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This one is awesome, just released by the Schornsteiniger, a 4 minute-video which summarizes it all with our 7 days through India. This is really really super-creative and on a professional level. Enjoy, and don’t forget to switch on “HD” (high definition).
OMG, I guess after this trip I am ready to write a novel. The seven dwarfs are on your through, India, yesterday another 4 arrived to Bangalore. Together with Dirk and me. We are 6. From left: Dirk Schornstein (“The Schornsteininger”), Marcus Tober (“The Toberinger”), René Seifert (“The Seifertinger”), Maks Giordano (“The Gioradaninger”), Tobias Oswald (“The Oswaldinger”) and Arnd Benninghoff (“The Benninghofferinger”). Here during our walk in Lalbagh Botanical Garden today afternoon:
Tomorrow in Goa, Stephan Roppel (“The Ropplinger”) is going to join us. Then, the dwarf-committee is complete. We have a week for of impressions ahead of us. Today we started out in Bangalore, tomorrow we are flying on to Goa (Anjuna area) and on Thursday down to Cochin (Kerala), spend two nights there before heading in a houseboat down the backwaters and terminate our trip on Sunday in Trivandrum.
I am saying I could write a novel, as each and every of us is quite a character. Just to highlight three of the story:
- Protagonist A proclaimed that he prefers the U.S. “where I can pose in California and go to exclusive restaurants and hotels.”
- Protagonist B is an open hypochordriac who is travelling with a pharmacy which would make the medical industry proud. He carries a special application with which he rinses his nose every morning with 1 litre of potable water and makes sounds like an elephant in the swimming pool.
- Protagonist C always carries a pendulum: Every drink and every dish he gets served undergoes the scrutiny of his gear. If it goes in circles “it’s good for me”, if it goes back and forth “it’s not good for me”. Then he dismisses it.
I am not narrating this, to be very clear, to put myself by any means above any over them, especially as I am the worst nutcase of all. It’s rather to see how many different shades of deviations from some obscure concept of “normality” can emerge and we still can find an agreeable way to have a great time together.
No doubt, there won’t be single boring day in the week ahead.
This is the blog post I had hoped to avoid. For one, as I would have loved to proceed as planned and for second, starting a fight around good purposes is the last thing I ever wanted to get into. Still, in order to proceed with „Plan B“ of our Vatsalya-charity, I need to shed some light why I can’t keep to our initial intentions. These were, just for the record: providing 11 laptops from „One Laptop per Child“ (OLPC) to the Vatsalya Orphanage in Bangalore.
Preparation for the Charity with OLPC India
Sadly, when I thought what all could go wrong in the beginning, the least thing I thought of is what in fact did go wrong. All else went smooth so far: Getting the commitments, rolling the money in (it’s sitting in my bank account waiting to get spent), preparing the orphanage for the computers and so on. Yet, what I can’t deliver are the 11 OLPC computers, because OLPC India is unable to deliver them. By contrast, hereby also acknowledging its achievements, the organization has managed to secure a deal with the Indian government to roll out 250,000 laptops.
I will try not to bore you in a blame-game with details which e-mails were sent at what date and what phone calls were made on which hour, but I can assure you that Petra and I did our homework in getting the facts right BEFORE we started to communicate the project on this blog. At no point in time Mr. Satish Jha, the head of OLPC India, hinted us to any constraints in delivering less than a minimum lot of 100 computers. Through him, for instance, we received the information of the price (Rs. 16,499) including logistics to the desired destination.
OLPC India: Minimum 100 computers per order
However, when we enthusiastically posted our order to Mr. Jha, things started to go downhill as I alluded to in this blog-post four weeks ago. Now, after Mr. Jha unfortunately did not keep to his commitment to let us know how to include the 11 computers into a bigger lot of 100 units, I don’t shy away of sharing with you that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the phone conversation with him.
In the 40 minutes “conversation”, Mr. Jha spoke approximately 39.5 minutes, which to me came more as a lecture (albeit a genuinely friendly one) than the focussed attempt to solve a problem. Mr. Jha’s deep diving into intellectual nuances between the educational concepts of „Dr Negroponte“ vs. “Mr. Sugata Mitra” concluding in polished rhetoric with the well balanced synthesis that those of Dr. Negroponte were superior, was not really what I wanted to hear – lest to start from scratch convincing me of the unparalleled grandeur of the OLPC-computers. Hello? We were way beyond the sales-pitch. We wanted the laptops! Yesterday.
