Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pashma: Textile Art Meets High Fashion

My 15 year history with digital printing had not prepared me for a career in high fashion. A trip to Delhi awakened me to the revolution digital printing has wrought in the Fashion world. Sure, at HP, we had promoted our inkjet printers as suitable for personal creative expression on various media including textiles at shows and tech gatherings. But the application seemed to me boutique, never imagining the potential for unleashing the creativity of fashion designers. While attending the Wills Lifestyle Fashion Show for Pashma, I got a chance to tour the exhibition and check out designer ware. The first thing I noticed was the profusion of color, right after that the complexity of designs and then the fact that no two designs were alike. Gone are the bolts and bolts of fashion wear made from the same polka dotted print, checks or paisley. Using inkjet technology in digital textile printing allows for single pieces, mid-run production and even long-run alternatives to screen printed fabric.
Every designer now has the option of not just designing the cut of the dress but also the print and vary the print to suit the fall line of the cloth. And India with its rich heritage of color, art and creativity has transformed this technology into fabulous fashion. Printing on textile even has its own name now - DTG or direct to garment printing, "DTG, digital garment printing is a process of printing on textiles and garments using specialized or modified inkjet technology. Inkjet printing on fabric is also possible with an inkjet printer by using fabric sheets with a removable paper backing. Today major inkjet technology manufacturers can offer specialized products designed for direct printing on textiles, not only for sampling but also for bulk production." says wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My eulogy for Steve Jobs

I have been pondering over the many undoubted achievements of Steve Jobs but would have to stop short of any hagiographic treatment that he is now getting. The kind of media frenzy that is going on is absolutely unquestioned. I don't hear many contrary points of view. Was he perfect? I doubt it. While Steve Jobs has left the world a bit better than ever, do we have to put him up on a pedestal? I think not.

Despite the sleekness and the universal appeal of his products, I have to say I have never owned one except for the lowly Apple Touch (an iPhone-, something between an iPod and an iPhone). Frankly, I found no great value in this particular product and I suspect this experience may have put me off Apple for ever. For example, I could never get it to work with WiFi at home. Setting the WEP/WPA pass-phrase was always an extremely frustrating exercise for me because my password was often a complex pass-phrase and not a dumb password. I finally got it right when I purchased a rubberized stylus. Did that show great usability?

Since I haven't used other Apple products since then, I cannot say how much of Apple technology I might have missed out on over the years but I do know that my freedom of choice is intact!!

I developed a wireless tablet (Mobilis) way back in 2004, several years before the famed iPad. We also developed the Simputer, a wireless PDA, way back in 1999-2000 time-frame. We developed these products around the Linux operating system. From that deep personal experience I learned more than a few lessons.

One important lesson is that product development is not always about technology, but how you market a product that separates the men from the boys. On that count, I guess I am still a curious 59-year old boy, and happy to be so!!

The other important lesson is that the consumer experience must be designed in at the foundation level of product conceptualization.

On both counts, my conclusion would be that the current iPad is a great consumer product, state-of-the-art as far as usability is concerned but well behind the technology-curve.

I would certainly give Steve full marks for developing great products and I have respect for his meticulous and relentless focus on perfection. Summary: great, elegant products with great usability features, but with severe constraints on your personal freedom.

The third lesson I learned from the Simputer and Mobilis experience is that while open-source software gives a designer the power to leverage into his product, it also passes on that power to the end-user. This is a transitive relationship which enables the product to evolve in the hands of the designer and the user. What would the user do with that enabling power is not for me to say. What would I do with freedom anyway? Is that a question that merits an answer?

I have always valued my personal freedom, and enjoyed the freedom to do whatever I want with a product once I have bought it. Whether I load incompatible applications and trash the warranty is entirely up to me.

Don't we all add our own add-ons when we purchase a set of wheels or buy a new condo? Could I get such freedom from an Apple product?

While elegance and sleekness of design are highly desirable attributes in a product, I prefer the personal freedom to do what I want with the product on which I put down my hard earned money. Is that freedom available to me with an Apple product? I have so many Android choices available to me if I want to buy a smart-phone or a wireless tablet.

As a technology-savvy person, I have no fear when I load software from different sources or something I may have developed. That is the power of the open-source. I know "open-source" is a matter of religion for many and is definitely not for the faint-of-heart. But then, freedom is also not for the faint-of-heart. Freedom has to be fought for at every step with eternal vigilance.

