March 26, 2009

Do Your Homework Before a Meeting

This post is a bit of rant about some of my professional experiences during the past few months. One of my professional strengths is that I arrive at meetings extremely prepared. I take the time to learn as much as possible about a company or person prior to my meeting. I review websites, new articles, press releases, and business reports just to name a few, which may take several hours of my time. In a business meeting, one party is seeking to gain something from the other. If you are looking to benefit from an individual's knowledge or sources (financial, technical, contacts, etc.), please take the time to learn about the person's business and interests prior to the meeting.

For example, a gentleman was seeking funding for a project he organized to develop businesses for the local population in central Africa. (On the surface, this project was aligned with my business and social interests.) Via e-mail, he sent me a 27-page business plan that contained all the financial and logistical details. Since he is in California and I am in Seattle, we agreed to allocate some time on the telephone so that I can listen to his pitch. I spent two hours the night before going over every detail of his business strategy. Can you imagine how dismayed I was when he informed me that he did not take the time to visit my website and blog to learn about my interests and background? A simple online search of my name would have led to my blog, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter page. His lack of preparedness was a key reason I decided not to support his project.

Another individual contacted me about getting involved with a couple of my entrepreneurial or consulting projects. He was referred to me by a good friend who thought that I can provide some advice or useful contacts. I was happy to schedule some time to meet for a cup of coffee and suggested that this person send his résumé to me prior to our meeting. I took the time to review his résumé and provided comments and recommendations to strengthen the document from an employer's perspective. Again, through our conversation, I learned that this individual failed to take the time to "Google" me.

I think many people underestimate the value of first impressions. Showing up at a meeting unprepared is the quickest way to fail in pitching your proposal. With today's electronic sources, it is easy to search a name and find information about a company or individual. The person you are meeting with is allocating a portion of their valuable time, so please make an effort to learn about their business or personal interests beforehand. Conduct your due diligence and arrive prepared!!

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.

March 21, 2009

U.S. Government Supporting Clean Tech Businesses

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) offered a $535 million loan guarantee for Fremont, California-based Solyndra, Inc. "to support the company's construction of a commercial-scale manufacturing plant for its proprietary cylindrical solar photovoltaic panels. The company expects to create thousands of new jobs in the U.S. while deploying its solar panels across the U.S. and around the world." (Photo courtesy of Solyndra)

In The New York Times article, "Energy Department Issues First Renewable-Energy Loan Guarantee," the DOE "has tentatively awarded its first alternative-energy loan guarantee, breaking a four-year logjam in the federal loan program." Clean technology companies may want to consider taking advantage this program to expand business operations including product research and development.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05) authorizes the DOE to issue loan guarantees to eligible projects that "avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases" and "employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued."

Under the Recovery Act Program, the United States Congress has authorized the DOE to spend $16.8 Billion for Energy Effeciency and Renewable Energy. In addition, $6 Billion is allocated to underwrite up to $60 Billion in loans under DOE's Loan Guarantee Program.

According to the DOE's press release, "Solyndra's photovoltaic systems are designed to provide the lowest installed cost and the highest solar electricity output on commercial, industrial and institutional roof tops, which are a vast, underutilized resource for the distributed generation of clean electricity. Solyndra's proprietary design transforms glass tubes into high performance photovoltaic panels which are simple and inexpensive to install. By replacing power generated from fossil fuel sources, the electricity produced from the solar panels will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

Solyndra is currently ramping up production in its initial manufacturing facilities. Once finalized, the DOE loan guarantee will enable the company to build and operate its manufacturing processes at full commercial scale. Solyndra estimates that:

  • The construction of this complex will employ approximately 3,000 people;
  • The operation of the facility will create over 1,000 jobs in the United States;
  • The installation of these panels will create hundreds of additional jobs in the United States.
  • The commercialization of this technology is expected to then be duplicated in multiple other manufacturing facilities.

The loan guarantee to Solyndra is a "conditional commitment" pending approval by the DOE's Credit Review Board. Similar to homebuyers who have been approved for a loan are required to meet certain conditions before closing, the conditional commitment will require Solyndra to meet an equity commitment as well as other conditions prior to closing.

