TED India Conference: “The Future Beckons”

The inspirational, energy-filled, and fun TED conference is heading to India this year.  From November 4-7, 2009, TEDIndia will take place in Mysore and bring together speakers and delegates that are reinventing India.  The huge success of TED makes its arrival in India even more exciting.  At TC-I, we covered a few TED talks here, here, and here.

A little background on the TED conference:

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader to include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing our world. The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). Attendees have called it “the ultimate brain spa” and “a four-day journey into the future.” The diverse audience — CEOs, scientists, creatives, and philanthropists — is almost as extraordinary as the speakers, who have included Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Nandan Nilekani, Jane Goodall, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Sir Richard Branson, Philippe Starck and Bono.

The India conference will answer questions like:

  • Which local innovations are destined for global impact?
  • Who are the young thinkers and doers capable of shaping the future?
  • Can there be economic advancement without environmental destruction?
  • Can a pluralistic democracy survive in the face of rising fundamentalism?
  • Can we make money and be good? Really?
  • What should we learn – or fear? — from China’s investment in Africa?
  • Do we have enough water for everyone?
  • How do we keep our youth challenged and our aged healthy?
  • How can anti-poverty solutions be brought to scale?
  • Is there wisdom to be found in traditional medicine?
  • Which other ancient traditions can illuminate modern life?

This will be an event that any social innovator in India will want to attend – register to apply here.

Round 2 with CGAP’s Gautam Ivatury

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 tag.

This week, Vinay sat down (over the phone) with Gautam Ivatury of the global microfinance center CGAP, which works to expand poor people’s access to financial services. Such services include but are not limited to microcredit and branchless banking. This interview is a follow up to one conducted on May 4, 2008, which you can read here.

Vinay Ganti: Could you please review yourself on the following topics, which we discussed in our last conversation?

  • Reaching beyond MFIs:

Gautam Ivatury: This still continues to be a major focus of CGAP’s mission. Across all of CGAP’s work we continue to look for ways to partner with a range of institutions and providers, including but not limited to MFIs, to be able to massively expand financial services for poor people.

GI: With regard to branchless banking, we set out to accomplish a number of goals. Overall we have been happy with the results of CGAP’s work in this area over the last six months, despite the fact that it has taken longer than expected for our project partners (in countries like Pakistan, Kenya, Mongolia, South Africa and elsewhere) to roll-out the branchless banking channels we helped design and finance.

Since our last talk, CGAP has expanded its policy and regulatory diagnostic work in branchless banking. New markets analyzed have included Colombia, Argentina and Indonesia, and we’ve continued to maintain close dialogue with the Reserve Bank of India and regulators elsewhere.

Also, the actual awareness of mobile banking in the field, i.e. what is and how it can work, has increased dramatically in the past. Last May we co-organized the first major annual event on “Mobile Money” for the unbanked in Cairo with the GSM Association (the industry body for the world’s 700+ mobile operators), IFC and DFID. That event got more than 500 paid attendees, most from private industry. And this week at the GSM World Congress in Barcelona, GSMA and other private sector players will announce additional activities in the space. DFID announced its new FAST program to encourage branchless banking this week. Initiatives like these are critical to get widespread adoption of the concept and to achieve scale. Moreover, major consulting and research outfits like Aite, Monitor and McKinsey have started research and published reports on the topic.

At the same time, our seven branchless banking projects have been slower to launch than we all expected two years ago. There have been some notable achievements — our Philippines partner has entered three new rural provinces and signed up about 80,000 new mobile banking clients, and Telenor bought 51 percent of Tameer Bank (our partner in Pakistan) to jumpstart its mobile banking initiatives. But in general the implementation of mobile / branchless banking has been slower than anticipated.

VG: Why do you think this is? Continue reading

Aiming for 100 Million

Many people dream, but some people dream big.  Dr. Ashok Khosla is one of those that dream big – but also puts the dream into action.  As founder of Development Alternatives, Khosla plans to bring wide-scale employment to India’s rural areas.  IndiaWest reports:

“Poor people are seeing more products, but have little access to them. The poor do not have purchasing power,” said Khosla, the 2002 winner of the United Nations’ Sasakawa Environmental Prize, and the Schwab Foundation’s outstanding social entrepreneur award in 2004.

The Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a partner of Development Alternatives, is a social enterprise focusing on standardizing “technology packages, which offer training, technical support, financing and marketing assistance to small enterprises.”  TARA’s products range from paper to textiles to cyber-kiosks.  Khosla aims to create 100 million jobs by 2018 through these micro-factories – no easy feat, considering that the organization claims to have created 3 million jobs in the last 15 years.

