January 27, 2009
Developing Nations Seek Entrepreneurs
According to its website, Dhaka, Bangladesh-based Grameen Solutions Ltd. (GSL) "builds bridges between the need in emerging countries and the technology solutions of global companies. Our goal is to improve lives and bring economic power to people. GSL brings the benefits, comforts, and efficiencies of the latest technological capabilities to people in emerging countries and poor communities across the world and creates and enhances market opportunities for our global technology partners."
Mr. Arlen's article notes that GSL is developing "'voice sites'...in collaboration with global technology partners including IBM and Microsoft." Most software and websites use English, which creates a challenge in markets where a large majority of the populations may not have the language skills to take "full advantage of a text-driven Internet service. Part of [GSL's] approach involves figuring out how to 'bring the benefits of the Internet to the voice domain,'" explained GSL's CEO Kazi Islam. Furthermore, Mr. Islam "points out that there are about 800 million PC users worldwide, a pittance compared to the globe's 3.5 billion mobile phone customers, nearly 80 percent of who live in developing nations. He cites the penetration in his native Bangladesh, a relatively poor country, where about 30 percent of people now have mobile phones, and their ranks are growing by about 30 percent annually."
The ability to communicate easily and inexpensively provide significant value with respect to social and economic development in developing markets. During our current economic conditions, mobile opportunities will continue to flourish. Mr. Arlen interviewed Michael Fairbanks, co-founder of the S.E.VEN Fund (Social Equity Venture Fund), a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based "philanthropic foundation run by entrepreneurs, is equally enthusiastic about mobile opportunities. 'The real revolution in cell phone technology is about to occur,' says Fairbanks, citing 'the creation and diffusion of banking, health care and insurance products for those who never had them.'"
Mr. Fairbanks' claim that mobile phones allow people in poor countries connect with each other, which often leads to stabilizing commodity prices and forming markets. During my travels in Africa, I saw farmers using mobile phones, which were distributed by nonprofit organizations, to access commodity information and gain leverage against their competitors in a global market. In fact, many farmers were able to negotiate tender contracts with distributors and coordinate shipping logistics all through their mobile devices.
I agree with Mr. Arlen's focus on the problem of financial transactions in developing nations (see "Mobile Commerce Solutions"). "[Mr. Islam of GSL] points to the problem of financial transactions in Bangladesh, where 80 percent of such activity still takes place using cash. Migrants moving to the capital city of Dhaka still send funds back to their home villages, often relying on the local post office or a trusted friend to carry the cash to their families. As a result, it becomes a barrier to trade since funds cannot be used while they are in slow, physical transit."
Entrepreneurs are always looking at possible venture opportunities and developing these opportunities in poor countries will not only generate financial rewards, but provide financial capital that creates greater value beyond donations or financial grants. Microcredit has its benefits, but entrepreneurs who directly engage these challenging markets with their technical assistance will create a sustainable business model providing stronger tangible results, continuing growth and increased positive benefits.
January 26, 2009
Financing Large-Scale Clean Energy Projects
The Pickens Plan, "launched in July, calls for spending $150 billion over the next 10 years to install turbines in the 'wind corridor' of the Midwest United States, from Texas to Canada. The other major plank of the plan is to convert vehicles to run on domestic natural gas. In both areas--wind and natural gas--Boone has business interests. If completed, his Mesa Power wind project will make 4,000 megawatts of electricity, which would make it one of the largest wind farms, capable of powering 1.3 million homes."
"Boone has made a down payment on $2 billion worth of General Electric wind turbines, which are set for delivery in 2011. The credit crisis, however, has disrupted the financing for the project, although Boone still thinks the project will get done....To help wind developers and achieve the Pickens Plan target of 20 percent of electricity from wind, Boone said that the U.S. government should establish a 'wind bank' that would give wind developers loans. A wind bank would be a 'fraction' of the projected $825 million in federal spending on a stimulus package, he said. It would also be cheaper than continuing to spend money on foreign oil, he argued."