The DOE explains its review process: "Before offering a conditional commitment, DOE takes significant steps to ensure risks are properly mitigated for each project prior to approval for closing of a loan guarantee. The Department performs due diligence on all projects, including a thorough investigation and analysis of each project’s financial, technical and legal strengths and weaknesses. In addition to the underwriting and due diligence process, each project is reviewed in consultation with independent consultants."

March 20, 2009

U.S. Government Creates an Online Community for Small Businesses

On March 18, 2009, the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the creation of the Business Gateway Program and "a new Web initiative – http://community.business.gov – the first government-sponsored online community built specifically for small businesses."

The Business.gov Community is a "place where you and fellow business owners can discuss and share the information that you need to start and run a successful business. Every business owner's issues are different: You may need help with a specific problem or you may have valuable insight to share." Registration is free (although the password requirement is a bit cumbersome) and I found the website easy to navigate.

The Community is open to discussions and questions on important issues to business owners. The community is divided into the 3 areas:
  1. Discussion Topics in which members ask and answer questions, and discuss business issues;
  2. Idea Exchanges in which members give ideas on how to improve and refine the pages on the Business.gov website; and
  3. Expert Insight & News which provide articles on timely business topics.

In addition to the Business.gov Community, I am a registered user of the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) Island Business Link, which "is an online global network of businesses and organizations interested in growth opportunities in the U.S. affiliated Pacific islands and U.S. Virgin Islands." I joined the Island Business Link because of my interest in the Federated States of Micronesia (please see "The Way Forward: Utilizing Fiber Optic Technology for Sustainable Economic Development"). The purpose of OIA's initiative is to help facilitate business and procurement opportunities.

It is too early to determine the monetization value of joining these online communities, but I find them useful in gaining information to the challenges and opportunities of conducting business in challenging market conditions. These communities serve as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn from each other's successes and mistakes. Please feel free to share your experiences with online communities designed specifically for business development.

March 14, 2009

Educate, Emancipate and Empower Women

In my blog post, "International Women's Day: Women and Men Uniting to End Violence against Women," I list a number of statistics that affect women in our modern era. I define "modern" as the ability to communicate easily through advances in information and communications technology and improved access to education, social and economic development services. Technology has allowed us to better understand the inequality issues between men and women, but many of us have yet to assertain the ability to resolve these issues or more importantly, to empower women to take more control of their respective lives just as men have appreciated for millennia.

The Seattle Times published an editorial by Tim Hanstad, president and chief executive officer of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a Seattle-based international nonprofit advocating for secure land rights for the world's poorest people (see "Access to land improves women's lives around the world"). I agree with Mr. Hanstand, "While the international community has focused on initiatives that create opportunities for women, it is important to recognize those achievements are not equally shared, and much more needs to be done for women mired in poverty." Many of the economic projects I come across should have a stronger component focusing on poverty eradication for women.

Mr. Hanstand draws a connection between land ownership and poverty, "Women represent 51 percent of the world's population and provide 60 to 80 percent of food production in most developing countries. But they own less than 2 percent of the world's titled land, largely because few have legal rights to land." Through all my extensive experiences working in the developing world, I see that women are largely responsible for food production; however, I did not realize the small number who has the legal right to own land.

Mr. Hanstand explains how "RDI developed its Women and Land Program about 10 years ago to focus specifically on gender issues around land, which have long been ignored. Research in this area is absolutely crucial. We know that deeply rooted cultural norms in Third World countries won't be changed overnight, but a lot can be done just by changing policies and laws to create political and legal space for women to assert their rights and become pioneers in this field in their respective countries. It's also important to listen to what women want and not to impose Western values on these societies and to provide legal education on the laws that are already in place."

In today's, March 13, 2009, New York Times, Nicholas Kristof published an editorial noting the recent creation of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee dealing with women chaired by California Senator Barbara Boxer, President Obama establishing the Council on Women and Girls, "and the State Department naming a new position of special ambassador for global women’s issues" (see "Women’s issues getting traction").

