Article on Atlas Corps and Deadline for Fellows April 1st

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article on Scott Beale and the Atlas Corps, an organization we have written on numerous times in the past:

His creation is Atlas Corps, which lures highly-skilled non-profit decision-makers from India and Colombia to the United States for a year, running Sept. 1 to Aug. 30.

He concentrates on India and Colombia because he speaks the languages and because they have highly-developed non-profit sectors. They also have a high opinion of the United States, Beale said.

To join this program, go here before April 1st, which is when the applications are due.

Ashoka Launches Collaborative Competition for Rural Innovation

TCI had earlier discussed open innovation as an emerging tool for social entrepreneurs. An excellent initiative in this field is Ashoka Changemakers, which provides an online space for social innovators to present ideas and collaborate with others on refining and implementing them.

Changemakers is building the world’s first global online “open source” community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole.

To keep the framework dynamic, the online Changemakers’s community identifies and selects the best solutions and helps refine them.

A Changemakers collaborative competition consist of three parts – collecting ideas, reviewing them with the member community and finally selecting the most innovative solutions through voting. The goal is for the whole community to share its experience and expertise in bringing forward solutions on challenges ranging from Health Care to Sustainable Tourism.

In collaboration with the Gates Foundation, Changemakers recently launched a competition on Solutions for Rural Communities. The framework provided for this competition is,

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people—the 1 billion who live on $1 a day or less—rely on agriculture to feed themselves and their families, yet many cannot grow enough to sell or even eat. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are providing small farmers with tools and opportunities to boost their productivity, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families.

Innovative solutions that span the entire agricultural value chain – from seeds to sales – are necessary to accomplish these goals. We encourage you to take part in Ashoka Changemaker’s “Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities” competition to help bring about innovative, creative solutions for small farmers in the developing world.

Entries are welcome up to May 13th and voting will begin on June 24th. If have an idea or know anyone working in rural development and agriculture, go to the site and make an entry. Also, read and comment on the current entries – there are already over 30 ideas presented there.

The Emergence of GovTech?

This is an excerpt from an email from Gunjan Sinha of SiliconIndia. He sent this to me the other day, and one part triggered some of my own feelings and thoughts that arose as a result of Obama’s recent inauguration.

In this new era, I see a strong role for entrepreneurs in reinventing our governments, and opportunities galore for those who are brave to take the plunge. Many here in Silicon Valley talk about mammoth opportunities in CleanTech, BioTech, and NanoTech; I personally see an equally substantial opportunity in what I would call ‘GovTech’ – the confluence of Government and Technology. The time is now to retool the government with creative entrepreneurial genius. Examples of business opportunities in this trillion-dollar market are abundant.

What Gunjan speaks of is even more important today, where we have witnessed the election in the US of a president who is in effect a social entrepreneur. In running his campaign, Obama utilized the power of community activism and grassroots organization to reach an astounding 1.5 million donors across the country and world. With initiatives like transparency.gov, he hopes to extend this new approach to governance beyond just his pioneering campaign.

Muhammad Yunus speaks to NYU

Here are some high level points from his talk last night. My own observations are preceded by initials, while comments he said are left alone. I kept them in this order as this was the original chronology of how they developed:

  • (VG) Power of one man: it is impossible to not be in awe when you listen to what he has done.
  • (VG) Amazing brand image: While they may not be concerned with profit, there is no question that Grameen is very focused on building and maintining a strong brand identity that in itself is opening doors and creating opportunities.
  • Low tech + high tech: much of what Grameen does is marry high tech with existing/traditional products. The prime example is Grameen Danone which uses a dietary staple of Bangladeshi children to transmit nutrition.
  • “I wondered what I was doing” – his question when he realized he does not own a single share in any of his companies. (VG) This unyielding desire to create is found in any successful entrepreneur. For them money is only one part of what drives them.
  • “Human beings have multiple dimensions as should businesses”
  • “You don’t need fancy packaging in a social business because you are making something you need”
  • “Why should people pay for something they will throw away” — his response to make the the packaging to Danon Yogurt not only bio-degradable (currently happening) but edible and nutritious as well! (Danon is working on it).
  • Poverty museums — one day we will take our children to these to show them what the world was like when people still existed in poverty
  • “Technology is like water it takes the shape of whatever you put it in” — it is not the technology that is critical but it is being use for

[TC-I Changemaker]: NComputing makes $70 PC for the Poor

The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.