Although I have not read the details of the Pickens Plan, in general, I support the idea of making federal funds available to develop wind and other clean energy projects in the United States. The challenge regarding clean energy is creating and implementing projects that can meet the power needs of major urban centers. There are several entrepreneurs with large-scale ideas that require capital to implement their business plans.
The Cleantech Summit website summarizes the financial challenges very clearly, "In today’s turbulent markets, accessing expansion capital and project finance for clean-tech scale-up, manufacturing, and development projects can be a daunting task." Creating a federally-funded loan program to support clean energy entrepreneurs is worth establishing.
January 20, 2009
A National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation
NATIONAL DAY OF RENEWAL AND RECONCILIATION, 2009
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
As I take the sacred oath of the highest office in the land, I am humbled by the responsibility placed upon my shoulders, renewed by the courage and decency of the American people, and fortified by my faith in an awesome God.
We are in the midst of a season of trial. Our Nation is being tested, and our people know great uncertainty. Yet the story of America is one of renewal in the face of adversity, reconciliation in a time of discord, and we know that there is a purpose for everything under heaven.
On this Inauguration Day, we are reminded that we are heirs to over two centuries of American democracy, and that this legacy is not simply a birthright -- it is a glorious burden. Now it falls to us to come together as a people to carry it forward once more.
So in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, let us remember that: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2009, a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and call upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.
January 19, 2009
The Need for Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. and Worldwide
Although I am not a health professional or an expert in sex education, I certainly agree that abstaining from sex is effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy. George W. Bush implemented an abstinence-only sex education strategy, which according to the National Abstinence Education Association, "Abstinence-centered education programs teach teens medically accurate information about pregnancy prevention, STDs, HIV/AIDS and contraception, all within the context that abstaining is the only way to completely avoid the physical and emotional risks of casual sex."
As much as we would like teens to wait until they are physically and mentally ready to engage in sexual activity, the reality is many will do so whether they are ready or not. Ideally, parents should be teaching their children the risks of sexual activity, but many parents find the topic uncomfortable. Providing teens with the knowledge about engaging in sexual activity is as necessary as giving teens advice on picking a suitable college or university, how to find a good job, and the means to become financial responsible. All of these issues affect not just the individual, but poorly-made decisions adversely affect the community. It is for the benefit of society that comprehensive sex education is taught in our schools.
Regarding American support of international HIV/AIDS prevention programs, I have friends who teach in schools located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia where most students come from poverty-stricken families. During George W. Bush's presidency, American financial support of HIV/AIDS prevention programs in developing nations required that these programs implement an abstinence-only sex education program. Many people who are directly affiliated with these programs or schools that teach sex education argue that an abstinence-only sex education is ineffective when it comes to preventing HIV/AIDS or teen pregnancy. (Photo was taken during one of my trips to St. Theresa Girls Secondary School Bwanda, a private school located in Masaka, Uganda for girls 14-20 years of age.)
As President-elect Obama prepares to make decisions domestically and internationally, addressing HIV/AIDS prevention will rank high on his administration's agenda. Mr. Obama has pledged to invest into the country's physical infrastructure such as updating schools with the latest information technology platforms and making schools more energy efficient. Equally important is the need to modernize school curriculum, particularly in sex education.
For your reference, I recommend that you read an interesting article in the January 2009 edition of The Washington Diplomat, "Birds and Bees Are Back," written by Dena Levitz. This article is about how schools in Maryland’s Montgomery County and the District of Columbia have added a comprehensive sex education to its sexual health curriculum.
January 15, 2009
Telemedicine in Hawaii: A Model for the Developing World?
Except for brief maintenance work scheduled during low-usage periods, the system is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. In The New York Times article published on January 5, 2009, "Doctors Will Make Web Calls in Hawaii," "The Hawaiian health plan’s 700,000 members pay $10 to use the service. The insurer also offers the service to uninsured patients for $45. Health plans pay American Well a license fee per member and a transaction fee of about $2 each time a patient sees a doctor."
The physician and HMSA members will have real-time access to the patient's electronic health records, provided that prior access has been granted to the physician. In addition, anyone who uses Microsoft HealthVault to collect, store and manage their personal health information can make that information available to the consulting physician.