Programs like the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program should have a specific focus on recruiting and training women to become entrepreneurs in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors (see "Rebuilding Afghanistan through Rural Enterprise Development"). As Mr. Kristof writes, "One of the things we've learned over the last 15 years is that you can't fight poverty effectively unless you educate, emancipate and empower women, and bring them into the formal economy."

March 13, 2009

Rebuilding Afghanistan through Rural Enterprise Development

On March 4, 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Ehsan Zia, Afghanistan's Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and Javaid Zeerak, Coordinator for the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP). I very much enjoyed having a direct discussion with Minister Zia and Mr. Zeerak and the substance of our meeting was focused on building Afghanistan's economy through agriculture and agribusiness development.

The AREDP's development objective is to have higher market participation of targeted rural enterprises, which will result in increased income and sustainable employment opportunities. AREDP's "is an initiative designed to improve all levels of business development and entrepreneurship from sole proprietorship and micro-enterprises to Small and Medium Enterprises [SMEs], in order to improve rural livelihoods and expand employment opportunities across rural Afghanistan," according to a summary document. The initiative will be managed by an office with Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. An governing board will consist of members from the private and public sectors. The AREDP "is intended to be national in scope and will build on other developmental initiatives of the Government of Afghanistan, donors, and MFIs [microfinance institutions]."

AREDP consists of three program components: Community Enterprise Development, SME Development, and Program Management. The Community Enterprise Development will provide support to strengthen and expand business and market skills of enterprise groups. In addition, the program will facilitate rural access to financial services and resources.

"The program will create and provide support to Enterprise Groups and Producer Associations, as well as establish a sustainable basis for rural financial services by forming Savings Groups. The program aims to link Savings Groups to existing MFIs wherever possible, and for this purpose will closely cooperate with MISFA [Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan]. If there are no MFIs operating in a region, the program will try to attract MFIs to set up branches in the targeted region and will provide some assistance in start-up costs, in line with what is provided by MISFA. In the case that there are no suitable MFIs in an area, the program will provide assistance in the set-up of Village Savings & Loan Associations (VSLAs). After successful training, the VSLA will receive a seed capital of $2,000-$5,000 (depending on the size and membership of the VSLAs) and will manage loans to qualified borrowers."

The AREDP will offer business development and technical support, and credit advisory services to facilitate SME development. "In order to further stimulate lending to SMEs by banks and MFIs, the program will also consider capitalization of banks on agreed terms to lend to SMEs in select value chains. Furthermore, in an effort to promote innovation and encourage investment, the program will also sponsor an annual competition for an innovation prize of up to 100,000 USD in each province."

AREDP's program management will focus on the implementation oversight, project planning, governance and coordination, and capacity building and institutional development of the program. "In addition, this component will include an Office of Research and Technical Services (RTS) that will provide backstop support services to enterprises across rural Afghanistan. Where available, the clients will be connected to service providers from the non-governmental, MFI and private sectors; with the balance of services to be provided by the RTS itself."

Minister Zia and Mr. Zeerak are seeking funding approval from The World Bank for the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program. During our meeting, I recommended that the Minister take a more direct approach in engaging the private sector for financial, logistical, and technical support. For example, in Washington state, there are several agribusinesses that can serve as partners in implementing AREDP's strategic plan and I invited Minister Zia and Mr. Zeerak to visit Washington State to meet with industry leaders.

I know there are many challenges to Afghanistan's sustainable development such as security, lack of physical infrastructure, and a strong opium cultivation market, but the AREDP to empower Afghan's to own SMEs and participate in the global economy is a step in the right direction. Is it unrealistic to imagine finding "Grown in Afghanistan" produce in Costco or Whole Foods?

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.

