René Seifert

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

Archive for the 'India' Category

Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya: Mission Accomplished

After two months of fine-tuning and observation a fresh update: Things are advancing well in Vatsalya, the computers are in use, technology is working and the girls are happy :-) Moreover, from April onwards the training will be enhanced to five times a week by two teachers so that our joint efforts will reap the maximum benefit. These teachers will be paid for long-term by another sponsor, Larsen & Toubro, which Vatsalya was able to attract. Therefore I feel safe to say that by now we can declare the project for the goals we have defined successfully accomplished.

As mentioned in the last update from January, we invested EUR 220 into a new roof for the school patio which has been built and is giving shade to the little children during their school hours from the almost perpendicular sun of South India. Here is the official “Thank You-letter” from the organization:

Recognition Letter Vatsalya Roof

Needless to say that I will regularly come by to Vatsalya and assist wherever I can. Thank you once again for your generous support so that we we were jointly able to make this worthwhile project happen.

Visit to Parikrma Foundation in Bangalore

After Shukla Bose’s inspiring talk at TED India in Novemer 2009, I finally managed today to follow her kind invitation to visit one of the four schools which she has set up in the last six years after the inception of Parikrma Foundation. Check out the website, it’s amazingly well executed, like everything else I have seen today at the tour of  the “Adobe Parikrma Centre For Learning”. (Here is the entire picture set.)

Parikrma Foundation Bangalore: Complex

Given the top-notch organizational standard, one can tell that Shukla has spent a major part of her life in corporate life before she decided to do something that makes a true difference to others. Hence, the place is an amazing mix of high-quality education and dedication of its mostly volunteers as well as salaried full-time teachers. The right attitude for all involved seems of utmost importance for the organization.

Parikrma Foundation: Classroom

“You can’t buy passion”, explains Shukla, and leads by example how focussed and loving she treats each and every of the children, ask them questions, answers the children’s questions back, encourages critical reasoning, a healthy portion of scepticism, gives them a hug and sometimes tender kiss on the cheek.

Parikrma Foundation: Shukla Bose & Rene Seifert

Most importantly, the children feel welcome at this place and encouraged to blossom. As normal as it sounds, it is not. These children have all one thing in common: They hail from very poor families, with an average income of Rs. 800/- (~ EUR 13) per month, and would without Parikrma at best see a school from the outside.

I really like the approach Shukla and her team are taking to their programme: Instead of describing problems and design solutions, they start from a desirable result: Enable children from an underprivileged background to attend college and work their way backwards to overcoming the roadblocks to the objective.

Besides an amazing curriculum which for example is able to teach children from ground zero English in three months, it includes most importantly the family background of the kids as well. It means integrating the parents into the process to convince them of the long term benefit of a good education (lower drop-out rates) to sending alcoholic fathers to therapies and have them afterwards build and run kitchens which feed all the children during school-hours.

Parikrma Foundation: Children at Sports

After my great experience with our charity-project “Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya” today’s visit was an eye-opener how something based on good intentions can scale into a significant changer of society like Parikrma. Shukla has in my impression done an amazing job in building a platform where new ideas and improvements are constantly absorbed, a platform which is open to the work of volunteers, some of them – which made it really sympathetic to me – guys with long hair and girls with tattoos (rather a rarity in India). These would be assigned to work in well crafted “modules”. Those can range from providing “slower” pupils a bit of teaching-tailwind within a programme of a few months to just have one educational lesson of 90 minutes on a relevant subject.

Parikrma Foundation: Classroom

If you are interested in Parikrma, my fullest endorsement to donate or help. Here is how it works:

  • Sponsoring one child per year including all expenses like books,  school-uniform, teachers’ salary to the partial rent: $500 per year
  • Sponsoring a whole class where the donor will receive regular reports on the children’s progress: $15,000 per year (30 children with $500 each)
  • Needless to mention, any amount of money is welcome.
  • Volunteering, as described above, also with people from abroad is encouraged.

For all this, ideally visit Parikrma’s website where there is more information and even the possibility to donate online.

Thanks to Shukla and her team, keep up the amazing work and let’s keep in touch. I am sure there is something where we can work together in the future.

Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya: The New Year ahead

Happy New Year to all of you, and all the best for 2010. A quick update from my side on what has happened in the last weeks with our project “Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya”.

