December 30, 2008

Electronic Health Records: The Next Step in Health Care Management

Although electronic health records have been used for the past few years, it garnered attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential race with the discussion focused on the area of health care reform. The New York Times published an article, "City to Pay Doctors to Contribute to Database," on December 29, 2008 about how doctors in New York City is working with 1,000 primary-care physicians in using a $60 million city health department project aimed to create an electronic record-keeping system. (Photo courtesy of Brian Palmer for The New York Times.)

"Experts say it is the most ambitious government effort nationwide to harness electronic data for public-health goals like monitoring disease frequency, cancer screening and substance abuse....The system, custom-designed for New York by a Massachusetts company, eClinicalWorks, would cost a typical doctor’s office $45,000 to implement, but city subsidies reduce that to $24,000 for practices with at least 10 percent of their patients on Medicaid or uninsured; those in neighborhoods with the highest poverty rate pay $10,000. The health department is also putting together groups of doctors to share services like calling or sending text messages to patients to remind them of follow-up visits."

On December 1, 2008, Milliman, Inc., a Seattle-based global consulting and actuarial firm, sponsored the Healthcare Town Hall. This event consisted of ten panelists representing government agencies from all levels (federal, state, and local), nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. The evening's agenda focused on four areas:
  1. What are electronic health records (EHRs) and what can they do?
  2. How do we encourage EHR adoption?
  3. Who owns the information that is gathered?
  4. What can/should we do with this information?

You can watch the program in its entirety below courtesy of TVW, but here are a few points of interest from the event:

  • Scott Armstrong, President and CEO of Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative, said that Group Health has been using electronic health records for four years with very effective results. Patients feel empowered having easy access to their medical records, which make them more educated when making a medical decision. Group Health has invested in secured accessibility to patient records. However, according to Mr. Armstrong, Group Health has been unable to quantify profitability since there are too many outside factors.
  • Mike Kreidler, Washington State Insurance Commissioner, said that 40 percent of funds in the health care system is wasted. The panel collectively agreed that electronic health records will make the system more efficient and reduce costs and financial waste.
  • Ron Sims, King County (WA) Executive, noted that many medical professionals cannot afford to implement an electronic health record system.
  • John Hammarlund, regional administrator for the Seattle and Chicago offices of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explained that he has not seen any good business cases using electronic health record technology, "No studies in correlation between electronic health records and quality of health care."
  • The discussion shifted to standardizing electronic health records where Mr. Hammarlund said that an industry standard should be created, but this responsibility should not rest solely on the federal government nor should it be left up to the private sector, but a collaborative effort between the two. Moreover, according to Mr. Hammarlund, we should be paying for greater value for health care rather than volume.
  • Joe Scherger, MD, a consulting medical director for informatics at San Francisco-based Lumetra, a health care consulting organization, believes electronic health records will be incorporated in our daily lives similar to e-banking and online shopping.
  • Regarding ownership of the information, Ron Sims said the consumer (patient) should solely control the release of medical records and warned of the consequences should genetic information be stored in electronic health records.
  • Rich Moyer, the MedInsight® product manager in Milliman's Seattle office further questioned who legally owns the information. If a medical provider is using Microsoft HealthVault (there are dozens of health information management systems including Google Health), does the patient, medical provider or information management system own the data? George Scriban, Microsoft HealthVault's senior global strategist quickly responded that his company does not own the data, but they simply manage the database.
  • Dr. Scherger made an excellent point by saying Internet access is a public health issue. It is one thing to have an EHR, but a digital divide still exists in many communities throughout the United States, particularly in minority communities. However, he explained that disadvantaged communities in Orange County, California have a very high child vaccination rate as a result of electronic health records and an expansive volunteer network.

Issues or concerns about electronic health records include:

  1. Who owns the electronic health records? The patient, health care provider, insurance company, data storage company?
  2. What information should be stored in electronic health records? Genetic/DNA information? If so, will this allow insurance companies the ability to prescreen applicants and deny coverage or benefits based on genetic code?
  3. How do you guarantee the accuracy of information posted?
  4. Who should create an industry standard for electronic health record systems? Governments, nonprofit groups, private sector or a collaborative effort among the three?
  5. How do we encourage electronic health record adoption? As The New York Times article indicates, a electronic health record database may be cost prohibitive for medical providers without government subsidies.
  6. Need to integrate preventive medical information and pertinent resources into electronic health records.

There is no question that electronic health records will quickly become the norm in managing healthcare. EHRs will allow the patient to become better educated when making medical decisions and I hope EHRs will give patients not only the ability to manage medical treatments, but EHRs will be used as a source for preventive medicine. One significant concern I have is without proper regulations and oversight, medical information that should remain confidential between the medical professional and patient could be misused particularly if DNA information is included in electronic health records.

Electronic health records will certainly provide a great benefit to people living in industrialized nations, but can you imagine the positive impact EHRs would have on billions of people living in the developing world?


December 29, 2008

Jordan to Build Health Centre in Darfur

During the past few days, there have been several negative news articles coming from Africa including "Witnesses report massacre at church in Congo," "African Union suspends Guinea following coup," and "Zimbabwe cholera death toll soars past 1,500." However, I was pleasantly surprised to read about Jordan's King Abdullah II plan to setup a health center in Sudan's Darfur region. Here is the complete article from AFP (Photo courtesy of King Abdullah II's official website, http://www.kingabdullah.jo/):

AMMAN (AFP) - Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday ordered the setting up of a health centre in Kas in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur to serve more than 25,000 people there, an official said.

"A military airplane left today (Thursday) for Darfur, carrying equipment to build the medical centre, which will be fully operational in January 2009," Mohammed Aitan, secretary of Jordan's Hashemite Charity Organisation, said in a statement.

Aitan said the facility is expected to cost 400,000 dollars.

"A second military plane carrying more equipment will go to Darfur later," he said without elaborating.

Conflict has been raging in the Darfur region in western Sudan since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime.

UN officials estimate that up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Although I would have preferred aircraft from Royal Jordanian Airlines to carry the equipment rather than military transport, Jordan's effort is a significant step in providing the necessary humanitarian assistance necessary to facilitate the process of ending the war in western Sudan and building a sustainable future for everyone.

To maximize its effectiveness, I hope this health center is part of an orchestrated effort to provide humanitarian relief to the region's most vulnerable people and I encourage other countries to contribute in similar ways. A small amount of foreign assistance to support programs that have clearly-defined measured results will go far in providing the tools for people to help themselves.

