May 29, 2009

King County, Washington Reduces PC Energy Consumption by Nearly 40 Percent

King County, Washington, which encompasses the city of Seattle and outlying suburbs, is making efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by implementing personal computer (PC) power management software. Verdiem, a Seattle-based software company focused on PC Power Management and Green IT, issued a press release saying "as part of King County's nationally recognized initiatives to measurably reduce greenhouse gases and prepare for climate change, King County and Verdiem, Inc. today announced the results of the county's deployment of Verdiem's SURVEYOR PC Power Management Software. Since deployment in October 2007, Verdiem's SURVEYOR has enabled King County's agencies to reduce energy consumption by an average of 38 percent and eliminate more than 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The software also helped King County departments achieve PC energy costs reductions ranging up to 62 percent - equal to about 140-thousand dollars in savings."

Furthermore, Verdiem explains, "King County purchased Verdiem's SURVEYOR for nearly 10,000 PCs in 18 departments, ranging from the Metropolitan King County Council to the Department of Transportation. While SURVEYOR can be managed by central IT, each of the 18 agencies in King County has the flexibility to set their own PC power management policies and the Department of Community and Human Services has been able to achieve energy cost saving of 62%. King County's deployment of SURVEYOR has enabled the county to nearly reach their PC energy efficiency goals for 2009 – with SURVEYOR already achieving 38.6 percent of the County's targeted 39.6 percent goal for PC energy reduction."

Verdiem claims that a typical PC consumes 535kWh of electricity a year and two-thirds of that energy is wasted when the computer is not in active use, primarily outside of business hours. Here is a video produced by ZDNet that further explains the energy consumption and related costs of personal computers.

May 27, 2009

Protectionism on Foreign Trade Hurts Developing Nations

On May 25, 2009, The New York Times published an editorial, "Trade and Hard Times," which accurately explains the importance of supporting foreign trade and avoiding pitfalls of protectionism. The editorial says, "Today, trade is collapsing, one more casualty of the global financial crisis. That is especially bad news for countries that are dependent on trade for economic growth, including many developing nations that had nothing to do with the financial mess." I completely agree. Foreign trade is important for developing nations in getting access to outside markets for their goods. While many developing nations have a service sector that contributes to their respective gross domestic product (GDP) and provides an income for families, developing nations need access to outside markets in order to have a viable chance to truly realize GDP growth and move in a positive trajectory from developing to industrialized status. (Picture of the vocational student who made the bowl is from one of my trips to Uganda)

The Times editorial correctly explains, "Foreign trade has been a potent force for good over more than half a century. It propelled Japan's emergence from the ashes of World War II and helped it become an industrial powerhouse. It is the cornerstone of development strategies from China to Brazil. It is what links countries all over the world in a network of production that underpins global prosperity." Many industrialized countries that enjoy the benefits of a thriving economy (despite a contrary perception during our global economic recession) would not have grown from a destroyed foundation caused by conflict or natural disaster. In addition to Japan as noted above, Germany, with the financial help of the United States, Canada, and European nations, relied on foreign trade to rebuild socially and economically after World War II.

Moreover, according to the Times, "Exports from the United States declined 30 percent and imports 34 percent in the first quarter of the year from the previous three months. Imports into countries that use the euro from outside the area were down 21 percent compared with the first quarter of last year. At this rate, the World Trade Organization’s dire projection in March that global trade would decline 9 percent this year will soon start to look outright boastful. The drop in trade is spreading economic weakness across the world, as one country’s drop in imports translates into a fall in exports, and production, in another." Here in the United States, protectionism will muddle the situation further by restricting trade and reducing economic growth opportunities. Certainly the Ugandan girl pictured above can sell her goods on the local market to her neighbors and passing tourists, but the real potential lies in helping her gain access to outside markets such as Europe, Canada, and the United States.

The New York Times editorial notes that governments of the 20 biggest economies committed $250 million of trade finance over the next two years: "They should keep those pledges, and they may have to do more." While increasing funding may be necessary in the short-term, long-term solutions in achieving sustainable economic development lies within crafting a comprehensive private sector development strategy that facilitates access to markets through foreign trade. This is true in many developing nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haïti.