Last week, Vinay sat down (via webcast) with Stephen Dukker, Chairman & CEO of NComputing , a company that has developed a low-cost, robust virtual pc platform that enables numerous workstations to be run on a single desktop machine. While the company originally intended to
take corporate visualization products like VMWare head on, Dukker and the rest of the management team recognized early that their inexpensive architecture would be ideal for the developing world as well. Predicted by
some to be the next Google, the company has positioned itself to explode in India. Dukker took the time to speak with TC-I about the unique features of NComputing’s platform.

Editor’s update: At the writing of this interview, NComputing had just hired Raj Choudhury, formerly at BEA India, as Country Manager for India. Full story can be read here.

Vinay Ganti: Thank you Stephen for taking the time to speak with me and the TC-I community today. Let’s start out at the beginning, what exactly has NComputing set out to do?

Stephen Dukker: To break it down to its simplest point, we are offering the world a $70 PC. We have developed a means for profitably providing a computing workstation for $70 each that includes all of the necessary virtualization hardware and software – a price point we believe will finally make access to computers a reality throughout the globe.

VG: Wow, $70 for a PC seems rather incredible, especially given how much attention the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has gotten for reaching the $100 price point (NOTE: that was their goal, they are selling for $177 FOC China). How exactly does NComputing manage to provide a PC for only $70?

SD: NComputing effectively leverages the continuing trend of increasing processing power of the everyday desktop computer. A typical $700 desktop found in a home has effectively become as powerful as a mainframe. With 3Ghz of power and multiple gigs of ram, these computers usually utilize less than 1% of their processing capabilities. In essence, many desktops waste their capacity and as a result waste energy.

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Tees Ka Dum: Inspiring Children to Learn, the Dave Eggers Way

How could a pirate supply store possibly be connected to a highly successful tutoring program for children? What connection is there between superhero comics and academic excellence? The question baffled me as well, but the answer, 826 Valencia, has served as a source of inspiration for education enthusiasts all over America, and now, India as well. The catalyst for change: Dave Eggers. Watch and be inspired:

Though the model is a quirky one – drawing students into the learning fold through elaborate pirate supply shops (or other local variations like superhero or spy stores) – the basic premise is quite extraordinary in its simplicity: “1) great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and 2) strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” With this guiding philosophy in the mind, 826 National, the umbrella organization, currently operates out of 7 chapters, and “provides drop-in tutoring, class field trips, writing workshops, and in-schools programs—all free of charge.” In other words, Adults with Free Time + Quirky Learning Center + Fun, Project-Based Writing Activities = A Set of Very Excited Students!

Inspired by this model, aProCh (A Protagonist in Every Child), an initiative dedicated to creating a “sustainable environment of safety, exploration, curiosity and community for the children of Ahmedabad,” plans to launch “Tees Ka Dum.” The premise, similar to 826 National, is as follows:

Research has shown that 30 hours of One on One attention in 1 year results in huge leaps in a child’s learning. Large class sizes in most municipal and public schools have a negative impact on the academic learning of a child. Tees Ka Dum will counter the impact by giving one on one tutoring to these children and improve their academic performance.

Similar to 826 Valencia, this program is “totally dependent on the volunteering spirit of citizens,” and is run free of charge. So far, Tees Ka Dum has received support from “Yuva Unstoppable” and the Riverside School, but more volunteers are required. The first center will be launched in the Sardar Bazaar community on the 15th of August, with 10 more planned by the end of this year.

Want to get involved? Get in touch us, and we’ll forward you more information!

