René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for September, 2009

Good Progress with Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya

Things are starting to fall into place. Today, I am happy to give you an update on a project and gladly include a host of “thank yous” and acknowledgements into a variety of directions which brought us significantly further. As things often go, especially in India, being connected to the right people can make a lot of things happen.

Let me start with proposing the budget allocation for the project. In the beginning I was a bit naive to just think of raising funds only for the computers, whereas there is a whole underlying infrastructure layer beneath in order to create a real functioning “solution”. Hence, the plan is to spend the donations as follows:

Budget Vatsalya Charity

UPS, by the way is the abbreviation for “Uninterrupted Power Supply”, a connected battery system to bridge the frequent power outages in Bangalore. (The spreadshirt above is also live here on Google Docs, select the link “Budgeting” on top of the page.)

As we see, there are some EUR 250 left which we plan to use prudently for some unexpected cost. Either use it for funding another year of broadband internet or as the basis for additional computers once this first solution is in a steady state. Nothing will be wasted to unnecessary expense. Promised.

Now to address with greatest happiness the bricks which have fortunately built upon each other to form the emerging building of our solution:

  • During the “Global India Business Meeting” in June this year in Munich I got to know Mr. Girish Paranjpe, the Co-CEO of the India IT-giant Wipro. I presented our project to him via e-mail and asked if Wipro would be willing to support it with a reduced rate compared to the regular retailing price. As a professional and successful organisation like Wipro works, I got a fast response from Girish. Moreover, a generally positive one along with passing the project on to his colleagues Mr. Ashok Tripathy and Mr. Sankar Pitchaiya. Therefore, I am super-happy to announce that Wipro will deliver its netbook “Wipro e.go 7F3800” to us beginning of October at a special charity rate. Wipro e.go 7F3800
    The notebook contains a couple of cool cutting-edge innovative features. Also: With it comes full- fledged solution with an established customer care-backbone in case of ever anything breaks. Thank you so much, gentlemen from Wipro, for supporting us!
  • Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics, and former co-founder of Webwasher (later aquired by McAfee), referred me to his former colleague Martin Stecher who granted us a free test-license for the Webwasher. This piece of software is supposed to filter out that sort of stuff from the web which girls between 5 and 15 years need not get in touch with. Thank you very much indeed for your support.
  • I love technology, but I never claimed to be an engineer. So in order to get the IT-infrastructure in the orphanage up and running with setting up a client-server architecture, installing the Webwasher, connecting it to the internet, Sumanth Sudheendra is volunteering us to take this into his precious and experienced technology-hands. Thanks Sumanth for allocating your free time for the good cause.
  • Last but not least, the Vatsalya Orphanage has also been active to set the ground for the advent of the computers. As I just talked to my neighbour Shashi on Saturday: The required fast DSL-broaband internet-connection has been installed by the provider BSNL at a flat-rate. Also, the simple furnishing with tables and chairs is about to arrive these days. Thanks for following up so promptly on all these action items!

Overall, things are looking good at this stage and I am very optimistic. What is going to happen next: We are looking at October 7th as the delivery date for the computers which we will connect and make operational as fast as possible. I will keep you posted.

And once more: Sincere thanks everybody for your support for making this happen :-)

MännerMitÄhre: Comradeship climbing Germany’s Zugspitze

It’s been 4 days back, but I still have to think every day about our once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rainer, Stephan, Werner and me, four MännerMitÄhre, started out on in Ehrwald at 1,200 meters to climb Germany’s highest mountain: The Zugspitze (2,962 meters). All pictures of the tour here on Werner’s and my Flickr-sets.

From Ehrwald uphill

This tour was a far cry from a spontaneous mood of the day. The idea came up some three months ago during a joint beergarden evening. My feelings towards the project were ambiguous in the beginning as I never claimed to be overly sportive, I’ve never been. By contrast, it is safe to say that the other three comrades are “machines”: ski-tours, triathlons, mountain-biking as regular their pastimes. Hence, the last three months to the very date were for me (not for them) filled with intense preparation: running and whenever possible climbing up some mountain which would stand in the way. The other guys called this my “angst-training” :-)

Climb towards Zugspitze

In the bottom line, the fitness came to be just enough to master this tour which for me has been the most strenuous thing I’ve done since the army almost 20 years back. But it was equally one of the coolest, most rewarding things I have ever done. The physical strain in combination with the effect working one’s path step by step higher, witnessing the vegetation withdraw and the landscape resembling that of the moon till finally reach the summit, is one thing.

The true spirit of the mountain, however, derives from the collective will to make it together. From the necessity to rely on each other in case of any incident. And from cherishing the moment once you made it up to the summit together.

MännerMitÄhre on the Summit of the Zugspitze (2962 m)

When Werner right there pulled out his flask with the apricot-schnapps and passed it along, it was one of those rare honest MännerMitÄhre-moments in life. In comparison to plenty of networking-events I do attend, this setting was entirely devoid of any mutual commercial interest or a hidden agendas, but entirely dedicated to our honest comradeship.