May 23, 2009

Clinton's Appointment as UN Special Envoy for Haïti is a Good Decision

I strongly support United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's appointment of former United States President Bill Clinton as the United Nations Special Envoy for Haïti. I agree with Mr. Ban when he said Mr. Clinton "will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of mobilizing international support for Haïti's economic recovery and reconstruction." President Clinton has a clear understanding of the challenges facing Haïti and he will bring a fresh perspective in creating a viable strategy that will enable 8.6 million Haïtians to rebuild their country and achieve long-term results in sustainable social and economic growth. (Picture of Ban Ki-moon (fourth from right) and Bill Clinton (fourth from left) visiting a "Multiwear" Factory at the Sonapi industrial park in Port-au-Prince, Haïti is courtesy of the United Nations/Eskinder Debebe)

Although there is a need for additional financial assistance from donors, one of the results of a comprehensive development strategy is to reduce the dependency of foreign aid and increase Haïti's gross domestic product (GDP) by investing in the country's private sector. According to the United States Department of State, Haïti's GDP by sector in 2006 was agriculture (27%), industry (8%), services (40%), and other (25%). Increasing Haïti's industry sector including textiles and other manufacturing should be a priority to the country's economic development strategy.

The Haïtian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), which allows duty-free treatment by the United States for certain products from Haiti, was an important piece of legislation to stimulate Haïti's trade with the United States. More efforts should be made to allocate international aid to projects that focus on private sector development including public-private partnerships. Many of the students who participate in my Entrepreneurship and Business Development seminars at CFDE University in Port-au-Prince, Haïti have the knowledge on how to rebuild and strengthen Haïti, but they require the necessary tools to implement their ideas.

In the area of trade, the Haïtian government has made efforts in increasing trade relations along their shared border with the Dominican Republic. In my discussions with Haïti's government officials regarding commerce and trade development, the conversation focused on increasing trade opportunities with the DR. However, Haïti needs to develop bilateral trade relations with other nations. Haïti needs trade agreements similar to the HOPE Act with other industrialized nations to import Haïtian goods without punitive tariffs or customs duty. With globalization, Haïti must position itself better in a competitive global economy. For example, regardless of the future status of Cuba's political system, Cuba's economy will soon create foreign direct investment opportunities. How will Haïti benefit from a growing Cuba economy? How will Haïti compete with Cuba? Furthermore, despite the HOPE Act, exporting Haïtian-made goods is increasing difficult considering the strength of Chinese-made goods and import channels into the United States and European Union.

Haïti has great resources to build a sustainable tourism industry, which I addressed in my blog post, "Haïti: Using Tourism as a Means for Sustainable Social and Economic Development." Using tourism, particularly ecotourism, Haïti has good resources to implement its ecotourism strategy. I reiterate my call for the Haïtian Diaspora to take an active in the recovery and reconstruction of Haïti. The Haïtian government must make it a priority to create opportunities for active Diaspora engagement. The Diaspora holds valuable resources (intellectual, financial, professional, charitable, etc.) to develop solution-oriented strategies to aid Haïtians at home and abroad.

Mr. Clinton's strategy should include using technology to modernize Haïti's education, health care, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure, restoration and protection of natural resources, and private sector. Great platforms and products exist in information and communication technology (particularly in mobile solutions), renewable energy, and clean technology to stimulate and facilitate social and economic growth. Again, the success of any initiative requires a systematic collaborative approach with measured benchmarks and defined accountable results.

Historically, international aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations have made uncorroborated efforts to rebuild Haïti. While some efforts have yielded great successes, many organizational efforts have resulted in failure either by the lack of a comprehensive strategy that includes a defined deliverables, value proposition, implementation benchmarks and measurements for success, or organizations were too busy funding their internal operations. As UN Special Envoy for Haïti, Mr. Clinton will bring a systematic approach to Haïti's economic recovery and reconstruction efforts including defined, achievable goals and realistic implementation timelines. (Photo of Ban Ki-moon (fourth from left), Bill Clinton (second from left), and Wyclef Jean (third from left) visiting a Cité Soleil School feeding scheme in Port-au-Prince, Haïti is courtesy of United Nations/Eskinder Debebe)

May 17, 2009

SeaMo: Connecting the Microfinance Community

I serve on the Advisory Council of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle, which is a collaboration of local governments and the private sector to promote the Seatte metropolitan area as one of North America's premier international gateways and commercial centers. During the Advisory Council's quarterly meeting held on May 13, 2009, Ryan Calkins, Executive Director of SeaMo, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, gave a presentation on microfinance. Founded in 2007, SeaMo's mission is to connect the (Seattle) microfinance community through events, online services and opportunities for collaboration by hosting networking events and speakers series, and providing a website that serves as an events calendar, jobs board, community forum, and news source. (Photo courtesy of the Esperanza International Foundation)

According to Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a Washington, D.C.-based policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world's poor, "'Microfinance' is often defined as financial services for poor and low-income clients. In practice, the term is often used more narrowly to refer to loans and other services from providers that identify themselves as 'microfinance institutions' (MFIs). These institutions commonly tend to use new methods developed over the last 30 years to deliver very small loans to unsalaried borrowers, taking little or no collateral. These methods include group lending and liability, pre-loan savings requirements, gradually increasing loan sizes, and an implicit guarantee of ready access to future loans if present loans are repaid fully and promptly. More broadly, microfinance refers to a movement that envisions a world in which low-income households have permanent access to a range of high quality financial services to finance their income-producing activities, build assets, stabilize consumption, and protect against risks. These services are not limited to credit, but include savings, insurance, and money transfers."