December 23, 2008

Providing Private Health Insurance in Africa

During my extensive travels throughout Africa, one of the greatest problems I see for many Africans is having access to health care. There are several organizations working make health care accessible, but one organization is worth mentioning: the Amsterdam-based Health Insurance Fund (http://www.hifund.org). The Fund, established in 2005, is creating an innovative method to accessing quality health care including HIV/AIDS treatment through an innovative approach: building accountable and reliable demand-driven, output-based private health insurance schemes for low-income groups. (Photo courtesy of the Health Insurance Fund)

According to the Fund's website, "The Health Insurance Fund has been established to set up private health insurance programs for low-income communities in different countries in sub-Saharan Africa. PharmAccess has been contracted by the Fund to develop, manage and control the insurance programs. PharmAccess contracts local implementing partners to provide the insurance to the selected communities. Independent operational research organizations measure the impact of the insurance program. The Health Insurance Fund is responsible and accountable for the overall program in the context described above."

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Onno Schellekens, Managing Director of the PharmAccess Foundation and Mr. Chris van der Vorm, Health Insurance Fund's Executive Director during their visit to Seattle in September 2008. I learned that the Health Insurance Fund will carry out programs in at least four African countries, which will be implemented by local (African) Health Maintenance Organizations or insurance companies. PharmAccess, in collaboration with the local partner, selects local healthcare providers (clinics, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies) on the basis of a pre-defined criteria and these providers may be either publicly or privately operated.

In October 2006, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs awarded the Fund a €100 million grant for the development and implementation of insurance schemes in four countries over a period of six years. The first scheme was launched in Nigeria in January 2007 targeting 115,000 women in Lagos and farmers in Kwara State. A second program is currently being developed in Tanzania.

The Fund's website explains the implementation strategy, "To ensure that the target population will participate in the schemes, an enrollment strategy is applied. Communities are mobilized through community leaders, information meetings or radio messages, among other things. Special 'marketing teams' will undertake 'on-the-spot' registration and enrollment in the field. Upon payment of their part of the premium, insurance scheme beneficiaries immediately receive their insurance ID card. Enrollment is done on a yearly basis. To limit adverse selection, family enrollment is encouraged." (Photo courtesy of the Health Insurance Fund)

The Fund's objectives include:

  • To build local financial-administrative and medical capacity in the health sector;
  • To lower the threshold for investments in health infrastructure: to increase investments and leverage public money by attracting private funds;
  • To demonstrate that demand-based health schemes applying an output-based approach are transparent and efficient and reinforce quality standards; and
  • To evaluate different healthcare delivery models based on a demand-driven and results- oriented approach.

On October 23, 2008, the first Health Insurance Fund Conference was held in Amsterdam titled "Africa Healthcare Systems in Africa: Time for a New Paradigm – Mobilizing the Private Sector to Develop a Sustainable Healthcare Economy in Africa." While I was unable to attend the conference, I have read about its success. The Health Insurance Fund is developing an excellent model of effectively engaging the government, civil society, and private sector by implementing an innovative strategy to increase the accessibility of quality health care including HIV/AIDS treatment to potentially millions of individuals throughout Africa.

December 17, 2008

DUX Spray Gun: A Model of the Green Tech Evolution

On a recent trans-Pacific flight, I had a conversation with a woman about the current global economic crisis. She asked, "What sectors, if any, will benefit the most during the economic crisis?" I responded that while some sectors will feel the impact more than others (i.e, financial and retail), I think renewable energy and green (clean) technology will come out stronger than ever.

In the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has repeatedly explained that his economic plan calls for a significant increase of investment in the "New Economy," which include the renewable energy and green technology sectors. Other countries like Germany, Brazil, United Kingdom and even China are looking at making large investments in renewable energy and clean tech.

One benefit of traveling on long flights is having uninterrupted time to review documents. In doing so, I found documents from a consulting project I worked on advising DUX Area, Inc., a Seattle-based green technology company, on identifying strategic international markets conducive to increasing market capitalization and strengthening market position. In explaining the company's mantra, DUX's CEO Kevin Kelley says DUX spray guns bring the global coatings application market a technology that exceeds transfer efficiency expectations while providing coating specialists the finish and productivity output they demand.

The DUX spray gun is a prime example of the green technology evolution--taking an existing product and redesigning it into a product that is good for the environment and business profits alike. DUX's competitors who produce High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) and other spray gun technologies use 1,800-2,500 pound-force per square inch gauge (psig) to apply the paint or coating application, whereas DUX's spray guns use only 10-11 psig. DUX's patented Advanced Laminar Airflow Technology reduces booth fog and blowback from the target, the two leading causes of coatings waste. These reductions create a healthier work environment because less material is wasted, fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous pollutants are released into the atmosphere. In addition to reduced coating usage and decreased cleanup costs, other return on investment results include faster production speed and energy savings.

DUX designed three spray guns: Pressure Feed, Gravity Feed, and Automatic (pictured here). I had the opportunity to test the Gravity Feed spray gun (pictured above) and was amazed with its lightweight and balanced design, which facilitated the ease of spraying paint across a large surface. DUX guns can be used a variety of industries including transportation, industrial equipment, wood, plastics, aerospace, military, marine, and architectural.

World governments are hedging their investments on green technology to increase jobs while fighting climate change. We need to invest in the talented people similar to those you will find at DUX who produce products or provide services that will play an integral part in the new "green" economy.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

December 11, 2008

Ghana: A Model for Democratic Elections

Voters in Ghana went to the polls on December 7, 2008 to elect a successor to President John Kufuor who is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms. According to the CNN article, "Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo of the incumbent New Patriotic Party and John Evans Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress are the leading candidates, but neither was able to garner more than 50 percent of the vote. The Ghanaian constitution requires a second round of balloting if no candidate wins a clear majority." At a time when African nations are looking for a leader in social and economic development including free democratic elections, Ghanaians are showing that they can serve as a role model in choosing government officials without corruption and violence that plagued Zimbabwe and Kenya's elections earlier this year.

Ghana is making an effort to become a leader, not just in West Africa, but for the entire African continent. I had the chance to meet Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, on June 4, 2008 in Washington, D.C. where he spoke at an event, "Democratic Governance and Economic Growth in Ghana," sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Africa Program. Mr. Akufo-Addo talked about his vision for Ghana's future. Accra, Ghana's capital, should be the financial center for West Africa similar to how Dubai is becoming the financial capital for the Middle East. In addition, Mr. Akufo-Addo explained the recent discovery of offshore oil will help provide needed capital to the country, exploration and extraction should be done without damaging the environment or causing civil unrest like we are witnessing in nearby Nigeria. The discovery of oil, Mr. Akufo-Addo said, should benefit the Ghanaian people not foreign corporations.

