August 24, 2008

Tiny Nation of Niue Gets Laptop for Every Child

I just read that every child in the small island nation of Niue will receive a laptop from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) nonprofit organization (see "Niue gives a child a laptop"). For those of you unfamiliar with OLPC, their vision is "To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning." Governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector should support initiatives that use technology in creating free accessibility to education.

Most of you will agree that education is one of the most important resources necessary for building and sustaining a stable future. Regardless if you support OLPC or not, organizations such as OLPC are essential to creating sustainable development opportunities, socially and economically, in the developing world. During my international travels, I remain appalled by the high cost of basic education and the lack of resources. My profession focuses on private sector development and creating the tools for entrepreneurs to succeed, but none of this is possible without citizens having access to basic education and the ability to learn technical skills.

Regarding the OLPC initiative in Niue, part of this initiative is contingent upon the fact that Niue provides free wireless access to all 1,500 of its inhabitants. I recognize that providing free wireless access to an entire country may be infeasible for most governments, but starting with individual villages or states/provinces may be a realistic way to bridge the digital divide. Economic development is an essential vehicle to poverty eradication and education is the centerpiece to any sustainable development.

August 14, 2008

China and the Olympics

Many of you have asked about my thoughts on China hosting the XXIX Olympiad. I recall feeling disappointed when the International Olympic Committee made its decision to award the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing on July 13, 2001. I, as most of the world, had fresh memories of Tienanmen Square and reading articles about people improperly detained, free speech restrictions, and other human rights abuses.

From a development perspective, China has worked hard to prepare hosting the world. The Chinese government carefully orchestrated the construction of state of the art facilities. Although we are seeing a great haze over the city, Beijing should be given credit for taking significant steps to curb its air pollution.

With China under a microscope, as most host countries are during the Olympics, I hope the Middle Kingdom will reform itself and with an openness for freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. It is disturbing to hear accounts of police crackdowns on protesters and obstructions of journalists from reporting covering the protests. Moreover, as a person who uses the Internet as a vehicle to promote sustainable solutions to resolve social, political, and economic problems, I am deeply troubled by the ongoing censorship China has maintained leading up to the Olympics.

China has changed to become a global power--politically, economically, and militarily. We, the democratic world, need China as much as China needs us. Perhaps the world's democratic nations will use economic carrots to persuade China to become a more open society. Countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia are modernizing and competing with China to attract foreign direct investment. As entrepreneurs, we have options to enter other markets beyond China and the power within these options should be used as a means to encourage China to accept openness among its citizens.

I wish China the best of luck for a safe and successful Olympic games. It is an amazing country to visit, an exciting market to conduct business in, and any reforms will only enhance the uniqueness China has to offer the world.

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.

August 10, 2008

Solutions for a Sustainable Sudan

On June 25, 2008, I attended a conference in Washington, DC titled "Darfur and its Impact on the Region," which was hosted by Manchester Trade, Ltd. and Executive Research Associates. This conference brought together Sudanese government officials from Khartoum and those serving at the embassy in the United States, academics, and representatives from non-governmental organizations, United States government agencies, and the private sector. As the title suggests, the mission of the conference was to outline the issues surrounding the Darfur conflict and conclude with a dialogue of viable solutions.

The first session, "What are the origins of the Darfur conflict," presented an ongoing display of finger pointing among the speakers and attendees. The rhetoric demonstrated the clear divisions among those who feel the other is to blame. Unfortunately, this was the common theme throughout the next two sessions "Is Darfur a 'Proxy-War'" and "Does the Darfur Crisis Threaten the Comprehensive Peace Agreement?"

The fourth and final session, "In Search of Solutions: Prospects for Peace and Economic Development in Darfur" allowed for the conference to conclude with a much needed dialogue on sustainable social and economic development as a solution to the Darfur conflict. The conference was well organized and Tony Carroll and Nel Marais did an excellent job as moderators. Here are a few thoughts on creating a stable Sudan, which will, hopefully, end the deaths of thousands of innocent lives and lay a foundation for a strong and sustainable future:
  1. Sudanese authorities need to have a vision--a vision that is transparent to its citizens and the outside world;
  2. Sudan's government must develop public infrastructure and donor agencies such as The World Bank and USAID should place conditions on funds pledged for development;
  3. Developing an educated and skilled labor force should be made an immediate priority;
  4. Sudanese living abroad should engage in Sudan's public infrastructure and private sector development;
  5. Sudan's governmental authorities, civil society, and representatives from the private sector should collaborate on creating a sustainable strategic plan with achievable benchmarks, defined deliverables and measurements for success;
  6. Sudan, in collaboration with developed nations, should promote privatization and trade liberalization, which will create comparative national advantages to promote and increase foreign direct investment;
  7. Create public/private partnerships in facilitating entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized enterprises; and
  8. Utilize technology to allow Sudan's private sector to compete not just regionally, but in a global economy.
I know this may sound overly idealistic, but we should immediately end the finger pointing and begin implementing small solutions to achieve a stable Sudan.

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.