace no beauty - no grabbing attention of viewer. Initially I used to just notice that my Zumba instructor looks great - so I went to the class. Now, with audio plus visual cues- I am able to observe when she transitions from one step into another- the split second pause that gives her balance and purpose - effortless, graceful; elbows - if meant to be 90 degrees are 90 not flopping halfway; movement alternates between fast(er) and slow(er) and so do the pauses.
I still can't do what she does, but now I can see what she does. Of course even if I knew it all in my head I couldn't do what she does - I am just not physically fit enough.
Fortunately for communication - while fitness helps greatly, it is less of a requirement. But in the absence of music and dance - Pauses and Presence are the rhythm of powerful communication.
Find any activity you enjoy (even cooking, dining) and listen to the pauses. Besides -it is so much fun -give it a try.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Power of Image

GE’s Ecomagination Challenge Powering the Grid - a $200 million call to action to share ideas to take on building the next-generation power grid - is coming to a close in a few days (Sep 30). With so many ideas to share, I found the info-graphic most useful. Besides its a great illustration for the power of image as a means of communication. The highest vote-getter so far - solar roadways is also my favourite. Don't forget to turn the wheel for full impact.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Jaroka Tele-Health wins mBillionth Award; Sets up Medical Relief Camp for Flood Victims

Congratulations to Atif Mumtaz, Digital Vision colleague. At a ceremony organized in New Delhi by its convener, Digital Empowerment Foundation, and sponsored by India's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, OnMobile, and Intel among others, Jaroka Tele-health was presented the mBillionth award 2010 in the m-Health category. "We are now in a world where technology is capable of anything; from allowing physicians to review patient records on-the-go, to alert drivers in any city of nearby parking spaces while looking for spot, to surfing the Internet and watching movies; and what better way to celebrate it than this award for innovation in health and technology."

The Jaroka project was honored for its interactive interfaces, innovative design, aesthetic value, accessibility and most of all it’s relevance of content and utility value. Atif developed and refined a tele-health project during his Stanford fellowship and today the Jaroka Tele-health project treats over 50,000 patients in rural Pakistan each year. 90% of the patients earn less than dollar a day and live below the poverty line.
I also heard from Atif that UM Healthcare Trust has established one of the first regular medical clinics for flood victims at the edge of the flood waters in Noshehra District, NWFP, Pakistan. "Manned by our qualified staff of medical doctors, nurses, and medical technicians, we have started treating flood victims who total in millions and are waiting for aid to reach them despite the ordeal being almost a week old. We urgently require medicines to treat the influx of patients."
The mBillionth Award is dedicated to exploring the potential of the mobile sector and promoting game changing applications all across South Asia. The mBillionth secretariat at Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi reached out to the entire South Asia region to solicit nominations across 10 categories: Business, Health, Education, Culture & Heritage, Government, Entertainment, Inclusion, Environment, Tourism, & News and Travel. The Grand Jury of the mBillionth South Asia Award reviewed more than 200 entries hailing from 8 South Asian countries, and chose 1-2 winners from each category.
Jaroka Tele-health is a joint collaboration between UM Healthcare  The project has attracted significant funding from USAID and ISIF Foundation. For more information, or to donate contact: UM Healthcare Trust, Established 2004; Dedicated to Providing Healthcare for the Rural Communities.
Offices in: Islamabad, Pakistan & Washington DC, USA
USA: +1 415 894 9506 PAK: +92-51 210 6304

Monday, July 19, 2010

What is BOP? And Why You Should Care

Bottom of the pyramid (BOP) is greater than half of the world population. And if you are reading this, chances are you are not BOP. But, read on anyway. Once upon a time BOP was the "third world" and the model of interaction (if any) with the BOP was charity or social services (like welfare). Activists ruled as the keepers of our conscience. With globalisation came the need for cheap(er) labor and BOP became the "emerging market". Entrepreneurs ruled. But then things got complicated. First world infrastructure (innovated at the dawn of the industrial age) did not scale in sustainable fashion to meet either the third world/emerging market needs or first world lifestyle. Worse still, communication channels (innovated in the computer age) became digital - making all this mess in live action, color video for all to see at the click of a button. So now what?
Now is the time to merge the best of activism and entrepreneurship and think of BOP as an innovation engine. It is the space for activism, entrepreneurship and business model innovation that allows for leapfrogging tired old industrial age technologies that are proving too costly in terms of environmental as well as human health. More than half the world population is a good market incentive for innovation.

We stand at a crossroad today where either we continue to export sustainability-challenged technologies or we partner with the BOP as the "next bench" to develop new technologies and create a new market at the same time.  

So - Is BOP Market or Strategy? A Mirage at the bottom of the pyramid? Capitalism gone haywire or Socialism gone haywire? A case for philanthropy? OR its not my problem; because its not interesting? or I can’t do anything about it?

I prefer to think of BOP as an innovation driver and as we know innovation is an extreme sport. Life would be dull without it. So watch it, support it, get involved. MediaX is kicking off a year of 21st Century Conversations with an all day seminar on Wednesday July 21called Social Media and Social Technologies: Changing Personal and Civic Conversations. the topic for my panel is : The New Realities of Grassroots and Civic Activism.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Entrpreneurs: Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor?

