Thursday, December 24, 2009

Disappearing again for a bit, so...

...Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays to all :-)

though considering where I am, this is FAR more appropriate:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Links I liked from my two month backlog: Part II (India-centric International Development)

Continuing on:

1. The Top 10 Gadgets of the Year:

2. Home-made tools of a bicycle-maker:

3. I'm a passionate believer that infrastructure is necessary for proper economic development (this is why I do what I do). Here, WB economic advisor offers his views on how South Asia can overcome its infrastructure shortfall.

4. Loved this look inside the changes in the Indian Post Office. Let me tell you, you can judge a LOT about a country's development based on how well the postal system works, and how much it is used (which are obviously related!!).

5. Loved this nifty anti-clogging drain device. AWESOME bit of invention.

6. A personalized look at what big business is doing to smaller, personalized businesses. I loved the tenderness of this post.

7. The latest from PostSecret. It puts everything into perspective, and is a snapshot in time.

8. The dangers facing India's growing e-waste production

9. India's e-health revolution that will change healthcare for good!

10. How scale and innovation can coexist.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You've got to watch Ryan Lobo on TED

(photo source: photobucket)

Ryan Lobo was one of the stars of TEDIndia, in my opinion. His presentation was not only spot-on point, but hauntingly beautiful and poignant. It was wonderful to come across someone so young and talented, and brave enough to go in a direction that his soul dictated. In the process he has collected a jewelled archive of stories; three of which he shared with the audience.

I've had the opportunity to interact since then with Ryan on a personal level; away from TED, in a more relaxed atmosphere, he indulged me in more stories over steaming cups of chai. I was moved by his earnest desire to do his job well, his commitment to authentic story-telling through multi-media, and most importantly by the person he is. Behind all his talent is an amazingly down-to-earth, accessible, yet deeply thoughtful human being.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Links I liked from my two month backlog: Part I (Business)

After two months of internet drought, I'm actually reveling in the past 12 hours of high speed internet access in a nice, clean place. When you are trying desperately to line up your next job contract and don't have access to the net, it can be incredibly frustrating.

Anyways, I've largely used the past 10 hours to catch up on my reading, which has been woefully behind.

Here are some of my favorite links (in NO particular order) from the backlog:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Update: What's going on with Tworque and me??!!

India is beckoning. It is alive and buzzing with excitement (photo source: Dharmesh)

A few of you have been recently hinting that I have been a little too quiet (thanks for noticing and for the prodding). So I thought I ought to explain what is going on:

Since this blog is a side-hobby, it is extremely dependent on my availability of internet and free time. In the past several months, I have been traveling a lot with little access to the internet.

Right now, I am in India. I came here because I had heard that the place is buzzing with ideas, innovation, and vitality…something I have been waiting for years to happen. I had to see it for myself! Would I feel inspired enough to stick around??

Already in the past month, I have been so impressed by the energy of this place. So much enthusiasm and promise, as I have never seen before. Of course, I have also been very lucky to come across a lot of people wearing their passions and hopes boldly on their sleeves. Younger and older entrepreneurs alike are popping up all around, taking chances and doing something ‘different.’ For a country that is so gripped by conformity, this is a SIGNIFICANT indicator of the wave of change sweeping through.

If anything, India’s development is significant for the map of the world’s development. The world’s largest democracy has some of the greatest economic disparity, with some of the world’s poorest people living side-by-side with the richest. The enormous economic growth here against such a backdrop along with its mélange of castes, languages, religions, geography, and lackluster governance defies logic; probably as a result, India’s growth will provide a roadmap for the development of underdeveloped economies as we move forward.

As Hans Rosling predicted in his recent TEDIndia talk, its only a matter of time (July 27, 2048!!) before India (and China) regain(s) their original position(s) of leaders of the (free??) world. I’m here to see if I can be in the thick of things, if I may even venture to say…to lead a small part of it. But only time will tell. Hopefully, I’ll find enough internet and time to take you along for the ride...assuming I even have one! ☺

Three great job opportunities

Got this in my mailbox this morning:

Job 1: Business Analyst, based in London
Teach for All is looking for a Business Analyst to be based in London (although location appears to be flexible).

Job 2: Employee @ The Hub, San Francisco
The Hub is hiring employees. Read more about what they are looking for here.

Job 3: Microinsurance Fellowship Program, LeapFrog Investments, based internationally

LeapFrog Investments, the world’s first microinsurance fund, is looking for outstanding and dynamic young leaders to join us as Global Fellows.

Are you passionate about market-driven solutions to poverty?
Do you want to be on the forefront of innovation in microfinance and alternative investment?
Do you want to apply your skills in financial analysis, private equity, or insurance to help change the lives of 25 million poor people?

LeapFrog Investments
LeapFrog invests in businesses that provide insurance to low-income and vulnerable people in Africa and Asia. The fund targets strong financial returns for investors while expanding a growing portfolio to provide valuable insurance products to reaching 25 million people with insurance – 15 million of them women and children.