  • The girls are fine, I just went to see them on December 22nd and they were – although in vast majority Hindu – very excited about upcoming Christmas. When I asked what they had learned so far with their new computers, they explained me how to start the machine, change the background colour of the desktop and equally knew who invented the micro-processor and when :-)
  • The computers are all up and running, two of them keep on disconnecting the WiFi-connection. We are in touch with Wipro based on the warranty to get this fixed.
  • Thanks to our network-infrastructure wizard Sumanth, Nokia Siemens Network (NSN) has committed a desktop computer to us, which will replace the current machine acting as the server. We are waiting for NSN to “de-frost” this desktop from its assets.
  • Although we can see initial traction of the girls interacting with the netbooks, we have decided the replace the current teacher and from April have a DAILY 2-hours curriculum. This intention reflects adequately both the importance and the potential that lies in technology-education for children.
  • Hence: If you know any reputable computer school or computer training institution in Bangalore, which would be able to provide a female teacher (against payment) on a daily bases, drop me a mail under rene.seifert [at] gmail.com

The Vatsalya Children’s Home primarily combines housing and school education for the girls whom we have been supporting in the current project. However, the institution runs in addition daily schooling for children from the surrounding slums on its compound. Shashi, the Secretary of Vatsalya, had asked me if I could support her in building a simple roof above the patio where their lessons take place. So far the kids were exposed to the burning sun, which – South India being South India – tends to be pretty hot. So I committed Rs. 15,000 (EUR 220) from our remaining funds which would allow to close the funding requirement and start with the construction work asap.

From our current financials, we therefore stand at a remaining amount of EUR 756.20 , see the overview on Google Docs. As we have the foreseeable cost of paying the teacher for the daily curriculum from April onwards, I propose to “keep the powder dry” and refrain from any new expenditure unless we get clearer visibility on this.

Wish you a phenomenal year ahead, and I will be happy to keep you updated on Vatsalya and “our girls” :-)

Soma Kerala Palace: Miserable Management-Failure

Ever been to a 5-star place which is run by a bunch of amateurs? Then welcome to Soma Kerala Palace in India. It takes 4 minutes and 32 seconds to do a full round on the perimeter of the island on which the resort is located. That might give you an idea of the size of the place which just opened less than two months ago. Check out its website, the resort looks really as beautiful as the pictures promise. It took apparently seven years to dry out the swamp, set up a solid foundation on which the existing structure with the buildings could be erected. My highest respect for this sophisticated undertaking, the aesthetics in design as well as the composition of space and architecture. Unfortunately, here my charming remarks on Somatheeram Palace come to an abrupt halt.

Just finished today a 10 Ayurveda treatment which went really well and deserves a separate post in full positive tone. Yet, for the first time, since I can think, I felt stuck in a holiday-place that I don’t like, but sort of “had to” stay because I wanted to finish a project – namely this Ayurveda treatment. Back how it all started: During out „7 Dwarfs-Tour“ two months ago we dropped our friend Maks in Somatheeram (Kovalam). I saw the place, really liked it. Moreover, Maks was so delighted about the experience that I decided to try such an Ayurveda-treatment as well. What can happen better to a company like Somatheeram in the first place to be referred through word-of-mouth? So I wrote for a booking in the same resort, but got to know from its office that it was fully booked over Christmas, yet at the same time there was a new sister-resort which would offer the same sort of treatments – Soma Kerala Palace. Well, so given the – in my perception – powerful brand of Somatheeram which was supposed to stand for a high-quality Ayurveda-experience, I gave it a go.

Arriving on December 22nd, I pretty soon started to see problems. To be balanced and fair for the thrashing which is to start in the next paragraph: The Ayurveda-clinic as a unit is well run by the Chief Physician Dr. R. Sreelatha of Somatheeram with two both phenomenal and warm-hearted therapists Bijo and Shaji. These guys have not just been massaging their arms and hands off, by now they have seen me longer naked than all the girlfriends in my lifetime together ;-) Also the yoga-teacher Varghese Thomas is a true treasure who loves what he does, teaches with great enthusiasm, explains very well and tries to compensate as much as he can the massive shortcomings of the resort. These two were the only consistent daily highlights.