As a champion of diversity in the workplace, over the years, I have had sufficient opportunity to discuss glass ceilings with executive management as well as hold mentoring sessions around sticky floors - which is the tendency to develop roots in our comfort zone that makes every opportunity look like a glass ceiling. I (and many others) found the imagery evoked by glass ceiling/sticky floor to be quite effective in getting the message across.

Now that I've been researching the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, I have come to realise that the glass ceiling/sticky floor metaphor is one that can be dusted off and put to good use once again. The equivalent of climbing the corporate ladder in the social entrepreneurship scene is scale- If I can change the lives of a 100 people for the better, then can I move on to change the lives of a 1000? 10,000? A million? What must change? What stays the same? What part is process; what part passion?

Just as when articulating diversity as a business value (e.g. productivity, creativity, teamwork) it would serve us well to separate the challenges in social venture creation as institutional (glass ceilings) or personal development (sticky floor) and not allow one to masquerade as the other- the strategies to address the two are radically different.

I like the glass ceiling/sticky floor metaphor- its easy to remember and act on versus the other business buzzwords - or maybe its just in my comfort zone.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Transformative Potential of Social Entrepreneurship

I went to the AIF-Stanford University event "Transformative Potential of Social Entrepreneurship" not only as a supporter of AIF’s Digital Equalizer (DE) program but also because I wanted to show AIF my support of the topic, especially as it applies to the India growth story. I also hoped I would meet some new people and I did. While the whole program was energising, the bonus came from David Bornstein keynote and discussion. Insights about social entrepreneurship for me were:
1- Heart-driven: the reason why social entrepreneurs were effective and tended to outperform other entrepreneurs - Tolstoy quote :"everything I know, I know only because I love"
2- Profit vs. non-profit: "nothing will work but everything might". For profit structure is highly built so easier. But bringing organic green vegetables to inner cities will only happen for a non-profit at this time.
3- Role of supporters: figure out how government and business can meet regularly to create a friendship model (heart driven) of working together (as opposed to being adversaries doing lip-service)
4- Role of media- find stories of hope to bring about change - its like being a hunter/gatherer - there is so much negative news, the good gets drowned. Media can create a "Yahoo effect" - where a few good examples can get a movement going
5- Role of technologists: what are the technology platforms that can change the game?
6- Academics - create a discipline (minor) in Social Entrepreneurship - is happening but not very common

Other useful tips:
L3C- low profit for benefit hybrid model - now gaining ground in California: http://l3ccalifornia.org/# (also B Corp)
SOCAP - social business capital where funder gets capital back but no return - e.g. Acumen fund; Beyond Profit is a magazine that could have a "yahoo effect".

The message of the panel discussions was - "partner, partner, partner" - this field has been one of pioneers (with the arrows in the back) but now that situation is changed - to scale one must partner.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Folks and potential Customers, please look at open-source applications too

I cannot understand why the likes of Apple and Microsoft can generate so much passion, debate. and brouhaha. Whether Apple has overtaken Microsoft as the technology company with the largest market-cap is immaterial to me? My issue is with the predatory business models followed by leading technology corporates. Why do we as customers want to give up the freedom that certain technology corporates take away when we buy products and services from these predatory corporate giants?

Why not look at the possibilities that the open-source software model has to offer? Freedom for one. Freedom to use and do what you want to do with it? Freedom from periodic and costly upgrades. Freedom from anti-competitive lock-ins.

Isn’t that what you do when you buy any other product? You basically own the product for which you put down your hard-earned money. So, why should software be any different?

Now, look at Apple from the application developer perspective. The current Adobe Flash episode comes to mind immediately. Let us say you have a hot idea and have developed a solution for it. You want to implement your application on the popular Apple platform (iPOD, iPAD, iTunes or whatever!!). Go ahead... After all it is your idea and your freedom and privilege to do as you choose. That is what the sensible business model should be. But no, hold on, wrong assumptions.... If you want to get onto the above-mentioned platforms you must basically sign away your right to implement the same or similar solution on a competing platform. Outrageous, isn’t it? Did the platform vendor pay you to develop your solution? Was the original application your own innovative idea or did the innovative idea belong to the platform vendor?

Can I give an example from other industries? Honda and Mercedes are leading providers of auto engines to practically all competing Formula-1 platforms. They compete through the technology they have developed and have a right to migrate it to competing automotive racing platforms. That right belongs to them because they own the technology they have developed. So, why is application software any different? Shouldn't I have a right to proliferate my IT solution onto as many IT platforms as possible? I can understand having to invest in the platform provider's tools that might enable me to implement my task. But I cannot understand why I would give away my right to proliferate the solution?

So, the moot question is why would otherwise intelligent application developers give away their freedom on the intellectual property they have developed? One answer that comes to mind is short-term greed!! Instant gratification is a societal short-coming. This is a good example of it.

This aspect of succumbing to predatory corporate behavior disturbs my sense of personal freedom in the same manner as if some physical property I owned were to be taken away forcefully from me by a non-democratic government. Why would I want to let that happen to my virtual intellectual resources through the force of a one-sided corporate appropriation?

Folks and potential customers, go for open-source. If customers start looking at open-source applications and solutions with some passion and diligence they would find open-source solution developers stepping up to the pitch. Open-source solutions can be and are competitive, cost-effective and start-of-the-art.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Influence Others: 3 Tips

Rudyard Kipling has written "All the people like us are we, and everyone else is They". Change leadership is about influencing "they" into becoming "we". Kipling (I seem to remember) offers advice:
"I keep six honest serving men,
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."

