December 31, 2009

A Time to Reflect

2009 served as the first full year of this blog and I want to thank all of you for taking the time visit. I appreciate your comments, whether they are made publicly and privately, and your suggestions for future blog topics. Starting with the first entry posted on August 10, 2008 about creating sustainable solutions in resolving the crisis in Sudan, this blog continues to serve a resource for understanding the problems people and companies face, both manmade or naturally occurring, and formulating solutions through innovative products and services. (Photo of the Space Needle in Seattle courtesy of Jim Bates/The Seattle Times)

Over the past year, we have witnessed great advancements in information and communications technology, renewable energy, and clean technology. Mobile phones and inexpensive portable computers are bridging the digital divide in industrialized and developing nations alike. We are seeing great advancements in mobile applications in education, telemedicine, and agriculture, and the improvement of renewable energy technologies that will provide the energy needs for millions, or perhaps billions, of people.

Several events will take place in 2010 that will focus on the intrinsic value of the individual and highlight the power of collaboration. Sports often bring together individuals with start physical or ideological differences to focus on a common element. Vancouver, Canada will host the Winter Olympic Games from February 12-28, 2010 and South Africa will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which I hope the latter will highlight the positive attributes of the host country and the entire African continent. Furthermore, Shanghai, China will host Expo 2010 from May 1 through October 31, focusing on the theme “Better City, Better Life.”

Lastly, according to a United Nations press release dated December 21, 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "called on world leaders to attend a summit next September to boost efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills, ranging from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015." The MDG summit will take place at the UN headquarters in New York. And the world will look for tangible results at the next annual climate conference to be held in Mexico City in November 2010.

Lest we forget the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Yemen. As you read this entry, millions of innocent people continue to suffer as the result of armed conflict or environmental strife. We should remain optimistic, however, that as technology has enabled people to connect in ways unimaginable just a few years ago, we can continue to develop innovative ways to educate and empower the most vulnerable populations.

May 2010 bring peace and prosperity to all people worldwide.

December 28, 2009

Solar Cookers: An Essential Tool for Better Health and Economic Benefits

During my travels to developing nations such as Haiti, Peru and Uganda, I witness the challenges and negative impact of cooking with fires fueled by wood or dung. The impact also applies to people who walk long distances to collect wood or spend their limited income on fuel. A solution to satisfying the need for cooking without breathing toxins or wasting time searching for cooking fuel lies within solar cookers. This entry provides a summary of this amazing tool.

"Solar cooking is the simplest, safest, most convenient way to cook food without consuming fuels or heating up the kitchen," according to Solar Cookers International, a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento, California and with an office in Nairobi, Kenya. "For millions of people who lack access to safe drinking water and become sick or die each year from preventable waterborne illnesses, solar water pasteurization is a life-saving skill. There are numerous reasons to cook the natural way — with the sun."

Solar Cooker International explains, "The three most common types of solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators (parabolics) and panel cookers. Hundreds — if not thousands — of variations on these basic types exist. Additionally, several large-scale solar cooking systems have been developed to meet the needs of institutions worldwide."

Box cookers, the most common solar cooker used worldwide, are made of cardboard, metal or plastic, with glass lids and aluminum foil or metal reflectors that trap heat from sunlight inside a sealed, insulated box and cook food in 2-3 hours at 250-350 F. Some box cookers can accommodate multiple pots. There are several thousand box cookers used in India and all solar cookers work with varying degrees of efficiency in hot or cool weather as long as the sun is shining. (Photos courtesy of Solar Cooker International)

Panel cookers incorporate elements of box and curved concentrator cookers. They are small, lightweight, foldable, portable and relatively inexpensive to purchase or manufacture by hand. They work like a crock-pot, with temperatures ranging between 225 and 275 F. Most panel cookers are made from cardboard and aluminum foil and they require a lightweight cooking pot painted black with non-toxic paint. Raw food is placed in the pot, which is put inside a heat resistant plastic bag and placed in the cooker. Panel cookers can cook food in 2-3 hours.

Curved concentrator cookers or "parabolic cookers," cook fast at high temperatures and are excellent for boiling and drying. Especially useful for large-scale institutional cooking, they require frequent adjustment and supervision for safe operation. Curved cookers may be used for indoor cooking by focusing sunlight through a hole in the wall.

Solar Cooker International provides a comprehensive list of health and nutritional benefits of using solar cookers:
  • Moderate cooking temperatures in simple solar cookers help preserve nutrients;
  • Those who otherwise could not afford the fuel to do so can cook nutritious foods — such as legumes and many whole grains — that require hours of cooking;
  • At times many families must trade scarce food for cooking fuel. Solar cooking helps them to keep more food and improve their nutrition;
  • Smoky cooking fires irritate lungs and eyes and can cause diseases. Solar cookers are smoke-free;
  • Cooking fires are dangerous, especially for children, and can readily get out of control — causing damage to buildings, gardens, etc. Solar cookers are fire-free;
  • Millions of women routinely walk for miles to collect fuel wood for cooking. Burdensome fuel-gathering trips can cause injuries, and expose women to danger from animals and criminals. Solar cooking reduces these risks and burdens, and frees time for other activities; and
  • With good sunlight, solar cookers can be used to cook food or pasteurize water during emergencies when other fuels and power sources may not be available.
In addition to the health and nutritional benefits, solar cookers provide a variety of economic benefits. Many poverty-stricken families worldwide spend 25 percent or more of their income on cooking fuel. Sunlight — solar cooker "fuel" — is free and abundant. Money saved from purchasing cooking fuel may be used for food, education, health care, etc. Furthermore, solar cooker businesses can provide extra income. Business opportunities include cooker manufacturing, sales and repair, as well as solar food businesses like restaurants and bakeries.

Benefits to developing governments include reducing imports of — and subsidies on — biomass and fossil fuels. Where forests are disappearing and many people suffer from fuel shortages, solar cookers reduce families' fuel wood needs by 30-50 percent. Electric companies that have trouble meeting peak hour demand because of heavy use of stoves and air conditioners can reduce that demand by promoting use of solar cookers.

I support funding by industrialized governments or nongovernmental organizations to programs that help deliver solar cookers to the world's most vulnerable populations. Not only is delivering solar cookers important, but providing the necessary training to manufacture, use, and repair the devices is essential.

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 22, 2009

A Call for a New Microfinance Model

The blog entry dated December 7, 2009 provided a summary of microfinance and the entry posted on December 20, 2009 outlined microfinance's benefits and provided a few success stories. The focus of this post is to discuss microfinance's shortcomings and begin a discussion on how the service that offers poor people access to basic financial services may be improved. (Photo of an outdoor market was taken during my visit to Pisac, Peru in June 2009)

I appreciate the way microfinance provides an opportunity to individuals whom seek to improve their lives and become better providers for their family through entrepreneurship; however, I am concerned that microfinance fails to achieve its primary objective of eradicating poverty for millions, perhaps billions, of people worldwide. Additional problems I have observed of microfinance operations in the developing world include little or no access for goods or services produced by entrepreneurs to reach global markets, debt rather than equity financing, exorbitant interest rates for loans, and lack of scalability and sustainability.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) should take a more proactive role in assisting borrowers (entrepreneurs) gain access to lucrative markets for their services or products. During my extensive travels to developing nations, I observed recipients of microloans manufacturing small crafts or clothing items. The consumer market for these entrepreneurs is limited to nearby villages or passing tourists and MFIs should help rural entrepreneurs gain access to large population centers. Furthermore, I recommend that MFIs take a more proactive role in assisting borrowers to gain access for their goods in lucrative industrialized markets in North America or Europe. To facilitate liberal access to the United States market, the U.S. government enacted legislation such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act or the Central America-Dominican Republic-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

Microloans create a revolving door of debt by requiring entrepreneurs to take subsequent loans in order to grow their business operations. In the preceding blog entry, I use Bayamma Neerudi's experience to highlight the benefits of microfinance. Not to diminish the impact microcredit has made on Ms. Neerudi or individuals like her worldwide, but Ms. Neerudi has obtained three loans in order to grow her business. Where is the savings or reinvestment mechanism? While I recognize this information may be missing from Ms. Neerudi’s story, too many MFIs are not working with borrowers in implementing savings strategies. Technically, microfinance includes microsavings, but the latter is often missing when it comes to the operations of MFIs. I encourage MFIs to make a stronger effort to incorporate savings as a means to promote business scalability.