The role
This is a unique chance to work as an Investment Associate with a cutting-edge organization in microfinance, and the industry leader in microinsurance. Fellows will help LeapFrog to source and act on exciting investment opportunities, and to grow the microinsurance sector. Working directly with the LeapFrog Principals, Fellows’ responsibilities can include financial modeling, investment due diligence, industry analysis, day-to-day operations, marketing and transaction support. There will also be opportunities to work directly with our portfolio companies, helping their high-impact businesses grow and succeed. Flexibility and initiative are essential to thriving in LeapFrog’s entrepreneurial environment.

The role requires a minimum 12 month commitment. Fellows will be staffed to LeapFrog’s offices in Sydney, Johannesburg or Edinburgh and may indicate a preference at the time of application. LeapFrog will cover flights to and from the placement country, accommodation, and work-related travel expenses. Fellows are expected to secure their own funding for other living expenses – LeapFrog will assist in this process.

This intensive one-year work experience will provide Fellows with hands-on professional development opportunities, allowing them to hone their skills and deepen their understanding of microinsurance and impact investing. The role is also designed to deepen Fellows’ own leadership capacity – working daily with and learning from industry pioneers. Each Fellow’s work will help grow the movement to sustainably protect and enable the world’s most vulnerable people. Together, LeapFrog Fellows will form a cohort of like-minded changemakers, poised to change the world and markets around them.

Ideal candidates will have had significant demonstrated experience in business analysis – including financial modeling, monitoring and evaluation, and/or forecasting and project costing. Candidates with legal training will have transaction or insurance experience at a highly respected firm. Experience in developing markets – particularly in LeapFrog’s target countries in Africa and Asia – will be considered a significant advantage, as well as experience in microfinance, insurance or impact investing.

Additional skills sought:
• 3-5 years experience in private equity, insurance, investment banking, management consulting, or law
• MBA or advanced degree in Commerce, Finance, Economics, Actuarial Science, Law or related field OR significant and comparable experience
• Complex financial modeling experience including DCF and valuations; transaction or insurance experience for candidates with a law background
• PowerPoint proficiency
• A sound understanding of financial statements and analysis
• A can-do and collaborative mindset – comfort with the ambiguities and demands of a rapidly evolving environment
• Strong communication skills, both verbal and written

Interested and qualified candidates should send their CV and cover letter before January 15th, 2010 to Rachael Neumann, with “LeapFrog Labs: Fellowship” in the title, at

Placements will commence on March 1st, 2010. A later start date (around June 1st, 2010) is possible for candidates graduating this year.

About us
LeapFrog Investments Ltd created and manages the world’s first microinsurance fund. Launched with President Bill Clinton in 2008, LeapFrog has raised $47 million to date from banks, funds, and microfinance and insurance investors. Its profit-with-purpose investment approach has been hailed by many global leaders as a new frontier for microfinance and alternative investment. In the recent Closing Plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative 2009, President Clinton hailed LeapFrog as “Insurer to the Poor”.

Learn more at:

LeapFrog Labs
LeapFrog Investments also runs a not-for-profit technical assistance facility out of its Edinburgh office called LeapFrog Labs. LeapFrog Labs is a separate, grant-funded research and development facility. It aims to tackle some of the toughest barriers to access to financial services for low-income people. Labs administers the Fellowship program.

Learn more about Labs at:

Rachael Neumann
LeapFrog Investments
+61 450 996 459

And another job opportunity available: Teach girls about entrepreneurship

Got this in my mailbox a couple of days ago:

If you have a moment, I'd appreciate your help. We're launching a program in Silicon Valley ( to teach girls about high tech entrepreneurship and to inspire them to pursue careers in science and engineering. The program has gained a lot of traction and we've already built some exciting partnerships. We are looking to hire a Technical Director to lead and expand this effort. Please see the job posting below and forward to anyone who you think might be interested.

Thanks for your help and I hope all is well.


Position Title: Technical Director

Reports To: President

Compensation: The Technical Director will be responsible for raising his/her salary with the president’s help.

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

To Apply: Please email resume and cover letter to

Iridescent, a non-profit that gives children from underserved communities access to cutting-edge science, is launching a program in the San Francisco Bay Area ( The Bay Area program will focus on high-tech and entrepreneurship for high school girls. We have a proven track record and strong infrastructure. We are looking for a dynamic and highly-motivated Technical Director to lead and grow the Bay Area program. This is the perfect opportunity for someone who is interested in making a big impact in the exciting field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

The Technical Director must be a creative and organized thinker capable of managing a diverse set of responsibilities. The Technical Director must be a driven self‐starter who thrives in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment. The Technical Director must have a deep belief in Iridescent’s mission. The Technical Director is a key member of the Iridescent team and must share Iridescent’s belief in high-quality work, strong work ethic, and attention to detail.