OLPC India: What goes wrong in the „Long Tail“
As a person, and I mean what I say, I find Mr. Jha really sympathetic, but from a managerial standpoint the 40 minutes conversation with such a „small fish“ like me for 11 computers was a waste of time – not for me, but for him. I don’t intend to pretend that I know everything, in particular better, but let me take the opportunity to share my thoughts from my entrepreneurial experience how to improve the obvious shortcomings at OLPC India for the „long tail“. By that I mean a high number of orders, which contain a small number of units that in turn seem economically unfeasible to process, manufacture and deploy one by one. In the phone call, Mr. Jha mentioned rather by the way, that he had “hundreds of other requests for small-scale orders”. I’d consider this an un-served opportunity.
- Sustainable communication: Instead of answering the same and again the same questions from long-tail customers, like me why not Mr. Jha start a blog, admitting openly to the problem of delivering small lots, continuously building up an online knowledge-base and having someone in the organization basically sending the right URLs as answers via e-mail?
- System support: Why not tie up with one of the IT-pros like Wipro, Infosys or TCS who would for sure allocate a few developers for free (in exchange for becoming an official „partner“) and build a simple, but smart online system. Like on Amazon, you place your order, the system aggregates them, considers geographical issues along a few to be established logistics hubs in India, and gives back a heuristic approximation how long the „waiting time“ will be till the magic threshold of 100 units is reached. Once, the number of 100 per logistic hub has been brought together, the „buyers“ are asked to make the payment and here we are. The rest is basic execution. (I feel one of the overarching problems is anyway that OLPC doesn’t perceive itself in any “business” where they are facing “demand”, “customers” who come with “expectations” which want be fulfilled and all that stuff. Which brings me to point number 3.
- Upfront-Capital: If we really, really break the problem down, then it is in fact a one of pre-capitalization. What I mean by that: Having upfront capital to buy, build and put the laptops on stock from where they could be delivered in an instant through a logistics network. I believe there are plenty of „social venture capital funds“ or „social entrepreneurs“ around who would be willing to put capital up-front against some (reduced) return on capital.
Sure, it would mean that there is all of a sudden a profit-component in the equation for somebody. One which would make the difference between dogmatic purity of a non-profit-concept (as Mr. Negroponte explains vividly in one of this TED-talks), yet at the same time loaded with problems as we have them at our very hands VERSUS deliberately blurring the lines to profit and being able to just deliver. To conclude from the philosophical standpoint myself: I can’t avoid the impression that Friedrich von Hayek, the Nobel laureate of the 70’s in economics, was so awfully right. That organizations which are not geared towards profit, tend to become be default inefficient or worse, ineffective.
At least starting with points 1 and 2 would truly start building an organization that is replicable and steadily builds up speed and scale. Point 3 could be part of a later stage in the roadmap. Or as Clay Shirky, author of the must-read “Here comes Everybody” put it last week during his keynote as the SES-Conference:
It’s better to build a working small system and scale it than set-up a big system and try to fix it.
Interestingly enough, I don’t seem to be alone with my impression: Harrie Vollard who runs an amazing charity Making Miles for Millennium as a side-project to his day-to-day job contacted me after finding out about our project through this blog. He pointed me to his blog post “Evaluation & Recommendations for OLPC Organization” which is a worthwhile read. Quote:
The XO is great, but the organization OLPC can be improved. The organization OLPC tries to switch from a pure research organization to a supplier of the XO when they first started to deploy the XO in 2007. However after 1 1/2 years it looks like OLPC still has no business processes in place. The people who work with OLPC have no experience with these business processes and do not know how to organize a nonprofit organization into a streamlined organization that can handle simple orders. After all it is only one product OLPC ‘sells’.
Let me just make this final point which is important before I revert to solving my own problem: Mr. Jha rightly explained that himself and his team have given up lucrative jobs in order to work entirely for free as volunteers for the good cause. Point taken. You have my full respect for this and I’ll over-stretch any benefit of the doubt for you. Yet, given the unfortunate course of action we have faced, I do have issues if such an argument is used to occupy the high moral ground that is supposed make someone immune against general accountability.
