February 25, 2009

Center Encourages Aerospace Entrepreneurs

On February 23, 2009, CNN posted an article and video (below) about a program located in Louisville, Colorado that will serve as a center for the development of aerospace entrepreneurs (see "Center encourages aerospace entrepreneurs"). eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship is a not-for-profit partnership between Poway, California-based SpaceDev, Inc., "an entrepreneurial space systems company that develops high performance, innovative components and systems that are changing how we get to, explore, and use space," according to its website, and the University of Colorado. SpaceDev is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sparks, Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corporation.

eSpace's mission is to:
  • Help aerospace entrepreneurs start new companies by providing them with an environment that maximizes the probability of business success;
  • Develop commercial applications from the innovative technologies created within these companies; and
  • Collaborate with industry and academia to provide life-changing career opportunities for high school, community college, and university graduates.

Launched in last month, eSpace will provide a venue to test new innovations and meet NASA specifications. Jim Spellman's article says, "In a cavernous testing facility called the 'Incubator,' specialized equipment recreates the unique conditions of a journey into space -- from platforms that mimic the violent shaking at liftoff to chambers that replicate space's bitter cold and complete vacuum."

Mr. Spellman explains that eSpace's executive director, Scott Tibbitts, "believes that in the near future, NASA's programs will be supplemented more often by entrepreneurial space ventures. He thinks eSpace can help these companies work toward making space exploration more affordable and accessible to private citizens."

Diane Dimell, director of eSpace, says "'Our goal is to help small aerospace companies to get off the ground.'" eSpace will provide entrepreneurs the opportunity "'to commercialize their technology and to help develop the work force that will fuel their growth.'"

In addition to the eSpace Incubator, eSpace Venture Design is a collaborative program between eSpace and the University of Colorado Aerospace Engineering Sciences department that is funded in part by the Metro Denver WIRED Initiative. eSpace provides a total of $90,000 in grants to 3-5 graduate level design projects each with a two-part objective:

  1. To provide an extraordinary hands-on learning experience for students by developing an aerospace technology, in the laboratory, with an eye towards developing products with commercial potential; and
  2. To use the design project to create a commercially viable technology, with the business elements of the technology (business plan, developing market need, developing capabilities to meet that need) forwarded concurrently with the design project. The ultimate objective being to transition the project to the eSpace incubator.

eSpace Venture Design program is supporting the following programs in 2009: Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CCSWE), Mini Jet Engine for UAV's, and SmartSondes for Atmospheric Testing.

Another component of eSpace is their Straight to Space (S2S) program, which aims to develop opportunities for individuals interested and capable of contributing to the aerospace industry, but not currently on a track for a four-year college degree.

February 23, 2009

Gates Foundation, Partners Pledge $90 Million to Boost Incomes of Small Farmers in Africa

In addition to establishing the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on February 19, 2009, "two significant partnerships and $48 million in grants to help hundreds of thousands of small cocoa and cashew farmers in sub-Saharan Africa significantly increase their incomes so they can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. The two grants—$23 million to the World Cocoa Foundation and $25 million to the German development organization Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH—were awarded in conjunction with $42 million in cash and in-kind contributions from private industry." (Photo courtesy of Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Broadening market access for cocoa farmers is a significant outcome resulting from these partnerships. One of the challenges many farmers in developing nations encounter, in addition to having the necessary tools and equipment to maximize their yield, is having access to distribution or consumer markets. Maximizing sustainable growth success for cocoa farmers will require the collaborative efforts of governments, civil society, and the private sector. I was very pleased to read, "The grants complement financial support and in-kind contributions from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and local governments. Farmer associations will also play a significant role in leading training and knowledge sharing."

"Cocoa is West Africa’s largest agricultural export, accounting for 70 percent of the world’s supply. Approximately 2 million West African smallholder farming households rely on cocoa production for a significant portion of their income....The cocoa project aims to increase farming household incomes through improved farmer knowledge and productivity, better cocoa quality, crop diversification, and improved supply chain efficiencies. The five-year project will reach approximately 200,000 smallholder cocoa farming households in Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria and aims to help farmers double their incomes. The project will complement the broader work of the World Cocoa Foundation, which works in partnership with its industry members to ensure cocoa cultivation is sustainable and delivers greater benefits to the farmers who grow it."