More importantly, the initiatives are created in a way that the villagers benefit above all.

In a typical model, the village will form a cooperative to purchase the equipment needed for the project, and determine wages for the workers, typically slightly above the area’s minimum wage. Development Alternatives’ social enterprise arm, Technology and Action for Rural Advancement, markets the products created by the villagers.

Tracking TARA’s progress in the next decade will be interesting and may provide further evidence of the impact of social enterprises and employment generating activities.

Tech Winners Starting Small, Scaling Up

Remember the Tech Museum Awards? The award “honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity.” The 25 winners were announced yesterday, with two innovators from India. MercuryNews.com covered the ceremony in San Jose, California and met with the winners, including DESI Power and Digital StudyHall.

First, DESI Power is based in Bangalore and utilizes affordable and reliable electricity:

Hari Sharan employs 19th-century biomass gasification technology to bring electricity to rural Indian villages. His company, DESI Power, converts vegetation — such as rice hulls and corn husks — into energy. Not only does that provide power to poor communities, it also creates opportunities for micro-enterprises that keep residents from migrating to the slums of big cities.

TC-I covered another unique way of converting vegetation to energy via rice husks. There is tremendous potential to scale up with these plants, and DESI Power is already operating four plants and increasing to twenty next year.

Another creative use of technology aims to strengthen education. MercuryNews reports on Digital StudyHall, which is actually a research project out of a US university. Continue reading

2008 Manthan Award Winners – ICT and Development

Prerna announced the acceptance of nominations for the 2008 Manthan Awards back in March, and Livemint.com now provides highlights of the innovative winners. The full list of winners can be found here.

On first glance, I was amazed by the sheer number of categories (there are 13) and the diversity of tech products out there. Here are a few personal favorites, but I encourage you to look through the list to get the full view:

  • Wall newspaper – broadcast sheet pasted on the walls of milk cooperatives and Panchayat buildings in 40,000 villages, targeting the rural and low literate
  • Safal National Exchange of India Limited (SNX) – pursuing a One India One Market vision, creating an opportunity for small farmers to gain access to national markets through negotiating prices in a transparent way that eliminates as many intermediaries as possible
  • Lipikaar – an e-localization method that allows typing in 16 different languages using a normal keyboard, making it extremely user-friendly for non-English speakers
  • Learn with Fun – making maths an enjoyable subject through satelitte communications in a vernacular language, to reach out to rural areas where drop out rates are high

There are seemingly endless ways to marry technology and development, and these winners provide just a taste of the current landscape.

[TC-I Call to Action]: NASSCOM Foundation Social Innovation Honours

NASSCOM Foundation, the CSR branch of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies), is launching a Social Innovation Honours award.

The annual Honours aim to showcase projects that demonstrate best practices through exemplary use of ICT in areas of social transformation. This honour is a celebration of innovations that bring about social change and development through the application of cutting-edge technology.

There are categories for non-profit, for-profit, and government organizations in India to enter their projects for consideration. If you have a project that uses cutting edge technology to affect education, health, employment, or the environment, this may be a great opportunity to share your success. Applications can be submitted from now until October 20, 2008. The winners will be announced at NASSCOM Foundation’s Leadership Summit in February 2009. You can find more details here and download the application here.

Solar-Powered Wireless Router Offers Opportunities in Technology

We post a lot of contest opportunities on TC-I, but the really interesting part is when the winners are announced and new ideas are revealed. Last November, ASSET (Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology) India Foundation set up a Challenge by partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation. ASSET India Foundation focuses on the children of sex workers and providing them with technology training so that they can opt out of that industry and gain better career opportunities. The contest was run through InnoCentive, a global innovation marketplace. According to marketwire, the premise of the Challenge

sought the design of a solar-powered wireless router composed of low-cost, readily available hardware and software components. The router is to become part of a reliable Internet communications network connecting metropolises and remote towns in developing countries.

A software engineer from Texas named Zacary Brown came up with a viable solution. The idea will be made real by University of Arizona students this year.

The solution runs on a Linux-based system and is powered totally by a battery that is charged through solar panels. It was built with hardware that is able to withstand daily outdoor use and can be controlled remotely, allowing network operators to activate the switches with pre-paid cell phones.

The whole point of this solution is to allow adolescents outside of major cities to gain access to technology work and hone marketable job skills. To learn more about ASSET India Foundation, InnoCentive, and this solution, read the press release by marketwire.