In explaining why HMSA is offering this system, the company says they understand "that one of the most important benefits of the system is improved access to care, especially for residents in rural or isolated areas of the state. Using a computer or phone, access to the system is nearly immediate." While they also understand "that online health care is not a replacement for face-to-face visits with your physician...it is another way for you to access care when you need it. HMSA sees the system’s vast possibilities and benefits for HMSA members, providers and the community."
Can this telemedicine model serve as an example of expanding the reach of providing medical services and health care education to the developing world? Yes. The need to have Internet access with adequate bandwidth to run the software is essential. I recommend continuing collaboration between governments, civil society, and the private sector to expand capacity building, and designing and implementing systems similar the one created by American Well.
A viable telemedicine system should serve as a vehicle to that will diagnose and treat patients, monitor patients with chronic illnesses or diseases, and provide essential nutritional and preventive health care information. In other words, it is important to develop a program using the latest technological platforms, but an effective system should focus on providing quality and relevant content. A successful program should focus on empower and educate individuals, whether they reside in industrialized or developing markets. on preventing illnesses and making informed health care decisions.
January 13, 2009
Ghana's Successful Election
|Photo: Bertil van Vugt/|
After losing by small margin in the initial election against Nana Akufo-Addo, John Atta Mills won the run-off election that was so close, Mr. Mills won 50.2% of the vote compared to Mr. Akufo-Addo's 49.8%, Mr. Mills was not officially declared a winner until January 2nd. He was sworn in five days later. Although there were a few issues during the election process including "several reports of intimidation and attacks at polling stations during the run-off on December 28th, more so than in the first round of voting."
Ghanaians should be proud of the way they exercised their democratic freedom to elect their president. More importantly, Mr. Akufo-Addo's supporters should be commended for not replicating the unfortunate incidents of spilling bloodshed we witnessed in Kenya early last year.
"It was the smallest margin of victory in Africa's electoral history. Just as important as the result was the conduct of the poll—and the readiness of the loser to accept defeat with grace. After fiascos in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe in the past couple of years, everyone in Africa (and abroad) was hoping that Ghana would start to redeem the continent’s tarnished democratic credentials with a fair poll. The power-sharing agreement that was meant to resolve last year’s electoral stand-off in Kenya seems increasingly shaky; the one in Zimbabwe was never implemented. Africa needed a decent election in one of its leading countries—and a loser who would concede defeat."
I congratulate Mr. Mills for his victory and I commend Mr. Akufo-Addo for his statesmanship to respect the electoral process. Ghanaians have several issues to resolve if the country is to become a regional and continent leader, but exercising their right to vote and ensuring a peaceful transition of power is a step in the right direction.
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.
January 9, 2009
American Recovery and Reinvestment
I support Mr. Obama's plan to invest in America's infrastructure, but I disagree with his proposal to cut taxes. If taxes are cut, how will the president-elect fund infrastructure investments? Increasing the public deficit is not sound fiscal responsibility. No one likes to pay taxes, but I think many of us will feel more comfortable if our hard-earned tax dollars are invested more wisely.
An economic stimulus plan should balance the need to invest in public infrastructure and reduce the budget deficit. According a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Analysis dated January 8, 2009, "The Treasury will report outlays of $1,032 billion through December 2008, CBO estimates, $319 billion more than in the same period last year." Furthermore, "The CBO estimates that the Treasury Department will report a federal budget deficit of $485 billion for the first quarter of fiscal year 2009, $378 billion higher than in the same period last year." I understand that it may be necessary to increase the country's deficit in order to invest in public infrastructure, but we must also take necessary action to minimize our debt burden.
I have written in this blog about how the "New Economy" includes a focus on the renewable energy and green technology sectors, which should increase America's competitive edge in a global economy. The healthcare technology sector is emerging and electronic health records will become a commonly-used tool in the coming years. It is imperative that we invest in these essential sectors and public infrastructure projects such as modernizing schools, fixing the country's transportation sector including repairing bridges and roads, expanding rail lines, and updating the national air traffic control system. However, the government (federal, state, and local) must manage our investments well and take necessary, and often difficult, measures to stabilize our deficit.