Are we humble enough?

I hope many of you did not miss this excellent op-ed by Rohini Nilekani on this Sunday’s edition of The Hindu. A philanthropist herself, Rohini talks about the changing face of philanthropy in India. Rohini has an interesting take on this new movement to create change:

But as I look around now, a lot of us, especially in the newer foundations, are in a big hurry to achieve social change. We want to reduce inequity and we want it now! We want measurable outcomes, we want replicability and we want scale. Some of this impatience to improve things quickly comes from the corporate ethos, where performance measurement is embedded in the  culture. Much of the new talent in the foundations and in the new citizen sector organisations comes from business.

For the answer to emerge, we will need patience, compassion and reflection. We will have to stop looking at issues in silos and constantly, and with humility look to support the elements of integration that build community; that recreate human values rather than just ‘things.’

Its a good time to point you to an earlier op-ed written by Vinay on this blog. He was highlighting the debate about the need for humility among social entrepreneurs. My guess is that there will be even more discussion on the topic in the coming years, as we start seeing bigger foundations emerge with even more money to spend. I only hope we are constantly reminded of the need for ‘patience, compassion and
reflection’.

[TC-I Changemaker]: Earnkarma lets you find your own way to volunteer locally

The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.

This week, Vinay sat down (over Skype) with Gulshan Ramesh of Earnkarma.org, which links individuals/organizations that are in need of volunteers or any other kind of non monetary assistance with people who are looking to help them. Here, simplicity appears to be the initiative’s strength, as the site’s straightforward design is symbolic of the organization’s no nonsense attitude.

Vinay Ganti: Thank you for taking time to speak with us today? What exactly does Earnkarma.org hope to accomplish?

Gulshan Ramesh: The mission of Earnkarma is to be a website for volunteers, non-profits and so forth to post their requests for assistance so that those individuals that wish to help can do so. This way individuals that are passionate about a particular cause can locate an individual/organization hopefully near them to provide assistance.

The one major requirement is that none of the posts may involve requests for monetary help. We want to be a conduit for volunteering only. We will monitor every post to make sure this is the case. We do not want to become affiliated with charitable causes as then people may start becoming concerned with where exactly their money is going or how it is being used.

VG: Which areas of India can use Earnkarma?

GR: Actually we initially intended to have it provide volunteer opportunities throughout the world, but for now we are working on building out the United States and India. It is difficult to get the database for other countries. Within India, it is currently available in every state and every major city.

This website is intended for both organizations and individuals. You do not have to be some non-profit or NGO to benefit from the site. Let’s say that I have the desire to teach English on my weekends to local teenagers. I can post it on Earnkarma to see if anyone else in my area wants to join, and coordinate with them from that post. In this way the site could help create new organizations locally.

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Sanitation on Wheels – All Aboard!

Earlier this month, I attended the inaugural ceremony of the “Nandini Mobile Van” at the Safai Vidyalaya (Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI)), Sughad, an organization which is considered a pioneer in the sanitation sector, largely due to the principled and passionate leadership of its founder, Ishwarbhai Patel (affectionately referred to as “Ishwarkaka”).

Before I elaborate further on Nandini, the “Sanitation and Health Van on Wheels,” a short storytelling session about Ishwarkaka’s extraordinary life and work is necessary, as he embodies the spirit of community-driven development. Ishwarkaka has dedicated his life to the cause of sanitation, from cleaning his own toilets (as well as those of others), to building 186,000 latrines throughout Gujarat. Even at a young age, Ishwarkaka was aware of the inequalities borne by caste and socio-economic status, and protested their very existence:

When I was ten years old I entered a school cleanliness competition and took a broom from my father’s house and began to sweep the street. Near the temple I spotted a much better broom and basket and decided to use them. Immediately, the local people starting yelling at me. They claimed it was an untouchables’ and a caste person should not be doing a cleaning job. I realized then something was wrong with our society.