March 11, 2009

Power Down for the Planet

I just read on the Official Google Blog about Power Down for the Planet, "a challenge program designed to encourage universities and their campus communities to reduce their own IT power consumption and get their students, faculty, and staff involved in the fight against climate change." Through YouTube, participants may submit a video showing how they are powering down for the planet for a chance to win $5,000 cash or other prizes. The Video Challenge starts March 2nd and runs through April 17, 2009. The challenge winner and the collective results of all participants will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

According to the Power Down for the Planet website, "The challenge is to develop original and creative videos that educate, entertain, and/or inform others about the importance of energy efficient computing to the global environment."
  • How do we spread the word about slowing climate change through energy efficient computing?
  • How do poor computing practices waste energy?
  • What will the impact of better power management have on our environment?
  • What does sustainable computing mean to you?

The Power Down for the Planet program is sponsored by the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI) in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. Launched in 2007 by Google and Intel, the CSCI "is a nonprofit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses and conservation organizations. The Initiative was started in the spirit of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program that was created to cut carbon dioxide emissions and demonstrate that reducing emissions by saving energy is good business." CSCI's "goal is to promote the development, deployment and adoption of smart technologies that can both improve the overall energy efficiency of a computer as well as reduce the energy consumed when the computer not in use through effective power management."

Lastly, I want to mention the IT Power Management Summit, which is scheduled for March 30, 2009. This free educational webinar is sponsored by the CSCI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designed to raise awareness of the benefits and savings associated with enterprise power management. According Harris Interactive® study fielded from February 29-March 4, 2008, virtually all PCs support power management, but only 5 to 10 percent of U.S. organizations use this feature. Register now for this free session to get the information you need to begin deploying power management within your organization.

March 10, 2009

Rewarding Social Entrepreneurship

Today, March 10, 2009, The Seattle Times published an editorial about the 2009 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) organized by the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business' Global Business Center. This blog post follows from my entry detailing my experience serving as a GSEC judge (see Supporting Social Entrepreneurs).

"UW Global Business Center rewards social entrepreneurship," an editorial by The Seattle Times:

A BUSINESS plan to sell meals for less than 10 cents each to the poor of Mumbai, the city shown in the Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire" — that's worth a prize.

University of Washington's Foster School of Business has awarded a prize for just such a plan at a ceremony in Seattle last week. It was $10,000, donated by Microsoft.

The winners, four students from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in India, designed an 800-calorie, ready-to-eat meal using rice, lentils, unrefined sugar and vegetables, including vegetable peels that food processors have been throwing away. The meal could be sold profitably for 5 rupees — 9.6 U.S. cents — a lifesaving bargain.

Another prizewinning plan aimed to defeat counterfeit pharmaceuticals — some of them worthless and even dangerous — through the use of code numbers on sealed pill bottles, cellphone texting and a central computer registry. The team, from Princeton University and Ghana, West Africa, calculated that the labels and verification service would cost 6 cents per bottle of pills — an investment in counterfeit suppression that would pay handsomely for the producers of legitimate drugs.

These and other business plans are examples of social entrepreneurship — business with a social goal. We salute the winners and the Foster School's Global Business Center for holding the annual competition, which has the potential of doing so much good.

March 8, 2009

International Women's Day: Women and Men Uniting to End Violence against Women

Today, March 8, 2009, is International Women's Day. The first International Women's Day took place in 1911 by Clara Zetkin, according to the International Women's Day website provided by Aurora, "a company that connects business and professional women and actively supports the promotion of employer brands and career opportunities in progressive organizations."

"Success of the first International Women's Day in 1911 exceeded all expectation. Meetings were organized everywhere in small towns and even the villages halls were packed so full that male workers were asked to give up their places for women. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstration of 30,000 women, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners so the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament."

The theme for 2009 is Women and Men: United to End Violence against Women. Many articles and reports were published during the past few weeks detailing the increased violence of women and girls worldwide. Rape and sexual slavery is commonplace in war-torn regions like Sudan and Congo, girls as young as nine-years-old are married to men who may be three times the age of their new wife in Afghanistan and Yemen, female genital mutilation is still a common practice in certain areas of Africa, and the problem with sex slavery and child prostitution in certain Asian countries is common knowledge, but child prostitution is alive and well in the United States.