There are fair reasons to criticize the Ghanaian government. The former British colony is the world's second biggest cocoa grower and Africa's second largest gold producer. Many Ghanaians, however, say they not have received the benefits from the increased wealth. In addition, cocaine trafficking last increased in West Africa over the past few years. Despite these issues and regardless which candidate prevails as Ghana's next president, Ghanaians should be proud to demonstrate the ability to exercise their democratic right to vote in a civil manner. As explained in the CNN article, "'All of us agreed that these were high quality, very transparent, orderly, peaceful, patient fine elections,' said observer John Stremlau with the Carter Center...'My colleagues with more experience than I have think these were probably the best elections they have observed.'"

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

December 8, 2008

Unlimited Potential: Making Technology Affordable, Relevant and Accessible

On October 18, 2008, I attended the 10th Annual African Day Business Forum and Celebration Dinner & Auction sponsored by the Seattle-based African Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest (ACCPNW). There were several good speakers, but I found James Utzschneider's presentation particularly interesting and relevant regarding the problems presented by the digital divide (i.e., the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those without) to hundreds of millions of people in the developing world and how Microsoft is providing the tools necessary to overcome these problems through fostering innovation and education. (Picture is taken during one of my trips to St. Theresa Girls Secondary School Bwanda, a private school located in Masaka, Uganda for girls 14-20 years of age. My friend, Sister Noelina Namusoke, a graduate of Seattle University who was born and raised in Uganda, is the school's headmistress.)

Mr. Utzschneider is the general manager of marketing and communications for the Unlimited Potential Group at Microsoft Corp. According to the company's website, "Microsoft, through its Unlimited Potential vision, is committed to making technology more affordable, relevant and accessible for the 5 billion people around the world who do not yet enjoy its benefits. The company aims to do so by helping to transform education and foster a culture of innovation, and through these means enable better jobs and opportunities. By working with governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and industry partners, Microsoft hopes to reach its first major milestone — to reach the next 1 billion people who are not yet realizing the benefits of technology — by 2015."

Speaking about the digital divide and how the Unlimited Potential vision is providing the tools necessary for people to cultivate innovative skills and enhance educational strategies aimed to eradicate poverty, Mr. Utzschneider said that it is necessary to combine to efforts of governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to promote the benefits of technology to the world's underserved population. Unlimited Potential is an ideal vehicle to overcoming these challenges through three core areas: Transforming Education, Fostering Local Innovation, and Enabling Jobs and Opportunities.

Mr. Utzschneider explained that an example of these core areas is through Microsoft's Partners in Learning initiative, which is "designed to increase technology access for schools, foster innovative approaches to teaching, and provide education leaders with tools to better engage students and improve learning outcomes." He further said that the Local Language Program was allowing people worldwide to benefit from technology while preserving local languages and cultural identities by making software available in as many languages as possible.

Speaking at the second annual Information and Communication Technologies Best Practices Forum in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso last April, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer said, "Technology alone will not turn these goals into achievements...Technology is just a tool to empower people to make progress. It is an enabler." (see "Ballmer: African Business Needs to Be More Transparent"). With the right implementation strategy, Microsoft's Unlimited Potential vision can empower the world's most underserved population with the tools to break the generational cycles of poverty.

For your reference, I am providing two additional resources about Microsoft's Unlimited Potential vision:
  1. Unlimited Potential World Updates
  2. Inside UP - James Utzschneider's blog to help tell the story of how his group works with partners and governments around the world to develop and deploy technology that helps improve people's lives in a sustainable way.

December 4, 2008

Economic Impact of AIDS

Many of you responded to my blog entry, "World AIDS Day 2008," discussing HIV/AIDS and ways to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. One of the purposes of this blog is to discuss the challenges people face in developing nations and how economic and private sector development can serve as a solution to resolving many of the world's human crises. A preliminary step is diagnosing and examining the problem before formulating sustainable solutions. Although we realize the human costs of AIDS, particularly in the developing world, we may not understand the economic impact of AIDS.

Breakdown of the Family Structure

In many countries, women are the primary caregivers in their households. What happens to the family structure when the father infected with AIDS? Who will provide the source of income? Conversely, who takes care of the children when the mother becomes ill or dies? Although many families in Africa, Asia, and Latin American tend to be extended with several potential caregivers, providing economic security or household stability is threatened when multiple members of the family are coping with HIV/AIDS.

According to the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic produced by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), "In addition to being more physiologically and socially vulnerable to infection, women also disproportionately suffer the epidemic’s negative effects. As the primary caregivers in Africa and other regions, women have seen their household and community burdens grow as a result of HIV, often compromising their health, their ability to generate income, and other markers of well-being. Women account for two thirds of all caregivers for people living with HIV in Africa. Women who are widowed as a result of HIV are at high risk of becoming destitute as a result of legal regimes that fail to recognize or protect women’s right to inherit property."

AIDS Creates a Welfare System

Many developing countries are trying to use donor funds from agencies like the United Nations United Nations Development Program (UNDP), The World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide individuals with the education and technical training necessary for economic development and financial independence. As a result of the collapse of the family structure resulting from AIDS, however, limited financial and human resources are transferred from economic development programs to provide for the needs for millions of orphans impacted by AIDS.

Furthermore, according to UNAIDS, "In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 12 million children under age 18 have lost one or both parents to HIV. In Botswana and Zambia, an estimated 20% of children under 17 are orphans, with most orphaned as a result of HIV. Zimbabwe reports that 24% of its children (ages 0–17) have lost one or both parents to HIV." Although many agencies should be commended for their efforts in raising orphans impacted by AIDS, these agencies often do not have adequate resources to provide a proper education or technical training required to achieve economic independence and break the cycle of poverty.

Growing Economic Divide in Developing Nations

Until just a few months ago, a few developing countries with significant populations infected with HIV had experienced strong economic growth. The UNAIDS report states, "With one of the highest HIV burdens in the world, Botswana nevertheless experienced average economic growth of 4.8% between 1990 and 2005. Likewise, economic growth in heavily affected Uganda in 1990–2005 actually increased over rates reported for 1975–1990, even as HIV was responsible for more than 100 000 deaths per year. South Africa, home to the largest population of people living with HIV, has enjoyed robust economic growth since 1999. Certain heavily affected countries—including Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—experienced negative economic growth in 1990–2005, but it is difficult to link this weak negative performance to HIV."

Having traveled to many countries where AIDS is part of the daily lives of its citizens, I have seen the positive impact resulting from strong economic growth. Creating an economic divide is a major threat HIV poses in several developing markets. While some people in developing nations will prosper financially, HIV will also increase the poverty rate. The UNAIDS report further explains, "Even within economies that are steadily growing, HIV can create a 'poverty trap' that ensnares the most vulnerable. Given the heavier burdens borne by poor households, HIV also widens inequality within societies, which may increase vulnerability to HIV in the future...Ironically, the sickness and death of skilled workers may also increase inequality by reducing overall labour demand and leading to a fall in the wages of unskilled workers....It is estimated that HIV imposes an additional US$2 billion in costs each year on affected households in Asia" There is a growing concern on how HIV will impact the economies of India and China.

