Monday, January 19, 2004

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Dr. King said, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land."

To me, anyway, it doesn't seem that audacious any more.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

WSIS and Beyond: Silicon Valley Roundtable

I attended a very good meeting yesterday, with a small but high-powered audience. Everybody there was working on some important initiative that will contribute significantly to the eventual integrated effort for sustainable development.

> ...round table discussion of an important
> initiative - the World Summit on the Information Society
> (WSIS) by two attendees at the December Geneva event. This
> forum is being sponsored by AcrossWorld Communications,
> Inc., Center for New Futures, and International Business
> Incubator to foster the participation of Silicon Valley in
> a meaningful way in the WSIS session to be held in Tunis in
>2005. Join us --

I will discuss with IBI whether their services would help Encore. We are exactly their target market, that is, a foreign company getting established in the US.

> 3:10 PM Opening comments and introduction of the
> keynote speakers by Linda Alepin, Center for New Futures

I didn't find out anything about the Center for New Futures at the meeting except that they do this sort of thing. Linda asked us to introduce ourselves briefly, and to tell the meeting the one question that we hoped to get an answer to.

I asked how to get the attention of those who need to hear our message, and I got several good clues. Part of the answer, of course, is that a lot of the people there actually know the people we are trying to talk to, and can introduce us and point people to our Web sites and other publications.

> 3:20 PM KEYNOTE I: Gender, Technology and WSIS
> by Nancy Hafkin

The WSIS, as is usual for UN events, consisted mainly of prepared speeches by heads of state from developing countries and low-level representatives of developed countries. The statements of principles and planned actions had to be approved in advance, and were heavily watered down by opposition to almost everything from one side or another. However, there were several very useful documents produced,

The real work had been done in preliminary meetings and in informal work outside the UN. For example, thousands of hours of work resulted in three paragraphs on women's rights in the official documents. No support could be expressed for Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) beyond the acknowledgment that it was worth looking at. Some countries seem to be confused about FOSS, thinking that it means doing away with copyright protections for software.

Alongside the heads-of-state Summit the ICT4D (ICT for Development) trade show drew 13,000 people to look at examples of ICT in development. The exhibits were not simply of products, but of active programs. This was the most encouraging part of the entire WSIS.

> 3:45 PM KEYNOTE II: Engaging Entrepreneurs and
> Enterprises in ICT and Development: Akhtar Badshah, Digital

Akhtar Badshah wrote a book for the WSIS on information kiosks for development. He also had great praise for the ICT4D, and made an impassioned plea for getting down to the real work of rolling out ICT and all of the beneficial programs that they can support to villages worldwide, but warned of the inevitable unintended consequences.

> 4:10 PM Roundtable discussions: WSIS 2005 in
> Tunis and Silicon Valley chaired by Anil Srivastava,
> AcrossWorld Communications

We all pitched into the discussion with the projects we are working on, and talked a bit about how those projects could fit together. The most interesting to me is a program on methods of replicating successful programs worldwide.

> 4:45 PM Closing remarks by Doug Engelbart,
> Bootstrap Alliance

Doug is one of the great innovators and thinkers in the digital world. He has been thinking about how to deal with the exponential growth of information and of computer and communications technology. Could we organize ourserves to make progress in keeping up with progress?

> 5:00 PM Next Steps by Linda Alepin and Barbara
> Harley

The meeting was far too short to create any real plan. None of us had time to explain our own initiatives or our understanding of the overall process of ICT4D. We did collect questions to be answered from everybody, and agreed to share the questions and other information,. We will see about creating a mailing list for the participants, bringing in other people, and following up with future meetings.

> The first phase of the World Summit on the Information
> Society (WSIS) sponsored by the United Nations was held in
> Geneva from 10-12 December 2003 and the next summit--WSIS
> 2005--will be in Tunis.

Some people are complaining about the location, because Tunisia has quite backward policies in some areas. I think it's perfect, because it also has quite forward-looking policies in other areas, and will allow participants to see the real-world process, warts and all.

> Several Silicon Valley participants joined in a
> videoconference organized by the World Bank during the
> Geneva summit to discuss our future involvement in the WSIS
> 2005 in Tunis.
> WSIS is an expression of "...our common desire and
> commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and
> development-oriented Information Society, where everyone
> can create, access, utilize and share information and
> knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to
> achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable
> development and improving their quality of life, premised
> on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United
> Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal
> Declaration of Human Rights."

High-sounding bafflegab. What is most important is what's missing--commitments to specifics, particularly to figuring out what it will cost and where the money will come from.

We don't have a common desire and commitment. Politicians are deathly afraid of empowering their constituencies. Those who benefit from corruption don't want competition and openness. There is little or no commitment to freedom of speech in many countries, or to the rights of women, children, minorities, foreigners, opposition parties, or anybody else who is from the wrong side of the Us vs. Them tracks.

> The roundtable has been organized to hear from Nancy
> Hafkin and Akhtar Badshah, who not only participated in the
> Geneva summit, but are key leaders in the preparation for
> the Tunis summit in 2005.