I have addressed the problem of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in this blog, which I think is worth revisiting (see "Human Trafficking: 21st Century Slavery"). We need a more collaborative effort among governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to combat violence against women. There is a great need to train the private sector on the facts of violence against women and how they can take an active role in eliminating this epidemic.

On March 5, 2009, the United Nations launched a database on violence against women, which provides a primary source of information received from a Member States questionnaire on violence against women in September 2008 and subsequent updates. Other sources of information include states parties' reports to human rights treaty bodies, information provided by Member States in follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995); for reports of the Secretary-General; and in statements made at the United Nations, and information available through relevant United Nations entities.

The United Nations International Women's Day website outlines the global situation affecting women:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes;
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime;
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners;
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability;
  • More than 80 per cent of trafficking victims are women;
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation;
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 per cent and 95 per cent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

There are five key outcomes of the UN's campaign of uniting to end violence against women that have been set as the benchmarks, which aims for all countries to achieve by 2015:

  1. National laws are in place and enforced to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls in line with international human rights standards;
  2. National plans of action are adopted that are multisectoral and adequately resourced, with implementation under way;
  3. Data collection and analysis systems are institutionalized and periodic surveys are undertaken on the prevalence of various forms of violence against women and girls;
  4. National and/or local campaigns are launched and social mobilization engages a diverse range of civil society actors in preventing violence and supporting abused women and girls; and
  5. Sexual violence in conflict situations is systematically addressed in all peace and security policy and funding frameworks and mechanisms for protection and prevention of systematic rape are implemented.
I conclude with a variety of interesting facts posted by Aurora's International Women's Day website:
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km;
  • Globally women account for the majority of people aged over 60 and over 80;
  • Pregnant women in Africa are 180 times more likely to die than in Western Europe;
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year;
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women;
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women;
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land;
  • AIDS sees women's life expectancy of 43 in Uganda and Zambia;
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education;
  • Globally women comprise 42% Internet users (Italy 37% ... U.S. and Canada 51%);
  • In OECD countries women comprise only 30 per cent of degrees in science and technology;
  • Women's representation in computer and information sciences workforce is around 30% globally;
  • Female inventors still only account for around 10% of the U.S. inventor population;
  • Women control $14 trillion in assets and this should grow to $22 trillion over next 10 years;
  • Women comprise 21 of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the United States;
  • Only in Japan and Peru are women more active in starting a business than men;
  • Women spend more time researching before they invest than men do;
  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income;
  • One year out of college, women earn 20% less than men. Ten years later, women will earn 31% less; and
  • The biggest EU gender pay gap is in Cyprus and Estonia at 25% then Slovakia at 24%.

Together, we can make a difference.

March 3, 2009

Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

On February 27, 2009, I had the honor of serving as a judge at the Fifth Annual Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) is organized by the University of Washington’s (UW) Global Business Center at the Michael G. Foster School of Business, with the support of Microsoft (GSEC Grand Prize sponsor) and the UW Department of Global Health (Global Health Prizes sponsor). (Everyone involved is very appreciative of all GSEC 2009 contributors.) The "GSEC unites the business, non-profit and academic sectors in learning about and supporting innovative and financially feasible solutions to global poverty."

14 teams from around the world presented their business ideas to judges and the UW community where they competed for $20,000 in prize money. The 2009 GSEC team members came from 9 countries and 15 different academic institutions. Their double-bottom line business plans seek to create commercially sustainable solutions to issues of poverty in the developing world. The 2009 business ideas include water sanitation in Nepal, solar ovens in Africa, networks for NGO donors, microfinance in Ghana, healthcare and biofuel programs in India, education in Rwanda, and pedal-powered phones in Nicaragua.