With respect to Africa's cashew industry, a significant problem is the lack of processing facilities. "Africa is responsible for about one-third of the world’s cashew crop. However, a lack of cashew processing facilities in Africa has created major market inefficiencies and denies Africans the economic benefits that accompany jobs in the cashew processing sector."

Linking farmers to processing facilities will provide added-value benefits for all stakeholders. Farmers will have a scalable value chain for their products and processing facilities will provide local employment opportunities, which will help sustain economic development in some of the world's poorest economies. (Photo courtesy of Chiba Y. and UNDP Ghana)

It is important to mention Kristi Heim's blog entry "Gates Foundation responds to questions on cocoa farming and child labor." (Ms. Heim is a writer for The Seattle Times and she maintains a blog, The Business of Giving.) Her blog explains, "The non-profit World Cocoa Foundation represents 70 chocolate companies, and most have not lived up to an agreement they signed to stop the worst forms of child labor in their cocoa supply chains, according to the International Labor Rights Forum." Is the Gates Foundation supporting human right violators?

I do not have enough information to discuss the claims made by the International Labor Rights Forum and I am sure that some of those claims are valid, but Ms. Heim interviewed Richard Rogers, Gates Foundation program officer in agricultural development, and he said it is necessary to have commercial involvement for the project to succeed.

"By having the private sector directly involved, 'farmers can have a clear understanding of what the market demands,' he said. Companies will contribute technical and managerial skills and resources to help farmers develop better seed varieties and plants and post-harvest handling methods. Rogers said he chose the World Cocoa Foundation for the grant because 'they have the best network of connections with governments, NGOs and corporate partners we feel are critical to this project.'"

I agree with Mr. Rogers and with these newly established partnerships created by the Gates Foundation, we should expect and I predict we will see a high level of operational transparency, which should result in eliminating any human rights abuses perpetrated by the private sector.

February 20, 2009

Mobile Money for the Unbanked

According to a press release dated February 17, 2009, "The GSMA, which represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced an innovative program that will expand the availability of financial services to millions of people in the developing world through mobile phones. The Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program, supported by a $12.5 million grant from the foundation, will work with mobile operators, banks, microfinance institutions, government and development organizations to encourage the expansion of reliable, affordable mobile financial services to the unbanked."

The MMU program is part of the Gates Foundation's Financial Services for the Poor initiative, "which is working with a wide range of public and private partners to harness technology and innovation to bring quality, affordable savings accounts and other financial services to the doorsteps of the poor in the developing world."

I applaud the creation of the MMU program since gaining access to financial services is a significant problem for individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing nations. Mobile devices will improve the access of mobile financial services for individuals through money transfer services, which will give consumers a sense of empowerment. SMEs will benefit by improving inventory control, paying vendors electronically rather than mailing or hand-delivering payments, which is not a productive use of time, and gaining improved access to financial services necessary to meet the needs of business growth.

The Gates Foundation's statement further says, "The MMU program will fund regulatory and market research to help overcome some of the barriers of providing these services and demonstrate the business case for serving this market. The program includes a $5 million fund to catalyse a new wave of mobile money innovation, encouraging mobile network operators to create new services for previously unbanked people in emerging markets. The MMU program will support approximately 20 projects in developing countries, focusing on Africa, Asia and Latin America, with the goal of reaching 20 million previously unbanked people with mobile financial services by 2012."

Market research will show that there are great business opportunities providing mobile financial services. Such services will eliminate many of the barriers that exist in conducting financial transactions in developing markets. In Bangladesh, for example, 80 percent of transactions involve hard currency.

In my post, "Developing Nations Seek Entrepreneurs," I quote Kazi Islam, Chief Executive Officer of Dhaka, Bangladesh-based Grameen Solutions Ltd., "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." The MMU program will help eliminate these barriers.

February 18, 2009

Mobile Phones Facilitating SME Growth in India

In previous posts in this blog, I discussed the findings of a Vodafone Policy Paper on the benefits mobile phone use in India. In my post, "The Impact of Mobile Phones on India's Agriculture Sector," I highlighted how farmers are able to obtain weather, price information, crop-advisory, government schemes, and relevant news via voice or SMS-text messages. This post will focus on how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can use mobile phones to facilitate business growth by improving communication with customers, increasing productivity, and better monitoring of business operations including inventory control.

