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 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 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."

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.