For me this breaks down to three things:
1. Ask open ended questions to unearth closely held assumptions that formulate opinions and positions. Address the assumptions to create change.
2. Be a good listener - this means genuine curiosity. If I find myself formulating my response in my head when listening - I know I will not be successful in influencing the other person.
3. Withhold judgement about core philosophies no matter how different. When wildly opposing values collide, you can still gain respect by agreeing to disagree.
Sometimes, honest communication like this take time (involves building trust) as pointed out by the HBR conversation about asking questions. So be prepared, In this age of globalisation and the reality of collaboration amidst diversity, changemakers separates their own core values from details to create the largest circle of "we possibles". At the level that social entrepreneurs operate i.e. social and economic prosperity for all - it would be hard to find anyone that doesn't fit the "we" circle.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Engineers For Social Impact: 2010 Fellows Announced

Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) Fellows 2010
Contact: Akash Raman, Engineers for Social Impact


Bangalore, India [April 20, 2010] – The Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) Fellowship Selection Committee is delighted to announce that after receiving and carefully reviewing close to 600 internship applications for its 2010 edition, it has made offers to 17 outstanding candidates for 9 roles at 7 partner social enterprises that focus on development by means of sustainable for-profit entrepreneurship.

E4SI 2010 Fellows come from a number of India’s prestigious engineering schools including IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras and BITS Pilani – all from diverse backgrounds with excellent accomplishments and potential. E4SI 2010 Fellows include the student union President of BITS Pilani, student President of the entrepreneurship club at IIT Madras and Green Globe Foundation award winner. More information about the Fellows is available on E4SI’s website – http://www.e4si.org/

E4SI fellowships promise to be highly entrepreneurial in a way that combines the best of consulting, technology, and social innovation. Fellows will gain unprecedented access to the development sector as they work with leading social entrepreneurs, attend leadership workshops and pitch their ideas to thought leaders as they join an outstanding cohort of exceptional young leaders.

Partner social enterprises for the 2010 edition of the E4SI fellowship program are leaders in microfinance, education, energy, and healthcare. Among them are: Samhita Social Ventures Pvt. Ltd., an enterprise providing social organizations with access to funds, people, knowledge, networks and customers; mDhil, a firm that provides basic healthcare information to the Indian consumer via text messaging, mobile web browsing, and an innovative web site; iDiscoveri, an experiential education organization focused on self-discovery and meaningful learning in economically emerging societies; Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO India), a company that provides reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable energy services to rural homes and businesses; Husk Power Systems (HPS), an innovative triple bottom-line company that provides power to over 50,000 rural Indians in a financially sustainable, environmentally friendly, and profitable manner; Sarvajal, a social enterprise focused on delivering clean drinking water at an affordable amount (25 paisa per liter) to rural villages throughout India; and IFMR, a wholly owned subsidiary of IFMR trust, a private trust with the mission to ensure that every individual and every enterprise has complete access to financial services.

About Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI)
The Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) Fellowship is a unique program that connects top engineering talent to credible social enterprises driving market-based solutions to development in India. It serves a dual need: matching talented students with worthy social enterprises and increasing awareness of for-profit approaches to development.

Engineers for Social Impact has been described as “a group of doers and dreamers” which seeks to imbue a culture of social entrepreneurship in India’s youth. Not only does it provide hands-on training for new doers and dreamers but they also gives its fellows complete freedom to be creative in their immersion experiences.

E4SI’s advisers, among others, include Nitin Rao (Director, E4SI & MBA Candidate, MIT Sloan, Cambridge), Ayan Sarkar (Associate, McKinsey & Company), Anand Shah (CEO of Piramal Foundation), Dr. Parth J. Shah (President of the Centre for Civil Society), Neerja Raman (Author and Research Fellow at Stanford University), Priya Naik (Founder and CEO, Samhita Social Ventures) and Dharen Chadha (former Global Director of Strategic Planning at J. Walter Thompson.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poverty: Its About Choice

Lindsay Clinton, of Beyond Profit is hosting (on Social Edge) a provocative discussion titled "what's wrong with being poor?" She asks "what if we are really just grafting our own notions about haves and have nots and quality of life based on our own limited experience?" The problem of poverty is multifaceted and the discussion thread makes for interesting reading (do check) but after a while I found my head spinning.

The outcome of a discussion should lead to action. So for me the first action is simplification: Its about choice.

Do you know anyone who chooses to live in extreme poverty (unfed, unclothed, unloved etc..)? I do. I met them last year travelling in the Himalayas. They are called rishis, munis, saints whatever. Wise men and women who have reduced their physical needs without compromising their mental prowess and in some cases enhancing it even. Its their choice. It is renunciation though their lifestyle would meet traditional definitions of poverty.

Do you know any child who chooses to live in extreme poverty (unfed, unclothed, uneducated)? I don't. Having grown up in India, surrounded by the poor, I cannot imagine a child choosing hunger over a full belly.

Poverty is no different than other forms of injustice- be it equal opportunity for women, minorities, religion etc. And just like them, it is unnecessary - if we only have the will.

Poverty is not a choice. If it is, I am fine with it. Lets not over-think the issue - this discussion reminds me of the debate in the seventies about working moms versus career moms - what's better?