"SMEs are central to the process by which the economic benefits of growth are distributed among the large part of the population," according to Dr. Mahesh Uppal, Director of Com First (India) Private Ltd, a consultancy specializing in policy, regulation, and strategy, and Rajat Kathuria, Professor of Economics at ICRIER and professor at the International Management Institute (IMI), New Delhi. As SMEs grow, employees have a growing need for mobility, which "is the main driver of the increasing adoption of mobiles by enterprises in India. Employees need to keep in touch with their offices, shops etc., with other colleagues in the field, and with customers and contacts outside the company."

Dr. Uppal and Mr. Kathuria “distinguish between two ways in which SMEs can use mobile telecommunications. Firstly, and most directly, SMEs can build specific business models around mobile services e.g., developing applications for WAP or SMS-based booking services, or information services (e.g. BookMyShow, JustDial). The mobile phone is enabling more creative and service-oriented business models that are directly creating employment opportunities."

"Second and indirect kind of impact of mobile. How can SMEs in general use mobiles to enhance their productivity and the efficiency of their value chain? Small businesses often face challenges in scaling up their businesses. This may be due to lack of funds or inadequate access to markets but it can also be due to the basic problems of communications and interrelationships as their businesses grow."

Many SMEs are classified as informal businesses, but mobile phones are enabling SMEs to integrate into the formal economy. Integrated SMEs are finding the following benefits of using mobile phones:
  • Increased income and revenues due to improved access to customers;
  • Better control of costs, whether due to reduced travel or co-ordination time, improved monitoring of work-flow, or better inventory control; and
  • Improved quality of products and services, and better customer service, in turn creating the scope to raise prices and earnings.
Most SMEs in India consists of a single self-employed person or a sole trader. As SMEs expand and hire employees, many SMEs "forgo the specialization of larger businesses which have dedicated persons for specific functions such as sales, marketing, management and information technology (IT). Those working in an SME must routinely resort to multi-tasking. A mobile phone can be a powerful device can help relieve many of daily pressures that SMEs face as a result."
Dr. Uppal and Mr. Kathuria conclude with the following benefits mobile phones offer to SMEs:
  • A more convenient and customized service for clients, with the potential for higher charges in some cases as more value is delivered to customers;
  • Improvement in quality of work through better monitoring and through retention of better quality staff;
  • Savings in time and cost, from the avoidance of travel to co-ordinate work or supplies, or from improved inventory control;
  • Higher incomes as work can be scheduled more efficiently (and more work fitted into working hours) or a higher-value service delivered;
  • Disintermediation or direct contact between SMEs and actual users of their services, which removes risks of dealing with intermediaries who often interface between SMEs and their more important clients;
  • Increased income from improved access to new customers;
  • Greater security for those in SMEs whose work is away from normal workplaces such as shops and offices; and
  • Better co-ordination of work and home life, especially for those working long and/or irregular hours.
The authors, however, explain there remains an urban-rural divide in India. While the benefit of mobile phones applies to urban areas where teledensity is highest, SMEs located outside of urban areas, where mobile coverage is more limited, will not fully enjoy the same advantages.
Second, the lack of education and familiarity with mobile technology remain a major obstacle in bridging the urban-rural divide. Some of the services offered through mobile phones (i.e., SMS-test messaging) require a basic level of literacy that may "not be found in more rural areas where illiteracy and the prevalence of local languages will inhibit the ability to execute these mobile-enhanced business models."
It is important to increase mobile coverage in less-developed to address India's rural-urban divide. Increased communications will allow greater access to literacy and other education programs.

February 16, 2009

SMEs Using Microloans to Overcome the Credit Crunch

Many of us understand how entrepreneurs in developing nations use microloans to finance their businesses, but we may not be aware that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in industrialized nations such as the United States are using microloans as a similar tool to facilitate business growth. During the past few weeks, BusinessWeek has published two articles about how SMEs are securing microloans in order to start or expand their business operations from nonprofit organizations and the opportunities that exist for smaller community banks as larger financial institutions struggle to survive.