I propose a different type of microfinance model. As stated above, traditional microfinance models support debt rather than equity financing. I recommend that MFIs reevaluate their lending model by providing private equity financing to entrepreneurs. An equity "fund" should operate similarly to a traditional microlending operation with one of the objectives to provide initial or early development funding to a variety of private enterprises to stimulate social and economic development. The differences between my recommendation and traditional microcredit vehicles are: (1) Rather than immediately repay the principal and interest, entrepreneurs are required to save a portion or reinvest initial revenue to maximize sustainable growth opportunities, (2) entrepreneurs are required to implement a revenue-sharing plan for all employees, (3) entrepreneurs are required to operate with complete transparency including providing every employee a copy of the business plan and the opportunity to provide input regarding the business strategy and operations, (4) all recipients of the fund will receive support and technical expertise from MFIs and their contributors, and (5) the size of the loans should range from $5,000 to $500,000. $100 loans will not eradicate poverty.

When I taught my first seminar on entrepreneurship at the CFDE University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2007, my students’ greatest need to become successful entrepreneurs was access to capital. I was astonished to learn that lending rates from the black market, MFIs, and government-owned banks were 15, 18, and 20 percent respectively. I have met with MFIs in Africa that charge borrowers up to 30 percent interest for loans. I understand that MFIs incur vast costs in administering small loans to several borrowers, but charging high interest rates is wrong. While I am not an expert in finance, I know from my experience as an entrepreneur in developing markets that through a different lending model, borrowers will no longer need to be punished with excessive interest rates.

With the current model, entrepreneurs find it difficult to scale or sustain their business operations. I see an immediate need to change to microfinance model. In principle, I support microfinance and the positive benefits realized by people striving to break the bonds of poverty. However, how does a MFI define success? Increased gross domestic product? Increased per capita income? Increased personal spending? Can we say that the results of microfinance are reflective of the hundreds of millions of dollars invested? Microfinance is mostly a good thing as it often helps keep borrowers from even greater catastrophes. However, microfinance fails if judged by the number of borrowers whom overcome the barriers of poverty.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

December 20, 2009

Benefits of Microfinance

The preceding post, "Microfinance 101," provided a brief overview of microfinance. In addition to discussing the componenets of microfinance during my presentation to the Japanese Students Business Association (JSBA) at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington on December 2, 2009, I outlined the benefits of the scheme that offers poor people access to basic financial services. The benefits include increasing access to capital for individuals, increasing personal income and reducing poverty, enabling people to build assets, reducing vulnerability to economic stress, and development of basic life skills (e.g., literacy, personal health care, and financial education).

Unitus, a Seattle, Washington-based international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing innovative, market-based solutions to global poverty, highlights several individuals whom have benefited from microfinance. Susan Wangui, 30, is a single woman living in Nairobi, Kenya with her son and daughter who are 13 and 9 years old, respectively. Susan, who is HIV-positive, was working as a prostitute when her husband left her when he learned about his wife's medical condition. (Photo of Susan Wangui courtesy of Unitus)

Susan "learned about Jamii Bora, a Nairobi-based microfinance institution, from neighbors in her slum. She completed their business training, which improved her business skills and gave her the confidence to begin her clothes mending and sales business. Jamii Bora's microfinance services enabled her to quit prostitution and move her family from a shack in their crime-and disease-ridden slum into a safer house."

With each increasing loan, Susan, "buys more raw materials in bulk at lower costs, thus increasing her business's profitability. She is convinced she would not be alive without Jamii Bora’s medical insurance and access to HIV medication, and can't imagine what would become of her children, as there is no one else to care for them. Susan has savings for the first time and is striving to earn enough to ensure her children's educations so they can break free from the chains of poverty."

Another example Unitus provides is Bayamma Neerudi, 49, of Medak, India, a married woman with seven children. Bayamma worked "as a seasonal agricultural laborer, earning 32 cents per day for only 150 days each year. Her husband was a mechanic in the nearby town of Jogipet, earning only 50 cents per day. One of her sons also worked as an agricultural laborer, while her other son was sold into bonded labor, often working 13 hours or more each day. For much of the year, Bayamma’s family survived on starch as their only food source." (Photo of Bayamma Neerudi courtesy of Unitus)

Bayamma's first loan of $150 was used to purchase a buffalo. "By selling milk and other dairy products from the buffalo, she was able to save an average of $2.75 each week after paying her loan installment and buying feed for the buffalo. She used subsequent loans of $64 and $128 to pay for a buffalo and to have cart made, which she rented out to transport sugarcane and other produce from the fields to the factories. With this income, Bayamma was finally able to release her son from bonded labor, whose wages are now added to the family's income. She recently received her third loan of $150, with which she has leased six acres of land for growing rice."

Unitus' website explains that "Bayamma is happy now that she and her family have stable sources of income. Her family eats more nutritious food that includes milk, rice, vegetables and, occasionally, meat. With her future loans, Bayamma hopes to begin repairing houses and also plans to purchase irrigation equipment to increase her crop yield."

Seattle, Washington-based Global Partnerships, a nonprofit organization that expands opportunities for people living in poverty by supporting microfinance and other sustainable solutions in Latin America, provides another success story. Gregorio Francisco Perez of Ocotal, Nicaragua, a married man with two sons, is a street vendor selling enchiladas, taquitos and fresh fruit juice from his pushcart. "Gregorio's business is funded by microloans provided by Global Partnerships microfinance partner” Fundación para el Desarrollo de Nueva Segovia (FUNDENUSE), "and the income from it supports his entire family. The business itself is a family affair. Gregorio staffs the cart selling the product, his wife of 14 years cooks the food and prepares the juice at home, and their older son brings fresh supplies to restock Gregorio when he runs out. Together they prepare and sell more than 350 enchiladas every day." With the earnings from his business, Gregorio and his wife are able to pay for their boys' school uniforms and books. (Photo of Gregorio Francisco Perez is courtesy of Global Partnerships)

The three examples above illustrate the benefits of microfinance and while I do not want to diminish the impact microfinance has made on the lives of Susan, Bayamma or Gregorio, there are significant problems within the microfinance mechanism that prevents maximizing the benefits for a greater number of people living in poverty worldwide. I will discuss these challenges in a December 22, 2009 blog entry.

December 7, 2009

Microfinance 101

On December 2, 2009, I had the pleasure of making a presentation about microfinance to the Japanese Students Business Association (JSBA) at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington. My presentation focused on providing an overview, and outlining the benefits and challenges of microfinance. Upon sharing the highlights of the presentation with friends and colleagues, I learned that while many of us have heard the term "microfinance," very few understand its components. This post will provide a summary of microfinance and the people it serves. In a subsequent posts, I will discuss microfinance's benefits and challenges. (Photo of me with members of the JSBA is courtesy of Mr. Takahara Tsuyoshi)

I find the Washington, DC-based Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, CGAP, an independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world's poor, a great resource by explaining microfinance as a mechanism that "offers poor people access to basic financial services such as loans, savings, money transfer services and microinsurance." Having traveled around the world, whether in industrialized or developing countries, I agree with CGAP's assertion that people living in poverty, like everyone else, need a diverse range of financial services to run their businesses, build assets, smooth consumption, and manage risks."