Isn't Apple some sort of religion too?

The obvious question I could be asked is, "how is the average user constrained in his or her freedom by purchasing an Apple product?". The counter argument I would pose to you would be another set of questions, "Why do you want to be clubbed with the average user? Why not strike out on you own and experiment. Let the product evolve and be personalized for you by you, if possible. Isn't this the freedom you exercise in your social and political decisions? If so, why get constrained when you buy a product?"

Richard Stallman couldn't have put it any better. Here is an extract from a new item I recently read somewhere:

One of Jobs' greatest critics wouldn't even honour his business achievements. Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman eulogised Jobs as "the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom."

"We all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing," said the high-tech renegade and father of the free software movement.

"Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective."

I don't particularly care for Steve's riding roughshod over his employees and business associates but I am concerned if as a paying user I am told there are things I cannot do with my product.

So, by all means, let us eulogize Steve Jobs as a great business leader, a great human-being and a great inventor to be respected for his contributions, but let us carefully weigh the pros and cons of freedom versus constraints.

Freedom should reign supreme!!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Magsaysay Award for Harish Hande, SELCO

Wonderful and well deserved: Harish Hande, of Bangalore founder SELCO, has received the Magsaysay Award, often described as the Nobel Prize of Asia. Congratulations. Selco Solar Pvt. Ltd,, founded as a social enterprise, is a provider of solar power technology to the poor.

Additionally from Carl Pope, Chairman, The Sierra Club:

Now two of our key India partners are being similarly recognized, and it honors us to be associated with them. The Barefoot University, led by Bunker Roy, was the first winner of the Sierra Club's Green Livelihoods Award and has now received Japan's prestigious environmental award, the Blue Planet Prize.
And one of our key on-the-ground partners, Harish Hande, of the Solar Electric Company of Bangalore (SELCO), has received the Magsaysay Award. http://bit.ly/pgwoIx
It's fantastic to see the wonderful work done by these two organizations recognized, and I want to thank our India pioneers and friends for helping the Club identify and support them.
thanks Carl.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011 Knight Foundation Challenge awardee: FrontlineSMS

FrontlineSMS developed by Digital Vision Fellow Ken Banks founder of The Kiwanja Foundation,  is one of 16 projects Knight Foundation has selected as winners of the fifth Knight News Challenge . Details:
Award: $250,000
Project Lead: Sean McDonald
Web link: www.frontlinesms.com
Twitter: @frontlinesms

FrontlineSMS: Media will create a new platform that allows journalists to more effectively use text messaging to inform and engage rural communities. The Frontline SMS platform already enables users in underserved areas to organize interactions with large numbers of people via text messages, a laptop and a mobile phone – without the need for the Internet. This grant will enable FrontlineSMS to expand its software platform and work with community radio stations and other rural journalists.

Full list here.
Congratulation to Ken and all the 2011 winners.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In-depth Interview: Dr. Madhav Chavan (June 10, 2011) | Opinion Blog | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Rahim Kanani interview: Quote "Dr. Madhav Chavan, co-founder, president, and CEO of Pratham, and a 2011 recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Pratham is the largest nongovernmental organization working to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of India. It was established in 1994 to provide education to the children in the slums of Mumbai city. Since then, the organization has grown both in scope and geographical coverage." Check out the interview:

In-depth Interview: Dr. Madhav Chavan (June 10, 2011) Opinion Blog Stanford Social Innovation Review

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Women Creating Jobs, for Themselves and Others

3,818 jobs. That's right - that's the number of jobs created by entrepreneurs who graduated in 2010 from the Women's Initiative for Self Employment curriculum in the bay area. Women's Initiative, a non-profit, provides low-income, high-potential women with the training, funding and ongoing support to start their own businesses and become financially self-sufficient.  The women who go through the program significantly increase their income and assets while launching businesses, creating jobs and stimulating the local economy. The stories of Laura Leon and Reign Free I heard at the 2011 Gala as guest of HP Social Innovation, energised and helped celebrate the spirit of women leadership. It was also great to see how the Women's Initiative organisation has grown and is able to empower women to become income providers instead of charity seekers. What I find distinguishes Women's Initiative from others is that they provide a full service - which includes not just the initial training but also start-up funding and then helps them build connections (they call the 3 steps Train, Fund, Propel) thus creating a larger support system for its graduates that increases chances of success. Appropriately, reflecting this philosophy the 2011 Gala was called "Connecting Women on the Rise".
Get connected. Get Inspired.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cross-cultural Management in the age of Cultural Flattening

After 35 years work experience in the US, I taught my first ever course in India on entrepreneurship, and realised that the notion of cross-cultural management, a mainstay of human resource professionals, is an idea past its prime. Superficially, dress, food preferences, language, art knowledge, there are differences, but fundamentally e.g. motivation, values, relationships, people are people.