In Louise Lee's article dated February 13, 2009, "As Credit Dries Up, More Owners Seek Microloans," she writes about how a retailer in Brooklyn, New York, with a high credit score, opted to obtain a small loan in the amount of $20,000 from a local nonprofit lending organization. As larger lending institutions fight to remain solvent, nonprofit lending organizations are providing microloans in the average amount of $25,000 to SMEs. Although microlenders traditionally provide loans to borrowers who lack high credit scores or business experience, borrowers with stronger credit histories are tapping into the same microlenders as an alternative to working with larger banks.

Ms. Lee explains, "The Accion network, which has eight branches across the country, says it saw 905 applicants with credit scores of 700 or greater in the first nine months of 2008, a 43% jump over the same period in 2007. At Opportunity Fund, a San Jose (Calif.) microlender, 16% of applicants in the second half of 2008 had credit scores above 700, compared with 7% in the first half. And at Community First Fund in Lancaster, Pa., applicants in the second half of the year averaged a credit score 53 points higher than those in the first half. Another microlender, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corp., is receiving 'four to five' calls a week from banks referring clients, up from four to five a month, says President Wendy Baumann."

Several of my colleagues are clients of large financial institutions and complain that customer service has diminished as these institutions "try to stop the bleeding." Stacy Perman’s article published on January 27, 2009, "Community Banks Increase Small Business Loans," focuses on how community banks are taking a larger role in offering loans and lines of credit to small business owners as larger banks struggle. Ms. Perman writes, “As the credit freeze continues and the recession deepens, many community banks, generally defined as having less than $10 billion in assets, are reporting an uptick in loans and credit lines to small businesses.”

Community banks see an opportunity to develop lending relationships with SMEs. As Ms. Perman explains, "Indeed, for the past two years, small-business lending among community banks has grown at a faster rate than from larger institutions, according to Aite Group, a Boston banking consultancy. 'Community banks are quickly taking on more market share not only from the top five banks but from some of the regional banks,' says Christine Barry, Aite's research director. ‘They are focusing more attention on small businesses than before. They are seeing revenue opportunities and deploying the right solutions in place to serve these customers.'"

Another advantage of working with smaller community banks is they generally provide personalized service to their customers compared to their larger counterparts that provide exceptional service to a more select group, namely, high net-worth clients. Smaller banks carry another advantage as their "loan officers often have an intimate knowledge of the local area and its businesses."

February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: A Model of a Great Statesman

Today, February 12, 2009, is the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday. At a time when many nations lack political leadership, I think it is prudent that the world examine the life and philosophy of the 16th President of the United States. President Lincoln's vision for overcoming the challenges and bridging the differences that sparked the Civil War may be applied to nations grappling with their respective conflicts.

Just as the Civil War impacted millions of Americans in the 19th Century, military and civil conflicts in our modern era will continue to leave a trail of destruction on innocent lives, social structures, and economic markets. There are several lessons that leaders of nations -- nations where war and strife is interwoven into the daily lives of its citizens -- can learn by reading President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

Regardless of how unnecessary or unjust, nations will continue to engage in military and civil conflicts. The Second Inaugural Address provides a framework of reconciliation that is often missing in post-war reconstruction. Similar to preventing conflict, it is equally important to implement a post-war nation-building plan. President Lincoln's reconstruction plan, which was never fully implemented because of his assassination, realized that post-war rehabilitation of the United States began with community redevelopment.

Many people are familiar with The Gettysburg Address, which President Lincoln delivered at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863. It is The Gettysburg Address' last sentence that applies to certain nations today that are rebuilding from years of civil war, "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I have visited too many countries where people that still harbor grudges against their fellow countrymen about past conflicts. Abraham Lincoln's philosophy should be used as a model to look beyond each other's differences and focus on the individual aspects that make us equal.

If you visit Washington, D.C., in addition to the numerous wonderful monuments and museums, I highly recommend spending time at the Lincoln Memorial. By the way, here is another great use of mobile technology directly related to the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service (NPS) with support from Eastern National, a cooperating association of the NPS, offers free interpretive Ranger talks via telephone. According to a NPS press release, "These new Lincoln Memorial talks are organized around many themes including, 'The Gettysburg Address', 'Debunking the Myths of the Lincoln Memorial', and the 'Life and Times of Lincoln the Man'. Ranger talks can be heard by dialing (202) 747-3420."