Microfinance facilitates the accessibility of financial services to economically underserved populations. CGAP explains, "Poor people usually address their need for financial services through a variety of financial relationships, mostly informal. Credit is available from informal moneylenders, but usually at a very high cost to borrowers. Savings services are available through a variety of informal relationships like savings clubs, rotating savings and credit associations, and other mutual savings societies. But these tend to be erratic and somewhat insecure. Traditionally, banks have not considered poor people to be a viable market."

Many microfinance schemes are administered through a microfinance institution (MFI), an organization that provides financial services to the poor. MFIs include small nonprofit organizations that provide small loans, to commercial banks that, according to CGAP, "have large existing branch networks, vast distribution outlets like automatic teller machines, and the ability to make significant investments in technology that could bring financial services closer to poor clients." CGAP adds, "While this is a very broad definition that includes a wide range of providers that vary in their legal structure, mission, and methodology...all share the common characteristic of providing financial services to clients who are poorer and more vulnerable than traditional bank clients."

Ownership structures of MFIs vary from government-owned entities to member-owned credit unions or socially minded shareholders to profit-maximizing shareholders. In its summary about MFIs, CGAP says the types of services offered by MFIs "are limited by what is allowed by the legal structure of the provider: non-regulated institutions are not generally allowed to provide savings or insurance."

Who are the clients of microfinance? Most surveys report two-thirds of microfinance clients are women, which is very important considering women often have difficulty in accessing basic services. Microfinance clients, men and women alike, seek loans across for a variety of reasons including working capital for small provide businesses, larger loans for durable goods, student loans, and to cover emergencies. Microfinance clients work on farms or work for themselves in fishing, carpentry, vegetable selling, small shops, transportation, etc.

Microfinance offers a great opportunity for people to overcome the challenges of living in poverty. There are some benefits that are worth exploring, which include increasing personal income, enabling individuals to build assets, and reducing the vulnerability to economic stress. There are significant problems, however, with the application of microfinance such as little or no access for goods or services produced by borrowers to reach global (and more profitable) markets, extraordinarily high interest rates, and creating a cycle of debt as the entrepreneur attempts to manage (micro)enterprise growth. I will provide details and examples of the benefits of microfinance in a blog post on December 20, 2009 and I will discuss the challenges of microfinance on a posting dated December 22, 2009.

December 2, 2009

The Expected Benefits of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

After eight rounds of negotiations over a ten month period, the Republic of Korea and the United States signed the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) on June 30, 2007. Sponsored by The National Bureau of Asian Research, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that conducts advanced independent research on strategic, political, economic, globalization, health, and energy issues affecting U.S. relations with Asia, Jong-hyun Choi, Minister for Economic Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States, gave a presentation, "KORUS FTA: Action or Inaction?" in Seattle about the benefits of the free trade agreement with Asia's 4th largest economy. (Photo of Korea President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama courtesy of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

Mr. Choi addressed the strong trade relationship between Korea and the United States. "Korea is already America's 7th largest trading partner and 6th largest importer of U.S. agriculture goods. Moreover, every U.S. state has a stake in the Korea-U.S. trade and investment relationship. A Free Trade Agreement with Korea will be America’s largest and commercially most significant FTA in more than a decade," explained Mr. Choi.

With respect to real economic benefits to both the United States and Korea, the United Sates International Trade Commission (USITC) issued a 2007 report, "U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement: Potential Economy-wide and Selected Sectoral Effects," saying if fully implemented, the KORUS FTA "is expected to affect the U.S.-Korea trade and investment relationship substantially, including bilateral trade in goods and services, procedures governing trade and investment, and the regulatory environment." Estimated benefits of the KORUS FTA include:
  • U.S. GDP would likely increase by $10.1–11.9 billion as a result of tariff and tariff-rate quota (TRQ) provisions related to goods market access;
  • Merchandise exports to Korea would likely increase by an estimated $9.7–10.9 billion as a result of tariff and TRQ provisions;
  • Merchandise imports from Korea would likely increase by an estimated $6.4–6.9 billion as a result of tariff and TRQ provisions;
  • U.S. services exports would likely increase as a result of the FTA, given the increase in levels of market access, national treatment, and regulatory transparency that would be afforded by the FTA in excess of the current General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) regime; and
  • Aggregate U.S. output and employment changes would likely be negligible, primarily because of the size of the U.S. economy relative to that of the Korean economy.

Realizing many Americans are concerned the FTA with Korea will result in a negative impact on the U.S. automotive sector, Mr. Choi says the agreement will actually "eliminate Korea's eight percent automotive tariff, the United States will immediately eliminate its 2.5 percent passenger tariff for vehicles with engines up to 3,000 cc and over three years for larger vehicles, and U.S. pick-up truck tariffs, currently at 25 percent, will be phased out over ten years."

Furthermore, explained Mr. Choi, "Korea will provide special treatment of U.S. automakers with regard to emission standards and Korea will grant U.S. automakers a two-year grace period to apply new safety standards." Mr. Choi added that the agreement provides a special expedited dispute process with 'snap-back' reinstatement of the pre-FTA tariff mechanism and the formation of an Auto Working Group to address future regulatory issues.

Addressing the U.S. auto trade deficit, Mr. Choi notes that Korea is not the main source of this deficit. "According to the U.S. Department of Commerce 2006 statistics," said Mr. Choi, "the United States recorded an automotive trade deficit of $43.2 billion with Japan, $25.1 billion with Canada, and $22.9 billion with the European Union, compared to $8.5 billion with Korea. Korean manufacturers are opening state-of-the-art automobile manufacturing plants in the United States. The Hyundai plant in Alabama is a $1.1 billion investment and has created 3,000 new jobs. The Kia plan in Georgia is a $1.2 billion investment that will generate around 2,500 new jobs."

Regarding the Pacific Northwest, Mr. Choi said the KORUS FTA will eliminate tariffs on Washington state wine currently imposed by the Korean government. (Chile and Australia have significantly increased their exports of wine to Korea.) He also explained that in 2006, Korean companies invested over $615 million in Washington enterprises and Washington agriculture exports to Korea in 2007 were valued at $2.6 billion, which supported 27,710 jobs.

The United States Congress and South Korean National Assembly have to separately ratify the KORUS FTA before it can be enter into force. Neither legislative body has yet to execute this action. Given the crowded U.S. domestic agenda on health care and stimulating the economy, and mid-term elections coming in November 2010, it is highly unlikely Congress will make any progress in approving the KORUS FTA in 2010. When I asked Mr. Choi about his strategy for the coming year, he responded that he will continue to talk with business and civic leaders around the United States, work with the Korean-American community to promote the KORUS FTA's benefits, and continue building relationships with Congressional leaders. "I have already received equal bipartisan support from several members of Congress," said Mr. Choi.

"The Proposed U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implications," a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, says, "The United States and South Korea entered into the KORUS FTA as a means to further solidify an already strong economic relationship by reducing barriers to trade and investment between them and to resolve long festering economic issues." For this and the reasons outlined above, I support the KORUS FTA and despite the pressing issues such as health care reform and international issues the U.S. faces in Afghanistan and Iraq, I encourage Congress to ratify this legislation, which will increase access of American goods and strengthen U.S.-Korean relations.