The Impact of AIDS on Donor Countries

President-elect Barack Obama said that his budget proposal will call for an increase in foreign aid for humanitarian purposes and as a United States citizen and taxpayer, I support this proposal. For those of us who reside in nations that provide foreign aid to the developing world, our tax revenue will be spread thin between supporting economic development projects and providing funding to agencies that care for individuals impacted by AIDS.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

1 December 2008 is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. People worldwide will commemorate this day to bring attention to the ongoing battle that has plagued individual communities and entire nations. Although there have been great strides to defeating AIDS, millions of people of all demographics are still dying from this preventable disease.

Although AIDS has become a household term, I am surprised to learn how little people know about this disease. Through U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, AIDS.gov, "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). By killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. Over one million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today. Worldwide, the figure is over 33 million."

Here in the United States, the United Nations is often criticized for its inability to prevent wars and genocides like those we are witnessing in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has the necessary infrastructure to promote HIV/AIDS education to vulnerable populations, which are often found in developing or emerging markets. According to UNAIDS, "HIV prevention services were only reaching 20% of people in need in 2005, while coverage for key populations at higher risk of exposure to HIV were considerably lower."

UNAIDS further claims, "Effective HIV prevention programming focuses on the critical relationships between the epidemiology of HIV infection, the risk behaviors that expose to HIV transmission, and also addresses the collective social and institutional factors, such as sexual norms, gender inequality, and HIV related stigma, that will otherwise continue to fuel HIV epidemic." We must continue to fight this disease through effective education strategies and industrialized countries should lead by example by providing the necessary funding to support UNAIDS' efforts and implement effective national strategies in their respective country.

To commemorate World AIDS Day, please educate yourself and talk with your friends and family members about the facts of HIV/AIDS including proven prevention techniques. According to AIDS.gov, "The transmission of HIV occurs through three well documented means: 1) having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with someone infected with HIV; 2) sharing needles and syringes with someone infected with HIV; and 3) being exposed (fetus or infant) to HIV before or during birth or through breast feeding....HIV is not transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes."

UNAIDS identifies three simple prevention techniques:

  1. Use latex condoms, which when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing sexual transmission of HIV and use male or female condoms correctly each time you have sex;
  2. Avoid injecting drugs, or if you choose to inject drugs, always use new and disposable needles and syringes; and
  3. Ensure that any blood or blood products that you might need are tested for HIV and that blood safety standards are implemented.
Please consider getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV. Through effective education and proven prevention tactics, we can eradicate this disease that is continuing to kill millions worldwide.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

November 30, 2008

The Way Forward: Utilizing Fiber Optic Technology for Sustainable Economic Development

Image: U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency
In a post entitled "Innovative Use of Broadband Technology," I discuss a couple of ways broadband technology can help small businesses. Having a fiber optic connection is an essential component to utilizing broadband technology. My colleagues and I are developing a project utilizing fiber optic technology and information and communications technology (ICT) to implement social and economic development initiatives in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). One significant outcome of our proposal is create a digital strategy that will be incorporated into the FSM's national development strategy.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
The FSM is a country located in the West-Central Pacific Ocean consisting of 607 islands grouped into four states. According to the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) 2007 FSM Business Opportunities Report, "Though the islands span an area of more than one million square miles, the total land area of the FSM is a mere 271 square miles – roughly a quarter of the size of Rhode Island." With a population of 110,400, the FSM's exports for 2005 were valued at $1.3 million compared to $20.1 million in 2003, mostly generated from tourism, agriculture, and fishing licenses. Conversely, the FSM's imported $117.5 million in goods in 2005 up from $108.9 million in 2003. According to the OIA, "The FSM is also expected to receive approximately $2 billion from the U.S. in direct economic assistance through 2023 as part of the country’s Compact of Free Association agreement."

The focus of our project is to utilize fiber optic technology to implement social and economic development initiatives that will increase FSM's exports and reduce the reliance of certain imports. Our proposal focuses in developing initiatives in education, health care, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure development and maintenance, and private sector development.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
Fiber optics will help implement distance learning programs at all education levels, from primary schools to continuing education for professional adults. People living in countries like the FSM are often disconnected with modern technology and another objective in our proposal is to bridge the digital divide. In addition, professional and technical trades can be taught in virtual classrooms using videoconferencing by experts located at foreign institutions or companies.

There are several telemedicine programs in the FSM, but fiber optic technology will help implement programs that will diagnose and treat patients in distant locations, monitor patients with chronic illnesses or diseases, create electronic medical records for FSM citizens, and provide essential healthcare information and valuable resources.

Capacity in the public sector includes creating a comprehensive system for national and state governments to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate more efficiently. One outcome is to streamline government operations and create an Institute for e-Government to provide timely and necessary information and services to FSM citizens. Regarding public infrastructure development and maintenance, fiber optic technology will enhance operations at the FSM's airports, seaports, and provide value-added public services including telecommunication and high-speed Internet services.

According to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat's Pacific Regional Digital Strategy, "The Pacific has problems caused by large distances, small scale and scattered populations and markets, and a low level of investments in telecommunications and human resources. All these problems can be addressed and the development of ICTs accelerated, by selection of appropriate mechanisms for cooperation, market integration and provision of services on a regional basis." The first step in overcoming the specific challenges in the FSM is creating a realistic development plan utilizing fiber optic technology.

Photo: FSM
Visitors Board
The Pacific Regional Digital Strategy further explains: "Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are a significant and vital sector in the Pacific economy. ICTs have the potential to globally expand the markets for SMEs and shrink their costs, thus removing their isolation-related problems. To utilize this potential requires improved financial access to ICTs, more access to customers within the region, and better legal and financial environments. The ability of people to develop ICTs and use them, at both the business and consumer ends, needs significant improvement." Having the technological tools and training will provide SMEs the ability to grow regionally and compete in a global economy. By utilizing the advantages of fiber optic technology, the FSM should be able to increasing its exports, which fell by 94 percent from 2003-2005.

FSM President Emanuel Mori has continuously stated that broadband connectivity is one of his administration’s priorities. Our proposal to utilize fiber optic technology for social and economic development that will help FSM's citizens to become more self-sustaining and less reliant on outside resources. There are several examples where fiber optic technology has benefited countries similar to the Federated States of Micronesia and I invite you to share your comments and recommendations.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

November 24, 2008

Innovative Use of Broadband Technology

The Associated Press published an interesting article, "Broadband makes tiny town an English-teaching hub," about how Eleutian Technology, LLC, a Ten Sleep, Wyoming-based company is using broadband technology "to help students enhance their English level so that they can talk whenever and wherever with people from English speaking countries." Eleutian's SpeakENG e-Learning program is using Skype's software to communicate for free through voice and video calls as well as instant messages. According to the article, "The company has close to 300 teachers hooked up to more than 15,000 students in Korea, and CEO Kent Holiday said he's just getting started."