February 10, 2009

The Impact of Mobile Phones on India's Agriculture Sector

This entry is a follow-up my entry, "India: The Impact of Mobile Phones," where I outline the findings of Vodafone's Policy Paper on the benefits mobile phones have in India. Over the past decade, India has made significant progress in developing a sophisticated information and communications technology sector. However, agriculture remains a vital sector in India's economy "where it contributes close to 20% of GDP and where 60% of the population depends on agriculture either directly or indirectly." The purpose of this entry is discuss the report's investigation into the impact of mobiles on agricultural productivity. Although the focus is on India, the conclusions are applicable to any nation where agriculture has a significant role in providing income for its citizens.

Surabhi Mittal, a Senior Fellow at ICRIER specialising in Agricultural Economics, Sanjay Gandhi, a consultant with expertise in private sector development, and technology and business strategy in emerging markets, and Gaurav Tripathi, a researcher at ICRIER address four questions:
  1. Which types of agricultural information have the most value for farmers and fishermen?
  2. Are mobile phones in practice being used much for agricultural purposes, and if so how?
  3. Have mobile phones helped drive agricultural productivity improvements for farmers and fishermen, and if so how?
  4. What constraints are there on the potential for mobile phones to improve agricultural productivity?
Mobile phones are an essential tool in accessing valuable information in three areas including know-how (crop choice and seed variety), context (weather, plant protection, cultivation best practices), and market information (market prices, market demand, and logistics). "There are an estimated 127.3 million 'cultivators' in India. The majority of them are farmers subsisting on small plots of land less than 5 acres in size....A national survey of farmers found that only 40% of farmer households accessed information about modern agricultural techniques and inputs."

Farmers require access to a wide-range of accurate information. The report explains, "Of this range of information requirements, we found that small farmers prioritized weather, plant protection (disease/pest remediation), seed information and market prices as the most important. In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, close to 90% of farmers reported seed information as the highest priority while over 70% cited market prices as the most important category."

There are a few mobile-enabled information services available to farmers in India. The Vodafone report evaluated two mobile services targeting farmers, IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL) and Reuters Market Light (RML). IKSL delivers five free voice messages daily with weather information, crop/animal husbandry advisory, market prices, fertiliser availability, electricity timings, and government schemes. A helpline is available at Rs. 1/minute.

RML delivers four daily SMS-text messages containing weather information, crop-advisory, market price (2 crops and 3 markets of choice), and news (commodity specific and general - occasionally includes market demand estimates). There are a few subscription options: Rs. 175 for a three month package, Rs. 350 for six months, and Rs. 650 for one year.

With respect to the impact mobile phones have on India's agriculture sector, the report found the following conclusions:
  • Customization and frequent updating add substantial value. Generic information triggers dissatisfaction and reduces the frequency with which farmers access the service. The most frequent criticism we heard was that information was old and routine.
  • Secondly, where literacy concerns are not paramount, text messaging offers significant advantages over voice-based delivery in terms of convenience and content flexibility.
  • Finally, information should be in the local language and any platform should be intuitive for subscribers to understand. Most of the farmers we interviewed were prepared to pay for information services as long as they felt that they would get the information they wanted – relevant, timely and reliable.
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.

February 6, 2009

India: The Impact of Mobile Phones

UK-based Vodafone's Public Policy Paper Series, the multinational mobile telecommunications company published a paper detailing the benefits mobile phones have in India. While many of us conceptually understand the role mobile technology has in facilitating economic development in developing and emerging nations, we may not understand specifically how this technology can help farmers in rural areas, small business owners in urban centers, and the poorest of people living in unimaginable conditions who lack the most basic education. I think is worth spending some time investigating the paper's conclusions and developing implementation strategies, which will be done in this and subsequent blog entries.

Rajiv Kumar, Director and Chief Executive of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), prepared the report's overview explaining, "Indian states with high mobile penetration can be expected to grow faster than those states with lower mobile penetration rates, by 1.2% points a year more on average for every 10% increase in the penetration rate. This is an important result. The paper in this report by Kathuria and Uppal suggests, furthermore, that there are important network effects which magnify the economic impact of mobiles on development when the level of mobile penetration exceeds a critical mass of around 25%."