Let’s get started, and I know that this is not going to be particularly nice. With my 400,000 miles of annual travelling, I have never seen a place where the gap between the effort to construct a place and the effort to run a place is as huge as the Grand Canyon. To let no doubt about the latter: Somatheeram Palace is awfully run. Management as a function of business is close to non-existent. To define some sort of benchmark for my expectation based on the Somatheeram brand and the price the resort charges (around EUR 160 per night including treatments): Provide a consistent high-quality Ayuveda experience in a relaxing environment. Unfortunately, there is neither anything consistent, nor high-quality nor relaxing.

Let me showcase the series of defaults with a few examples:

  • Somebody’s ceiling is somebody else’s floor: As beautiful as the houses are, they have one major construction flaw which is a purely wooden ceiling. So if you occupy the ground floor you can understand every word spoke above you, with every step up there you feel that an elephant is trampling on you. Not so cool if the family above you decides to get up at 5.50 am.
  • If Somatheeram positions itself as a serious Ayurveda place, then it is not comprehensible to me why it accepts families with hordes of kids where not even their parents are into any Ayurveda-activity whatsoever, but are just paying guests for the resort to fill up empty capacity – often just for a 1 night-stay. On several occasions days, we had some four families with I guess 15 kids in the age between 3 and 15 years. So let’s call the experience “Playground with adjacent Ayurveda”. Contrast that with e.g. the Ayurveda place Jindal in Bangalore which does not allow kids at all – for a good reason. I am really surprised that the management of Somatheeram jeopardizes the brand with such a dilution of its positioning. If you want to host plenty of kids, don’t call your place something with “Somatheeram”, but “Kumar’s Familiy Paradise” or so. Then I will surely not come for Ayurveda  and equally won’t have any reason to complain.
  • Although I had diligently inquired beforehand if there was internet-connectivity, it has been a catastrophic experience. In the first few days, it did not work at all, then just with a USB-modem on the reception-computer which I could use and then not at all again. The so called “internet café” is a joke: two computers stuck in a dark room with a neon lamp which hurts in the eyes, modems, routers, printers, cables on the floor – an entire mess. Also, just for the professionalism of my beloved management: On the computer on the right side, there are plenty of Excel-files with the occupancy-list including name of all guests for all days in November. Openly accessible straight from the desktop …Over the 10 days, the internet worked just over a few hours per day or not at all with an overall uptime of some 3 %. Completely useless, but don’t think anybody cares about fixing it. Somehow this whole “internet-café” as a concept is anyway stuck in the 90s. Where is the problem – like any reasonable hotel does it nowadays – to provide WiFi-internet in each room? I would be willing to pay up to 15 EUR per day for the convenience in case it “just works”.

Sadly, very few things just work at Soma Kerala Palace which according to the saying “the fish stinks from the head” is due to a manager who is friendly by nature, tries his best, but is clearly not up to the job. He is too junior and inexperienced to run a resort of this sophistication. This reflects his selection of staff who is even less up to the job, the absence of team-wide attitude, the absence of cross-department communication, the absence of any visible training, the the absence of defined quality-standards and the absence of continuous benchmarking against those. The result: Random results which fluctuate between OK and terrible. Some more examples:

  • The room-service forgot to replenish the two water bottels, no big deal. I called the house keeping under “16” and asked the gentleman on the other end of the line if he could be so kind and bring those. The not too elaborate response: “Okokok”. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Just the typical retard-answer which is a mix between “I have no clue what you want from me” and “Kiss my ass”.
  • My expectation would have been that there is some integrated Ayurveda experience which streches from the doctor, to the restaurant to the yoga trainer. The fact of the matter is that these three don’t seem to be coordinating anything among them. Result e.g. with the restaurant: It took the two lovely Austrian ladies Christine and Bettina (who have been suffering equally) and me five days to kick the restaurant in some shape in order to come up with some basic (!) hospitality-organization for pre-ordering our dishes. The quality of food, in turn, fluctuates between sometimes delicious and sometimes given our Ayurvedic intentions way too fat, or let’s rather say: No clue about Ayurveda-cooking. There seems to never have taken place any training for the cooks how to prepare proper Ayurvedic food. And when the cook changes and you order the same meal, you are facing a virgin experience on your plate.If this restaurant had to economically survive not as the monopoly on an island, but somewhere in central Kochin and Bangalore, it would – after one week of its operations – entertain exactly zero guests.
  • Then there are serious attitude problems on Somatheeram Palace: One night, we had a heavy thunderstorm so that the floor of our lovely yoga pavilion had become wet. The awesome yoga teacher was around already at 6.30 am, one hour before the class, and kindly asked the guy at the reception if he could have someone dry the floor. This guy, however, decided to sit on his ass and basically think: “What is this yoga guy giving me instructions, me the bog honcho at my desk” and not doing anything about. It was not till I came at 7.30 am and started to shout at him that things would start moving. The biggest problem: I can’t imagine anything which I want to do less than shout at people in general, not to mention during a holiday which was supposed to be entirely aimed at relaxation.
  • The bunch of families mentioned above had populated the swimming pool and left a battlefield of garbage, empty cups and used towels behind them. Bettina went to the pool the next day in the afternoon at 4 pm (!) and realized that nothing of it had been cleaned. As she understandably refused to sit in the midst of trash, she kicked the manager’s butt. What happened next is hyper-typical of the management style: All of a sudden three hectic creatures came running to the spot with panic in their eyes for impromptu-cleaning. No systematic approach to nothing. No processes at all. Instead, the management is improvising its way through the day all the time.
  • Check out this picture, it’s so telling about all I wrote so far and serves as an epitome for all the consistent neglect. This is the lovely water lily pond right in front of the reception (background).Soma Kerala Palace: Garbage everywhereWhat do we see in the right bottom corner? An empty water bottle swimming quietly on the surface, each and every member of the staff passing by several times from the early morning and even after half a day, the crap hadn’t been removed. It eventually did when I told the manager to his surprise that there was an empty bottle floating in front of his nose. Basically, Soma Kerala Palace is littered with trash in bits and pieces all over the place. The staff is, by contrast, quite helpful in creating it: I couldn’t believe my eyes what the waiter opened the plastic seal of the water bottle, just to drop it right on the lawn.
  • The same manager, constantly both apologetic and stressed by nature, really had the audacity to reply to one of the Austrian ladies as an excuse for all the shortcomings: “I have so much to do, I can’t do everything.” Clear proof his overstraining to the job. No wonder he has too much to do as he is sitting 80 % of the time in the reception, checking guests in and our and just doing operational stuff like answering phone calls (which he does well by the way). Effect: Zero exercise of any leadership which would deserve the notion of “running an operation”.

Although there are more examples I could tell, they are getting equally annoying to recount as they are annoying to read. In the essence, it always comes back to the same three issues: no customer-centricity, terrible management and as a result lack of quality. As a guest of Somatheeram I constantly had this feeling of disbelief: “Come on, guys, this is not true! Get a grip on yourself and just do your work properly.”

We heard several times the once more apologetic argument “sorry, we just opened two months ago”, but you can stretch this argument only so far to a finite extent. The preparation for a hospitality-business is NOT finished by building some nice houses on an island, ship a bunch of untrained amateurs in who pretend to run it and have your first guests be you guinea pigs. I would be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt if I saw the remote attempt to improve things beyond the ad-hoc problem fixing in any systematic manner. As things are going on, guests will hear the excuse “sorry, we just opened 3 years ago” in 2012.

If I was the owner of Soma Kerala Palace, I would be extremely worried about the state of my resort. Especially given the time, cost and effort to build Soma Kerala Palace in the first place. It feels like you intend to cook the best dinner in the world, buy the best ingredients, hire the best cooks, prepare everything according to the most delicious recipes. But at serving each and every course, one meter away from the table, the waiter stumbles and spills it all on the carpet. If I was the owner of Somatheeram Palace, I would emergency-parachute my best and most senior people in to take over, put professional practises in place, exchange key-people and kick a lot of asses for the next weeks to come.

But me being me, this is neither my task nor my responsibility. Me being me got enough from Soma Kerala Palace and will for sure never come close to anything where it reads “Somatheeram”. And if asked for advise, I would actively discourage my friends to go there.

TED India with Inspiration for Profit and Non-Profit

Even after a week of TED India, I feel the inspiration of this unique event still hasn’t left its grip on me. On the weekend, there came via e-mail the request from the TED-team to rate the event, it took me some 10 minutes in all various categories and questions, but the last one was certainly the most important. Besides all the dissecting of single aspects of the event, the holistic question was “How would you rate your overall TED India experience?” On the given scale I gave it the best marks with “off the charts”. This applied for the venue, the Infosys Campus in Mysore, as well.