Other qualifications include:
• Strong technical background (degree in engineering or science is preferred)
• Prior work experience in high tech is preferred
• Highly organized individual with excellent project management skills and
• exceptional attention to detail
• Resourceful and entrepreneurial individual with an ability to find creative solutions to overcome obstacles
• Demonstrated ability to make strategic decisions in complex situations
• Exceptionally strong verbal and written communications skills
• Demonstrated ability to manage and lead public outreach
• Ability to balance multiple priorities and definitive deadlines
• Strong research abilities and ability to keep abreast of current advancements in related fields (education, business, philanthropy,
non‐profits, etc)
• Belief in a creative approach to education that makes full use of current technology & trends in education
• Skill and experience in interacting with all levels of individuals at corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions
• Advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite, especially Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
• Flexibility to grow with the organization and assume new and expanded responsibilities
• Ability to quickly learn about and use new software, technology and processes
• Belief that a small group of motivated individuals can truly change the world
for the better
• Work assignments will be consist of a majority of self‐generated projects reflecting individual strategic choices that are aligned with the organization’s overall objectives, as well as assignments provided by the President.
• Occasional travel will be required (~10%).


• Develop an extraordinary and effective curriculum for Iridescent to inspire young people to learn more about and pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
• Develop marketing collateral and a “pitch” deck that can be used to gain additional sponsors, investors, and supporters.
• Recruit mentors for teaching and volunteers for facilitating the program.
• Train and manage the team of mentors and volunteers to ensure that their experience in working with Iridescent is positive and productive.
• Liaise with relevant non-profits and professional groups and develop long-term strategic partnerships.
• Develop effective documentation on all important protocols (such as recruiting, training, implementation, etc.) to enable scaling of Iridescent’s model.
• Develop formative, summative, and longitudinal assessments for education programs delivered to all stakeholders (children, parents, mentors, teachers, sponsors, etc.)
• Consolidate results from all evaluations and develop and publish results.
• Track and maintain records on all course participants (students, mentors, volunteers, etc.)
• Publish educational articles on curriculum and pedagogy in education journals.
• Communicate results regularly with key Iridescent stakeholders (volunteers, chapter leaders, board members, advisors, sponsors, etc.)

• Identify and pursue additional sources of funding for education programs, ranging from sponsors, individual donors, grants or other unique sources, as well as partners who will create and provide content for education programs, ranging from individual volunteers to government agencies.
• Explore, develop, evaluate and implement a successful earned income stream of revenue.
• Organize fundraising events and social mixer events to increase Iridescent’s visibility and income.
• Utilize and contribute to online social media networks for Iridescent and Iridescent‐related events with tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Iridescent’s blog etc.

We have lofty goals and work hard towards achieving them. No task is too demeaning or trivial if it helps us move closer to our goals. We believe that only through entrepreneurial persistence and visionary thinking are solutions to seemingly insurmountable social issues made possible. While we externally strive to create a better world, we are internally working to build a culture that supports passionate, forward thinking people who will help deliver radical breakthrough solutions to today’s most critical and meaningful challenges. To this end, we are working together to create an environment that fosters learning and growth and encourages creativity, transparency, and diversity.

Please email resume and cover letter to

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Question from a reader: Fixing water filtration in India

A simple sand and activated charcoal filter ($10-15) can filter hundreds of gallons of water simply and cheaply. But will this solve India's (bottled) water issues?? Read on... (photosource: bethechangeinc)

I got the following question in my inbox recently. Its becoming a question of increasing frequency, and I want to address it properly. Here's the "question" the reader wrote:

Last year, after a research expedition [on the effect of plastics on the environment]...we were giving talks and meeting with legislators along the way [in North America].

At one of our talks, a woman who had just returned from a long trip in India approached me, and said, "this is all great what you guys are doing to educate people, BUT there are much larger problems with plastic bottles and waste overseas". She told me that due to poor sanitation, in some areas she'd been in, people had no choice but to drink out of plastic bottles, and lacked the infrastructure to deal with them.

Which made me wonder if bringing water filtration systems to India might make a difference, albeit small.... for peanuts here ($500-$1000), an entire school can have clean water.

I've never been to India, but would be interested to hear your thoughts. Perhaps we might try to raise money for a few filters, to start with...

Here was my response:

I agree with the bottled water issue. As much as I detest bottled water, I find that when I'm in the developing world for very short bursts (where I don't have the time to purge my system and adapt) and need reliable, safe water quickly, I rely on bottled water (note: I try to drink tea, boiled water, other boiled beverages or soups for the most part, and only eat fresh, cooked food. Bottled water is a substitute when I can't find these or its simply too hot!). Amongst poor communities, plastic bottles are a huge commodity. Recycling goes on in full, plus the thicker, better bottles are used as water bottles or to store other liquids. They use these for several reasons -- convenience, cost (free to find, recyclable when they are done, easy to replace), how light it is, how sturdy it is, its lack of brittleness, etc. And yes...often they have no other choice.

Water filters are available in abundance in most of the developing world, particularly in non-disaster zones. India has a lot of indigenous water filters that do a very good job...most selling for around $50-$100. Most middle, upper, even poorer class Indians have them installed in their houses, though the best and most effective need access to electricity (they are RO systems). If you really want, you can build one using sand and a large bucket (or see diagram above). This is how most wastewater is treated in the US, though on a much larger scale. Clear water combined with some bleach dosing (aka chlorine disinfection), should render perfectly safe and drinkable water, and all for less than $10.