GSEC plans must clearly demonstrate the Social Return on Investment (SROI) in addition to the financial return on investment. In addition, GSEC plans must be for a low or lower-middle income country and the plans are evaluated on three criteria:
  1. Effect on the quality of life and poverty alleviation in the developing world;
  2. Financial sustainability; and
  3. Feasibility of implementation
GSEC plans may cover a broad range of subjects such as healthcare, education, the environment, energy, information and communication technology, social services, agriculture, and manufacturing, and plans may be entirely private or a public-private partnership.
For the preliminary round, judges were assigned to evaluate a number of grouped teams. My group judged the following entrants:
  • Youth Education Farms for Swaziland (University of British Columbia; Face of Today Foundation, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) is a project that will develop farm land near schools in rural areas. Local students will work alongside full-time farm employees on a part-time basis throughout their elementary to high school tenure. Profits from the sales of farm produce will be used to fund the students' tuition fees and fund university tuition or local business initiatives created by the students. The plan's vision is to provide an environment for the sustainable development of idle orphans and communities in rural Swaziland through farming, while funding their future education and endeavors;
  • Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents (Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies University, Mumbai, India) whose mission is to provide full nutritious meals to slum dwellers at 10 cents in a ready-to-eat packet consisting of rice, pulses, and vegetable peels. Each of these packets provide 800 calories. In addition, this business will empower local women by hiring them to compile these packets while providing a higher wage rate and food packets for their family at no cost;
  • SolarCycle (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA), whose mission is to respond to the need for alternative cooking technologies in Africa by manufacturing and distributing, at cost, simple and sustainable solar ovens made from locally available waste materials. A variety of solar ovens are already in use in a patchwork of locations across Africa; however, these ovens are too expensive and their distribution too localized to address the massive scope of the energy problem in rural Africa. Their ovens contain two principal innovations, one structural and one material, that will allow Solar Oven Systems to provide a sustainable and scalable solution to this challenge; and
  • Bright Credit Bright Credit (University of Washington, Seattle, USA) is a Seattle-based non-profit organization that offers secondary education loans to the children of micro-finance beneficiaries in Ghana. Their mission is to leverage the microfinance industry to instill the value of secondary education to loan beneficiaries and their families. By utilizing advanced social networking tools, Bright Credit connects members of the developed world directly to Ghanaian children in need of funding for their education.
The five teams who emerged from the preliminary round and competed in the final round were Youth Education Farms for Swaziland, Text for Health, Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents, MiNGO, and SolarCycle. Here are the 2009 winners:
  • GSEC Grand Prize ($10,000): Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents;
  • GSEC Global Health Grand Prize ($5,000): SolarCycle;
  • GSEC Global Health Second Prize ($2,500): WAPGrid; and
  • GSEC Investor’s Choice Award ($2,500): WAPGrid.
This was my first experience participating in the University of Washington Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. I found the experience very rewarding, personally and professionally. I enjoyed the experience of meeting my fellow judges who hold a myriad of experiences in sustainable global development. In addition, I greatly enjoyed interacting with many of the team members (social entrepreneurs) who have a vision to make a measured and sustainable difference in the world. I look forward to participating in future GSEC events.

March 2, 2009

Chinese Premier Wen Talks Online with Public

According to Gov.cn, China's government's official web portal, "Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao jumped in his first ever online chat on Saturday afternoon [February 28, 2009], facing questions from nearly 300,000 netizens and mobile phone users ranging from unemployment, wealth gap, social justice to democracy" (see Premier Wen gives online interview with Xinhuanet, Government Portal). Wen is quoted as saying, "I don't expect myself to answer every question well, but I am here with a sincere heart and speak honestly." (Photo courtesy of Xinhua)

The two-hour chat was jointly organized by http://www.gov.cn and the Xinhua News Agency web site http://www.xinhuanet.com. A few of Wen's chat session topics included the economy, government reform, health care, and public infrastructure development. This is the second time a high-ranking Chinese official has engaged the Internet to communicate directly with the public. President Hu Jintao had a brief chat session at the web site of People's Daily in June 2008.

I encourage leaders of all nations, but especially those from developing nations, to use the Internet to engage and communicate with their respective citizens about important issues. Furthermore, these world leaders should avail themselves to donor agencies, investors, and global citizens in having an open and honest conversation about social and economic development issues. Getting access to the top decision makers is essential in obtaining timely and accurate information, and today's technology has made this communication possible.