During his presentation, Mr. Calkins said, "Microfinance is a key breakthrough in economic development in emerging markets." He explained that without microfinance, consumers in poor countries have to pay with cash only and businesses have to hold large inventory supplies, which reduces profitability. With an increase in established MFIs, developing economic markets have experienced accelerated growth over the past several years. Mr. Calkins noted that Seattle is a hub for MFIs or supporters of MFIs by listing a few Seattle-based organizations:
Having traveled to some of the world's least developed regions, I have personally witnessed how individuals are utilizing microfinance strategies to build entrepreneurship opportunities in an attempt to breaking the cycle of poverty. There are many success stories worldwide of men and women (CGAP claims 66 percent of microfinance customers are women) taking small loans, some as little as US$50, and creating sustainable small businesses. However, critics of microfinance suggest that these loans assist a disproportionately small number of people compared to the overall demand. Comparing the financial amount invested, critics argue, microloans have made little impact on increasing gross domestic product rates. Furthermore, recognizing that microfinance may provide an avenue for individual or small groups to increase financial equity, microfinance falls short in helping borrowers rise above poverty. In essence, more must be done to create a thriving middle-class in developing nations. I will address these issues and formulate viable solutions in a future post on this blog.

May 14, 2009

Ericsson and WWF Sweden Partner to Promote Climate-Positive Solutions to Reduce Global CO2 Emissions

Many multinational corporations are making strategic moves to reduce their impact on the environment, improving labor standards, and increasing community involvement by implementing corporate responsibility programs. Ericsson, a Stockholm, Sweden-based provider of technology and services to telecom operators worldwide announced it was enhancing its corporate responsibility and sustainability program by partnering with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Sweden, which is the national office for the WWF, an international conservation organization "to encourage the smart use of telecom solutions across industries to reduce global CO2 emissions. To achieve this, they will work together to promote climate-smart telecom solutions, and introduce the concept of being 'climate-positive' to solution-driven companies in the ICT sector," according to a press release dated May 14, 2009.

The press release explains, "The partnership covers three key areas: a methodology for calculating CO2 savings from emission avoidance; the integration of low-carbon telecommunication solutions in climate strategies for cities; and a support platform for partnerships that promote a low-carbon economy."

While the information and communications technology (ICT) industry is responsible for approximately 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, the partnership will "help reduce more than 15 percent of the remaining 98 percent emitted by non-ICT industries and the public. The partnership aims to encourage other sectors, such as transport, buildings and energy, to better utilize ICT infrastructure and thereby reduce overall CO2 emissions."

"Ericsson and WWF Sweden estimate that smart use of broadband-enabled services can reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of 10-100, i.e. the use of a telecom service that emits 1kg of CO2 may enable a reduction of 10-100kg of CO2. Fixed and mobile broadband can play a leading role in improving basic services while reducing CO2 emissions - both by replacing physical products with services and by helping society to use resources more efficiently - and can accelerate the shift from physical to virtual infrastructure and services."

The partnership "will explore how to measure how an ICT company can help reduce significant amounts of CO2 in society with low carbon ICT solutions, thereby becoming 'climate positive', i.e. the use of a company's solutions are promoted and used in a way that result in much greater CO2 reductions than the company's internal emissions."

Ericsson's announcement concludes, "This partnership builds on seven years of interaction between WWF Sweden and Ericsson. Over the next six months, the partnership will focus on intensified effort to get ICT on the global policy agenda for the upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen later this year." This is a good example how a corporation is partnering with a nongovernmental organization to make a positive difference on our planet.

May 12, 2009

Indians Slow to Embrace Mobile Banking

The India-based Economic Times posted an article on May 10, 2009 about how "the much-touted mobile banking" has "yet to take off in the country owing to lack of customer awareness and staff training."

"Union Bank of India, the first state-owned bank which introduced mobile-based banking services in the market, has so far added only 1,700 customers in mobile banking, bank's, General Manager (Personal Banking) S Govindan said. 'Many customers are still finding it difficult to download the software. Also, the staff needs to be trained in a better way to help customers. As the customer-awareness improve, I hope that the response will pick up,'" explained Govindan.

According to Union Bank of India's website, "UMobile - a milestone in banking - provides the customers a secure and convenient means of inquiries and fund transfer from anywhere anytime. Customers can transfer money to Union Bank of India accounts, check their account balance and do a mini- statement, all this happens by way of secured messaging from their mobile handsets. UMobile is a secured payment channel since the customer does not compromise with his debit card number or ATM pin."