Probably best of all, there is always the option of boiling...the problem with this is that its very energy intensive and if you use wood/charcoal/kerosene, its simply too expensive. (I tend to boil my water usually in the developing world, except when i've run out of my supply and then use the water i find either at a tea shop or i buy bottled water).

Sometimes its not the filtration that's the problem....its the sourcing of clean water, the collection, the transportation, and the storage of water that are the biggest issues. Outside of the sourcing issues, plastic generally fills these voids.

Of course, for problems like arsenic, fluoride, salinity, etc, where you need more advanced cleaning, or where the water is extremely turbid (cloudy or visibly dirty), it becomes a different issue. These are very regional issues, and generally you can figure out what the biggest water problems in that area are by visiting the NGOs, doctors or govt public health agencies in that area. If its pathogen-related (which is the majority of water quality issues), then generally some proper boiling or filtration/disinfection will quell the problem. But other issues need more specialized solutions.

Finally, I'm not a huge fan of transplanted filters or other mechanisms. Filters from here are not made to withstand water or field conditions there. Expensive systems have a short shelflife, then like every other good transplant, they wither and die. This is partially because there is no one to do regular operation and maintenance, or who has been trained properly to fix even the smallest problems. A COMMON problem is letting untrained hands take over the operation of a technology. Their curiosity gets the better of them, and the technology is quickly rendered useless. Replacement parts are hard to find and buy, and the issue of untrained hands repeats itself. Always look for indigenous units, you are much more likely to have success in terms of adoption, operation/maintenance, and replacement if necessary.

These are my immediate thoughts on the subject. I'm always happy to discuss this further with you...

Thoughts anyone??

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Truth, shame, and education

If the truth sets you free, then why do people hide behind the shame of it all?? (photo: Osvaldo Zoom)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about I Am Because We Are. It very interestingly juxtaposed with something else I saw a while ago...a critically acclaimed film called The Education of Shelby Knox on PBS.

One might wonder how I Am Because We Are, a film about orphans in Malawi, relates to a film about a kid growing up in Lubbock, TX...but its quite clear. It doesn't matter where you are, the truth seems to scare people. And further, shame is a powerful motivator.

The increasing rate of orphans in Malawi is from the increasing rate of AIDS in the country. And what is universally acknowledged as the biggest problem is the lack of openness of the issues of HIV/AIDS in their communities. Government and Community leaders are refusing to speak about the issue openly. The lack of knowledge and wisdom, and the consistent shame value placed on AIDS is perpetuating the situation. In the absence of good sensible leadership, the frustrated, largely uneducated masses are getting more and more desperate. This is leading them to even more risky behaviors -- raping virgin girls, "sexual cleansing" of AIDS widows, and every kind of nonsense witchcraft that is sinking them deeper with infection and poverty.

On the other side of the globe, in Lubbock, TX, the rate of teen pregnancy has sky-rocketed. The conservative school and town leadership are refusing to speak openly about the issue, instead pushing abstinence down the throats of their youngsters...who defy all odds and continue to reproduce at alarming rates. This is where Shelby Knox (and her truly amazing family) come into the picture; Shelby, herself a 15 y/o conservative Christian pledged to abstinence until marriage, is trying to understand what the best way is to address this problem amongst her peers. Over three years the film follows her as she lobbies and repeatedly fails to get sex education taught to young kids. In the meantime,

And so here, the two sides of the globe (and lots of places in between) are united by the shame of speaking openly about sexual issues. How is the abysmal leadership of Malawi (second poorest country in the world) any different from that of Lubbock, TX (situated in one of the richest countries in the world)?? Why is it so hard to speak the truth...even if it does set you free??

I am struggling to understand this bit. Why NOT do the sensible thing?? And how do you fix this??

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 is looking for bloggers

I'm an avid reader of; they have an interesting working model and blog on a variety of topics. Most of their bloggers are extremely knowledgeable about their fields of work (I tend to read the Global Health ones). So if you want to blog, get paid, and reach a huge audience, APPLY...

Details below... Launches Blog Action Day 2009; Expanding Team of Bloggers

Hey Changemakers,

We have two exciting announcements to make this week. First, has been asked to take the reins of Blog Action Day, the annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day.

A few weeks ago we asked bloggers everywhere to suggest topics for this year's event, and the overwhelming response was in support of focusing on the gravest threat to world today:climate change.

Blog Action Day itself is on October 15th, and we launched the new site this week at to start accepting sign-ups. We've already received a flood of interest from bloggers around the world, with more than 1,800 blogs with seven million readers across 98 countries registered.

If you have a blog - either personal or professional - click here to find out more information and register your blog now to be part of the largest social change event on the web.

The second exciting piece of news we have to share? is expanding its team of bloggers! That's right, we're looking for writers extraordinaire who want to join our team and cover one or more of our 20 causes - from Health Care to Education to Global Poverty.

If you're interested in blogging on an issue you're passionate about for an audience of more than a million activists and nonprofit leaders - and getting paid to boot - let us know. Contracts range from 1-6 posts a week and details are

Get some $$$ for your jingle!!

Got this in my email this morning. Write never know if you might win!

(wait that's a great jingle already!!)