Its about choice. and society benefits when its people have choices.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mission Drift: The Bogeyman of Social Entrepreneurship

The initial public offer (IPO) by SKS Microfinance is a landmark event: likely to set the stage for other IPOs in this area. I find much to cheer about in this development as financial inclusion goes mainstream and scales so a dream turns to reality for many many more people who live under $4/day. Not unexpectedly, the recent hoop-la about the IPO has come from activists and NGOs who worry that this move spells a mission drift - a profit from poverty mentality versus helping the poor, that has always been the bogeyman of social entrepreneurship.

The issue is that pure philanthropy does not scale. Charity funding is critical in providing a start to change-makers driven by passion for helping the poor. However, once a business model becomes sustainable, its capital need is far greater than what can be met by traditional philanthropic sources.

But change is hard for many to swallow and hence appears the bogeyman of mission drift - all the things that are wrong with the business world. But the bottom line is that there are also many things right with the business world. Besides- just as many albeit different, things are wrong with the charity model. Of course things can always go wrong, with greed overtaking social mission as MFIs go mainstream, but that risk is far lower than the risk of stagnation and besides financial instruments exist to manage it.

With access to more capital, I actually think things will improve for the clients of MFI because there will be pressure to bring interest rates into alignment with traditional banks. In recognition of this Businessworld article says "Earlier this year, India's finance minister said non-banking financial corporations (NBFCs), including some like SKS, can be granted banking licences, signalling a greater role for MFIs. But India's central bank has pulled up MFIs for their high interest rates -- about 25-27 percent. That is about double the rate at which they borrow from banks, but still lower than moneylenders."

Actually this business of mission drift has become a particular peeve of mine because of my past 4 years of experience directly working with social entrepreneurs. The SKS IPO provides an example against which I can generalise. Budding social entrepreneurs face an uphill task as it is. They initially get ignored by traditional capital and foundation money is so scarce that the competition in the field of social entrepreneurship is unhealthy (results in inability to merge or collaborate later on). Two factors come into play: First, self doubt in the mind of the entrepreneur in entertaining a realistic revenue generation (Am I being social enough?) plan for sustainability. Second, many opt for an incorrect business model which later becomes difficult to change, especially given the negative feedback from their initial supporters. The way I see it, the issue of mission drift is an operational issue - to be managed like any other risk whereas having a built-in plan to get to sustainability and scale is a strategic choice which guides impact in the long run.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Boond: Micro-franchising for Achieving Scale in Social Impact

In October 2009, when I was a speaker at the Micro-Finance India Summit, I was truly humbled and awed by the entrepreneurs I met, some fresh out of college, who shared their business plans (ventures in various stages of development) with me. One thing that was common to all was that they took on great risk (financial, social, time investment) with amazing optimism and a can-do attitude. One such entrepreneur is Rustam Sengupta who has founded a for-profit social enterprise "Boond" (which in Sanskrit means a drop). I was captivated by the ambition reflected in the vision & mission: “Reach 1 million individuals with light, clean water and pest control by 2012”. But even more so by the fact that scale was integrated into the strategy and operations from the get-go. "Boond’s mission is to bring development to the poor living in remote areas of India through the specially designed Boond Development Kit. The specially designed kit consist of a Solar lamp, a water filter and a mosquito net and is sold through local villagers with 3/6/9 month financing schemes to make it affordable for the BPL household."
The unique aspect of Boond is its strategy to reach its market - the prepackaged kit is sold through the Boond Officer: Boond has put together a micro-franchising solution: a kit, a reseller and financing.

Boond development kit customers live in remote places that are hard to reach and without proper market infrastructure. So meet Boond Officer Bikash: a native of Manipur who teaches young children in the local school and earns about Rs. 2600 (US$58) a month. He is a talented singer and dancer, immensely passionate about Boond products, and has set a target for selling 30 kits in a month. The village he targets has less than 10% electricity coverage and no running water.

Boond has created a very low-cost solution: with just $20 a financier can empower a villager to deploy the kit.

I believe that the biggest development challenge for India is reaching, enabling and developing the rural market in spite of development in the metros. Boond has created a solution. "In India, nearly 300 million people still live in complete darkness while WHO statistics highlight that a million every year die from water borne diseases. Boond believes that these are the two biggest development challenges we face and can be surmounted by a collective effort of ordinary individuals. Malaria, nearly eradicated from the Western world still kills nearly 300,000 people a year and we believe that this is unacceptable since it’s easily preventable for a low cost. Boond is also trying to change the peoples mindset through its website and campaigns (www.boond.net) and encourages collective action to fight the biggest challenges faced by India today – Light, Clean Water and Pest Control" says Rustam.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is All Entrepreneurship Social?

Carl Schramm makes the case in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that all entrepreneurship is social. "Let’s not overlook what traditional entrepreneurs contribute to society" he worries and provides several cases (largely in a US context) to support the thesis.

This is a question I used to struggle with but in the last year I have developed a position: All entrepreneurship is not social. That is because we do not live in an ideal world. The cost of development is disproportionately born by the poor (think toxic e-waste for one), often willingly, in the name of progress. In India, despite high growth rates in the last 10 years and a burgeoning middle class, the poverty indicators as measured by opportunity (i.e. basic food, education and health-care access) have actually declined- creating social tension that rips the very fabric of the unique Indian ethos. So like quotas and affirmative action - in an ideal world we wouldn't need them; but till there is equal opportunity for all we do. Similarly ideally, all entrepreneurship is social - but only if there is equal opportunity. Till then, it is merely obfuscation to blur the line between business motivated by social impact and business.