November 28, 2009

Iraqi Government Creates YouTube Channel to Increase Engagement to a Larger Audience

In order to promote its message and engage with Iraqis at home and abroad, the Iraqi government launched a dedicated channel on YouTube. In a video message, Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki explains, "The Iraqi government is committed to using this technology to connect to various international communities and to those who follow the issues of Iraq." Mr. Maliki continued, "Iraq today is experiencing great developments, and we have great ambitions to achieve in regard to communicating with people around the world." Mr. Maliki's message about the Iraqi government's latest initiative may be viewed below:


I hope other developing governments follow Iraq’s lead in using the Internet to connect with international investors, nongovernmental organizations, and most importantly, citizens living in-country or abroad. As Hunter Walk, Google's Director of Product Management, wrote on The Official Google Blog regarding Iraq's initiative, "We hope that by launching on YouTube, the Iraqi Government and their citizens will also find it easy to use YouTube to engage in such conversations, and bring their proceedings, policies and ideas to a larger audience around the world." One criticism I have regarding the Iraqigov Channel is the inability to post comments by YouTube viewers. Here is a video message from Eric Schmidt, Google's Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, about Iraq's YouTube initiative:


There is another initiative that is worth discussing regarding Google and Iraq. According to a Embassy of the United States in Iraq press release, "The CEO and Chairman of Google Inc., Eric Schmidt, and members of the Iraq Technology Task Force announced...in Baghdad a project to create a virtual tour of the Iraq National Museum using state of the art Google technology. The project, the first of its kind at any museum, will digitize and electronically catalogue artifacts at the Iraq National Museum, allowing global access to the collection. It is part of an ongoing commitment by U.S. institutions to partner with Iraqis under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help support and showcase Iraq's rich cultural heritage and history."

The press release further says Mr. Schmidt "is the first CEO of one of the world's leading technology companies to visit Iraq; the trip marks Google’s third visit to Iraq to collaborate on U.S. Government-led technology initiatives. This public-private partnership fosters U.S.-Iraq cultural diplomacy and exemplifies twenty-first century statecraft—the U.S. government serving as a convener, and facilitator of initiatives and programs that are driven by the Iraqi people in partnership with private companies. This is the first private-sector delegation to meet with the recently established Iraq Technology Task Force (ITTF), which is a multi-stakeholder body created by Iraqis to build the country’s IT capacity. The delegation's visit demonstrates how public private partnerships are about more than contributing traditional resources, they are also about leveraging expertise itself."

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 23, 2009

Transatlantic Trends 2009: A Survey of European and American Opinions

On November 19, 2009, I attended a briefing, sponsored by the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle, featuring Zsolt Nyiri, Ph.D., Director of Transatlantic Trends at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Dr. Nyiri's presentation on Transatlantic Trends 2009, a project of the German Marshall Fund and the Turin, Italy-based Compagnia di San Paolo, with additional support from the Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal), the Fundación BBVA (Spain), and the Tipping Point Foundation (Bulgaria), "measures broad public opinion in the United States and 12 European countries and gauges transatlantic relations through interviews with more than 13,000 people." There are a few highlights that are worth discussing in this post.

For the eighth consecutive year, participants were asked their views on each other and on global threats, foreign policy objectives, world leadership, and multilateral institutions. During this time, Europeans took a very negative view of U.S. President George W. Bush. According the Transatlantic Trends, "U.S. President Barack Obama had nearly reversed the collapse in public support for the United States witnessed across much of Europe under his predecessor, President George W. Bush." In fact, my mid-2009, Mr. Obama "enjoyed far more support in Germany, Britain, and even France, than he did in the United States. Such sentiments provide a popular foundation for a revitalization of U.S.-European ties."

Statistically speaking, 77 percent respondents in the European Union and Turkey supported Mr. Obama’s handling of international affairs, compared to just 19 percent who approved of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy in 2008. Furthermore, according to the report, “People of the EU and Turkey (77%) were considerably more likely to approve of Obama than were his fellow Americans (57%). However, segmenting the EU and Turkey stats paints a different picture: Central and East Europeans (60%) were significantly less enthusiastic about Mr. Obama's handling of international affairs than were people in Western Europe (86%), and were less likely (53%) to see America in a positive light than were West Europeans (63%). Lastly, "Fewer Central and Easter Europeans (25%) than West Europeans (43%) believed that relations between the United States and Europe had improved over the past year."

During the presentation discussing the economy, which Dr. Nyiri called "The Dog that Did Not Bark," Americans and Europeans share the belief "that managing international economic problems should be the top priority for the American president and European leaders, trumping concerns over international terrorism, climate change, or the Middle East." The Obama effect is evident in Europeans' attitudes where 79 percent approved of Mr. Obama's handling of international economic affairs during his first months in office; whereas, only 53 percent of U.S. respondents felt the same as their European counterparts.

With respect to the economic crisis, "More Americans (69%) were very concerned about the economic situation than were people in the European Union (47%). This difference reflected a more intense personal economic experience with the crisis. Three-in-four Americans (74%) compared to just over half of Europeans (55%) said their families had been impacted by the recession." Dr. Nyiri attributed the difference as a result of strong social programs Europeans benefit from their respective governments.

Dr. Nyiri further discussed the "overwhelming majorities of respondents in the United States (75%) and in the European Union (82%) thought the current crisis could only be solved with fundamental changes in the way the economy is run." He then noted when separating the responses by political affiliation in the United States, Democrats (85%) and Independents (80%) supported major reform more than Republicans (69%). "In Europe, support for change was more equally shared by respondents of all political persuasions."

And 79 percent of Europeans and 67 percent of Americans believe "that government has an important part to play in regulating the economy. In the United States, however, significantly more Democrats (80%) than Independents (65%) and Republicans (61%) believed in such a governmental role. In Europe, conversely, there was almost no ideological disagreement on this issue."

Regarding climate change, "people on both sides of the Atlantic were concerned about climate change, but respondents in the European Union (48% very concerned) were more intensely worried than Americans (40% very concerned). The most anxious were the Portuguese (62% very concerned), while the least apprehensive were the Dutch (just 23% very concerned) and the Poles (29% very concerned)."

69 percent of European respondents supported policies to combat climate change even if it stymied economic growth. "The French (79%) were the most willing to sacrifice economic advantage for a cooler planet. The Slovaks (53%) were the least willing among Europeans. Only a plurality of Americans (43%) would make such a tradeoff."

I found Dr. Nyiri’s presentation informative regarding the "Obama Bounce" and its positive affect on Europeans attitudes regarding the United States. However, this positive sentiment does not transcend to supporting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or using military force to halt Iran from acquiring nuclear options. And while Mr. Obama has enjoyed vast support from the European Union and Turkey, the honeymoon could end very abruptly if the economy does not rebound at a reasonable rate.

Moreover, as Mr. Obama recently indicated, the United Nations climate change conference scheduled for December 7-18, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the United States is not prepared to enter into a new global climate-change treaty on limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. I suspect this will adversely affect Mr. Obama's support from Europeans and perhaps, American Democrats.

November 16, 2009

Japan's Plan to Grow their Green Economy

The Japan Business Association of Seattle and Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle sponsored an event on November 12, 2009 featuring Mr. Toshiki Takahashi, Director of Japan External Trade Organization's (JETRO) International Economic Research Division. JETRO is a Japanese government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world. Mr. Takahashi's presentation, "World Economic Development and the Japanese Economy," focused on the Japanese economy as it relates to the broader global economy. Mr. Takahashi also discussed the investment opportunities that exist in Japan's environmental sector and the country's desire to grow its green economy.