OLPC for Vatsalya: Plan B
Back to square. Almost, but from now on just looking ahead. These lines are directed at my dear donors whose trust I have earned and towards whom I will put all of my energy to put a plan into action. Let’s forget about the OLPC laptops, take a step back and rephrase what we jointly want to achieve: Bring computer abilities to young girls from an underprivileged background as part both of their everyday’s life. Both within the framework of a curriculum as well as for free exploration.
Thanks to the very same OLPC-laptops, a new category of computers has emerged in the last, say, 12 months: the netbook. Reduced in processing power and storage, it assumes that a big part of data and applications would be accessed from „the cloud“ on the internet. Roaming around Bangalore looking for alternatives, I stumbled upon „Chroma“, the electronic superstore from TATA, and came across these decent notebooks: NB e-go atom from Wipro for Rs. 19,999.
Interestingly, the manufacturer is Wipro, one of the Top 3 Indian software-outsourcing giants who has ventured back into one of its previous territories: hardware. The notebooks come with Windows XP and are fully WiFi-internet-enabled. (Coincidentally, the two available colours red and yellow are super-suitable for girls. What a mess if we had to paint them blue for boys ;-) The sales assistants told me that it would be possible to obtain the required number via cash & carry.
Hence, my request to the donors: Unless there is no objection to this plan B, I would buy these Wipro-netbooks and proceed with everything else as had been put forward within our project. I suggest reducing the number to 10 as we will save on one computer, which had been foreseen for the teachers. (Here we seem to face an unintended advantage, as the teachers are all familiar with Microsoft Windows as opposed to the OS of the OLPC). I am happy to cover the difference in cost of cumulated Rs. 18,500 (EUR 270) so that we can move ahead swiftly.
As with many things, life is a quest of constant adoption. After weeks of passive agony, I now feel relieved that we pulled the plug. More importantly, we can get positive again, as we have reclaimed the course of action for the newly named project „Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya“ into our own hands.
Had to drop out a bit earlier to catch my flight and trying to use the few minutes before boarding about the excellent experience EO Bangalore is consistently providing. The highest event which marks the end of the EO-year closing every June 30th is the President’s Ball. The outgoing president looks back on what the chapter has accomplished last year and hands over the reigns to the new president who would articulate his agenda for the following year. This year it was Rahul Matthan who handed over to Sagar Muthappa.
I find our EO Chapter Bangalore something truly special. The level of learning and bonding possesses an amazing breadth and depth for an entrepreneur. No doubt that the commitment of the chapter board is making this possible, where fellow members volunteer to allocate a significant portion of the time to run the organization in various designates roles – headed by the President. To the best of my knowledge, EO Bangalore is among all EO Chapters worldwide the only one which has formulated a binding constitution which sets the ground for a firm governance.
Noteworthy, in my observation, EO Bangalore managed to position itself as a truly eligible “club” which can be very selective whom to accept. By contrast, in e.g. Germany my perception has been that EO has to sometimes be “pitched” to qualifying candidates in terms of the value it provides.
Thanks Rahul for your phenomenal work last year and all the best Sagar, err, Mr. President for the your term ahead.
It’s not for the obious reason. In the First Class Lounge where I’m sitting, I get treated like a king. Yummy food, immaculate service, big recliner-chairs, you name it. Rather, the entire lounge concept carries a fundamental flaw.
As for the moment of writing (sitting in the lounge) connected with WiFi, there is a glass door to the Business Lounge. The one where everyone gets to sit – if you don’t have a first class ticket or are like me a HON-Circle member. I used to sit in that other lounge till I got this ultra-frequent-flyer status. The problem there: It’s so crammed that it defies the very purpose of a lounge: having a place which is more relaxed that the general hall with a few fringe benefits like drinks and snacks.
My point is: When I used to have access to “only” that business lounge, I took a bottle of water and went out into the general hall as often there was not even a seat free in the lounge. So much it was packed. What really has a bad taste, that this First Class Lounge just besides and visible for these poor people is almost completely empty and in size just slightly smaller than the entire business lounge. Usually I am THE ONLY passenger sitting there and getting served, today at least there is another family here as well. Overall it gives it just an occupancy of, say, 20 %. The business lounge often ranges in the 120 % by contrast.