The irony is that in India where entrepreneurs actually do social good, creating local jobs, innovation and creating a market at the bottom of the pyramid, the term social entrepreneur is relatively unknown and if known draws wonderment - because isn't all entrepreneurship social? In their case I agree. It takes a lot of guts to be an entrepreneur in a developing econnomy because the cost of failure is high while there is safety in a job or joining the family business that serves the developed economy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Netizenship - Do and Don't

Help yourself - Be a Good Net-izen.

In a professional context, the best thing about e-communication is that distance becomes irrelevant. It is also the worst.They say that words once spoken can never be taken back. Hence think twice speak once. But spoken words only live on in the memory of the listeners and speech is accompanied with physical cues which gives us a chance to resolve miscommunication. E-words, on the other hand, live on in perpetuity; for a search engine to discover, out of context, out of date. The probability of leaving others with impressions of ourselves we never intended is greatly enhanced. Second, e-communication may be the first order contact to be followed by in-person, if all goes well. So home-grown conventions have been developed but they vary. My rule is better safe than sorry. From daily email to social media sites, blogs e-behavior that wins friends and influences people is somewhat of a mystery. There is no e-Miss Manners to save me for getting that foot into my mouth (and remember it stays there). Social entrepreneurs must communicate with a variety of people; people very different from ourselves but possibly sympathetic to our cause. So experiences can be enhanced for all parties with simple net-iquette.

e-mail: be factual, be non-judgmental. Keep it short - it is not the place to vent your feelings, opinions. Do document decisions after a meeting. Always acknowledge even if to say there will be no follow-up. If resolving an issue - do not go back and forth more than 3 times. If not resolved after 3 iterations, e-mail will not resolve it. There is no excuse for not following up on email (includes CEOs- if only to delegate - convention varies on this between India and US - but I know when I get a reply from an admin - I think the CEO is old-school - not net savvy and hence - is he/she worth my time? ).

social media sites - advantage is that such sites already impose a certain amount of discipline. Studies have shown that teenagers actually benefit from the open group interaction because they are motivated bu having as many friends as possible. But still, before posting that pic, ask yourself - how many people are interested in seeing my cross eyed drunken face captured at the last party? Not even you.

blogs: decide what the blog is about and deliver what you promise. Its not how often you write, its what you write. Simplest way to start is - as the name says - a personal log of things that interest you. Blogs are a great way to espouse your cause as long as that cause is not you.

websites- Do create a personal (or professional) website - this is the place to brag about yourself/your organization/your team. - as long as it is the truth. Easy navigation, process, policy, values clearly stated will set you apart from others and create an aura of openness, fairness. Initially you can treat a website like a resume. If you are adept, a website is a great way to communicate your mission, vision and build supporters. It grows as you grow and saves time in the long run by reducing replication of work.

Finally a word about Humor - Don't. Unless you are a professional you won't get away with it. That is because humor is context sensitive, time sensitive. However, do take a light friendly tone (free of overt status verbiage - a problem in India more than US). Save that for in-person. If you become an expert there (you can see who laughed and who didn't) you can then try it - maybe - on your blog, fb update.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Want To Design a Mobile Phone? LG Announcement

SAN DIEGO – March 16, 2010 - LG Mobile Phones, the fastest growing mobile phone brand in North America, is partnering with crowdSPRING, an online marketplace for creative services, and Autodesk, a leader in 2D and 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software, to hold an innovative competition to define the future of mobile communication. Starting on March 15th, LG Mobile Phones will give consumers the chance to design their vision of the next revolutionary LG mobile phone and compete for more than $80,000 in prizes.

The competition will award over 40 winners. The first place winner will be awarded $20,000, one Wacom Intuos4 medium tablet, and Autodesk industrial design software. The second place winner will be awarded $10,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software, and the third place winner will be awarded $5,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software. To reward as many people as possible in the name of creativity, LG will also be giving out a whopping 37 honorable mentions at $1,000 each.

This year’s competition marks the inaugural participation of Russell Bobbitt, a world renowned movie prop master. Bobbitt has worked on a variety of visually stunning films such as Star Trek, Iron Man and Iron Man 2™. He recently received the prestigious “Behind the Camera” prop master award for his work on the first Iron Man film. Bobbitt will serve as a guest judge to reward one contestant’s cutting-edge design with the Prop Master’s Choice award. The contestant’s design will then be created into a non-working mock-up that could wind up in Bobbitt’s next blockbuster film. The Prop Master’s Choice winner will also receive $3,000 plus Autodesk SketchBook Pro software.

“We’re very excited about this competition because it gives consumers and design enthusiasts all a chance to exercise their creative imaginations and have their ideas be heard,” said Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president of marketing and innovation for LG Mobile Phones. “You don’t have to work for LG to make an impact on the future of mobile phones.”

Autodesk will supply participants with a free 15-day trial of SketchBook Pro, a paint and drawing application for use on the Mac or PC. It offers an intuitive, streamlined user interface so even new users can be productive within minutes. The 15-day trial will give all competitors access to industry-leading professional design software and levels the playing field for professional and amateur designers alike to create the phone of their dreams.