In 1963, Ishwarkaka, with the financing of Gandhiji’s Harijan Sevak Sangh, established the first Sefai Vidyalaya next to the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad (to be followed much later by ESI Sughad). If you were to walk through ESI Sughad, you would see a toilet garden, elaborate sanitation posters, advanced water harvesting and preservation techniques, solar technology, composting pits, and highly advanced biogas units. Currently, the purpose of the Institute is to promote sanitation practices, namely through trainings for policy makers, engineers, sanitary inspectors, and masons from all parts of India

In an attempt to re-connect with their rural grassroots development origins, however, ESI recently launched a new initiative – the Nandini Mobile Van, a sanitation marvel on wheels. This custom-built, professionally designed van is slated to travel through rural Gujarat, stopping at villages along the way in order to build awareness regarding the linkages between sanitation and health. In order to deliver the message in a compelling manner, the van is equipped with media tools such as “visual presentations, songs, plays, and hands-on experiments demonstrating the consequences of ill hygiene and unsanitary habits.” Regardless of the medium used, however, the primary objective is to engage villagers in meaningful dialogue that catalyzes individual and community-based awareness, followed by behavioral change.

In addition to state-of-the art multimedia tools, the van comes equipped with sleeping accommodations and, of course, impeccable bath / toilet facilities in order to allow volunteers and staff members to comfortably travel from village to village.

Want to learn more?  Have further questions?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

[Ishwarkaka’s life story passages were retrieved from Arthur Bonner’s, “Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today.”]

Civil Disobedience Comes to Life in Traffic-Infested Bombay

Those of us who have lived in an urban area in India know how traumatizing (and potentially life-threatening) the pedestrian’s experience can be. Horns blaring, buses hurtling towards intersections at breakneck speed, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, ineffectual traffic lights (at times flashing both red and green), debris littering pedestrian pathways (if they exist at all), unpredictable (and often volatile) traffic patterns. The list is never-ending. I, myself, fear for my life as I cross the main road on a daily basis to get to work. Why shouldn’t I be fearful, when I actually know of people who have been hit by cars before (including me)?

Clearly, just complaining about it (which all of us, including yours truly, seem to be especially adept at doing), isn’t going to get us anywhere. Well, Krishnaraj Rao, a resident of Bombay who has grown tired of the daily indignities suffered by pedestrians, isn’t just complaining – he’s actually doing something about it. He is the head of “Sahasi Padayatri”, a grassroots campaign on behalf of pedestrian rights in Bombay. Through this movement, people are starting to speak up and demand their rights, not through violence, but through peaceful demonstration.

Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it should. The movement draws upon Gandhiji’s principles of “Satyagraha” , which Rao defines as the following:

At a philosophical level, Satyagraha means SATYA + AGRAHA, which roughly translates as “Truth Force” or “Truth Command”. Indians believe in the saying that “Truth shall Prevail” (Satyam Eva Jayate) in a rather literal way. We believe that the Truth, if clearly stated without any personal agendas, has a force on the human psyche that exceeds the force of threat and violence.

It is necessary for such agitation to be easy for people to directly relate to, and also for the agitation to inflict some hardships on those who agitate. A key part of the non-violent approach is to avoid evoking negative emotions such as fear and anger in those against whom the agitation is aimed…Please note, a Satyagraha is never against a person or group of persons; it is only against faulty systems and continuing injustices.

The campaign itself is composed of three parts: 1) Pedestrian Satyagraha, 2) Debris Satyagraha, and 3) Letter Satyagraha. All three are described in detail below, after the break: Continue reading

Eco-Wise: Braving New Frontiers in Waste Management

Waste management is a significant challenge for India, specifically in urban areas, where the accumulation of trash leads to the prevalence of preventable diseases in poor, underprivileged populations. In order to address this issue, change is required on both a systemic and individual level, as the cause of the problem is rooted not only in lack of sanitation infrastructure / policies, but culturally accepted behavioral norms as well. In other words, not only do individuals not believe in maintaining the integrity of public spaces, but there is no formalized system in place to ensure that waste is collected and disposed of properly. Unfortunately, if there is no sense of personal responsibility, as well as no concept of proper trash disposal (neither the infrastructure to support this notion), how can we even begin to take the next necessary steps towards recycling and reuse?