According to Eleutian's website, "The SpeakENG program is a special interactive e-Learning program and delivers the same effect as communicating with the American teachers in person, throughout the duration of the program." The company employs state-qualified teachers to teach English language skills to its students and the e-Learning system is promoted as a bridge to break down the barrier between English-speaking and non-speaking countries. This is just one example of how a company located in a remote region is incorporating broadband technology into its business model.

Another example of utilizing broadband technology and Skype's services is through a project I created for B'nai B'rith International (BBI), an international Jewish service organization based in Washington, D.C. One of the many challenges community service organizations like BBI face is increasing its participation or membership base. Incorporating alternative methods of communication with members or program participants is one way to provide an added-value service to a nonprofit organization's mission.

Specifically, I proposed using Skype or a web conferencing service such as WebEx to hold informational seminars on topics of interest to a younger demographic audience. With offices located in Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva, Montevideo, Sydney and New York, BBI has access to real-time information that can be transmitted quickly to its members and financial supporters through online conferencing services. We live in a fast pace and constant changing global world and the value many nonprofit organizations provide may be quickly transmitting relevant information to its supporters. Using communication services through broadband technology is a free or low-cost option of outreaching and engaging an organization's supporters.

Another component of my BBI proposal is using web conferencing services to bring together members of the Board of Governors (Directors) and associated committees to discuss issues of importance to the organization. Given the increase costs of travel and the complexity of daily schedules, it is often difficult to travel long distances for meetings. Utilizing alternative communication methods will increase participation allowing people from different regions, within the United States and abroad, who offer a variety of innovative ideas to grow and sustain the organization. The private sector often utilize this technology in making important governance decisions and I am surprised and disappointed by the lack of foresight nonprofit organizations have in taking advantage of the same technology.

There are many innovative uses of broadband technology for business or organizational purposes and I invite you to share your experiences.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

November 19, 2008

Entrepreneurship 101‏

In my last blog entry, Global Entrepreneur Week, I discussed how people who are finding themselves unemployed as a result of the global economic crisis are considering starting their own business. Although it takes sufficient planning and financial resources to starting a business, there are signficant professional and financial rewards in becoming an entrepreneur. If you have the determination and ability to handle risks, having your own business may be the right opportunity for you.

I occasionally teach seminars on entrepreneurship and business development and I will summarize some basic concepts in starting a business. (Accompanied photo is from a seminar I taught at CFDE University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.) There are many business plan templates available, but most plans share the same components. Aspiring entrepreneurs should use their business plan as a road map to growing and sustaining their enterprise. To start the planning process, an entrepreneur should define the following components:

1. Mission. Have a clear statement of your company's long-term mission. Try to use words that will help direct the growth of your company.

2. Goals and Objectives. For the initial five years, state your specific measured objectives, market share objectives, and revenue/profitability objectives.

3. Problems and Opportunities. State consumer problems and define nature of product/service opportunities created by those problems.

4. Deliverable. Clearly define your product or service and its value to your customer or client.

5. Competition. Summarize your competition and outline your company's competitive advantage. What makes your product or service different from your competitors? Other than an initial lack of planning, one common error entrepreneurs make is thinking their competitive advantage is simply price related. Entrepreneurs need to build value to their product and service.

6. Market Analysis. Summarize the market: past, present, and future. Review those changes in market share, leadership, players, market shifts, costs, pricing or competition that provide the opportunity for your company's success.

7. Marketing Strategy. A comprehensive marketing plan should incorporate two elements, Strategic Marketing and Operational Marketing.

Strategic Marketing is determining how your company competes against its competitors in a market place. In particular, it generates a competitive advantage relative to its customers.

Operating Marketing is executing marketing functions to attract and keep customers to maximize the value derived for them as well as to satisfy the customer with prompt services and meeting the customer expectations. The marketing mix should include product, pricing, promotion, and placement.

The 3 R’s – Retain, Raise, Recruit
In the December 2006 issue of Jewish Life & STYLE, Brian Rouff, a partner at Imagine Marketing of Nevada, Inc., a full-service advertising, marketing, and public relations firm based in Henderson, Nevada, wrote an article, "Marketing Basics."

"In other words, the three ways to grow your business. First, retain your customers or clients by establishing a solid relationship based on trust and credibility. Next, raise the amount of money they spend with you through excellent communication skills and innovative offerings. Finally, recruit new business via personal selling and a targeted marketing campaign. Notice that recruit comes last. You shouldn't use your resources to bring in new customers until you're sure you've maximized your existing ones."

8. Financial Plan. The Financial Plan should include a projected Profit and Loss (P&L) statement, cash flow analysis, and balance sheet for the first three fiscal years.

9. Risks and Rewards. Outline the risks and rewards (financial and personal) of starting your own business.

I hope this outline will facilitate the process of starting your own business. If I can be of any assistance or should you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me via email at aaron.rose@roi3.com or Skype at aarondrose. In addition, I welcome comments and testimonials from those of you who have ventured into entrepreneurship. Thank you and good luck!!

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

November 18, 2008

Global Entrepreneurship Week

As an entrepreneur and business consultant, one of my greatest career accomplishments is helping people realizing their dreams in starting their own business. Many entrepreneurs have a vision of running a business, but often lack the capital and technical expertise required to create a business.

November 17-23, 2008 is Global Entrepreneurship Week, which seeks to:
  • Inspire--Introduce the notion of enterprising behavior to as many young people under the age of 30 who otherwise might not have considered it as a path in their life;
  • Connect--Network young people across national boundaries in a global effort to find new ideas at the intersection of cultures and disciplines;
  • Mentor--Enlist active and inspirational entrepreneurs around the world to coach and mentor the next generation of enterprise talent as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams; and
  • Engage--Demonstrate to opinion leaders and policy makers that entrepreneurship is central to a nation's economic health and culture and to provide different nations with the opportunity to learn from each other on entrepreneurial policy and practice.
In commemoration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, American Public Media's Marketplace® ran a segment called, "Starting a business in a bad economy." There are a few points that are worth discussing.

Although one of Global Entrepreneurship Week's objectives is to introduce people under the age of 30 to using entrepreneurship as career path, many people over the age of 30 are losing their jobs that they have worked for most of their adult lives. It is the latter who will find themselves becoming entrepreneurs to make ends meet and odds are, they may find other potential business partners who are confronted with a similar unemployed situation.