“We’re thrilled to partner with LG and Autodesk on this innovative design challenge. The challenge represents the real power of crowdsourcing - by allowing anyone to have the opportunity to design the next generation mobile phone for a global leader,” said Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of crowdSPRING. With a pool of over 55,000 designers and writers in more than 170 countries, crowdSPRING is one of the world’s largest creative communities and is an open platform where anyone can post projects or submit entries. Both seasoned and aspiring designers can submit their entries until April 26th at www.crowdspring.com/LG.
Competition Details
Eligibility: Any U.S. resident (citizen or green card holder) that is 18 years (or age of majority in state of residence) and older

Start and End Dates: The competition begins on March 15, 2010, at 12 a.m. PST and ends on April 26, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. PST

Winners will be announced on May 14, 2010 at www.crowdspring.com/LG/winners.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Good is Also a Business- MC Hammer at e-week

These words, doing social good is also a business, music to my ears, came from MC Hammer at the eweek event "The Power of Social Technology". Unfortunately they came right at the end and I didn't get to ask him specifics. But still, having him say it at an entrepreneurship event was good. The panel of experts which included Robert Scoble and Loic Le Meur, shared tips and personal experiences around social media engagement. I was there to find out "why you don’t need money or power to ignite seismic (seesmic - get it?) social change." Well, I was far from convinced, but certainly a good time was had by all and nobody was sleeping - granted - it was lunch time and all around me were scarfing sandwiches. And, it was interesting to see in real time how, even as each panelist logged into their twitter stream, attendees sent messages. So:
- Social software never sleeps: the world is moving fast - its real time -so 24/7 engagement is important - solution is to get a partner in another time zone (not wear yourself to the bone). Loic said his company has no PR department - just 2-3 people managing social media engagement.
- Always try to add value - social media are great source of information: eg. if you are interested in a VC follow him/her on twitter; or follow those who follow them etc. - find out how you add value and pitch to the right people - network in person after getting informed
- Content is king- Don't get caught up in the tools- Before you engage find out what you are passionate about, develop a voice that is personal but also amenable to being a brand

GSB dean made some good points:
- Social media - fastest communication medium today
- increases need for traditional content (else nothing to tweet about)
- is not a substitute but a complement to current tools
- finding a vice on twitter et al is hard - balance your personal voice with the institutional voice

Bottom line - work hard and smart and social media is your ally in getting eyeballs - which can lead to heart and mind.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Social Entrepreneurship During Stanford E-week Feb 21-28

The annual Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford, is February 21-28, 2010 and this year we have more events dedicated to celebrating social entrepreneurship and clean-tech than ever before. These are 2 events I am helping organise which are free and open to all:

February 26, Cordura Hall,9-6: Relief 2.0 in Haiti: Enabling Agile Crisis Response with Entrepreneurship In Relief 2.0 we'll take an inside look at an emergent phenomenon - Agile Crisis Response made possible by social ventures, social media, crowdsourced solutions and other entrepreneurial approaches. We will look at lessons learned and how we might rethink and redesign the way we approach disaster relief and rebuilding, starting with Haiti’s reconstruction effort.

February 28, Wallenberg Hall, 3-5: Structures for Social Enterprise: Panel and Showcase- this lively panel discussion features social entrepreneurs Kjerstin Erickson (FORGEnow.org), Eve Blossom (Lulan.com), and Esther Kim (REDF.org). Moderated by Kriss Deiglmeier, executive director for the Center for Social Innovation, the panel will discuss nonprofit, for-profit and hybrid models for starting and growing a social enterprise. From 4-5 p.m., mingle with entrepreneurs at a fair showcasing their intriguing early-stage social ventures. Social entrepreneurs available for interaction during the showcase are:

Lloyd Nimetz: Blitz Bazaar: Starting and Creating a Movement
Akshay Kothari, Kapeesh Saraf: Design for Extreme Affordability Workshop
Varun Jain: E4SI: Engineers for Social Impact
Anu Mahal: Development Alternatives
Carlos Miranda Levy, Margarita Quihuis: How Social Media Allows Us to Instantly Organize for Crisis Intervention
Viji Dilip: Bookshare International: Reaching Out to the Print Disabled in Developing Nations
DC Jayasundera: Rural Returns: Better Value Chains for the Rural Poor
Rodrigo Santibanez: Puentes Global: Non-Profit International Employment Agency for Low-Income Workers

Additionally the Graduate School of business has a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship on 26th afternoon as part of their annual entrepreneurship day

Monday, February 15, 2010

Newsprint: Does it Deserve to Die?

I confess. I am a newspaper subscriber. But for how long? Newspapers are more than news. These days one could argue that newspapers aren't about news at all because a print headline is by definition a day old (compared to TV, Internet, Grapevine). So what is the "more" part? It is a trust I have in print, that I do not have in the other named sources, that information is somehow more authentic, more unbiased. This is the "burden of legacy" of print media. I read stuff on the Internet and I feel compelled to triangulate fact, author credentials etc. but if I read it in a paper, it is gold. Well, no more. Pieces like David Broder's adulation of Sarah Palin "pitch perfect populist message" somehow gain weight by being op-eds. I am depressed, lose faith in my fellow Americans especially women. And then later, I read in small print, in an easy to miss place, that on the same day a nationwide poll showing that 71% of Americans say Palin is unqualified to be president. I feel betrayed; I lose trust in print. Become cynical. Its just another information source. Anything for an alliteration.