Mr. Kumar further elaborates, "The extraordinary recent macro-economic performance of the Indian economy has also raised the question of how the benefits of the 8–10% annual GDP growth rate can 'trickle down' to poorer socio-economic groups in the country. In that context, the ICRIER researchers have also looked at three segments of the population – the agriculture sector, the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector and urban slum dwellers. In each case, the research demonstrates that access to telecommunications is an important catalyst to realizing productivity and efficiency improvements and thereby making it possible for the benefits of economic growth to be shared. Mobiles currently provide more than 300 million points of connectivity in India, through which information and opportunity flows. Citizens with access to telecommunications can tap into the benefits of broad economic and social growth much more easily than those who are unconnected."

There are a few additional findings worth mentioning:
  • Teledensity in India lags well behind most other countries at similar stages of development (for example, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have achieved significantly superior
    penetration rates of 77%, 60% and 61% respectively).
  • There is enormous variation within India, and many of the less developed states have average penetration rates of well below 20%, including Bihar, UP, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Assam.
  • The level of access to the internet remains persistently low across the whole country (at about 5%) and in less-developed states is virtually non-existent – only 0.1% in Bihar and 0.2% in Assam, for example.
According to Mr. Kumar, "Mobile telephony has an important role to play because it provides a means for the exchange of information and learning, but it is only one element in the process of productivity growth. For example, 60% of the working population in India is engaged in agriculture and the barriers to raising agricultural productivity gains go far beyond communications access. Therefore, access to telecommunications needs to be seen as a foundation on which other initiatives can be built. The debate on telecommunications needs to be expanded from a debate only about access, to a broader vision of how individuals can leverage the capabilities of telecommunications to grasp fully the opportunities of economic development."

It is Mr. Kumar's last point that outlines the problem. While it is important to increase mobile phone access, particularly in India's rural areas, it is equally important to capitalize on the technology's capabilities to stimulate economic development, which I will address in future postings. There are so many ways mobile phones can facilitate economic development in the agriculture sector, stimulate growth among small and medium-sized enterprises, and how mobile technology can have a significant impact on populations that possess a high illiteracy rate and often lack a formal education.

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.

February 4, 2009

UN Continues its Support for Afghanistan

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, February 4th (see "On surprise visit, Ban reaffirms UN support for Afghanistan"). During Mr. Ban's meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, the Secretary-General reiterated the UN's support for "Afghanistan remains a key priority in 2009. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) will have strong support and strong engagement with increased support from the United Nations General Assembly and general membership." Mr. Ban continued, "[The United Nations] strategy is simple: to implement the plan agreed to by the Afghan Government and 88 donors in Paris in June last year. This plan is clear and what we need is to get on with it to bring tangible changes on the ground while continuing to assess the situation." (Photo courtesy of the UN News Centre)

According to the UN News Centre press release launching the Humanitarian Action Plan for Afghanistan for 2009 in Geneva on February 3rd, "The United Nations and its partners appealed for $604 million to help meet the needs of Afghans made vulnerable by natural disasters, lack of access to basic social services, increasing food insecurity and the worsening security situation. Some $354 million of the appeal will go towards food aid, while almost $100 million will be used to rid the strife-torn nation of landmines, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters...."

I recognize there are significant challenges in Afghanistan, but where does economic development and support of Afghan entrepreneurs fit in the United Nations' strategy? The appeal states, "Extreme poverty--42 per cent of the population live on less than $1 per day--and lack of development increase the suffering of the population during times of crisis and limit their coping strategies." Security is a significant problem, but the definition of "security" should also include economic security.

Afghans have a great entrepreneurial spirit and they recognize their role to be the primary driver in stabilizing the current crises and positioning the country to better compete in a vastly competitive global economy. Afghanistan hosts numerous economic opportunities such as mining (marble, gold, copper, precious and semiprecious stones), agriculture (pomegranates, wheat and beekeeping), and renewable energy (micro-hydro generators, wind, and solar energy). Trade and commerce should have a larger role in Afghanistan's development strategy and I recommend that the United Nations, The World Bank, and nongovernmental organizations increase their efforts in promoting economic development.