In India – unless your name is Gandhi – it is quite uncommon to question own privileges, but I feel feel sorry for these people “on the other side”. The airport should have definitely allotted more space for the business lounge.
In the light of the problems and inequalities in India a minor point, but still as the airport started not even a year ago from a clean slate, it should have been done better. What I also enjoy is writing this feedback publicly on my blog instead of being repetitively asked to fill out the same questionnaire every time again I’m here. The problem with this is: The questionnaire asks the wrong questions. Hence, I prefer to air my view in this free-flow manner.
Here we are, with the media bits rolling in from Tuesday. First, here we are ready-steady-go from the first panel which was “E-Commerce”
From left to right: Klaas Kersting (Co-Founder & CEO of Gameforge), René Seifert (guess that must be me), Friedrich von Scanzoni (Managing Director Holidaycheck), Felix Haas (Co-Founder and CEO of Amiando), Tobias Flaitz (Head of Strategic Business BurdaDigital), Christian Heitmeyer (Co-Founder and CEO of Brands4Friends).
And then we had for the second panel right after: “Mobile”
From left to right: René Seifert, Holger Knöpke (Senior Vice President of Product Definition & Provisioning at T-Mobile International), Tobias Flaitz (Head of Strategic Business BurdaDigital), Charlie Schick (Editor-in-Chief on Nokia Conversations), Avi Schechter (Co-Founder and CEO of Fring), Geraldine Wilson (CEO of Truphone) and Gerhard Thomas (CEO of BurdaDigital).
Yep, this for the records and as a living legacy for the future generations to come ;-)
New challenges bear new solutions. It's no different when the outside temperatures strike -32° C like today. A few experiences after almost a week in the arctic cold of Levi in Lapland (Finland):
- Clear sky almost always means darn cold temperatures, clouds tend to contain the air and make it feelingly warmer.
- There is no such thing as "just going out" and putting on clothes. Dressing becomes a procedure which has to be done with diligence. Layer by layer, to the point where it becomes unbearable in the warm hotel room and just right when you step out. Any hole, any gap have to be hermetically closed. The cold will just creep in otherwise. So dressing is more like putting on the gear for diving or feeling like an astronaut.
- Moving outside is a good idea, the more briskly the better – then it gets pleasantly warm, yet never really hot. The reward for a 16 km cross-country skiing, partly uphill, with a view on the sun in a flat angle looks like this. The snow on the pristine slope gets coloured red, something I have never seen before.
- Trivial things become a problem: Accidentally breathing into the direction of your camera immediately deposits ice on the its lens, the warm inner side of the gloves will get it away, however leave some stains. Yet, better that nothing.
- Driving on a snow-mobile like today puts even higher challenges for clothing: Imagine sitting on a motorbike while your body is moving with 100 km/h at times through air which is -32 degrees cold. The dressing there brought me seven layers on the upper body, an overall over all other clothes and the necessary balaclava make you look as if you were part of an anti-terror operation.
- Driving the snowmobile is great fun, incredible how fast these vehicles accelerate over snow and ice. The handholds and the throttle are heated, but it takes a while till the effect kicks in and till then the cold air at the hands in spite of the gloves (they were my weak-point in the clothing) made me almost go mad. My right thumb almost three hours afterwards is still recovering.
- In the hut for warming up at the lake, the owner lit a fire where our group immediately followed an archaic human drive to gather around it. It felt wonderful till it became burning hot if one stayed too long to close to the fire, while just two meters away from the fire everything was started to freeze like my balaclava which was lying on the wooden bench. In the hut we might have brought the temperature "up" to estimated minus 8 degrees.
- Some outside activities require the bare naked hands, like putting on the maggots as bait on the hook for ice-fishing (where by the way you have a plastic "ice spoon" to clear the hole every 15 minutes before it starts to close again from ice.) Knowing that you have to use your naked hands makes you very deliberate in this suddenly very scarce resource of your hands. You think of each and every step you can do with your gloves and you do so, before you actually take your gloves off. Then you have approximately two minutes before the hands become numb and useless, where everything you long for is putting them back into the gloves. (No catch of fish today, it must have been to cold for them as well …)
Although all these points appear just like a accumulation of hardships, this stay in Lapland at arctic winter is still one of the best experiences in my life. Just because it pushes the envelope further in an area which is so far completely new territory. Ultimately, local people have been living here since humanity was traced. If they can survive, I will to. At least I will do everything to learn from them how it works.