The Infosys Campus in Mysore

(All pictures of the event, here on my Flickr-set.)

What makes this event so fundamentally unique is the mix of phenomenal speakers in a broad array of disciplines combined with an extremely open discussion culture with the attendees, around 1,000. In terms of the latter: The norm is to just sit down e.g. at lunch or before a session and start a conversation with the people left and right of you. Every time, I felt it was interesting what they had to say, moreover the conversation was characterized by mutual curiosity. The topics started mostly with “what do you do” (without the sales-pitch to it) or “where do you come from”. A phenomenal review of the event which speaks from my heart here at GodInChief from my dear friend Vishal Gondal.

TEDIndia: Day 1 - Vishal Gondal & Rene Seifert

For instance during the last night at the party, I spoke to a PhD in biology who has been running a field study in South India how to reconcile the two apparently contradicting systems of wildlife conservation and that of agriculture for the neighbouring farmers. (There seems to be one …)

Plenty of such exciting conversations on how to lift the life of the underprivileged, especially through grass-root-projects which create some self-sustaining momentum. Those can have an approach of “one person at a time” to scalable models. A brief update at this point on our own charity “Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya”: We are optimizing tiny little bits and pieces. Being an anal German we bought some buttons from felt which we installed below the table-legs to stop them rock, got some pillows for the chairs so that the very little girls would not have to have their arms at the level of their ears to reach the keyboard.

In fact, it was Petra who who took care of it during her and her husband’s Jürgen visit to Bangalore in the last weeks. Jürgen with his IT-network expertise installed a new, more robust WiFi-router which is better suited to serve 12 concurrent connections. Last, but not least: This month, the computer training started with an experienced female teacher twice a week.

Also, I would not like to withhold the official “thanking letter” from Shashi in the name of the institution.

Thanking Letter Vatsalya

What TED’s inspiration taught me or at least recalled to keep in consideration: If you do business for profit, there is always some higher calling beyond the P&L. Go out, find this mission and inspire your employees, your customers and all your other stakeholders with it. Your following will be manifold.

When you are doing well, there is ample of space of doing good. Go and understand what is what you do best in your organization. Find a way to apply a tiny portion of time and resources from it. Find a way to transfer this abilily in order to enable those who need this little kick-start before they can get lifted on their own.

That’s something I have just embodied in a recent business plan. In one year down the line I will have to be measured by my actions resulting from the easy part called words.

TED India: First Impressions from Mysore

It’s been some 6 hours that I arrived at Infosys’ Campus in Mysore, the venue for the TED India conference. The campus is out of this world, when going through the gate “you are leaving the Indian sector” and it appears as neat as Disney World – although the Infosysians roaming around are way smarter ;-)

Obviously, I am no conference newbie. But every event has its own culture and my experience has been to look and watch in the first place, keep a bit of a low profile to understand the dos and don’ts and then fully immersing into the action. So far my first impression has been fantastic. You just start a conversation with anybody on where they come from, what they do or what interests them. What is a good thing – and I hate anything else – that the conversations are genuinely personal and nobody tries to “sell” himself, lest any product or service.

I guess one little anecdote illustrates my point quite well: When I took the bus back from the opening party to the campus, there was a slim Indian gentleman sitting there. I asked politely if the chair was vacant, he confirmed politely and we introduced each other by name: “Rama – René”. He made an extremely humble, maybe even slightly shy impression to me, and we started to talk in a real curious two-way conversation. After 3 minutes or so it turned out that this gentleman was Vilayanur Ramachandran, one of the leading neuroscientists of the world. He told me about his studies of the human brain with his approach to learn from deviant behaviour in a systematic way about the brain function and arrive to general conclusions for the ‘normal’ case. Rama held a talk today in the pre-conference programme; and here he is in a TED-talk of 2007.

We came then to some older studies of his where he looked at the function of humour which he explained in an amazing way of cultural evolution. But then we didn’t stay too long too theoretical and started to exchange hilarious jokes. One of them which the Professor told me is the sort of jokes I usually tell and I had to promise not spread it by giving “credit” to him. Promised.

As I mentioned Twitter, Rama said that he was registered, but didn’t understand if he had to admit people who follow him, what was public and what not. This was of course my little moment of glory where I could share my experience with the microblogging service and explain all open points. So my initial take: TED is predominantly about good, mutual conversations where a pinch of humour doesn’t do any harm either.

