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.

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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’.