This is a real opportunity for us to affect the process. We (that's the global We) have to turn the conversation to specifics, on the basis that we have the appropriate technologies and we have all the elements for a coordinated attack on the problem, in the form of programs that have been shown to work on the ground, plus proven methods for replication with adaptation to local conditions. So now we need to coordinate, organize, budget, and get down to business.

> Dr. Nancy Hafkin --Dr. Hafkin has been a true pioneer of
> networking, and development information and communications
> in Africa, over the course of a twenty-three year career.
> Nancy was among the first to enter the field of electronic
> communications in Africa. Her advocacy around this issue
> has drawn attention to the growing potential of ICT's in
> Africa, and the cost to Africa of remaining outside the
> process of social and economic change broughtabout by the
> development of the global information society.
> Dr. Akhtar Badshah --Akhtar Badshah is the Executive
> Director of Digital Partners (www.digitalpartners.com) and
> brings to the organization extensive experience as an
> educator, researcher, and development expert. He has served
> as a consultant for such organization as The Asia Society,
> Rockefeller Foundation, UNDP, USAID, World Resources
> Institute, World Bank-EDI, and others in the US, Asia, and
> the Middle East and is an internationally recognized
> author, particularly in the field of urban planning and
> development.

Wonderful people. Someone suggested we clone them. :)

Monday, January 12, 2004

Six Billion Connected Voices

openDemocracy has published an article I wrote on the consequences of giving all of the Earth's billions a voice in the conversation about their future. Some of them would like to have a word with you, you know.

Friday, January 02, 2004

E-choupals: Indian farmers on the Net

One of the promises of the Simputer and other computers for the poor has been the ability to access market information, so that the farmers can decide better when and where to buy and sell. Some people with no experience of farming or poverty, and with a great lack of imagination, doubt that this is of any consequence. I hope the doubters will read this article from the New York Times and understand that the impact of access to market information for farmers is becoming as important as we said it would.

This story is not only about soybeans, as the headline suggests, but also coffee, tea, cotton, shrimp, and many other products. Sixty companies have already taken part in a pilot project to sell services and goods, from insurance to seeds to motorbikes to biscuits, through ITC. Eventually the company expects to sell everything from microcredit to tractors via e-choupals.

Indian Soybean Farmers Join the Global Village
January 1, 2004

The story describes a farmer with a middle-school education who gets on a computer to check soybean prices on the Chicago Board of Trade Web site. Prices in India generally follow Chicago by several days, so this is quite valuable information, which has allowed him to multiply his income by ten times or more, from about $300 in 2002 to that much a month since the program started in 2003. He earns on increased commissions from local farmers' transactions, so his increased income comes from increasing their incomes.

The computer is provided by ICT-IBD through its e-choupal program. Choupal means "village square" in Hindi. The program increases company profits as well, allowing it to expand across the countryside. This is in sharp contrast with earlier NGO programs that could not be replicated due to dependence on donations rather than economic growth.

As described in the article, this is an excellent program. ICT-IBD is credited by some with doing as much as anybody to break down the Digital Divide. There are now 1,700 e-chopals in Madhya Pradesh, and 3,000 total in India. They are serving 18,000 villages, reaching up to 1.8 million farmers.

Unfortunately, ITC is placing its systems with high-caste villagers, in order to gain respect for the program. I believe that this is a long-term strategic error. Even in the short term, it restricts ITC's market share, and it also reinforce the caste system. If they were available only to low-caste villagers, the blow to the caste system would be severe, and ITC would end up with more customers. I base this notion on the experience of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, which started among outcastes and has successfully broken down many caste barriers.

The story also says that 72% of India's population of 1.2 billion or so live in its 600,000 villages, which implies an average size of about 2,000 people. This is consistent with the estimate that about 4 billion people worldwide live in about 2 million villages, but it sounds implausible to me. I get the impression that really small villages are systematically undercounted everywhere. That doesn't affect the importance of ITC-IBD, though. Still, if anybody knows anything factual about how villages are counted, I would be glad of the information.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Social Entrepreneurs

The NPR program Talk of the Nation just did a show on social entrepreneurship. They didn't mention Simputers, but they were certainly talking about what we are doing. Richard Stallman called in with a mention of Free Software and a point about things that can be fixed without fixating on market solutions.

You can listen on the Web.

Social Entrepreneurs

An engineer took on Brazil's urban sprawl by giving rural farmers cheap electricity. In India, a teacher tailored schools to satisfy young people set on emigration. Ideas, passion, a head for business and a desire for change describe these people, known as "social entrepreneurs." Neal Conan and guests discuss the philosophy behind social entrepreneurship.


J.B. Schram
Founder and CEO of College Summit

David Bornstein
Author, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2004)

David Green
Founder, Project Impact

Cheryl Dahle
Contributing Writer, Fast Company Magazine
Project Coordinator for this month's special issue on Social Capitalist Awards

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