All my 10 years of being a radio-presenter till 2003 slightly re-appeared yesterday night when I was guest at the radio show at SeoFM.com, a weekly online-format of Germany's leading Search-Engine-Optimizers (SEOs) Marcus Tandler (a.k.a. Mediadonis ) and his "partner in crime" Ralf Götz (a.k.a. Fridaynite). It's a one hour talk format which is about the latest development/gossip from the SEO-scene mixed with a lot of infantile jokes – to which I contributed gladly :-) In addition, Mediadonis interviewed my on my business of offshore outsourcing to India for projects revolving around SEO, which could be either building some content-centred apps, some BPO driven tasks for e.g. ad-campains or content-production. Here is the link to the show for time-shifted listening (German language).
So one after the other:
- Sure, surprise, surprise, India is good at software engineering, yet as I have written already on this blog a few times, it's always a number game, hence: If you have 5 people for at least 3 months, it's worth considering. The more and the longer – the better.
- For BPO also big numbers pay off and it always will be much easier, maybe only feasible, if the task is not to a large degree dependant on German language.
- Content-production can work, again in English language. The challenge will be in recruiting and quality assurance, and again, will only pay off with scale.
Mediadonis charmingy titled this show "Rent a Jobkiller", no wonder as I had explained plainly : "My business model rests on two pillars: One is slashing German jobs and increasing unemployment, the other exploiting poor Indians and taking away their future". As there are really people who argue such nonsense with fully conviction, I have made it a virtue to repeat it ironically as often as possible …
I believe that particularly Westerners tend to attach quickly labels like „democracy“ (=good) and anything which does not run (useless) elections every 4 years „a totalitarian regime“ (=bad). Having lived in Germany, certainly a democracy, for more than 30 years of my life and almost 4 years in India, acclaimed as “the biggest democracy in the world”, I have gotten a bit disillusioned by that easily proclaimed equation “democracy = good”; “rest = bad”.
Let’s ask ourselves the question what a democracy should entail and let’s examine India: Yes, people are able to vote, but what is it worth? Effectively, the vote is a selection between a rock and a hard stone where after 2 to 3 years of the rock, the hard stone will take power and vice versa. Corruption of the political system is beyond imagination and it really doesn’t matter at which party to look at. Where effectively every public project works at the speed of a snail with the biggest portion of funds end up in corrupt pockets instead as concrete on the roads. Let’s inspect the rule of law and equality in front of justice. This in particular is a joke in India where every month a few hundred women go up in flames in their kitchens because their families did not pay up the dowry. Although everybody knows what’s happening, do you think anybody cares? Subsequently, out of entirely mutual distrust between citizens and the government, India entirely lacks any civic sense. Just take a walk in any Indian city and you will see what I mean. Do you think the farmer who is about to swallow poison because he is not able to repay the loan loaded with daylight robbery interest rates really cares if he has this magic vote he can cast every few years? Or those women who go up in flames? Or those who queue days and nights in front of government offices without any civil servant paying any attention them for something which is important for them to survive? I could continue the list endlessly. My point that I am trying to make is not blunt India-bashing, it’s rather putting that much celebrated label of “biggest democracy in the world” into right proportion.