Business is built on trust and it is getting harder and harder to trust pundits who pontificate in print.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

3 Tips for a successful internship

A successful salesman "sets customer expectations and then meets (or barely exceeds) them." The first time I heard this was at an HP training event and it has stuck with me ever since. The wisdom in this strategy is undeniable- oversell and the customer is disappointed (or worse, loses trust); undersell and you risk losing the sale altogether. However, setting and meeting expectations is a skill- not always easy to do. Social entrepreneurship is all about selling (your idea, your business plan, your dream, your team .... whatever) and internships are a great way to hone selling skills because an intern has the benefits of a student status, yet is exposed to real life ambiguity. If you have secured an internship, it means the employer has already made an investment (time and /or money) in you. The top 3 things an intern can do are:

Do the Research: Before your first day on the job - research the company, industry and their strengths. Examine your own background and identify skills or reasons why the company wants to invest in you. If you can, figure out a way to make a contribution that would be beyond expectations or make that a goal during internship. Read related professional journals, magazines; keep up with the latest developments

Attitude- Professional, positive, punctual, enthusiastic: Its a job and all the rules of professional conduct apply. Stay away from gossip and drama and make sure to offer to do some grunt work. However, take advantage of your student status to ask questions beyond the scope of the internship. Network with people who interest you professionally. If possible find somebody who will let you shadow them to a relevant meeting. All this of course, providing you have met your assigned internships tasks - (meet and only then exceed). If you can, find a mentor in the organisation. If things go wrong don't take it personally- help others if you can.

Followup: Closure is important. Ask for feedback; ask if you can keep in touch; prepare some written reports; give feedback professionally keeping it factual and unemotional. Above all, remember that the employer wants you to succeed just as much as you do. Make sure they know you understand that.

Go ahead - make it a win-win and convert an internship into a job offer. You can do it!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trend-spotting and ecars

On January 18th my inbox had an email : My Alerts: NYT-ecars (5 articles) which made me sit up immediately. I know, you are wondering: why? You see, my strategy for alerts is minimalistic: I put alerts for what I think are obscure topics from a media perspective- so I am not bothered by those pesky emails. It's not just a matter of self defense (or your inbox will overtake you) - its also because I use alerts are for trend-spotting. In the long-long time that I have had an alert out for ecars, I don't think I have seen a total of 5 articles in the New York Times and here I am - 5 in one alert! Not only that - these were good stories:

Renault Pledges to Keep a French Factory Busy
By DAVID JOLLY (NYT) : Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault, met with French officials to address concerns that the carmaker was intent on sending jobs to Turkey.

Renault Pledges to Build New Electric Vehicle in France
By DAVID JOLLY (NYT) : Renault said it would split production of its new Clio model between France and Turkey and would produce its new electric vehicle entirely in a plant near Paris.

Finally, Some Electricity in the Air
By LAWRENCE ULRICH (NYT) : With some storied brands dead or dying, and upper-crust manufacturers as no-shows in Detroit, the show floor had room for Chinese hybrids, Korean electrics and more.

Chinese Maker Hopes to Offer Electric Car for U.S. by Year-End
By NICK BUNKLEY (NYT) : Many Chinese companies have planned. BYD Auto is better prepared.

A Future That Doesn’t Guzzle
By BILL VLASIC and NICK BUNKLEY (NYT) : Automakers unveiled many hybrid gas-electric and battery-powered cars at the Detroit auto show, a sign of how much emphasis is being placed on the electrification of vehicles.

So of course I followed up;  read that the Nano (TATA) had created a stir at the Detroit Auto show - I follow Reva, Tesla and Nano -  and of course read that Tesla is planning IPO. The San Jose Mercury News is having a week of Green Jobs. I could have almost predicted my most recent alert (and you can too right?)
On Feb 1 my inbox has an email: My Alerts: NYT-ecars (2 articles):

An Electric Boost for Bicyclists
By J. DAVID GOODMAN (NYT) : The booming Chinese electric-bike industry is spurring impressive sales in India, Europe and the U.S.

Tesla Motors Plans Public Offering to Raise $100 Million
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER (NYT) : The filing from Tesla Motors represents a landmark in the resurgence of electric car technology that most car makers until recently had dismissed as impractical.

Yup - it sure feels good to predict a headline.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

E4SI - Internship Apps Available Jan 29th

E4SI internship applications available - Jan 29th, 2010. In the last two editions, the top 5% of applicants from among India's top 15 engineering schools were accepted as Engineers for Social Impact Fellows. Our Fellows participated in challenging and highly entrepreneurial immersion experiences at leading for-profit enterprises such as iDiscoveri, D.Light, SELCO, Intellecap, Ujjivan and Vaatsalya. The assignments were diverse, across the sectors of energy, education, healthcare and financial services, and with multi-functional roles spanning research, policy, design and developing technology.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Argument Vs. Opinion: How do You Negotiate?