In addition to having a strong comprehensive business plan, one of the greatest obstacles to starting your own business is having enough cash. As the Marketplace® story says, using your credit cards as a means to finance your business is a terrible idea. As much as possible, try to borrow money from friends and family. Many investors who hold shares in large multinational companies are seeing their portfolios nosedive. Providing investor value in your small business may provide a sense of comfort for certain investors.

Despite the budget constraints on the international governments, several development agencies such as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) continues to provide loans for start-up enterprises. Furthermore, aspiring entrepreneurs should investigate options through their state, provincial, and municipal governments, which often provide capital and technical assistance to stimulate local economic development.

It is very challenging to start your own business during difficult economic conditions, but as the Marketplace® story notes several Fortune 500 companies were founded during down times. Yes, credit conditions may not have been so tight compared to today, but it still takes a vision, determination, sufficient planning, and a little luck to create a business to grow during the good times and sustain operations during the bad. "And there are other advantages to starting up in recession. Rent is cheap. And people like web designers and graphic artists may offer their services at a discount. After all, they're hurting for business too."

In my next entry, I will discuss a few strategies on maximizing your potential and minimizing your risks to achieve your dream of owning your own business.

November 14, 2008

The Financial Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries

On November 15, 2008, leaders from 20 of the world's largest economic powers (G20), which account for 85 percent of the world economy and approximately two-thirds of its population, will be meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss the current economic crisis and possible solutions. We are in the early stages of realizing the consequences of the global financial crisis in industrialized nations, which include a rise in unemployment, increased costs of energy and food, and looming inflation problem. However, we are still quantifying the effects of the economic crisis has on emerging or developing economies. According to The World Bank Group's website, The Financial Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries, "Developing countries are now much more vulnerable, with dwindling capital flows, huge withdrawals of capital leading to losses in equity markets, and skyrocketing interest rates. GDP growth in developing countries—only recently expected to increase by 6.4 percent in 2009—is now likely to be only 4.5 percent, according to economists at the World Bank. And rich countries are now expected to contract by 0.1 percent next year." (Graphic courtesy of AFP)

Although people in developing and emerging economies are spending less, the frozen credit market is having a toll on small and mediums-sized enterprises. Having access to credit markets or additional sources of liquidity is essential to business growth. In addition, the global economic crisis is having an adverse affect on remittances to developing countries, which according to the Bank, "were larger than revenues from the most important commodity export, and in 36 countries they were larger than private and public capital inflows."

During the past few years, we have seen a spike in food and energy prices. While these prices have dropped in recent weeks, they are still significant higher compared to 2007. Furthermore, developing economies are commodity-price driven and higher prices have benefited these markets. Despite the falling prices on commodities, inflation risk remains a great problem rising to as high as five percentage points. Developing markets may soon be seeing stagflation, the economic situation in which inflation and economic stagnation occur simultaneously and remain unchecked for a period of time.

According to its press release, "World Bank Group Boosts Support for Developing Countries," the Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development could make new commitments of up to US$100 billion over the next three years. In 2008, the Bank's lending could almost triple to more than US$35 billion compared to US$13.5 billion in 2007. The increase in financial support would support countries facing significant budget short-falls and help sustain long-term investments. To maximize success and reduce the amount of money wasted by multiple layers of bureaucracy, corruption, and a general lack of oversight and inefficient strategic planning, donor countries should be required to create a transparent, definable, and measured growth strategy with clear accountable results.

Part of the historical challenge for the Bank is defining its purpose beyond providing financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. The global financial crisis is an opportunity for the Bank to serve as a negotiator between donor countries and countries receiving financial assistance. As a mediator, the Bank can strengthen is role in gathering information, forming ideas, and implementing solutions to eradicate poverty and raise the standard of living for the world's poorest people.

Equally important, however, is the need to strengthen the trade and economic relationship and close the gap between industrialized and developing nations. Whether you live in Haiti, South Africa, Spain or Canada, we live in a global society and we need global solutions. Meetings of world leaders are often more about discussions and not enough decision making, but I hope the G20 summit will facilitate turning ideas into sustainable solutions.

November 11, 2008

Community of Veterans

Today, November 11, 2008, is Veterans Day in the United States (or Armistice Day worldwide) and I want to thank all the men and women who served to protect our freedom. I was reading an Associated Press article, "Today's veterans hall a mouse click away," which made me think about how technology plays an important role for the military not just during a combat situation, but those who are returning from a war. We are just learning to understand the benefits of online social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, but Community of Veterans was created through a joint effort of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Ad Council. This social networking website provides an online community for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Community of Veterans helps veterans connect online and share their experiences with people whom they can best relate - other veterans. My friends who served in the military say one of the largest challenges for a soldier returning from combat is the sense of isolation. Websites like Community of Veterans and others being planned by organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion will offer an online social networking community to help veterans heal their physical or emotional wounds resulting from serving in a war. We can see the physical wounds of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we are often unaware of the mental and emotional toll that results from having exposure to a combat situation.

My grandfather, Dale Taylor, was proud of his military career serving in the U.S. Air Force and through all the war stories he proudly told (he was serving at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941), only once did I hear him talk about the emotional effects of war. It was not during one of our conversations, but one with his younger brother, James Taylor, who also served in the Air Force. Online social networking has made great strides in connecting people into difference communities and I hope this technology will connect veterans into a community that provides support for each other. Thank you to all veterans who served to protect our freedom.

November 8, 2008

Obama: A Tech President?

Almost a week has passed since Senator Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States of America. As Mr. Obama begins his transition from senator to president, Americans, and all the world, will be watching closely how he will implement all his changes. One thing is for certain, the president-elect will use technology unlike any preceding president and he is expected to be the first US Tech President ("Obama expected to be first US 'tech President'").

Mr. Obama used non-traditional methods such as the Internet and text messaging to fundraise and organize volunteers, although there are differing opinions as to its effectiveness. Senator John McCain had a well-designed website, but he used more traditional methods of communications ("Tech Weekly: How technology helped win it for Obama"). To many Americans, Mr. Obama appeared more "in touch" with the future and the ability to lead the United States through several difficult issues.

One of the many criticisms of George W. Bush's administration is the lack of transparency in its operations including methods of executive management and process of policy formation. An advantage of technology is the ability to decimate information to a large audience and engage their participation. As we witnessed during eight years of President Bush's tenure, however, technology can be used to restrict accessibility to information. I hope that an Obama White House will use current and yet to be developed technology to engage the populous. Voting is one way for citizen participation in American democracy, but elected leaders need to improve upon engaging their constituents in being a part of the solution to various issues. Technology will help facilitate this engagement and the recent launch of change.gov sponsored by the Obama-Biden Transition Project is a good start.