Global handwashing day contest

As a contribution to Global Handwashing Day on October 15, 2009, the IRC/USAID Sanitation Updates news feed is having a Handwashing Slogan Contest.
  • Participants may enter as many slogans as he or she wishes
  • Each slogan must be 8 words or less
  • October 13 is the contest deadline
  • Contest winners will be announced on October 15th and 1st, 2nd and 3rd place slogans and authors will be featured on Sanitation Updates

Please post slogan submisisons in the Comments section of Sanitation Updates,, or email them to:

Examples of slogans include:
  • Be aware, wash with care!
  • Filthy fingers forecast sickness and sadness.
  • Drown a germ and wash your hands!


"Enhancing U.S. Leadership on Drinking Water and Sanitation"

You may be interested in a report that was recently released by the CSIS Global Health Policy Center : “Enhancing U.S. Leadership on Drinking Water and Sanitation - Opportunities within Global Health Programs” by Katherine Bliss, a CSIS Senior Fellow.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“With the Obama administration's announcement of a new Global Health Initiative, the time is right for U.S. agencies to assert political leadership in addressing the persistent and significant global health challenges related to water and sanitation. This report focuses on the links among water, sanitation, and the health sector and identifies opportunities for greater U.S. engagement on water and sanitation as global health challenges.”

A digital version is available : . A hard-copy of the publication is forth coming.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Ubuntu: I am Because WE are

I Am Because We Are. Watch it!! (photo credit:

I saw a beautiful documentary film today called I Am Because We Are (entire film is available below).

I had heard about it in the Spring, even gone to the official launch party in NYC. But it was made and backed by Madonna, and in the age of haute celebrity endorsements, I have become skeptical of their attention to something. How much do they really know? How much do they really care?? How long will their attention last?? Long after the cool is gone, will they still be around??

Today, in search of inspiration, I picked it up. I am glad I did.

I Am Because We Are claims to be a look at Malawi, but its really a more universal story of poverty in the developing world. The film looks at the bigger picture, examining a smaller problem (the increasing number of orphans) against the larger backdrop of economic development (where the orphaning is coming from and how it affects global poverty). There is an interconnectedness to their theory that I so believe in-- examining the history, the need for responsibility, the lack of leadership, a variety of indigenous perspectives, the positives, the negatives...its all in there. Alongside the development porn, there is an equal showcasing of the laughter, community, and resilient spirit of the locals. There are perspectives of kids, adults, Malawians, Africans, and international people with a vested interest in the country or region. The opinions are educated. It is REFRESHING to hear Malawians analyze their own country's situation in a most educated manner examining causes and effects, and solutions, rather than the typical western viewpoints. Its wonderful to hear Africans speak about their continent in an intelligent manner. I GREATLY appreciated this. The West, doesn't have all the answers. Each country needs to come up with its own.

The title comes from the Zulu word "Ubuntu" meaning "I am because we are." Think about it!! I can't think of a better term to showcase our interconnectedness.

Good News. I learned that you can watch the entire film for FREE on YouTube. Check it out here on YouTube and below (NOTE: I recommend watching it on the YouTube site. Its much faster and you get the larger, widescreen version!)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Acumen Fund Fellows Program: Deadline 5 Nov 2009!

I got this in my email box today. Please direct all questions to Blair Miller (below):



We are excited to announce that the application process for the 2010-2011 Class of Acumen Fund Fellows is now open!

Applications will be accepted online until 11:59pm on Thursday, November 5, 2009. Detailed information about the program and application the process, as well as the bios of current and past fellows, can be found on our website. To apply, or to send more information to others you know who might be interested, please go to www.

We are looking for dedicated individuals with the practical skills, the creativity, the empathy and the leadership potential to affect change by leveraging market-based solutions to create social impact. Acumen Fund Fellows are drawn from a pool of talented, passionate people from all geographies, sectors, backgrounds and religions.

Since graduating its first class of Fellows in 2007, the Fellows Program has continued to grow and expand, using the experiences of each class to continue building a unique training curriculum specifically focused on leadership and social enterprise.

Fellows Alumni have called the program a life-changing experience, and one that allowed them to build critical business skills and a better understanding of the challenges involved in serving low-income consumers around the world.

If you know exceptional individuals who should be part of our 2010-2011 class, we hope you will encourage them to apply.

We are also excited to welcome our new Class of 2009-2010 Fellows to New York. Over the coming weeks the 2010 Fellows will be training and actively preparing to support Acumen Fund investments. The Fellows have committed to sharing their experiences both from New York and on the ground, so expect to see frequent posts from them on the Acumen Fund blog.

Best regards,

Blair Miller

Fellows Program Manager

Friday, October 2, 2009

LGT Fellows Program: Deadline is 26 OCT 09!!

Got the following in my email and it looks like a GREAT opportunity!


Building on the success of last years LGT Venture Philanthropy fellowship program we are proud to announce the launch of the iCats Program! The iCats Program is an answer to the need for professional know-how and resources in many social enterprises. We created a web-based platform to match experienced professionals with specific positions in selected philanthropic organizations.