The thing to know before negotiating is: its not about winning; its about compromise. This is no secret. The thing about a successful negotiation is that everybody comes out of it feeling like a winner. That is the secret. If even one party feels like a loser, it is not a successful negotiation- because if you feel like a loser, you don't buy into the followup action and you don't trust the other party - ever! That's how we are.
How do you negotiate?
Do you distinguish between an argument and an opinion? Keep personality, judgement and value systems out of it? Approximating Samuel Johnson - opinion is like an arrow shot from a bow; as strong as the man who draws it. "Argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force though shot by a child.... You cannot help paying regard to their arguments, if they are good." Conduct negotiation with arguments, not opinions. Arguments stand on their own (like proofs in geometry) and open doors for learning for all parties and in taking the discussion forward. Opinions are shutouts implying judgement, a value, around which there can be no acceptable compromise, thus forcing the other party to get further entrenched into their starting position. To help yourself do this in real time, enter a negotiation with the idea that you will learn at least one new thing. Identify assumptions and preconceived notions (consultants call it frames of reference) if you can before getting into a negotiation.
Fortunately, on the way to acquiring a win-win mindset, there is immediate help in the form of value neutral language. Yes, watch your words. Is a value judgement inherent in the word? Get rid of it. One person's irritant is another's joy. A rose bush in a wheat-field is a weed but a wheat-stalk in a rose garden is also a weed. Pollution implies bad stuff but emission is value neutral (emission can be good or bad, e.g. breathing is a good emission).
And lastly, when a negotiation fails, it is generally a failure of process - since nobody goes into a negotiation unless desirous of a solution (the other type is called posturing :-) or just to lose. So when things do fail, let it go; don't let it stop you from going back to the table.
Relationships allow you to work things out, even becoming stronger in the process. A negotiation is the first investment in building a relationship.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Media for Social Change Initiatives - $25,000; Deadline Jan 20

Ashoka’s Changemakers is sponsoring an initiative that focuses on using media to change the world. It is a tremendous opportunity to showcase your idea and could be the seed funding needed to start 2010 off right.

The opportunity is open for anyone and everyone.

Last year, aside from the two $25,000 winners, so many of the finalists who got to make their pitch found investors and made invaluable connections.

It’s simple to participate: the WeMedia PitchIt! Challenge website has all the details an entrant would need. They can access the entry form by clicking the “enter an idea” light bulb. They’ll need a free Changemakers account and it takes less than a minute to get one. The deadline is really quickly approaching on January 20th, 2010. It’s a chance not to be missed! Only 8 days left to apply.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Social Entrepreneurship Challenge Competition

BASES Social E-Challenge: The Social Entrepreneurship Challenge is a business plan competition for entrepreneurial ventures that effect social change. Participants range from For-profit businesses with a strong sense of social responsibility to Nonprofits with sustainable revenue-generation models. These companies all have a positive impact on our society and the environment. The Social E-Challenge provides participants with $50,000 in total final round prizes, as well as the resources and training to launch their startups: mixers, workshops, mentorship, and individual feedback from renowned judges.

Past winners include Kiva.org, D.Light Design, re:motion designs, and Samasource.

Info session: Wednesday, January 13th, 7:00-9:00pm, Stanford Paul Brest Hall, Munger Residence, Snacks and Drinks Provided. RSVP http://baseschallengeskickoff.eventbrite.com/

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not Money, Not Markets, Its a Mindset: Game Changing Technology

2010- start of a new decade and amidst all the hype about the decade that was (best, worst, etc.) a newsitem that caught my eye wasTata's launch of a water filter (Swach- means clean in Hindi) for rural poor (less than Rs. 1,000 or $21.50) which needs no electricity or running water. "It took over a decade of research but it is opening up a complete new market said Tata Chemicals' boss R. Mukundan".

What's a decade? Nothing - when you think about the global problem that is healthcare and the billions spent on treating poverty associated diseases that affect 5 billion people - a decade of research seems really worthwhile. Renewable Eenergy and healthcare are supposed to be the new growth areas for business, yet how many corporations are getting into the space with innovation in mind?

Tata is getting into the lower cost housing market (I hope with innovation) and has already reset expectations for fuel efficiency and renewable energy use with the Nano car. So, I expect their filter will also generate financial as well as social benefit and be good for the environment. It took about 44 scientists at Tata Research Development and Design Centre, a subsidiary of Tata Consultancy Service and has the potential to save billions in wasted spend while helping billions of people.

So why is it that technology for the next billion customer seems to be such a stretch for the world? We cite lack of capital (where's the ROI?) or markets (how can the poor pay?) and put off climate change concerns.

But maybe the new decade starting with 2010 will be a decade when profit, people and planet - all will matter in playing the game. The fact that large corporations are getting into it is significant - they have capital as well as the marketing to reach large numbers of consumers.

After reading about the filter I also read about the cheapest refrigerator ($69) - the portable, top-opening unit weighs only 7.8kg, uses high-end insulation to stay cool for hours without power and consumes half the energy used by regular refrigerators - from the Indian conglomerate Godrej & Boyce. And then there is Vihaan Networks Ltd (VNL), the Indian telecom company whose solar powered base station can be built for one-tenth the cost of a regular one, is profitable at just $2 of revenue per user per month and will go to market in India, Africa and Southeast Asia. VNL is one among 26 global firms selected by the World Economic Forum as "Technology Pioneers 2010" -- the most innovative start-ups from around the world that will have a critical impact on the future of business and society.

So, I start the decade full of hope. If we can imagine it we can do it- Innovation is a mindset that changes the game - markets will follow - even developed markets.