The monumental change Internet and mobile digital information has wrought,  I would argue, is that the notion of "culture" is rendered obsolete; and this is a good thing. Today, its about being aware of yourself and of others;  its about individual choice more than the culture a person grew up in; focus on what is hard-wired vs. what is social (read culture) conditioning.

Globalization, social media and access to high quality visuals at  Internet speed have had a "flattening"  effect not just on business but also social mores. In  Art Kleiner's Strategy+Business  article A Long-Wave Theory on Today’s Digital Revolution, historian Elin Whitney-Smith observes: "in each new information revolution, decision rights have been pushed lower in the organization. One of the social innovations of the electric information revolution was the train conductor. He was a working-class individual, but he wore a suit and tie and carried a watch. He could say “all aboard!” to an aristocrat and the aristocrat would have to get on the train or get left behind. That was a huge social innovation." That metaphor now applies across countries and cultures. As long as an individual has a vested interest in ensuring long term success of the organisation, in this case keeping trains running on schedule for the greater benefit, decision making overlooks culture defined norms, be it hierarchy, race, and even religion. Information access, whether in a business, societal or personal context, means that culturally defined rights and wrongs just become data points and not defining criterion.

There is a rub though. More so than ever, "cultural flattening" underscore the need to understand practical considerations imposed by geography and economic circumstance because cultural cues that help awareness are now missing. The digital armchair traveller may intellectually understand poverty but cannot experience hunger. A false understanding can lead to wrong decisions.

We say that “cultural awareness does not focus on a specific region of the world, but instead requires general sensitivity to other cultures.” Overall I agree with this– just replace culture with “circumstance” (this is important because circumstance can be changed, culture not so easily). By and large though, from food to fashion, social class to religious custom, "unity in diversity" has changed from a slogan to reality.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Social E-Challenge: Final Round

The annual BASES Social E-Challenge, a student-run social entrepreneurship business plan competition, where I mentor, will be hosting its final round event Wednesday, May 18th at Stanford University. Our finalists are:

Foresight Medical is a low cost device for cervical cancer screening, a disease that kills 270,000 woman a year.
Culture Kitchen is a social enterprise that seeks to connect immigrant women in the U.S. with female American “foodies” interested in learning to cook authentic ethnic cuisine, by creating a culinary and cultural forum focused on empowerment.
1/2 PROJECT champions the idea of giving on a small scale through everyday common purchases, instead of large annual gifts that require more financial commitment.
Juntos Finanzas creates innovative personal finance tools that empower first generation Latino communities.

The finalists were chosen after multiple rounds from the following:
Biological Processing of Milk Wastewater
Culture Kitchen
D3W: Diagnostic Devices for the Developing World
Foresight Medical
Gram Power
The College Gap

Monday, May 9, 2011

India Calling? First Answer the Question WII-FM?

The "India Calling", themed SAMBAA event on May 9, where I was a panelist, drew an astonishingly accomplished, enthusiastic, energetic and diverse audience with a range of interests (renewable to retail, rural to lifestyle). However almost everyone I chatted with (before as well as after the panel) had one underlying question in common:  If I go to India, will it work out (be successful)?

Its easy and appropriate to answer this vaguely.. well it really depends on what you want .. depends on what your goals are ..etc. because that is the reality. But as I think about it I realise this question can be handled like a corporate re-organisation where the first question that pops into my head  is :What's In It For Me or WII-FM?