Similar to using technology to help resolve some of the world's most difficult socioeconomic issues in developing markets, countries like the United States must use technology innovation to help resolve the current economic crisis and improve education for the next generation. Mr. Obama has a monumental task and I wish him the best of luck. However, the president-elect and his incoming administration cannot do it alone and I encourage the White House to use the latest technology to tap into the innovative knowledge Americans possess. Doing so will be a true testament to citizen engagement, which is something that people desire and has never been available until now.

November 5, 2008

Cheap and Effective Solutions for Humanitarian Emergencies

Photo: Department of Defense/
Fred W. Baker III

Under the leadership of Linton Wells II at National Defense University, STAR-TIDES promotes affordable, sustainable, support to stressed populations—post-disaster, impoverished, or post-war with or without involvement of the military. It is an international research project to promote unity of effort among diverse organizations where there is no unity of control. As such it seeks to build bridges across boundaries between business, civil society and government stakeholders who are working toward common goals. The principal means are: (1) trust building and social network development, (2) sharing information and “sense-making” approaches, and (3) low-cost logistic solutions.

On October 15, 2008, I attended a STAR-TIDES research demonstration at the Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C. STAR-TIDES is an acronym for Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support, which is geared to organize inexpensive and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction. Several companies were demonstrating some very fascinating technological products that would make an immediate impact in the developing world or in any humanitarian emergency.

For example, Windsor, Vermont-based Seldon Technologies designed the Seldon WaterBox™, which according to their data sheet, "uses Seldon’s unique carbon nanomaterial to absorb contaminants from water. The system creates drinking water by removing bacteria, virus, cysts and other contaminants without the need for heat, ultraviolet light, chemicals, electricity, or waiting time."

GATR Technologies, a Huntsville, Alabama-based defense and satellite company, produces the GATR-Com™ 2.4 Meter Inflatable Deployable Satellite Communication System, which "features a unique deployable design that provides high-bandwidth communications for transmission of secure and non-secure data, voice, and video."

Photo: STAR-TIDES
Additional companies demonstrating their products included the Hexayurt, a sturdy and efficient emergency shelter constructed of suitable materials including common building materials (fire safe insulation boards), hexacomb cardboard and plastic. Solar Stik™ manufactures a product that uses solar as a power generator that can be used in a wide range of applications.

During the demonstration at the Pentagon, the Saint Augustine, Florida-based company was using The Solar Stik™ Breeze (pictured next to the Hexayurt), which according to the company's website is the first truly portable hybrid solar and wind power generator, to provide electricity to a number of generators to run electronic equipment (laptops) and a satellite system.

Although these technologies may have been designed primarily for military use or humanitarian crises, their applications could provide solutions in the developing world to support a broader sustainable social and economic strategy.

For any sustainable social and economic development strategy to have a chance of succeeding, it must have the collaboration of the private sector, civil society, and government stakeholders. With adequate financial and logistical support, STAR-TIDES could make a difference to people worldwide facing the challenges of surviving a one-time natural disaster or the daily constraints of poverty.

Fred W. Baker III with the American Forces Press Service provides additional information about the STAR-TIDES demonstration on his article entitled, "Network Works to Help Interagency Crisis Response."

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

October 30, 2008

The Ingenuity of Human Nature

The ingenuity of human nature should never surprise any of us. I was pleased to read CNN's article, "Google swamped with 'great idea' submissions," which is about Google's Project 10 to the 100th to support "ideas to change the world, in the hope of helping as many people as possible." The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has committed $10 million to fund up to five ideas selected by their advisory board. I applaud Google's efforts in providing financial support to empower people to help others.

I am happy to see Google invest its financial success into others and I encourage other companies to support the potential of human knowledge. Through all of my travels in some of the most challenging markets, I am amazed to see the innovative ideas people create and the strength of the human spirit to do good. In a world where we tend to focus on the negative and destruction people have toward each other and their natural environment, it is vitally important to highlight and support the positive efforts people make as part of their everyday regiment. (Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/camera_rwanda/304301139)

While some will speculate that Google is using this initiative as a public relations ploy, I argue that Google's initiative is to truly support social responsibility. Advising companies of all sizes on business strategy and international growth management, I know many companies find it difficult to become more socially responsible when their efforts are not quantified on a profit and loss statement or balance sheet--particularly when business success is defined by net profit or earnings per share. Given these challenges, however, I hope other companies will replicate similar initiatives such as Google's Project 10 to the 100th to support people who possess innovative ideas on helping others, but lack the capital to implement their passion.

October 28, 2008

Haïti: Using Tourism as a Means for Sustainable Social and Economic Development

As explained in post, Haïti: Pearl of the Caribbean, despite the ongoing problems in Haïti, there are several beautiful destinations for visitors in this unique country. Growing a viable tourism sector could provide Haïti the economic and social tools to resolving many of its development needs. As part of my assessment project, I visited key locations the Haïtian Ministry of Tourism designated for tourism development and was provided with several documents and a presentation that collectively provided details to Haïti's tourism strategy.

The Tourism Ministry's impressive 94-slide presentation provided details of the vision and objectives of the tourism strategy. The presentation included statistical data of the number of tourists who visited Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, both as a region and by a few selected countries. According to the statistics provided from the presentation, in 2005, Haïti had 110,000 visitors compared to 3.9 million, 3.7 million, 2.26 million, or 1.5 million in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica, respectively. Regarding the number of hotel rooms, Dominican Republic (60,000), Puerto Rico (13,500), Cuba (50,000), and Jamaica (22,500) compared to Haïti's 800 rooms available to house its visitors.

Photo of the Port of Jacmel:
Marc Roger
Haïti's tourism strategy is based on three components: history, experience, and the environment, which provide a strong basis for establish an ecotourism industry. Other strengths to the tourism strategy include establishing a partnership between the Haïtian parliament and municipalities; strengthening private enterprises including private-public partnerships; drafting regional and international cooperation agreements; recognizing the need to train tourism professionals and create a national branding and marketing strategy; and developing channels for research funding.

The tourism development plans I reviewed are very comprehensive regarding urban planning and land use issues, but based on my assessment lack a realistic implementation timeline with measured benchmarks and defined clear accountable results. In addition to defining and establishing benchmarks, I recommend establishing a collaborative partnership among the other Haïtian governmental departments and integrate the tourism development strategy into a national strategy to ensure that tourism is balanced with broader economic, social, and environmental objectives at national and local levels. In other words, the tourism development strategy should serve as an anchor to rebuild and strengthen Haïti's education, health care, private sector, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure development and maintenance, and protection and restoration of natural resources.

This national strategy should be based on the knowledge of environmental and biodiversity resources and integrated with national and regional sustainable development plans. It should also enhance prospects for economic development and employment while maintaining protection of the environment.

