Archive for Community Development

links for 2009-05-21

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One Laptop Per AAAScientist

xo

Stage: A ballroom in Boston, Godards “Alphaville” meets American Public Space Style ca. 1940s - the style with massive Walt-Disney coloured chandeliers, gold rounded corners (the original, not the Trump copies). Audience: some 2000 professors from all over the place. Acting salesman: Nicholas Negroponte.

… In 1982, Negroponte and his colleague Seymon Peppard had invited themselves to Africa, to see what difference computing power could make in developing countries. They brought some computers to Dakkar, given “a bunch of kids more computer power than the government had at the time”.

More than two decades later, Negroponte sent his son to Cambodia, into a village with no electricity, no proper road to get there. He brought over the first OLPC laptops (see more on this here and here), and the kids learnt “English”: Their first word being “google”. They learnt, too, that the laptops were the best (meaning: only) source of light in the rooms at night.

According to Negroponte, the biggest decision they had to make: doing it as a non-profit or not. Most people told him: “make it as a for profit, otherwise people won’t stay put, you won’t get credibility and so forth”. He decided against it and is still convinced that he’s right.

However, he now he gets into the 21 century stuff:

1. Reducing power intake, get 30-40watt down to 2 …and at the same time have the screen bright enough to be seen at equatorial sunlight (my mac would love that too, she says).

2. Getting a wifi meshed network worked out - laptops connecting to each other, thus 1. broadening the reach of the central classroom/school server - the one that is connected to the internet and 2. enabling all sorts of collaboration between the kids. All of this, of course, slimming down necessary resources. Another point against the 20th century SUV-mentality. I like.

3. Making it as rugged as the Panasonic toughbook - but charge 100 USD and not 5,000.

So that’s the points that matter. Don’t forget the Jackalope look — he calls it “the pretty cool design”…

They got 500k already produced, the bulk pictures from inside some factory look pretty impressive — 110k per months compares to the 5m sold laptops worldwide per months, he says — where does he have this figure from? Sounds tiny to me, with all guys I know upping their computer power at least every 18 months… Never mind.

What I like about OLPC: on one hand side it’s ’soooo much 20th century’ - all this talk about “Moore’s law” and “economies of scale”. Which actually sells well and makes it work. On the other hand, it reaches out to those 21st century thoughts such as slimming computer powers on to a lower level because no-one needs SUVs i.e. full-blown computing power in each ones laptop. And, of course and to quote Tim Robbins from Hudsuckers Proxy: “‘You know - for kids! - and you know - costing less!”

My question, though: If they so decidedly follow the law of economies of scale (which is in my opinion just another euphemism for “race to the bottom”), do they take care of a proper supply-chain management… resources such as Nickel, Cobalt as well as manufacturing doesn’t exactly come off the shelf?? And, what about the lifecycle management, i.e. recycling? Just asking.

Ah well, another nice thing he mentions: They’ve got some nifty ways for generating power, too - not the cranky cradle they had initially, rather a jojo, or an eggscrambler… Again: this would have helped a lot, as my battery is just saying “bye bye” just now. Well timed, my dear SUV.

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AAAS: How can ICT and Development work together?

bongos2.jpgIt’s one of those interdisciplinary questions still unanswered: If you have 50 people on above issue in the room, there’ll be 45 of them ICT-people - that is, at least, when you’re attending the annual AAAS conference in Boston. AAAS is the NGO publishing “Science”, and thus I’m surprised that I do actually understand some  of the issues dealt with here. Their focus is “global”, this year, so the keynote address was by Rwanda’s president Kagame - Rwanda being probably one of the first examples of how ICT and Development people may work together. Did you know that the Rwanda-government seems to really have “figured it out”? They do not take donor money from USAID and the likes - who always want to “give” according to their plan.

Think about Laura Bush, insisting “we must do something about girls education, as this really, really is my issue” — which then leads to some USAID guy developing (cause they must “own” it, of course) a project where they can throw money at.

Instead, Rwanda says “we’ve actually got a national education program which works pretty well - you may give us the money for this, but it won’t give you a great payback - no glossy brochures, no evaluation reports”. Which then might pose quite some problem to the USAID bureaucrat: Where to spend their money and - time?

As an addition to this, one might argue that it a business assessment of existing and planned infrastructure followed by some activities might be more competitive in engaging towards providing “parts of the picture”. CSR and Development, yep.

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Just a thought in between all the music

It’s actually worthwhile to stop for a second and remember that poverty and climate change are intrinsically linked. As we have seen, World Bank, IMF and lots of UN efforts are not producing results on eradicating poverty and in creating sustainable livelyhoods. That’s not a criticism against them, but rather against their role as being a political football (thanks to Michael Hopkins for that term) in a game that still has too many bad actors, bad governments and of, course, bad business.

However, Hopkins stresses, and I couldn’t do more than repeating, that

“the future catastrophe will lead corporations to focus more on their carbon footprint than on their development footprint”.

As conflict is not only intrinsically linked to both climate change and development but indeed the work on it may often provide the missing link itself, we all know that there’s still some way to go on that road of “the role of business in conflict”.

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Voluntary Sector Initiatives and other New Partnerships

ethical_corp.jpgI attended a conference on Business and NGO partnerships last week. Good for readers of this blog that there was an off-the-record policy which blocked all WLAN and thus prevented me from live-blogging! So you won’t get every breath they took as in that CSR-Conference in October, see my posts on Ed Freeman et al.

Conferences hosted by Ethical Corporation are by and large quite worthwhile their time (disclaimer: I do occasionally work as a freelance journo for Ethical Corporation), and this one was no exception. And, you can imagine that not only for a journo it’s always worth your while to get the information from the horses’ mouth.

The German-language readers of this blog might get a wee brief on this conference at a post in http://csr-new.net - btw a great multilingual (English/Spanish/German) source for CSR-related issues. All other ones might get the gist of it by focusing on the bold subheadings - plus, of course, following the links below the article.

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MDGs and business - African perspectives

bongos2.jpgI am just back from a conference on the “Business Challenge Africa”, putting business into the responsibility - and opportunity - framework for working towards the Millenium Development Goals. Again, there were lots of interesting business ideas, most of which were sourced from within countries such as Zambia, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa, do have a look at the case study section of the background paper on the conference (link above, right hand navigation, as there is no separate url provided).

What worries me, though, is that all topics CSR are present and known by representatives of North as well as South. Everyone - even Nestle - agrees on the role business can play in eradicating poverty through providing opportunity and that there is a business case (arghh, this discussion must raise its ugly head at every conference only vaguely related to CSR, mustn’t it?) for it. However, where’s the beef? There’s far too little serious (not in moral but in bottom line terms) and scalable multi-sectoral partnerships involving MNCs with NGOs and/or governmental agencies.

Ah well, suppose there’s a time for everything?

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What’s Bill Gates gotta do with it?

Peter Baumann pointed me to an interesting (well, Brandon’s articles are all interesting) piece by Brandon Hamber on the missing link between domestic business and charities/NGOs in Africa:

Donor money should be coming not only from the international community and channelled by local funders, but local sources should also provide funding.

Brandon website is a source of knowledge on most issues dealing with the psychological effects of conflict, such as truth commissions (he was working with the TRC in South Africa). In above article, he features the foundations for peace as an effort for sourcing funds locally - versus the all-too-present mentality of NGOs waiting in line for international donor money. There’s another role for local business, it seems.

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