The fellow positions for 2010 are now online on ! Application deadline is 26th October 2009.
A fellow works 11 months on-site with a portfolio organization from February to December 2010 and receives regular mentoring from the LGT Venture Philanthropy team. In addition, a 4-day induction workshop brings all fellows together in the Swiss mountains. Go to to find out more and to apply.

We appreciate if you could circulate this call for applications to potentially interested people. If you have the opportunity to post an article on your website or in your newsletter, please use the text below or from the attached article. Please let us know when and where you posted it.

Thank you for helping us to spread the word!

Wolfgang Hafenmayer
Oliver Karius
LGT Venture Philanthropy


Update on LGT Venture Philanthropy

The LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation was founded in 2007 by initiative and funds of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. Its mission is to raise the sustainable quality of life for the less advantaged people especially in the developing world. Applying a venture philanthropy approach, LGT Venture Philanthropy supports both organizations with financial, social and intellectual capital. LGT Venture Philanthropy makes use of grants, loans and equity investments. Any generated profit is channeled back into the fund and will be used for additional investments.

LGT Venture Philanthropy is pleased to share some results of its philanthropic activities with you: The portfolio has grown to seven organizations with USD 3 Mio invested, the global team now counts 12 people in seven countries, negotiations with several clients interested in LGT Venture Philanthropy's due diligence and investment services are ongoing, and last but not least, the feedback about the 1st generation of fellows in LGT Venture Philanthropy's fellowship program has been overwhelmingly positive!


Summary iCats Program

LGT Venture Philanthropy is proud to announce the launch of the iCats Program: The iCats Program is an answer to the need for professional know-how and resources in many philanthropic organizations and social enterprises. LGT Venture Philanthropy created a web-based platform to match experienced professionals with specific positions in selected philanthropic organizations.

The fellow positions for 2010 are now online on ! Application deadline is 26th October 2009.
A fellow works 11 months on-site with a portfolio organization from February to December 2010 and receives regular mentoring from the LGT Venture Philanthropy team. In addition, a 4-day induction workshop brings all fellows together in the Swiss mountains. Go to to find out more and to apply.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lessons from my trip

I'm back from my trip. I think everyone should take some time off and do something for themselves. This long-ish break was a b'day present to myself, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I love traveling. There is SO much to be said for the education one receives while on their travels.

There is also a level of appreciation I feel for being back in the US (of course, the in-your-face advertising, and constant level of activity here quickly drained that out). Its nice to finally be in a place where I am understood immediately, rather than the wild gesturing and slow, repetitive speaking I've had to do. Where I can browse the magazines and books, and instantly understand what is written. And I like that everything generally works efficiently, sometimes 24 hours a day. But I do miss the European way of life; there is a tremendous emphasis on living well and a little more respect for human life there. People take care of themselves there, something that is completely missing here. Salaries aren't high there, but people seem SO much happier...continually reinforcing my belief that life isn't about money.

I generally have 3 rules when I am out traveling:
  • Eat locally.
  • Limit gadget use to 10-30 mins per day (I stick to the lower end usually).
  • Use as much public transit, and walk as much as possible.
This allows me to be quite away from my life at home (a true vacation), and be fully immersed in another culture. This is how my greatest learning happens.

From a "Tworque" point-of-view, most of my education came from understanding the points-of-view of colonial powers. I am continually curious about what prompted Colonization, their later cessation, and generally where these "Powers" are now as a result of their past actions. Are they really better off?? How do the citizens feel about their past? And where did their methods of governance come from. Being the product of a former colony myself, has allowed me a great understanding of why my country is the way it is. It also allows me to forgive and move on, and figure out the best way to deal with the current situation. 

Of all the places I visited this time (France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany), Belgium was the most fascinating. 

Belgium is utter chaos now. And I was shocked that such a small and chaotic country could have have colonized a significant part of Africa. Probably not so surprisingly, looking at Belgium today reinforced the fact that chaotic colonizers tend to transfer their chaos to their colonies (Portugal is another perfect example of this). No wonder former Belgian African colonies are still in a state of extreme and violent chaos (Rwanda, Central African Republic, and Congo).  I would highly recommend reading the book "King Leopold's Ghost" further on this subject. 

Knowing England, France, Portugal, and Belgium as I do now, I'm glad I came out of a former British colony. I can honestly say that their high-nosedness, and class-based governance combined with their interest in advanced science, technology and education (ironically) created better colonies than any others. If you look at colonies that have best survived the tests of time, former British Colonies are probably most stable.  Of course there are exceptions, and I want to make it clear that colonization, British or otherwise, did TERRIBLE, terrible things. I do not sanction the act at all, but it did happen, and it sometimes needs to be analyzed at a distance.

Finally, its a pleasant change to finally have people think positively of the US. Obama has significantly "upped the ante." The past eight years were a particularly miserable time to be traveling around. I heard every kind of anti-American sentiment (quite rightly so) when I was out-and-about, particularly in the developing world. But it does get tiring, and it is SO refreshing to not have to deal with it any more.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Letter from the Field: South Sudan

Instead of my usual babbling, I thought you would enjoy an actual letter from the field.