January 7, 2009
Human Trafficking: 21st Century Slavery
In addition to Asia, sex trafficking is taking place everywhere including the United States, Canada, and Europe. In the U.S., girls and boys, young women and men, are transported across interstate highways to satisfy the demand for sex. In addition, underground sex parties are organized in U.S. cities hosting large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, college football bowl games, and the Final Four men's college basketball championship.
Child prostitution and sex trafficking is widespread throughout Asia. Mr. Kristoff summarizes this issue well, "The business model of forced prostitution is remarkably similar from Pakistan to Vietnam — and, sometimes, in the United States as well. Pimps use violence, humiliation and narcotics to shatter girls’ self-esteem and terrorize them into unquestioning, instantaneous obedience....Young girls and foreigners without legal papers are particularly vulnerable. In Thailand’s brothels, for example, Thai girls usually work voluntarily, while Burmese and Cambodian girls are regularly imprisoned. The career trajectory is often for a girl in her early teens to be trafficked into prostitution by force, but eventually to resign herself and stay in the brothel even when she is given the freedom to leave."
To fight human trafficking in the United States, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking. There are common patterns for luring victims into situations of sex trafficking including:
- A promise of a good job in another country;
- A false marriage proposal turned into a bondage situation;
- Being sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands, boyfriends; and
- Being kidnapped by traffickers.
According to HHS, "Sex traffickers frequently subject their victims to debt-bondage, an illegal practice in which the traffickers tell their victims that they owe money (often relating to the victims’ living expenses and transport into the country) and that they must pledge their personal services to repay the debt. Sex traffickers use a variety of methods to 'condition' their victims including starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, gang rape, threats of violence to the victims and the victims' families, forced drug use and the threat of shaming their victims by revealing their activities to their family and their families' friends....Victims may also suffer from traumatic bonding – a form of coercive control in which the perpetrator instills in the victim fear as well as gratitude for being allowed to live."
The private sector should educate their employees who work or travel abroad about trafficking in its various forms including the methods employed by traffickers and the risks to victims. Furthermore, I recommend increasing awareness about trafficking among immigration authorities and consular and diplomatic personnel so that they use this knowledge in their contacts with the private sector.
Larger corporations provide training workshops or seminars to employees who are about to relocate abroad. These sessions are aimed to facilitate the transition of living or working in different countries. Learning about the damage caused on innocent lives by the illegal sex industry should be made a mandatory topic. Accordingly, relevant training and support materials must be provided to businesses. The goal here is to reduce the demand for prostitution, thus having the same effect on the supply.
In 2000, the United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which creates the possibility of sanctions against countries that tolerate trafficking. I hope the Obama Administration will use TVPA's authority to eliminate human trafficking. Should Hilary Clinton win confirmation as the next U.S. Secretary of State, in addition to taking on so many diplomatic issues, she should make the fight against human trafficking and sex slavery a priority. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times.)
Equally important, the European Union needs to take stronger actions in eradicating human trafficking and sex slavery within its borders and apply pressure on countries abroad that receive EU military and humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published some resources that I think is worth your time in reading:
January 4, 2009
The Role of the Private Sector in Revitalizing the Economy
While I agree with Mr. Ban's remarks that there should be a collaboration of governments civil society, and the private sector to "prevent a lasting global recession," the effectiveness of the private sector will be maximized only if governments enforce regulations so that all businesses are operating on an equal level. In addition, international organizations should provide solutions rather than focus on the problems. Understanding the problem is necessary in order to formulate a viable solution, but too many organizations are fixated on pointing the finger to lay blame. In preparing a strategy to revitalize the global economy, we must create and enforce rules to prevent another economic meltdown.
I am a strong supporter of a free market economy, but until all businesses demonstrate the ability to operate prudently and ethically, government rules are necessary to stabilize and protect financial markets. We are in this mess because certain governments eased regulations and businesses took advantage of the lack of governmental oversight. There are lessons we should learn from the mistakes that led to the financial crisis, but we should not wait until the economic turnaround is complete before enacting regulations to prevent a repeat of failed businesses.
