Archive for NGO

links for 2009-05-21

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links for 2009-05-18

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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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Sessions

hu-logo2.jpgAfter the morning keynotes, the entire conference moved into a different building – the quite impressive Paul-Löbe-Haus, a politicians’ beehive immediately next to the Bundeskanzleramt. Of course, I felt like a politician (minus the tie), observed by classes of wee schoolchildren trying to figure out whether or not I would actually board one of many black limousines waiting in front of the building. Never mind. Only sad thing about the building was that due to security constraints there was no WLAN available, so what follows is a brief account from my notes.

There was a wealth of lectures – which is the right occasion to congratulate Anja Schwerk for the months of hard work in putting this together: What a great job! The lectures often covered aspects which are just about now reach the awareness of companies in Germany - or, more interesting, they were bleeding edge in their own right. They ranked from a consumer perspective to CSR (most notably Good Brand’s recent survey on cause-related marketing) to a workshop on measuring performance and sustainable value creation – and why companies fail to quantify sustainability. Also, there was a session on labour, another one on regulation and yet another one on corruption. As I’d say, anyone only faintly interested in CSR would have been hard pressed not to find a session or a lecture of interest.

I picked the session on “What does corporate responsibility mean in different cultures and how should global companies handle the difference?”, so here are some impressions on this:

Van Miller from Northern Kentucky University looked at “CSR in Outsourcing”, focusing on Maquilas in Mexico. Based on information by the maquilaportal he looked at what the portal named as the “Top 100 Maquilas”. Key conclusion by Miller: „Human rights is not really an issue – it is not that salient: Labour is the issue”.

Sanford Moskowitz and Roxanne Rabe tackled the issue of “Bridging the cultural divide within MNCs and International Ventures” - as fuzzy as the title was the presentation. It’s actually been a while that I listened to professors discussing in broadest terms “Globalisation as a Western Ethical Model” and that the “Asian Model” (remind me again: what is Asia and how many countries does it include??) is less efficient than an obscure much needed universal code of ethics. Hmm.

Jürgen Wilhelm from German Development Service DED made up for this with quoting a lot of examples of “Practical experience of CSR programmes by German development co-operation”. Amongst other things, Wilhelm sees increasing CSR-interest in Nicaragua, where the DED assists in the founding of a CSR-organisation. Also, he points to successful development projects that are financed by the private sector. This includes an SME-mentoring program in Namibia, financed by local banks and a HIV/Aids program in Uganda, financed by a tea company.

He went on to discuss the well-known dichotomy of voluntarism versus a regulated corporate accountability (a quick “Hi” to Yvonne from the Nachhaltigkeitsrat :)), but poses this question within the context of developing countries: What works better? Hmm. Complex, me thinks, since this is tangent to the responsibility of MNCs in the informal sector - and to the benefits they can reap through that in learning about the “indigenous knowledge”.

(I remember that at this weeks’ InWent conference there had been a strong desire by the South to opt for “light regulation coupled with financial assistance” — whereby light refers to securing basic rights.)
Wilhelm ends with stark statements anyone from within the PSD-crowd will agree on: “Mugabe will not attract foreign investors” and “There are so many wonderful stories in Africa, but the media does not report on them”. True.
After a much needed coffee break, the audience heard the rapid account of what would have easily qualified for an entire 90 minute session - given in some 20 minutes by Liesl Riddle from George Washingthon (DC) University: A case study on “CSR as an informal institution: The case of Egypt.” So she referred at such speed that one couldn’t think, let alone write down what she said. I just somehow managed to get the impression that it must have been an excellent presentation, but to pin it down now?

There’s a comment I need to make, though: We all know that life in globalisation times got “americanized” to a large extent. Germans have learned English, most of us can cope to a satisfying degree or more - but: what about people from Eastern Europe, new EU member states or, for that matter, from Portugal, Greece and other countries who have not been graced by a 40+ year presence of US/UK soldiers? If I didn’t get a lot out of that lecture, how would they feel?

Ah well, it will all be online soon, giving us the opportunity to follow through. Gotta go now, more later…

Update: I knew it was good: Here you go - Presentation by Riddle

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Boston CCC: reframing the role of business

googins.jpgIt’s conference week: I could not avoid attending the 2nd International Conference on CSR in Berlin. As they’ve got WLAN available, I will try to blog it - forgive me for any misunderstandings or wrong perception and interpretation of ideas - mistakes are all mine.

There’s Bradley Googins starting just now. He’s a former student of Brandeis, of all things (disclaimer: me too…), and now runs the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. His focus is change, or the way in how it has been speeded up lately. His take on the private sector is, to recognise the changing role of business - and the changing of the role of government. Not that this in itself would be particularly new, but he has just finished a research study with 25 CEOs of MNCs, posing his frame in front of them and asking, if there are implications of this towards a much needed change in leadership within businesses.

Googins’ main point: Businesses can no longer afford to be bystanders in the process. They already do take sides. Isn’t that a bit like “It is not possible not to communicate” or Mary Anderson’s background to “Do no harm”: “presence is not neutral. It influences the context”, I thought.
CSR is at a very early stage in capturing the necessity to adopt to the responsibilities they de facto have: while 51 of the 100 largest “bodies” (in regards to value and GDP) are companies and 49 states, they have only adopted to the compliance issues introduces, while not seizing the opportunities this responsibility.

Googins presents a survey (can’t read source) on the trust of different players citizens bring towards all three sectors. NGOs rated highest, corporations at the very bottom end.

He points to the growing inequities on our planet and then, aptly connection, to fat cat pay rises, and closes this critical remark with some more positive some examples that show opportunities, such as SC Johnson (?) and the ecomagination campaign by GE. And, he adds that he perceives the new GRI G3 as a very promising step forward.

A McKinsey Study (2005) looked at the CEOs perspectives and tactics for the future. They have four issues: Increasing transparency, implementing internal CSR policies, engaging stakeholders, industry coalitions for self regulation.

Then there’s a real compliment for “German” corporations: They seem to by far outperform US companies in regards reporting (only 18% of US companies - sample: the largest 200 companies worldwide - report on their CSR activities, the percentage of German companies doing this is much higher… didn’t get the figure). However, he does not discuss whether or not this is mainly a PR exercise - leading on to an at first sight quite funny chart, connecting the to-do’s of companies within a sort of mindmap cloud.

He goes through the stages of corporate citizenship (CC), starting from donations and philanthropy up to Business Practices, naming Starbucks, HP, AMD - and their quest for the “sweet spot” i.e. business case in CC. His earlier mentioned CEO survey was quite a surprise: when talking with (and taping) CEOs, they seemed to have more time than Googins originally thought: actually always more than an hour. Quite amazing, I thought, especially since their word is weighted on gold scales by shareholders and the investment community, who has nothing else to do…
New Reality emerging:

1. Business perspective is moving from shareholder to stakeholder (a quote by Sam Palmisano, Chairman and CEO IBM), but still: Milton Friedmans quote of “The business of business is business” remains the paradigm of Wallstreet.

2. Deregulation comes at a price: the benefits of economic prosperity can only be harnessed, whenever the responsibility that is connected to the opportunity which in turn is the reason for pushing towards deregulation.

3. Short-term thinking does not provide solution for long-term problems.

Creating a soft landing to Globalisation means to use the positive contributions economy brings to society - and, of course, the secret of success is to do what one aims for and wants to be good at without generating envy in the world around. It is this that creates the demand for business leaders that recognise their importance in and value to society.

Update: Googins’ keynote.

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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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