Mike is a friend and fellow water-sanitation engineer. He's been working on international development projects for about 5 years now, regularly traveling to some of the most volatile parts of the world for his work. This is a recent letter he sent while on duty in Juba, South Sudan. His letter is published here in its entirety with his permission.

Before there was Lisa, there were escapades in Central Asia and East Africa and South Asia and Melanesia.  Before that, Melbourne, city I love.  But before all those things there was Haroun, the embodiment of a place that had caught my heart.  Once upon a steamy summer evening in Atlanta, after I had helped Haroun’s family move into their new apartment, we went next door to join four other families.  The people inside, black as night with tribal markings sketched into their foreheads, stood silently in the corners of the room, in the way that refugees learn to do. We broke bread.  The room was filled with melodies of praise sung by voices seeped in red soil and baked by an African sun.  I stood transfixed.  “You will make it to southern Sudan someday,” Haroun leaned over and whispered to me.  Perhaps Haroun was a prophet. 


What’s it like to finally arrive in a place that you’ve been interested in for over a decade? 


Well for one, it’s being towered over by a tall soldier who’s ensuring that you are deleting the photo you just took as you walked across the tarmac from the plane. 


“I’m sorry.  It’s my first time in Sudan and I wanted to get a picture of arriving,” I say as I press the delete button at the bottom right of the camera.  The soldier stoically stares at the next photo that appears on the screen.  It’s a photo I took while Lisa and I were driving down the LA freeway to the airport.  “That’s from Los Angeles, not here,” I assure him.   He nods and motions me towards arrivals. 


Turns out that the airport isn’t the only place in Juba where uniformed men disapprove of cameras toted by foreigners.  The streets, the marketplaces, anywhere near the parliament building, and especially crossing the Juba Bridge, the only crossing of the Nile for over 500 kilometers to the north or south.  But if you want to photograph the Juba Bridge, you just go over to the fancy restaurant with its white polyester tablecloths situated on the bank of the river 250 meters downstream from the bridge.  Order and coke and take as many photos as you like. 


I’ve come to Juba to do an evaluation of the USAID funded Juba urban WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) project.  Before I left I was under the impression that I’d be walking around with groups of project staff doing household surveys and leading focus group discussions and inspecting construction quality of toilets.  Before I left I was also under the impression that I’d be evaluating the first ever piped water network in Juba’s history.  I was wrong, on both accounts.  Turns out that back in the 1920s when the British were still the colonial power, they installed over 50 kilometers of pipes in what was, at the time, quite a remote outpost town.  The water system hasn’t been upgraded or maintained during the past 60 or so years that Sudan has been embroiled in its particularly vicious civil war. 


As turns out, USAID also didn’t want me to lead teams of Sudanese staff traipsing around Juba interrogating people about their toilet use and handwashing practices.  I came to realize on my first afternoon in Juba that my job was to interview a lot of government officials, to examine the policy framework of the new-ish, quasi-autonomous government of South Sudan, and to provide strategic recommendations as to how USAID should further invest in urban WASH in South Sudan (and indirectly, about how to assist the quasi-autonomous nascent government).


Juba 2009 has whispers of Kabul 2003.  Bustling, hopeful.  On the streets craftsmen are making furniture, welders are fusing iron gates.  People are buying and selling.  Music emanates from bamboo-walled restaurant shacks.  Motorcycles zip about.  Mobile phones charging at wooden stands.  All in a city where there’s no electricity grid.  Juba’s booming. 


At newly opened restaurants where Kenyan and Ugandan wait staff serve cold drinks and imported food to the throngs of foreign businessmen and aid workers, the faces from Europe and North America sit at broad tables with their compatriots from East Africa.  They talk of low capacity in South Sudan, lower than anywhere else they’ve worked.  Of the restlessness of the population, since benefits from the peace dividend have turned out to be lower than what was expected.  The elephant in the corner of the room is the referendum that’s scheduled to occur in about 18 months.  According to the arrangements of the 2005 peace agreement, South Sudan gets 6 years of autonomous rule and then there’s a referendum where southerners get to vote on secession.  Everyone expects an overwhelming yes vote from the population.  No one expects the government in Khartoum to allow it to happen, this being the same regime that has waged a repressive war against the south for as long as anyone can remember and then a few years ago decided to shift war efforts to a once unheard of part of Sudan called Darfur.  And just in case you were wondering, the oil fields are in South Sudan. 


The lodge where I’m staying is at the edge of the rapidly sprawling city.  It’s really nice accommodation, especially for Juba standards.  A year and a half ago the population of Juba was around 250 thousand, there were 6 km of paved roads, and $100 a night would get you a canvas tent and a shared pit latrine.  Now there around 400 thousand in Juba, about 20 km of paved roads, and $150 a night gets you a private air conditioned hut inside a barbed wire fence containing one of the three pools in South Sudan.  In between the huts, the grounds are covered with portulacas.  In daytime the flowers open up, transforming the land into a carpet of purple.  As you walk around Juba, even in the areas where there isn’t any running water – much less swimming pools – you see that families have planted portulacas.  Patches of hopeful purple flowers in a sea of brown dust.  In Juba Arabic they’re called “sahb ahkeer,” which means “flower of sunrise.”  I hope it’s sunrise for Juba; for South Sudan.