To better promote the mobile banking service, Union Bank of India "plans to launch 20 dedicated branches across the country in the next 10-15 days where trained staff will help customers understand the product." One problem may be the fact that customers of the Union Bank of India's UMobile service are required to download an application into their mobile device. I suspect many technical problems would be eliminated if the UMobile service was available directly through a web browser.

State Bank of India (SBI), India's largest commercial bank, also reports a poor response for its mobile banking product, SBI FreedoM, that was launched in December 2008 in association with local technology-service provider, Spanco Telesystems. The Economic Times article explains, "SBI has so far received only 10,000 registrations for mobile banking but hopes to attract more clients to avail the service in the months ahead, an SBI official said. 'It will take some time for this (mobile banking) to pick up. People are not techno-savvy and keep apprehensions about the safety of this service,' [a] SBI official said. As of now, SBI does not have any plans to launch special programmes to attract more customers into mobile banking fold but will look at these options in future, the official said."

May 9, 2009

An Innovation Contest to Improve Utilization of Government Data

The District of Columbia is engaging the public by soliciting "their input into the problems and ideas they have that can be addressed with technology and then to build the best community platform for submitting 311 service requests to the city," according to Apps for Democracy (apps09), an innovation contest sponsored by the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), which is responsible for DC technology infrastructure and iStrategyLabs, a digital agency focused on providing clients with interactive strategy, experiential marketing and content creation services.

In 2008, the OCTO asked iStrategyLabs how it could make's Data Catalog useful for the citizens, visitors, businesses and government agencies of Washington, DC. The Data Catalog contains all manner of open public data featuring real-time crime feeds, school test scores, and poverty indicators, and is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The solution was to create Apps for Democracy – a contest that cost Washington, DC $50,000 and returned 47 iPhone, Facebook and web applications with an estimated value in excess of $2,600,000 to the city.

Apps09's goal was to receive responses from 5,000 Washington, DC citizens during the week tof May 4, 2009. iStrategyLabs will produce a citywide "Social Citizen Sunday" event on May 17, 2009, during which people will be encouraged to capture insights from their neighbors. The team that captures the deepest and broadest insights possible will be rewarded with a $1,000 "Social Citizen Award" and public recognition incentives for their participation. Technology developers will compete through three rounds of code jams with the following prize structures:

  • Round 1: First prize $3,000, Second prize $2,000
  • Round 2: First prize $3,000, Second prize $2,000
  • Final Round: First prize $10,000
  • Optional Grant: $14,000 over nine months

Awards will be granted by a panel chosen by the OTCO. If one individual or team wins first place in round 1, round 2 and the final round they are guaranteed $16,000. In addition, the OCTO will have the option to award a Community Grant administered by iStrategyLabs for a total of $14,000 over a nine month period for further development and support of the winning application. The winning team has the opportunity to win $30,000 total. Entrants will be judged on the following criteria:

  1. Usability of 311 API integration;
  2. Level of consideration of input from gathered from the DC community;
  3. Utilization of data from the DC Data Catalog;
  4. Usefulness to the citizens, visitors and government of Washington, DC; and
  5. Appeal of the application

You can follow Apps for Democracy on Twitter.

Apps For Democracy Community Edition from Peter Corbett on Vimeo.

May 5, 2009

Using Technology to Promote Government Transparency and Citizen Engagement

In my November 8, 2008 entry, "Obama: A Tech President?" I wrote about President Obama's plan to promote government transparency by using online social networking and electronic media channels. In his weekly address made on April 25, 2009, Mr. Obama said, "To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative." The White House's official blog said the Obama administration moved several steps forward by creating a presence on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, iTunes, and blogs available through I commend the Obama administration for using available technological tools to create an opportunity for American citizens to have their voices heard.

The White House Blog explains, "Technology has profoundly impacted how – and where – we all consume information and communicate with one another. is an important part of the Administration's effort to use the internet to reach the public quickly and effectively – but it isn't the only place. There's a lot to talk about right now. From an economic crisis to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the President and his Administration have a full plate – not the least of which is making sure the public stays up-to-date and involved in our efforts."

Critics argue that electronic media simply increases multiple channels for the President to promote his agenda. While this may be carry some truth, opening the doors to the public will create an unprecedented level of transparency. American citizens from outside of Washington, D.C. should have a voice on how their presidency operates and using technology such as electronic media will help facilitate this process of openness. In addition, utilizing the latest online communication tools will have a direct impact on increasing citizen participation in governmental affairs. After all, it is our government. I highly encourage governments worldwide to adopt a similar strategy of using technology to promote government transparency and citizen engagement.