An amazing first evening, and I am really really looking forward to tomorrow, with Day 1 of the conference program. By the way, the entire Day 1 will be broadcast live online.

Funny to sick Videos from our 7 Dwarves India-Trip

Errr, I guess there was still something. It’s already one week back that the 7 dwarves finished their 7 days in South India with a memorable trip through Bangalore, Goa and Kerala. Here we are all together on the famous Wednesday flee market of Anjuna.

The 7 Dwarfs in Goa: Anjuna Flee Market

Who wants to have at all the pics, here we are, as usual I put them together on a Flickr-set. But as the tradition goes, when Dirk (“The Schornsteininger”) and I get together on the road, we produced also some new moving pictures. For one, some footage which I took back in January now found the day of light after Dirk put his magic on it with extremely neat production-technique. The “G Wave”, G for “Gay”. This one goes out to all the Indian men holding hand in the streets.

Then, fast reverse December 2008 in Dubai, the “Howard Seifendale” was born, with his first appearance “Räkling” (=lolling) in the lobby of the Raffles Dubai.

Now, the Seifendale 2009 is back. For the first time together with the Schornsteininger in front of the camera, and the “Räkling” gets more intense as ever before. Right there in the sand of Goa with leaving a legacy of sacred inscripts for the future generations to come.

I was never shy of making an idiot out of myself, but I believe even for my standards I hit a new high or low – however you like ;-)

Inauguration: Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya – connected

We could only get here together. Today was with fullest honesty one of the happiest days of my life. When I started to conceive this project, I had a remote idea of how the picture of its accomplishment would look like. It would look like this.

Highlight: The Girls' first access to the Netbooks

All the pictures of the inauguration here on my Flickr-set. Today we solemnly celebrated in the traditional Indian way the inauguration of something new. This novelty felt like two well crafted pieces of a puzzle came together to form a harmonious whole. One the one side, the phenomenal preparation of the Vatsalya team with setting up the room, installing broadband internet connection and putting tables with chairs in place. From the other side the delivery and installation of the Wipro netbooks. Plug and play. And it just worked. Connected to the internet, connected to view through this window of the word. From Bangalore to anywhere. Therefore, to symbolize these limitless possibilities, I set Wikipedia in English as the home page on each of the 12 browsers.

Hand-Over of Netbooks: Vatsalya Orphanage

We started out in the afternoon with some more technical installation by Sumanth and Arvind. Thanks for taking time out and supporting us with your technology expertise.

Run-up to the Inauguration

It was a special pleasure for me to have my good friend Dirk Schornstein back in Bangalore, also one of the donors for the charity, who couldn’t resist the call from his first visit in December last year when the girls told him for good bye “Come back, Uncle!”. He kept his promise and brought a present which the girls had wished for: The entire collection of Harry Potter in the children’s edition.

Run-up to the Inauguration

Indians truly understand how to elevate such an event onto a spiritual level so that it is perceived and will be remembered as something special. The girls started to get more and more exited …

Run-up to the Inauguration

… when at 4.30 pm we cut the ribbon …

Cutting the Ribbon: Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya

… and lit the holy light with offerings to the God Ganesha, prayers and chanting by the children.

Lighting the Fire: Inauguration

Then nothing could stop the girls, always in groups of 12, to sit down on the chair in front of the computers and put their little fingers for the first time in their lives onto the touchpads and see the pointer move on the screen in front of them. I will never forget their genuine joy and curiosity.

Highlight: The Girls' first access to the Netbooks

I am extremely happy to share these impressions with everybody who contributed to this project, dedicated money, time and moreover trust. In the hope not to forget anybody:

  • The 28 donors around the world who laid the indispensable financial ground.
  • The Vatsalya-team, my dear neighbour and almost sister Shashi as well as the entire board of the association who relentlessly pushed ahead from their side.
  • Wipro for the generous discount of the netbooks and its exemplary professionalism and reliability in each and every step of the process.
  • Petra (=”Petzi”) who did invaluable research work with project coordination along with her husband Jürgen.
  • And last, but not least, the 50 girls from the Vatsalya Children’s Home. Your yearning for a future provided me the momentum forward.

To all of you: This is your day. Thank you.

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 :-)

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 …

Progress
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.

Infrastructure
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.

Discipline
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.

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