Let’s move on to Germany. A lot of the points above certainly don’t hold true for Germany. Yet, just because it is a democracy, it does not mean that things are in good shape. Take the town of Mügeln in Saxony where eight Indians got hunted down and beaten up by Neo-Nazis last week. It is too simplistic to retort that these are singular cases and justice will be done. In the latter I do believe, but if some Indian friend asked me if Germany was safe to travel, I would affirm for the former west, but express my reservations for certain parts in the east. Why can’t a society cope effectively with such antisocial elements? Let’s look at the massive overregulation and superfluous interference of the state in terms of a hugely inflated tax regime (for me the harsh word “regime” truly deserves it connotation in this context) and ease of doing business. Or useless, inflated and redundant semi-state organizations like the “Kassenärztliche Vereinigung” (For my non-German readers. You better don’t want to know. It’s some apparatus that is in charge for allegedly creating equality by distributing funds for the public health system in Germany). Not just that this bureaucratic monster, as an example of galore of others, is hugely inefficient in the allocation of resources, but it also grows and absorbs resources for itself like a cancerous abscess. And I wonder that Germans have become so complacent not to call these obvious defects “totalitarian” and treat them as massive derogations of essential civil liberties. Finally let’s take the abysmal chancellery of Gerhard Schröder who got elected once as replacing 16 years of Helmut Kohl, and after a miserable 4-year track-record he got re-elected based on his undisputed talents as the biggest con-man in Germany after World War II. Let’s conclude this chapter with the country having let abuse itself in the last two decades by getting flooded with the wrong people from abroad who don’t contribute neither to society nor economy and moreover don’t possess the least affinity to the existing culture. This again is labeled, and it’s called “asylum”.
To summarize my criticism about these alleged “perfections” of a “democracy”: In case such a “democratic” system has been too long intact, not disrupted by major overthrow or such, it tends to become highly self-serving. It will create an agony among the people and disconnect the act of election from true choices for a difference. And this agony will lead to something which Germans call “Politikverdrossenheit” (=sullenness for politics) as it either makes people feel suffocated from the governmental strangulations. Or, even worse case, there won’t even be the pain of realizing is.
After this long fore-play, let’s turn to my affirmative case for Singapore. To be very clear: There is no paradise on earth and the grass always tends to be greener on the other side, which, after grazing on it for some time will begin to tarnish. However, all that criticism on Singapore is in my opinion entirely exaggerated. Guys, I believe that Singapore with that type of criticism has a large luxury problem – at worst. Historically, in 1965 Singapore got expelled from Malaysia and this unfertile piece of swamp could have just decayed to just another country like Bangladesh where both governance and its people are pitifully poor. But maybe, at the same time, carrying the phenomenal label of being a “democracy”. Instead, what followed is one of the most amazing success stories in latest history. If there is any label which hits the point, then it is “Singapore Inc.”, suggesting that the city-state is being run rather like a corporation.
In the nutshell, Singapore is an example how the concept of a “benign ruler” has successfully materialized. Taking up all my points of above from India and Germany, and they will epitomize exactly at the opposite in Singapore: No crime, no corruption, law & order, civic servants treating citizens like customers, low taxes, cleanliness, free commercial environment leading to a GDP per capita on a level of a developed country. And the best: All this embedded in constant feedback-loops where the system is self-healing, self-improving instead of self-serving. And the other side of the equation, and I second that entirely, Singapore knows exactly what it does not want: drugs (you get hanged), vandalism or anti-social behavior (you get caned) and undifferentiated immigration. Overall, I believe that the overall mix of initiatives and punishment is in the right equilibrium. Especially, after seeing it with my own eyes that there is nothing like a constant “big brother is watching you” with a minor infringement getting immediately prosecuted. Singapore Inc. does not waste precious resources on such stupidities. It would simply be inefficient.
Sure, there are no elections like we know them in those loudly heralded “democracies”. Correct, freedom of press according to our understanding does not really exist. Do I find that good? No. But looking at the overall picture and giving up here and there something to gain much more in other parts is for my taste a viable compromise. The worst mistake, by the way, which is made most often in the west consists of the assumption that “those poor Singaporeans must feel awfully suppressed and subjugated by a totalitarian regime and have no deeper longing than that for freedom and democracy”. Or in the more subtle form: “They have never tasted the sweet fruit of democracy, so they can’t even know on what they are missing out.” Get a life, frankly: Nobody in Singapore gives a shit. By contrast, they are rightly proud of what they have achieved in just 42 years through hard work within a favorably installed governmental framework.
Admittedly, I don’t feel able to answer the most daunting question: How can you make the “benign ruler”-model happen in other countries without having them drift away into real totalitarism? Does it “scale” beyond 4.5 mn people? I don’t know. But still, if I had a choice between my home country Germany being run in such a shitty way like nowadays or being governed like Singapore, I don’t have to think twice. In that respect I feel safe to say that “Singapore is a blueprint how a country should be run”.