So, go ahead, if you are considering a move to India have some fun with the following questions:
Q1 - Is moving to India a major strategic career change for you?
Your answer is NO if there is no financial downside to you such as loss of a paycheck (e.g. if your company is opening office in India and will move you or its a paid internship etc etc) and my advice is move to India but don't burn any bridges in US and while in India keep up with your contacts.  A major career change often requires you to give up something or making an investment.
Q2 -  What is the benefit or why do you want to move to India?
Most common answers to this one are - I want my children to grow up in India or I want to be with aging parent. Both are good reasons and you may have others but if you cannot clearly articulate a benefit it means your answer is NO and you should shelve the idea till you figure this out. I phrase the question as a benefit to you because other common answers I get are : I want to give back or I want to do good and those are poor success predictors and indeed are good reasons for you to stay here and engage with India in other ways.
Q3 - With this pre work done you are ready to answer WII-FM? Create a statement, write it down - take the long term view (long depends on what industry you are in - average is 3 years) because while it is easy to move back and forth these days, still some preparation and field work can make your move more fun as well as a personal and career development activity. This question often has to do with what makes you happy - which is important in keeping your attitude positive when things look low. It helps you define boundary conditions.

With this under your belt - its time to talk specifics!

Other topic: Several people brought up spousal agreement. I do believe that if involved parties answer the above questions first individually and then move to a common ground things will go better. Also - if you haven't been to India in the last 2 years - make a trip - some things are just the same but others are radically new.

Most importantly - like other decisions this one too is a heart decision - follow your heart and your head will figure out what to do to make it work.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mainstreaming Microfinance: Malegam Report and Artoo

Lately, the micro-finance industry reports have been squarely in two opposing camps: unconscionable profiteers or saviours for stimulating the economy for the poorest of poor. If nothing else, the Malegam report, as an official, publicly available document from India, shifts the conversation from sensationalist news items to promote informed debate. Additionally, having regulations (such as the 24% cap on interest rates, 25K rupee limit on loan size, max 2 lenders for 1 client etc) outlined in the report, mainstreams a  capital procurement instrument for the poor - a population not served by traditional capital markets.The debate is no longer whether micro-finance works or not- the debate is how to make it work better for the client as well as the lender. While many practitioners view the report favourably, some may argue otherwise; that the Malegam restrictions favor the bigger MFIs or that the industry will no longer be self-sustaining or that the restrictions are unenforceable. I think the report is a fantastic development irrespective of the specifics of the debate because it brings micro-finance into the mainstream.

In addition to all the analyses you can read for yourself (google or follow link above) I have another point to make- The report, with its concrete guidelines will spur technology innovation in bringing down the cost of transactions. IT hardware as well as software exits to bring transparency which reduces corruption and automation to reduce cost/transaction (of the large number of small loans MFI must deal with that raise their costs) but so far the MFI industry has been somewhat tech-averse - it increases risk to take a technology and market risk at the same time after all. With industry benchmarks to follow I believe entrepreneurs as well as established MFIs will be motivated to enlist technology to develop applications specif to the MFI industry.
For a specific example of "technology to the rescue" check out the initial results of start-up Artoo. Sameer Segal, founder of Artoo writes "we truly believe we can help MFIs bring their OER down to meet the new requirements".
Mainstreaming micro-finance will also allow the industry to open up new product offerings (e.g. savings accounts) that further benefit both client and lender.

Monday, January 17, 2011

BASES Bootcamp: Apps due Feb 1

Be part of one of the nation's most selective national entrepreneurship conferences, held in conjunction by the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) and Princeton University's Business Today (BT).

The BASES - BT National Entrepreneurship Bootcamp is an all-expenses-paid trip to Stanford University, including food, lodging, and travel for 110 student delegates. We are committed to a conference focused on bringing together students with brilliant ideas from universities around the nation with founders, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists for an intensive learning experience. We are looking for students with ideas in web/software, biotech, cleantech, social entrepreneurship, etc.
Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of the idea they would like to bring in to develop into reality throughout the conference, and on the potential we feel they have to become outstanding entrepreneurs (see application for more details). We welcome any highly motivated student to apply, regardless of prior experiences.
Held April 7-10, 2011 at Stanford University, this event will feature small-group workshops, keynote addresses, panels, and more — all hosted by the top entrepreneurially-minded people in Silicon Valley and beyond. At the end of the event, participants will have the opportunity to present their business idea in a competitive format. Because the focus of our conference is on applied entrepreneurship, we are looking for undergraduate and graduate students who have the potential to begin transforming their fantastic startup idea into a successful venture.
Applications close on February 1, 2011. Decisions will be emailed to applicants by March 1, 2011. Email all questions to ebootcamp@bases.stanford.edu. Apply now at bases.stanford.edu/e-bootcamp!
Ruby Lee & Brian Reiser
E-Bootcamp 2011 Co-Directors