New York, 15 December 2008 - Secretary-General's remarks to a meeting of the Global Compact Board
Distinguished business leaders,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you for this meeting of the Global Compact Board.
We meet at an extraordinary moment. What began as a financial crisis just a few months ago has turned into a full-scale economic downturn that affects economies and societies around the world.
There is no doubt that the current crisis poses a serious threat to our collective well-being. It will require a concerted effort by Governments, international organizations and the private sector to prevent a lasting global recession.
In these challenging circumstances, it is more important than ever that business – and especially the Global Compact – take a leading role in getting out the message that the long-term success of business and the stability of markets and societies are two sides of the same coin.
Most immediately, we must do all we can to bring the global economy back on a track of sustainable growth that will advance development.
This will not be easy, as trust in the capacity of business has been eroded. And trust is essential. Business needs it to create and deliver value. We all need it as a matter of confidence in the system. The Global Compact and the UN values it promotes can help to restore trust and build confidence in markets.
The downturn has also shown that we must shift from an obsession with short-term profits to a focus on long-term sustainability and proactive management of environmental, social and governance risks.
We can turn these challenges into opportunities. For example, I recently proposed a “Green New Deal” to create new employment and foster sustainable markets while safeguarding our environment and natural resources.
Business can and must join in investing in a sustainable future. Many of the long-term issues that we have been tackling, from climate change to water poverty, will not vanish. If left unattended, they will likely be the cause of further global disruptions. Already, recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that climate change is progressing at a much faster rate than previously anticipated.
Through your stewardship of the Global Compact and our universal ideals, you have already done much to advance the case for responsible business. I hope you will use today's meeting to discuss how the Compact can make an even stronger contribution.
When we met for the first time in this room more than a year-and-a-half ago, I called on you to ensure that the momentum of the Global Compact is not lost on the slippery slope of the lowest common denominator. This is now more urgent than ever.
In particular, I will be relying on you to further refine the good measures that have been taken to strengthen the quality and accountability of the corporate commitment to the Compact. As we move forward, it will be critical that the integrity of the initiative and the credibility of this Organization remain beyond reproach.
I also wish to announce that I am asking Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Mary Robinson and Georg Kell to form an appointment committee to make recommendations for future Board members and to manage smooth transitions when needed.
Finally, as we are gearing up for the Global Compact's tenth anniversary and the next Global Compact Leaders Summit in July 2010, I would like to challenge you to think big and find ways to ensure that business engagement in support of UN goals will reach an even higher level.
Thank you again your dedication to the Compact. You have done great work to advance our shared mission, and I look forward to doing even more as we move ahead.
I wish you all a most productive meeting.
January 2, 2009
Helping Businesses Become Better Global Citizens
For example, the Starbucks™ Shared Planet™ program focuses on three goals:
- Ethical Sourcing: By 2015, 100 percent of Starbucks coffee will be responsibly grown and ethically traded;
- Environmental Stewardship: By 2015, 100 percent of the company's cups will be reusable or recyclable; and
- Community Involvement: By 2015, the company will contribute over one million community service hours per year.
As the business world has become more global, entrepreneurs should make global citizenship a priority. Each business or entrepreneur, whether located in the industrialized or developing world, should create and adhere to a corporate responsibility program that includes ethical standards in their business governance, operations and relationships, minimizing environmental impact, and engaging the local community through volunteering and financial support.The United Nations created the UN Global Compact, which offers a platform for participating businesses with at least ten employees to advance their commitments to sustainability and corporate citizenship. The Global Compact has two objectives: (1) mainstream the ten principles in business activities around the world and (2) catalyze actions in support of broader UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.
According to their website, "The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary agent driving globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere."
"Structured as a public-private initiative, the Global Compact is policy framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of sustainability principles and practices and offering participants a wide spectrum of specialized workstreams, management tools and resources, and topical programs and projects -- all designed to help advance sustainable business models and markets in order to contribute to the initiative's overarching mission of helping to build a more sustainable and inclusive global economy."
Here are the ten universally accepted principles:
The UN Global Compact's ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption enjoy universal consensus and are derived from:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
- The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
- The United Nations Convention Against Corruption
The Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption:
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.