I believe the world needs more MännerMitÄhre. Us four will be back for a mountain-tour latest next year, whereas our starting point Ehrwald should be renamed into Ährwald ;-)

What we can or should learn from China

I am still in complete awe from what I have seen in what was my first visit ever to China. A very compact programme in 10 days: Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Moganshan. All the pictures of the trip here on my Flickr-set. This would not have been possible without the valuable recommendations of several friends who have stayed for quite some time in China and shared their experience with me where to stay, where to go and – yes, big time – where to eat :-)

Dinner in South Beauty

In particular I’d like to thank Katharina Kurz, Heidi Klocker, Frank Richter and Ralf Hirt. Really appreciate the time and effort you took to write your advise together.

As much as I try to fight this tendency, perhaps it’s just human, I couldn’t help come with a package of pre-conceived notions to the Middle Kingdom. As always, reality turned out completely different: I was consistently positively surprised about the country, its people, the ubiquitously palpable momentum forward.

First Impressions of Beijing

As tons of books and articles have been written about what goes wrong in China from its human rights-record,  Tibet-policy, cuddling-up with dictators from Sudan to Myanmar,  being the protégé of North Korea, massive environmental problems, censorship, bullying of countries who oppose its stance. I don’t intend to start repeating them. I’d just like to make clear that I do agree in varying degrees with them.

However, I would like to leave the usual line of argument that whatever looks like success in China is only possible in the light of these shortcomings. More often than not, Western commentators indulge in such an average intellectual exercise in order to lean back in complacency and suggest to their audience (or rather themselves) that everything is perfectly OK how “we” do things.

My foot. I don’t intend to make a bulletproof case within the perimeters of a blog-post, especially not based on anecdotal evidence of a singular 10-day trip. However, I can warmly recommend this Economist-article from 4 weeks ago which vividly describes the rebound of Asia after the crisis from a macro perspective, China being one of the main beneficiaries. Most remarkably, there seems to indeed happen a de-coupling between the growth of the Asian tiger like China (with an expected to grow with 10 % in Q4 2009 year-on-year) and the U.S.-economy which is supposed to still contract. The article goes to conclude:

But the speed and strength of its rebound, if sustained, show that it is not chained to Uncle Sam either. If anything, the crisis has reinforced the shift of economic power from the West to the East.

Amen. So far for the overarching macro-trend which I’d like to mix with my personal observation of three countries I have been to in the last four weeks, again, insufficient for a scientific case, but maybe still not entirely off-track. Moreover, also one or the other thing to take a closer look for own application …

China prefers collective progress against the necessity to include each and every minority voice into a pluralistic debate that tends to not produce results. Moreover, the Chinese take pride in their achievements like the new International Airport in Beijing which has been inaugurated for the Olympic Summer Games last year. Indeed an amazing piece of architecture which sets new standards in size, design and functionality

Beijing Airport

What happens in Germany? Frankfurt Airport has been losing ground to international competition in the last decade, the build-out has been delayed from environmental groups, “Bürgerinitiativen” (=citizen initiatives) supported out-of-their mind courts who just a few days back ruled that the ban on night-flights be upheld.

Come to Shanghai these days, which is running up to the World Expo 2010, and you’ll hear sledgehammers 24/7, the whole city as one single construction site being re-build based on a master-plan which can be viewed at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall:

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Plan

I was equally surprised to see the quality of train stations, multi-lane highway and overpasses in Hangzhou, a 6 mn-people city 200 km south of Shanghai.

By contrast, I was shocked when I arrived in San Francisco 3 weeks ago, took a rental car to drive down Highway 101 to San Jose. The state of the road reminded me more of a developing country than a traffic-vein running through the Silicon Valley, part of the highly recognized State of California in the United States of America.

Chinese value accomplishment and have grasped the concept “no gain – no pain”. Military-like drill seems to be the norm in professions one would expect it least. The team at Beijing-airport responsible for check-in stood in line receiving their briefing for flight OS 064 to Vienna before starting their duty exactly as announced at 10.55 am. Even better, I couldn’t believe my eyes, when the train from Shanghai entered in Hangzhou station was “greeted” by 6 groups of 3 cleaners every 50 meters standing in line.

Arrival in Hangzhou: Cleaning Staff standing in Line

As soon as the train had stopped and the passengers disembarked, the ladies went on to quickly get the train ready for the return trip in Shanghai.

The fact that I know 100 per cent for sure that my German reader will shake their head in disbelief how someone (=me) finds positive words for such an “outdated inhuman treatment”, just illustrates pointingly how deep the cultural rift really is.

Respect for Public Space
Oh dear. This was the toughest part to witness, or in fact not to witness in China: cars can drive without honking and somehow (!) keep the lane, the pavements are not askew or full of potholes, nobody littering his garbage wherever it comes into existence and nobody urinating against walls in the middle of the city. I don’t intend to be neither mean nor cynical, when I say: If the Indian metropolitans in terms of infrastructure and civilized behaviour arrive in 30 years where China stands today, it should be considered an outstanding accomplishment.

Beijing: Bird's Nest

There is no paradise on earth, because every system comes with its imperfections. My personal favourite in terms of effective government is still by far Singapore as I went to write at length in this post two years ago. Maybe, also not just random, it’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew is Chinese by origin.

At the same time, I feel it’s worth showing some sort of reverence to the achievements of China, a country which has pulled itself out of deepest shit within 25 years. To see is to believe. And I can only encourage everybody to visit China to see yourself.