According to a JETRO publication printed in 2007 discussing Japan's environmental sector, "Japan's economic development has so far been supported by a society based on mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal. Currently, approximately 450 million tons of waste is generated every year, putting waste treatment facilities under unrelenting strain." The publication further explains, "As global environmental problems grow more acute, a concerted effort towards a recycling-based society has begun, and Japan's ecobusiness market is rapidly expanding in both size and range." Japan's Ministry of the Environment predicts the ecobusiness sector will be valued at 47.2 trillion yen (US$530 billion) by 2010.

Moreover, "Ecobusinesses that provide technology, products, or services that contribute to the protection of the environment play a vital role in the creation of a sustainable socioeconomic system with a low environmental impact, and the government will continue to actively promote and foster these businesses in the future." Japanese businesses are "currently developing environment technology under the banner of the '3 R's': Reduce, Reuse and Recycle."

JETRO segments the environmental sector into five key areas conducive for foreign direct investment:

  1. Clean energy: According to the Environment Ministry's "Market Size and Employment in Japan's Environmental Business Sector: Present Condition and Forecast for the Future," the scale of the market for green energy, which includes renewable energy facilities and energy conservation and management, was 890 billion yen (US$10 billion) in 2000, no more than about 3 percent of all environmental business. Due to technological development and reforms, however, the market size is predicted to increase 6.5 times, to 5.812 billion yen (US$65.3 million), by 2010, and grow further, to 9.9 times this size, or 8.798 billion yen (US$98.9 million), by 2020. The clean energy sector includes solar power generation, fuel cells, and energy service company (ESCO) businesses, which provides comprehensive services relating to energy conservation in factories and buildings;
  2. Waste treatment: While the waste treatment and recycling sector market is already large and is expected to grow further, it is supported by small businesses. This industry does not require large-scale existing facilities or huge initial outlays and so small and medium-size businesses, as well as venture companies that are yet to be established, can enter the industry. Studies by the Ministry of the Environment predict the market for waste disposal to grow from 3.614 billion yen (US$40.6 million) in 2000, to 7.736 billion yen (US$86.9 million) in 2010, and still further, to 11.126 billion yen (US$125 million), by 2020;
  3. Recycling: Recycling laws for key items have already been introduced in Japan, beginning with enforcement of the Containers and Packaging Recycling Law in 1997, followed by recycling laws for food, construction material, and furniture, and then, in 2005, the Automobile Recycling Law. With the enforcement of each of these new recycling laws, the trajectory was set for a new recycling sector. A variety of business opportunities have been created in the recycling sector, including development of new technologies, that take advantage of regional government schemes enabled by national government policies, such as "eco-towns" and "designated structural reform districts";
  4. Soil and water remediation: According to the Ministry of the Environment, the size of the soil and water remediation market, including equipment and services provided, was 84.8 billion yen (US$964 million) in 2000. However, it is forecasted that soil and subterranean water pollution controls in Japan will become stricter, and the market will grow to 6.8 times its 2000 size, to 582.8 billion yen (US$6.5 billion), by 2010; and
  5. Air pollution prevention: The number of business opportunities related to air pollution prevention is increasing due to the introduction in 2000 of an ordinance requiring the use of exhaust purifiers in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. In addition, the climate change policies are expected to bring about the full-scale initiation of greenhouse gas emissions trading. Apart from international emissions trading based on the Kyoto Mechanism, domestic trading is also anticipated, allowing every business to fulfill its pollution reduction targets.

(1 JPY=0.0112 USD)

November 13, 2009

The Philippines: An Assessment of Business Opportunities

One of my primary responsibilities as a consultant is advising my clients on expanding their international operations to profitable markets. From small businesses to multinational corporations, the term "globalization" is often thrown around the boardroom and business executives know they need to expand into other, sometimes risky, markets in order to stay ahead of the competition and maximize profitability. The problem is, however, that many executives do not know which markets to enter or how to enter effectively. I had the opportunity to attend a seminar, "Doing Business in the Philippines," sponsored by the Urban Enterprise Center of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Philippine Department of Trade and Investments. There are a few highlights from the November 9, 2009 event that are worth sharing if you are considering doing business in the Philippines.

The purpose of the forum is, according to the event's program, to "introduce small and medium size businesses to the opportunities and considerations (government regulations, processes, cultural influences and situational nuances) in doing business with Philippine enterprises for buying, selling or joint venturing purposes." Ms. Josephine Romero, Trade Commissioner of the Philippine Department of Trade and Investments – Western USA Region made a presentation outlining the business opportunities that exist in this Southeast Asia country of 89 million people.

Ms. Romero noted several attributes of choosing the Philippines as a business destination such as the country's strategic location being three to four hours of flight time from key Asian cities, establishment of a regional hub for logistics that include FedEx, UPS, and Lufthansa Technik, and good access to the 500 million people living in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In describing the quality human resources, the Trade Commissioner said the Philippines offers an educated labor force of 32 million whom possess a fast learning curve and very competitive labor rates. Furthermore, 95 percent of Filipinos are literate with English being taught in all schools, making the Philippines the world’s third largest English-speaking.

Regarding the business environment, Ms. Romero explained that the Philippines government deregulated the telecommunications and other key industries and services, the country has strong capital markets and banking system, market-oriented foreign exchange services, and proactive assistance for investors. Other key points made during the presentation include the how the Foreign Investments Act (FIA) of 1991, the law that governs foreign investments in the Philippines, opened domestic market to 100% foreign investment except those in the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), redefined "export enterprise" to mean at least 60 percent for export, and 100 percent foreign ownership of business activities are allowed outside the FINL, but without incentives. It was suggested, however, that foreign businesses work with a local partner in navigating the challenges that exist.

Profitable business sectors in the Philippines include customer service, manufacturing (home furnishings, textiles, construction materials, and motor vehicle parts and components), food importation, organic and natural products, information technology and IT-enabled services, renewable energy, and tourism. While the corporate income tax is 32 percent, companies operating in the Special Economic Zones (ecozones) are subject to only 5 percent overall tax rates. Multinationals looking for regional headquarters, said Ms. Romero, are entitled to incentives such as tax exemptions and tax and duty-free importation of specific equipment and materials.

Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Chief Executive Officer of Kirkland, Washington-based V-Customer Corporate Services, spoke about his successful experiences in establishing business operations in the Philippines. He talked about the ease of registering a business entity, working with a qualified labor force, low cost of doing business, and the liberalized and business-friendly environment.

When asked about the challenges of doing business in the Philippines, Ms. Romero responded that e-commerce and wide use of the Internet are not prevalent throughout the country. While Filipinos have access to the Internet, they do not use the technology for commercial purposes. She did explain, however, that the national government is focused on building an IT economy and making the Philippines the e-services hub of Asia. Regarding intellectual property rights, Ms. Romero said piracy is a problem in the Philippines, which is a shared problem throughout ASEAN. She further said the national government is working on a legal framework to enact and enforce IP laws.

I invite readers of this blog to post comments detailing their successes (or failures) of doing business in the Philippines.

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 10, 2009

Microsoft Executive Talks about the Future of Computing

Prior to his retirement from Microsoft, Bill Gates traveled around the country speaking at college campuses about how Microsoft's innovative technologies are providing the tools to help people resolve the problems of today, and tomorrow. Since Mr. Gates' departure from the Redmond-Washington company, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, has led the Microsoft College Tour speaking to faculties and students in the United States. From November 2-5, 2009, Mr. Mundie visited four college campuses, Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Washington, discussing how the new capabilities in computing will help solve some of the planet’s toughest challenges, from environmental change, to growing the global economy, to improving healthcare and education. These visits provide an opportunity to show the leading-edge work taking place at Microsoft. (Photo of Craig Mundie courtesy of Patrick Riley/The Daily of the University of Washington)

I had the opportunity to attend Mr. Mundie's presentation, "Rethinking Computing," which was part of the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Distinguished Lecturer Series. He demonstrated future-looking technologies created by the Computational Science Group at the Microsoft Research Cambridge (U.K.) that show how computer science is changing scientific exploration and discovery. He also discussed the role of new science in solving the global energy crisis such as a state-of-the-art global carbon-climate model that allows scientists to study forests in ways not previously possible. With the carbon model, and another model created by Microsoft researchers showing how populations of trees actually grow, scientists can study how deforestation in the Amazon basin can affect forests worldwide.