As part of its “Climate Connections” series, NPR recently featured India’s first waste-recycling company, EcoWise Waste Management, the “leading provider of waste and environmental services” outside the Delhi area. To date, the company has achieved the following:

Headquartered in Noida, the company’s network of operations includes 15 collection operations, 2 transfer stations, 2 waste-to-compost plants and 5 recycling plants. These assets enable Eco Wise to offer a full range of environmental services to nearly 1.5 lac residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers. We collect and treat 40 tons of waste on a daily basis, which would otherwise be found lying on the roadside or make its way to the landfill site.

  1. Our activities diverted more than 2,400,000 tons of waste from ending up in land fill sites just last year
  2. With 80 manual rikshaws and 8 trucks running on bio-diesel we operate the cities largest fleet of clean vehicles
  3. Eco Wise is the only company in India that has its own waste segregation and treatment site.
  4. Our operations have permanently shut down more than 15 road side dumps in Noida.

The question, then, is this – if private actors are able to do (efficiently, cost-effectively, scalably) what government entities are supposed to do, how can the government capitalize on the insight of these entities? We’ve talked about PPPs on this site before, but what potential is there for these types of partnerships in the sanitation sector? (More after the break) Continue reading

2008 Echoing Green Fellowships Finalists

Echoing Green recently announced its 2008 Fellowship finalists – forty-one highly-talented rising social entrepreneurs now remain and will gather in New York City this spring to meet with a panel of judges. Below are the finalists, whose profiles explicitly mention that their projects are focussed on India:

  1. Yasmina McCarty and Nandini Narula, GreenMango: Bringing the power of online marketing technologies to poor business owners in developing countries to enable them to grow their businesses and increase their income
  2. Adarsh Kumar, Livelihoods Equity Connect: Investing in and supporting businesses that are owned by or employ poor producers, thereby creating successful enterprises in India
  3. Aditya Natraj, Indian School of Education: Training principals to turnaround failing rural public schools in India
  4. Sandeep Ahuja, Operation ASHA: Developing a cost-effective pipeline to deliver tuberculosis treatment to the most disadvantaged patients, at a convenient time and place, to ensure complete treatment

We hope to bring you more coverage on the finalists in the coming weeks.

[TC-I Changemakers]: Interview with Kal Raman of GlobalScholar.com

Editor’s note: The following interview is part of an ongoing series for ThinkChange India where we interview social entrepreneurs firsthand. The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab. The featured social entrepreneurs this week are working to improve education in India and around the world.

A few weeks ago, we posted on GlobalScholar — a Web 2.0 based platform that will make education more accessible to people throughout the world — and their current push to develop solutions specifically tailored to the Indian subcontinent. As a followup, ThinkChange India’s own Vinay Ganti spoke with GlobalScholar‘s CEO Kal Raman on this ambitious effort and to also gather more details on how the company intends to serve the Indian people. The following is a recap of the phone conversation between Vinay and Kal — all comments have been paraphrased unless set aside by quotation marks.

Vinay Ganti: Why did you start Globalscholar.com?

Kal Raman: The fundamental idea behind GlobalScholar is the use of technology to eliminate unecessary barriers to education. “We believe education can change a human being’s life everywhere in the world,” and it is Globalscholar’s job to figure out how to utilize technology to enable anyone to have access to such education. Right now many other companies are trying to address this problem in niches and we are very respectful of their accomplishments so far, but a lot more can still be done.

VG: One thing that seems to be unique about GlobalScholar is the conscious effort to provide means for parents to be involved in the education process, can you speak further to that?