To achieve maximum success, the planning and implementation process should be completely transparent to all stakeholders including government agencies, civil society, private business, and the general population. Moreover, the Haïtian government should encourage the development of partnerships with primary stakeholders and provide stakeholders with ownership shares in projects and a shared responsibility for success.

Photo of Ile à Vaches: Marc Roger
Branding and marketing is essential in promoting tourism in Haïti. The first step is defining a "corporate image" to promote a positive view for Haïti, in particular in terms of safety and security for travel and tourism. In addition, marketing various activities as part of an ecotourism package will provide value for the visitor.

Another hurdle the government will have to overcome is financing the strategic plan. By partnering with international aid agencies, foreign governments, the private sector, and most importantly, the Haïtian Diaspora abroad should engage in financing the implementation of the tourism plan. I recommend creating a foreign equity fund that will allow the Diaspora to collectively contribute and participate in developing and implementing the tourism strategy. Through this fund, the Diaspora will have an opportunity to take an active role in their home country's development while receiving a financial return to their investment.

The Diaspora would contribute up to 70 percent of the fund's assets while the Haïtian government, whether through financial reserves or foreign assistance, contribute the difference. A financial holding corporation would be formed with government officials and representatives from the Diaspora community serving on the board and third-party managers managing the assets.

Photo: Marc Roger
Despite the ongoing crises in Haïti, there are several great places to visit. I am impressed that the Haïtian government has a vision to grow an ecotourism industry and I appreciated the opportunity to assess their strategic plan. With the right tools and tactics, this strategic plan should serve as the centerpiece to a national sustainable development strategy.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

October 26, 2008

Haïti: Pearl of the Caribbean

Photo of Port Salut, Haïti: Aaron Rose
When you hear the word "Haïti," many of you may think of a country full of poor and starving people or the violence that has plagued the country for several years, but seldom do people associate Haïti with beautiful beaches or ecotourism. Sponsored by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA), I had the opportunity of working in Haïti in September 2007 to assess a tourism development strategy prepared by the Haïtian Ministry of Tourism. Ecotourism, specifically, was the focus of the strategy and I was able to visit Jacmel, Port Salut, and Cap-Haïtien, which the Tourism Ministry designated as key development locations. I am in the process of updating my assessment report, but I will summarize in two blog entries. This entry will focus on my one week visit and the subsequent entry will discuss the challenges of building a viable tourism industry in Haïti and using tourism as a catalyst to developing education, health care, public infrastructure, capacity building in the public sector, environmental protection policies, and a sustainable private sector.

Haïti has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, Port Salut is a small town in southern Haïti where local Haitians and tourists seek relaxation and tranquility. I stayed at Auberge du Rayon Vert, owned by Mr. Christian Barriere, is located approximately 100 yards from the beach (although not always enforced, it is illegal to construct a dwelling on Haïti's beaches). This small hotel provided me with impeccable service including a full service restaurant (grilled lobster and shrimp!!) and a small bar serving fine French cognac. If you are like me and need to stay connected with the outside world, the hotel, as many of the hotels I visited in Haïti, had wireless Internet access.

Jacmel, the capital of the department of Sud-Est, is known as Haïti's cultural capital. It is a port town with an estimated population of 40,000. Jacmel's unique architecture is similar to what one would find in New Orleans consisting of cast iron pillars and balconies. Jacmel boasts an active art scene with small galleries dotted throughout the city and has hosted successful film and music festivals. I stayed at the very modern Cap Lamandou Hotel, which offers a breathtaking view over the bay and surrounding mountains.

Photo of the Citadel: Aaron Rose
The northern port city of Cap-Haïtien has an estimated population of 130,000 and serves as the capital of Haïti's Nord department. Approximately 12 miles south of Cap-Haïtien will you find the historic Haïtian town of Milot and the remarkable Citadel, which is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere built by King Henri Christophe with the hard labor that may have cost up to 20,000 lives lost at the beginning of the 19th century to defend against invaders. Although it took thousands of slaves to construct the Citadel, it serves as a reminder of Haïti's long history of a nation created by free slaves on January 1, 1804, making Haïti the second oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Photo: Royal Caribbean International
Just a few miles west of Cap-Haïtien is Labadee®, Royal Caribbean's Port of Call, which provides a private oasis for visitors to experience Haïti's natural beauty. I was impressed with the services Royal Caribbean offers in Labadee® providing parasailing rides, kayak tours of the surrounding water, and the chance to purchase gifts from local merchants. Haïti's tourism strategy calls for the development of another Port of Call in Jacmel. As of October 25, 2008, Royal Caribbean is the only major cruise line making a Port of Call in Haïti.

Regarding security in Haïti, I felt safe traveling around the country, but there is a strong presence that security is very fragile. Roads throughout most of the country are in poor condition as Haïti as very few financial resources to regularly maintain them, but funding from governments like the Republic of China (Taiwan) has been used to construct a new road through Port Salut. I traveled by airplane from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien, but the airports are in need of vast improvements if Haïti is to welcome visitors from around the world. (I often heard of a development plan to modernize the airport in Cap-Haïtien, but no one could provide me with a timetable to implement this plan.) Similar to most markets, the cost of energy (fuel) is high, which creates it own challenges in tourism development, and electricity is unreliable and often absent except through diesel generators.

Even with the high level of poverty prevalent throughout the country, Haïti has the potential to building a vibrant tourism industry focusing on its unique culture, history, and environment. Given the myriad of development challenges Haïtians face, however, tourism should serve as a catalyst to developing education, health care, public infrastructure, and capacity building in the public sector. With the right strategy and implementation drivers, Haïti could be the Pearl of the Caribbean.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

October 25, 2008

Mobile Commerce Solutions

On October 23, 2008, CNET published an article, "Using a Mobile Phone as a Credit Card," about the growing use of "contactless payments" or near-field communications when making payments with their mobile phones. Another option to contactless payments are mobile commerce solutions such as PayPal Mobile. One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face in developing countries is a tight or nonexisting credit market or a shortage of hard currency. Mobile commerce solutions would serve as a viable tool for small and medium-sized enterprises in developing markets to facilitate sustainable growth and such services would promote currency transferability, improve business markets, and allow SMEs to grow and compete in a global market.

I encourage financial institutions to develop mobile commerce solutions for SMEs in developing markets, which will facilitate commercial transactions where credit markets are limited or hard currency is in short supply. Mobile phones has allowed people who were once isolated in their villages a portal to the outside world and the use of mobile phones is often the primary method of communications in the developing world and mobile banking is becoming more mainstream in many developed markets.

From my experiences working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, I have yet to see mobile phones used as a means to conduct commercial transactions. We are just now seeing the vital role technology has in social and economic development, but with further development of applicable mobile applications, millions of people will have the necessary tools to overcome the challenges presented by a fragmented financial system often seen in the developing world.