Mr. Mundie talked about how machines will respond to gestures through new natural user interfaces, deploy the power of new microprocessors, migrate data to the cloud, and use live data to drive new simulations and visualizations. "We think computing is in its infancy," said Mr. Mundie, noting many people view computer technology has become passé and invisible. "It's going to be important to continue investing in computing. Without it, we'll have difficulty solving these problems." Explaining that the benefits of computing will have to scale as the planet's population increases, Mr. Mundie said, "we will need to move beyond the tradition point-and-click of the graphical-user interface."

The next big change we will see is in display technology, where "we will have a richer way to interact with the computers." The natural user interface (NUI) will create an interface enabling computers to work for you and search using human-like interaction technologies like ink, eye tracking, and voice. Mr. Mundie provided a demonstration of the latest NUI designed by Microsoft's Cambridge research group.

On the topic of cloud computing, Mr. Mundie "sees the cloud as a high scale, often data driven computing assets that are being built now and I think the next big thing will be to think the cloud and the intelligent clients as one big distributive system, not two heterogeneous things that we are forcing to talk to one another."

I enjoyed listening to the presentation and I feel that Microsoft is producing innovative computing technologies that will provide a great benefit and new experiences to users worldwide. One important area where we will see these benefits is in the policy making arena. As Mr. Mundie demonstrated, a new method of computing will become an essential tool for policy makers in making informed decisions. While I see the technical value in the natural user interface, cloud computing will revolutionize the way people access, store, and use information, which I will discuss in greater detail in this blog.

November 5, 2009

Iraqi Refugees Now Receive Food Vouchers Via Text Message

Part of the United Nations system and voluntarily funded, the World Food Programme (WFP) is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. The international aid agency launched a pilot project in Damascus, Syria that allows Iraqi refugees to receive food vouchers electronically via mobile phone text messages. According to WFP's announcement on October 28, 2009, "As part of a ground-breaking pilot project, [an Iraqi refugee] is receiving food vouchers electronically over her phone, which she can then spend in selected government-run shops. Instead of travelling to a distribution centre and struggling back with a two-month ration of food, she can now pick and choose to buy what she wants, when she wants." WFP claims this is the first project of its kind in the world. (Photo of Iraqi refugees in Damascus courtesy of WFP/Selly Muzammil)

In describing the details of this innovative initiative, WFP says that "refugees can buy items such as cheese and eggs that are difficult to transport and could not normally be included in a conventional aid basket." Every two months, participants of this innovative project "receive a coded message on a special SIM card, entitling them to a voucher worth US$22 per person. They take their phone along to state-run stores where they can cash in all or part of the 'virtual voucher.'"

"Around one thousand families are involved in the four-month pilot phase, which will be extended if it is successful. The project has been developed in cooperation with the Syrian government, enabling the refugees to redeem their vouchers in state-run stores in the Jaramana and Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhoods of Damascus. The mobile phone service provider MTN has donated SIM cards for the project."

According to government estimates, approximately 1.2 million Iraqis reside in Syria, "and, of those, around 130,000 regularly receive food assistance from WFP," explains the Rome, Italy-based humanitarian agency. "Over the last two years, the agency has been texting refugees with the times and locations of food distributions."

While other aid agencies have used phone messages and ATM cards to transfer cash to those in need, "this is believed to be the first time mobiles have been used to deliver food vouchers. Schemes involving vouchers are particularly useful in urban settings where food is available but those in need are unable to afford it."

November 2, 2009

African Union Ambassador Visits Seattle Promoting Business Opportunities

I had the pleasure of meeting Amina Salum Ali, Ambassador of the African Union (AU) to the United States, during her visit to Seattle. Hosted by the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle and the Africa Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest on October 27, 2009, Ambassador Ali gave a presentation titled "An Integrated Africa: An Overview of African Economies and the African Union." Since her appoint as the AU ambassador in 2007, this was the Ambassador's first trip outside of Washington, DC that focused primarily on promoting Africa as an investment opportunity. (Photo of Ambassador Ali courtesy of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle/Allison Peterson)

Ambassador Ali gave an excellent presentation outlining the economic benefits of investing in the African continent. Specifically, she noted the opportunities that exist in manufacturing, agriculture, mining, health care, transportation, and information and communications technology including using mobile phones for banking, education, and medicine. While Africa is not immune to the economic recession, said Ambassador Ali, many investors in Africa are seeing a positive return on their investment. She also encouraged investors to focus on establishing processing operations, which are greatly lacking throughout Africa. Not only is De Beers mining diamonds in Africa, Ambassador Ali noted, the diamond conglomerate is the only company processing its product (diamonds) locally.

Ambassador Ali highlighted the benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was signed into U.S. law in 2000. According to a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Commerce, http://www.agoa.gov/, AGOA "provides beneficiary countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the most liberal access to the U.S. market available to any country or region with which we do not have a Free Trade Agreement. It reinforces African reform efforts, provides improved access to U.S. credit and technical expertise, and establishes a high-level dialogue on trade and investment in the form of a U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Forum."

While acknowledging the humanitarian and military conflicts that exist in Africa, she reminded the attendees, who included several members of the African Diaspora that conflicts will dissipate as standards of living increase and people improve their lives through access to education, job training, medical services, and economic development support. She encouraged the African Diaspora to help promote the benefits of doing business in Africa by speaking positively about their home continent noting Africa's abundance of natural resources, vast landscapes, and diverse cultures.

I had the opportunity to ask Ambassador Ali two questions: (1) What is AU's strategy for combating corruption and properly training local government officials to eliminate corrupt practices that often impede economic development and (2) what legal recourse do investors have to resolve business disputes? In responding to the former, Ambassador Ali noted that many African nations have taken significant steps to combat corruption, which is evident by the regular media reports discussing the latest arrests or convictions. The broad media attention on Africa's corruption, she explained, is not about a failed system, but representative of effective actions and policies aimed to eradicate corrupt practices. She also noted the adoption of the "African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption" in 2003 and ongoing collaborative efforts between the AU and the World Bank.

With respect to second question, Ambassador Ali said that many local and regional courts have the capacity of handling legal cases to resolve business disputes. Moreover, some parties have opted to seek arbitration or have their cases heard in jurisdictions outside of the AU. I prefaced my question saying that many American investors may take the risk of investing in Africa where infrastructure may be limited, but their concerns reside in not understanding the options available to resolve business disputes.

Having traveled extensively throughout Africa, I know the benefits the continent has to offer for investors. While Ambassador Ali is correct in listing energy, health care, mining, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing as ideal business opportunities, I favor the opportunities that exist in information and communications technology. As I often discuss on this blog, ICT and specifically mobile communications are producing substantial financial returns for investors and making a social difference for all of Africa.

I commend Ambassador Ali for making Seattle her first U.S. destination outside of Washington, DC to promote the business opportunities that exist in Africa. It is important that other diplomats and government officials representing developing nations take a more proactive approach in attracting foreign direct investment. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning more about the investment opportunities that exist in Africa. I am happy to share my experiences of doing business in one of the world's most diverse markets.