KR: First off I want to say that other players in this market have taken great strides in providing tools for online education, and we greatly respect what they have done. GlobalScholar began by asking “”how can we create an ecosystem for education?” From this basic question, we recognized the need for including parents in the discussion on a student’s education, especially in the younger grades. Likewise, other players in education also need to be included, and so Globalscholar aims to bring together students, teachers, administrators and parents all under one platform. It is a huge undertaking.

VG: Calling this a huge undertaking seems like a huge understatement. Let’s switch gears then from the why and focus on how GlobalScholar intends to actually accomplish this goal?

KR: The GlobalScholar approach is to take Web 2.0 technologies and figure out how to implement them in a way that will meet the needs of our customers, whether that be the students, teachers, parents or adminsitrators. The key point here is that Web 2.0 tools are by nature collaborative and promote interactions among parties, so by using these tools we can provide ways for people like parents to participate where they previously may have had difficulty.

Doing this successfully is by no means easy, as education is a “complicated problem and a long-term problem.” We recognize that we have a long way to go. In the end we want to create a product that is “living and breathing” and evolves as new technologies develop. At the heart of this inquiry is “”how can we let community learning happen?” In the end, simply building the technology will not solve the problem, we need to make sure that the technology effectively addresses the issue of education access. “We use technology as the means not as the end.”

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[TC-I Changemakers]: Interview with the founders of Siksha.org

Editor’s note: The following interview is part of an ongoing series for ThinkChange India where we interview social entrepreneurs firsthand. The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other Conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab. The featured social entrepreneurs this week are working to improve education in India and around the world.

A few weeks ago, we posted a guest post syndicated from Siksha.org’s blog (you can read more of their posts here), a peer to peer underwriter of annual, renewable, need-based scholarships and loans. ThinkChange India editors, Vinay Ganti and Santhosh Ramdoss had a chance to chat up with the co-founders of Siksha.org, Neil Patel and Kushal Chakrabarti. The following is a recap of the phone conversation.

Vinay Ganti: Thanks for taking time to talk to ThinkChange India. Tell us briefly about Siksha.org

Kushal Cakrabarti: Siksha.org came out from our fundamental belief that the biggest waste in the world is people who are continuing to be left uneducated. So, we created an online platform that would provide need based scholarships and loans for lower income people, using a peer to peer model. Think of us as the Kiva.org for education.

Santhosh Ramdoss: What is the mechanics of the process and how does the platform work?

KC: We partner with schools and Education related NGOs who are in direct contact with students going to school from low-income families. We do outreach to form partnership with these NGOs and Schools, who have contact with the students and can create a profile and upload it to the site. Thus, the student becomes available for the sponsorship.

SR: Who does the money go to?

Neil Patel: The money first goes to our local liaison partner, be they a school, NGO, or individual volunteer. From there, it depends on what the money is used for. Our school partners deposit tuition funds themselves, and disburse money for school uniforms and other personal expenses on a monthly basis to the students’ families.

VG: How do you manage these relationships in the ground?

KC: I spend a lot of time on the phone. Relationship that matters, we have begun with a small network of people who already know us and trust us. Most of Siksha.org is not technology, it’s actually the relationships.

SR: What are your plans for taking the model to Scale?

KC: It’s hard for me to give a concrete answer. There are a lot interesting questions. The right solution is to partner with schools and NGOs. Do audits in the back end and have a relationship in the front end. Have random audits and relatively accurate accounts. Also, we are thinking hard about our student to liaison ratio. To be scalable, we want to partner directly with people interacting with the students.
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Reminder: Apply for the Atlas Corps Fellowship

We have covered this opportunity before, but it is so remarkable that it needs a reminder. If you are NGO Leader from India, Atlas Corps fellowship provides you an opportunity to volunteer for a cutting-edge non-profit in Washington, DC. Current Atlas Corps partners include Ashoka, Grameen Foundation, TechnoServe, Population Action International, Global Giving, Youth Venture, Youth Service America, InterFaith Conference and Atlas Corps!

Application link is here. The deadline is 21st of April, 2008.

[Image (c) Atlas Corps]