October 29, 2009

GE Launches $250 Million Fund to Invest in High Potential Healthcare Technology

I strongly support any initiative from the private sector that provides financial support to emerging companies designing innovative solutions to current or preventing future problems. Investments made by Microsoft, Boeing, IBM, Intel, and Cisco Systems, just to name a few, have allowed other companies to create, market, and launch innovative products and services that millions, or perhaps billions, of people use daily.

GE is one such company that has created a fund to support healthcare technology companies. On October 21, 2009, GE announced "the formation of the 'GE Healthymagination Fund', a new equity fund that will make investments in highly promising healthcare technology companies. The fund will invest in companies globally that have innovative diagnostic, IT, and life sciences technologies aligned with the strategic objectives of GE's Healthymagination initiative. The fund will also support healthcare companies developing innovative and unique business models and services."

Furthermore, according to the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company, "The formation of the fund is part of GE’s $6 billion Healthymagination initiative, a global commitment to deliver better healthcare to more people at lower cost." Creating a global footprint, the fund will draw on capabilities from across GE Healthcare, GE Capital and GE Global Research. Moreover, the fund will target three areas for investment:
  • Broad-based Diagnostics, including imaging, home health, patient monitoring, molecular diagnostics, pathology, novel imaging agents and other technologies for disease diagnosis;
  • Healthcare Information Technology, including electronic medical records, clinical information systems, healthcare information exchanges and value-added data services; and
  • Life Sciences, including tools for research and development in biopharmaceuticals and stem cells, and technologies for manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and vaccines; and

Here is an advertisement for GE Healthymagination:

October 27, 2009

Cloud Computing: Revolutionizing the Way People Access Hosted Services

This is the first of several entries that will address the topic of "cloud computing." According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

In other words, cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services, over the Internet and the name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that is often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams. Hosted services include software (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation slides, etc.) that you would have ordinarily purchased a hard-copy or downloaded through an online vendor. From across a variety of sectors including government, nonprofit, academic, and the private sector, cloud computing will revolutionize the way people access software and Internet services.

Even the U.S. government is engaging in the benefits of cloud computing. On September 15, 2009, the Obama Administration "announced the launch of the General Services Administration's (GSA) cloud storefront Apps.gov. This online storefront enhances how the government leverages technology by enabling federal agencies to acquire and purchase cloud computing services in an efficient, effective manner." Furthermore, according to GSA's press release, "The new Apps.gov, a one-stop shop to purchase cloud computing services, is part of the government's push to improve the cost-effectiveness of IT services and sustainability of IT infrastructure. It is one element of a multi-pronged cloud computing program that is addressing not only acquisition, but also related policy, security, training, coordination, architecture and standards....Apps.gov will also offer free social media and web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs to federal agencies."

Here is a brief list of the features and benefits of cloud computing as provided by Apps.gov:
  • Significant Cost Reduction: Cloud computing is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT services, eliminating upfront capital expenditures and dramatically reducing administrative burden on IT resources;
  • Increased Flexibility: Cloud computing provides on-demand computing across technologies, business solutions and large ecosystems of providers, reducing time to implement new solutions from months to days;
  • Access anywhere: You are no longer tethered to a single computer or network. You can change computers or move to portable devices, and your existing applications and documents follow you through the cloud;
  • Elastic scalability and pay-as-you-go: Add and subtract capacity as your needs change. Pay for only what you use;
  • Easy to implement: You do not need to purchase hardware, software licenses or implementation services;
  • Service quality: Cloud service providers offer reliable services, large storage and computing capacity, and 24/7 service and up-time;
  • Delegate non-critical applications: Cloud computing provides a way to outsource non-critical applications to service providers, allowing agency IT resources to focus on business-critical applications;
  • Always the latest software: You are no longer faced with choosing between obsolete software and high upgrade costs. When the applications are web-based, updates are automatic and are available the next time you log into the cloud; and
  • Sharing documents and group collaboration: Cloud computing lets you access all your applications and documents from anywhere in the world, freeing you from the confines of the desktop and facilitating group collaboration on documents and projects.
Cloud computing is the platform of the (near) future and this blog will address other forms, products, services and benefits of cloud computing. I will also discuss the benefits cloud computing provide in bridging the digital divide in developing nations and thus, promoting sustainable social and economic development.

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.

October 24, 2009

Shelterbox: Providing Immediate Relief to Victims of Natural and Other Disasters

I recently attended a STAR-TIDES research demonstration at the Pentagon, located 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 demonstrated fascinating technological products, which have an immediate impact in the developing world or in any humanitarian emergency. One such product is the Shelterbox, a large, rugged, green plastic container that holds a 10-person tent and a range of other equipment necessary in providing immediate relief to victims of natural and other disasters anywhere around the world.

Lakewood Ranch, Florida-based Shelterbox USA, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provide victims of disaster with shelter and oversees the assembly and delivery of the Shelterbox. For disclosure purposes, this post is not a public endorsement of Shelterbox USA but a review of the Shelterbox and its components.

The nonproft organization explains, "Shelterboxes are sponsored by service clubs, (Rotary Clubs), school and church groups, businesses and individuals, etc. Materials are ordered from a range of suppliers selected for general use, long-life, quality and price. Shelterboxes are prepared and packed using all new materials as delivered from manufacturers, at the Shelterbox warehouse based in Helston, Cornwall. The standard Shelterbox weighs 110 lbs. and has approximate dimensions 2'3" x 1'4" x 11". They are sealed and banded for transit and security. Box contents vary depending on the nature of the disaster requiring their use. Boxes are sometimes packed with two 10-person tents in them, (to the exclusion of some smaller items, to maximize shelter capacity)."

Some of the selected items that are available for inclusion in the Shelterbox are:
  • One 49 gallon box (The Shelterbox) initially the container for delivery of the materials listed below. Once delivered, can be used as water tank, food store, cot, table, etc.;
  • One ten-person tent, including two fabric interior privacy partitions, outer fly-sheet and repair kit. These tents are considered 'winter suitable' by international relief standards;
  • Vinyl insulated sleeping mats and lightweight thermal blankets. More compact than sleeping bags, these mats and blankets have multiple uses. The blanket can also be fashioned to catch water, as a tarp, etc. while the mat also serves as a ground 'table' for meals, or tent rugs;
  • One pack of 180 water purification tablets or a water purification kit; and one 5 gallon flat-pack water container (each tablet will purify a full container of water providing 1,800 gallons of clean drinking water, which should be sufficient for a family of ten for up to three months);
  • Two 2.1 gallon, collapsible, plastic water carriers;
  • One collapsible trenching shovel;
  • Rope, 164 foot;
  • Repellant-treated mosquito netting;
  • Ten PVC Ponchos/ten HD plastic bags;
  • Tool kit in canvas bag: hachet, jack-knife, screwdriver, hammer, hoe head etc.;
  • Multi-fueled cook stove;
  • Eating utensils: enamel plates/cups; and
  • Children's activity kit-simple school supplies, stickers and coloring book.
The contents are under continuous review. A small stock of wind-up radios (short-wave and FM) has been obtained to substitute a sleeping bag in every tenth box should such a requirement arise. For shipping purposes, a large container (40 feet) can accommodate up to 240 Shelterboxes, smaller containers would typically be half the size and quantities. The Shelterbox is designed to enable a family of up to ten people survive for at least six months. (Photo from Myanmar courtesy of Shelterbox USA)

According to the nonprofit's website, the first 140 Shelterboxes were sent to Gujarat in India following a devastating earthquake in 2001. Since then, ShelterBox has responded to more than 80 disasters in over 50 countries, sending out nearly 75,000 boxes worldwide – providing emergency accommodation for more than 500,000 disaster victims.

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.

October 23, 2009

U.S. Energy Department Supports Solar Energy Technologies with $87 Million Investment

On October 8, 2009, United States Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu "announced up to $87 million will be made available to support the development of new solar energy technologies and the rapid deployment of available carbon-free solar energy systems. Of this funding, $50 million comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The 47 projects with universities, electric power utilities, DOE's National Laboratories, and local governments have been selected to support use of solar technologies in U.S. cities, help address technical challenges, ensure reliable connectivity with the electrical grid, and train a new generation of solar workers to install and maintain solar energy systems."

While I am concerned with the expansive spending created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I am encouraged to see investments made in developing solar energy technologies. As I have written in this blog, clean tech research and development is quickly becoming a driving force in the American economy.

DOE's press release further explains, "The selected projects will help accelerate the commercialization of solar technologies in an effort to achieve cost-competitive solar electricity by 2015, in addition to developing advanced solar technologies for the future. Projects focus on both technology improvements and the elimination of market barriers to help make solar electricity accessible to a wide variety of consumers."

The projects selected for negotiation of awards are in four categories:
  • High Penetration Solar Deployment. Seven projects will model, test, and evaluate the impact of large amounts of photovoltaic (PV) electricity on the reliability and stability of the electric power system. These projects will help pave the way for broader adoption and growth of grid-tied solar energy systems by improving understanding of the impact of PV electricity on the grid;
  • Solar America Cities Special Projects. As the load centers of energy use across the nation, cities play a strategic role in accelerating solar technology adoption at the local level. Sixteen cities have been selected for projects that will address specific barriers to solar adoption in urban settings and support innovative approaches that can be widely replicated. Many cities will use this funding for multiple efforts;
  • Solar Installer Training. Nine colleges, universities, and local organizations have been selected to lead regional solar installation "train-the-trainer" programs. The projects will support a national ramp-up and coordinated network of training programs. This funding will help address the critical needs for qualified solar energy system installers; and
  • Research projects at DOE National Laboratories. Fifteen projects at DOE National Laboratories will seek to improve technologies, devices and processes for both the PV and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) industry. PV projects focus on development of next generation devices and processes, as well as supply chain technologies for the entire PV system. CSP projects focus on improved energy storage technologies to enable consistent and reliable energy generation.

October 9, 2009

Win $10,000 in "Apps for Innovation" Contest

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade association promoting growth in the $172 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry, "launched the new Innovation Movement 'Apps for Innovation' contest and opened an online portal for submissions of software applications for judging by a panel of industry experts. The grand prize winner will receive $10,000 and a free trip to the 2010 International CES®" in Las Vegas, Nevada from January 7-10.

According the CEA's press release dated October 7, 2009, "The contest is looking for developers to build apps that demonstrate how innovation and entrepreneurship are making an economic impact in the United States. The contest will also accept submissions from developers that create apps to help consumers advance policy goals that support innovation."

Furthermore, "The contest is part of the Innovation Movement, the grassroots campaign launched in June by CEA to mobilize Americans in support of public policies such as broadband, alternative energies and international trade that will play a key role in the global economic recovery and U.S. job creation. The mission of the Innovation Movement is to encourage the U.S. government to reward innovation and investment and support policies that foster entrepreneurship in a free-market system. More than 35,000 Americans have already joined the Innovation Movement."

Applications must qualify in one of two categories: apps that illuminate with data how innovation and entrepreneurial activity are at work across America or apps that will help the members of the Innovation Movement advance policy goals that support innovation. Contestants may choose any application platform such as client applications, web-based applications, Java applications, applications for Facebook, the Apple iPhone, the Android phone, etc. Lastly, membership of the Innovation Movement, which is free to join, is required for all contestants. Developers may submit more than one application, but can win only once.

CEA's press release further explains that "in addition to the grand prize winner, judges will award a second place of $5,000 and a third place of $3,500. The best apps will be included in the 'Apps for Innovation' library, where apps will be available for free to the public as a way to help them learn about the innovation economy." The following is the list of judges:
  • Leslie Harris, president and CEO, the Center for Democracy and Technology;
  • John Zogby, president and CEO, Zogby International;
  • Michael Masnick, founder & CEO, Floor64, and editor, Techdirt blog;
  • Jonah Seiger, co-founder and managing partner, Connections Media; and
  • Michael Petricone, senior vice president of Government Affairs, CEA

Judging criteria will include:

  • Potential for furthering the mission of the Innovation Movement;
  • Potential usability of the app for participatory democracy;
  • Originality of the app; and
  • Usefulness to constituents for advocating positive economic, scientific and technological change with their members of Congress.

Submissions must be received before midnight Pacific Standard Time on November 6, 2009 and winners will be announced on November 10, 2009 at a CES Press Event in New York City. For those of you who will be submitting an application for the contest, I invite you to describe your application in the comment section below.

October 5, 2009

Green Living: Avoiding Asbestos

By James O’Shea

Going green used to be considered expensive and a luxury for those who could afford the trend. Now it appears that we are learning that not only is adopting more environmentally conscious attitudes good for our economic situation, but also our….health? Yes, if we dig a bit deeper we can see that dirty industries and backwards policy is actually harming the health of the earth for our children and the health of her inhabitants today.

There are two levels of health consequences associated with dirty industry, both direct and indirect. The direct consequences are examples like increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Chlorofluorocarbon release into the atmosphere has shown to decrease the filter of direct sunlight on the planet, resulting in more concentrated ultraviolet light reaching the surface of the earth. Perhaps it is no surprise then that in countries with depleted atmospheric gas, skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world.

The indirect health consequences are harder to see immediately, but closer examination reveals that these are, in fact, perhaps the most hazardous. Bi-products of dirty and backwards industries, such as coal and oil processing, include cancer causing substances like asbestos and benzene. A U.K. study conducted in 2002 indicated that coal and oil industry workers are at a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma and leukemia.

Can we really afford to continue on the path we were on before? Investment in clean industry means not a healthier planet for our children and grandchildren, but also a healthier place for us to live today.

James O' Shea is a public outrach coodinator with the Syracuse, New York-based Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (www.maacenter.org), the web's leading resource for asbestos exposure. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mr. O'Shea.

September 25, 2009

Japanese Company Develops Mobile Phone Using Surplus Wood

NTT DOCOMO, a Tokyo, Japan-based mobile operator and provider of advanced mobile services, announced "it has developed the mobile phone prototype made with the surplus wood of trees culled during thinning operations to maintain healthy forests." The TOUCH WOOD, the prototype's body is made from cypress wood, making it resistent to water, insects, and mildew, which is a result of "three-demensional compression molding developed by Olympus Corporation. Conventional natural wood is not suitable for use as mobile phone bodies because they tend to wear out quickly." According to the press release dated September 24, 2009, "The prototype was created in collaboration with Sharp Corporation, Olympus Corporation and 'more trees,' a reforestation project founded by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and others." (PHOTO ABOVE: TOUCH WOOD mockup featuring ergonomic design; PHOTO BELOW: TOUCH WOOD prototype based on existing SH-04A model)

Made from surplus wood of trees culled during forest-thinning operations, "each TOUCH WOOD handset features its own distinctive grain patterns and natural coloring. No artificial colors or paints are used, so the cypress retains its original natural appearance and aroma. The wood also has an attractive shine that is created during the compression process."

NTT DOCOMO further explains, "This new commercial use for thinned wood, which traditionally has only limited applications, helps to preserve other wood resources while strengthening the health of overgrown forests. So far, TOUCH WOOD production has used wood culled from the Shimanto forest in Japan's Kochi Prefecture. The forest is managed by the more trees project."