“I hope your son is able to return to South Sudan someday,” I told Haroun a decade ago, when last I saw him. 


I’m still hoping. 


Love from South Sudan,


Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Break

I'm going on break until September 15. When I go on break, I usually cut myself off from modern technology, and retreat to the ancient and well-worn technologies of pen, paper, my thoughts, and nature. I might write or tweet in between, but not much. Until then, enjoy the respite as I will...

Have a great rest of the summer. Be safe and I look forward to seeing you back here in about 7 weeks!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Navigating Air Travel's New Reality

Following up on yesterday's post, I came across this interesting article. The author went through the same sort of experience I went through but was more patient and giving to the airline industry...or atleast, she tried to explain the problems more gently and made a different point.

I am sitting in seat 10B on flight 744 from Dallas to New York, getting a front-row view of where air travel is headed in this country. Booked two weeks in advance, my coach-class ticket cost $1,258 round-trip—and that was without checking a bag, changing my ticket, or any other innocuous act that could have upped my tab by hundreds of dollars... [My] only gustatory options on this three-hour dinnertime flight are a standard-issue flagon of plonk and an unwholesome assortment of snack foods. Together, they set me back more than $10.


Raising prices for diminished service isn't a winning strategy for keeping customers. Indeed, in a recent Condé Nast Traveler survey, fully 82 percent of readers said they'd travel less if prices rose by 20 percent or more. And while 47 percent said they would be willing to pay extra for an in-flight meal, most balked at the other fees, with only 20 percent saying they would shell out to check a bag. Most agreed the air travel experience has headed south: 70 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced a flight delay of more than an hour in the past year, and nearly 30 percent said a carrier had lost their bag or canceled their flight.

How bad will it get? Here, we look at the many ways in which you will feel the airlines' changes—and what you can do to minimize the pain.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The stupidity of short-term thinking

photo courtesy: Innaminnafly

I'm flying to Europe for six weeks in August (and I won't be blogging much during that time as I know you are all dying for a break! :-) ). And, I'm VERY VERY annoyed at the airline industry right now.

Travel is a luxury item, and with the economy struggling as it is, only crazy people (like me) who are footing their own bills or business people who have someone else footing their bills are doing the traveling. The once high-flying (pun-intended) airline industry is struggling to pay their own bills, and is consequently trying to punish anyone who is trying to help them out.

Normally, with packed flights through most days of the year, airlines keep peak season rates relatively low. But with such low demand, airlines are trying to make their profits entirely in the peak poor, unfortunate idiots like myself are stuck with abnormally high rates. (I try my best to avoid peak traveling seasons in general, because I dislike crowds intensely. But this time, I had no choice.)

This is what I call stupid short-term thinking. While they make money in the short-term (really??), in the long-run, they are "shooting themselves in the foot." And here's why:
  • They are losing on the majority of people sitting on the fence about traveling. I know plenty of people who suddenly have a lot of time on their hands and have been contemplating traveling, but have given it up because of the exhorbitant rates. Airlines are betting on the few who HAVE to fly, not on the potential of people who might fly if their deals were better.
  • They are losing out on customer loyalty. What few airlines realize is that a lot of frequent travelers are loyal, and are powerful word-of-mouth marketers. I am loyal to Virgin Airlines for example (amazing customer service and in-flight service!!), and Southwest Airlines, and I used to be to JetBlue before their customer service started sucking. When you bully people into doing things they don't want to do or don't think is fair, they will hold it against you. In this case forcing us to pay unfair fees and putting up with awful customer service while it will get us this time, will lose us in the long run (this is why I will NEVER fly Northwest/KLM again!)
  • Allowing poor business practices to continue, even flourish: The larger US Airlines have the absolute worst service in the world, and they have no excuse. For years, the US government notoriously protected their airline industry, allowing awful business practices to endure. When the markets finally opened and protectionism was terminated, these "institutional airlines" (US Airways, Delta, American Airlines, United, etc) struggled. Their burgeoning bureaucracy made them inefficient against innovative, nimble, emerging airlines like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier, and others. The older airlines have only survived by capitalizing on their monopoly routes, their loyal customers, and building alliances with better airlines around the world.
Still struggling, the institutional airlines turned to stupid short-term thinking, taking their ire out on the customers. Fly one of them and you'll find yourself paying for everything. None of the institutional airlines have on-demand entertainment, a common availability amongst every first-world airline. If you want it, you pay for it. Many of these airlines are locked into lengthy and heavy contracts with labor unions; so their staff are often old, cranky, angry people who have seen a once glorious job go sour. Naturally their customer service is terrible. Further, they've cut down on seat spacing, have aging fleets, ancient in-flight entertainment, and make you pay for everything, including your water and your luggage (in addition to your already sizable airline ticket).

Its ridiculous to me that these airlines are thriving in this economy. And why?? Because the now cost-conscious consumer is forced to go with the cheapest deal, not the best airline. While hunting around today, for example, Delta Airlines was charging $1121 for a round-trip ticket to Paris; Lufthansa, a relatively superior airline, was charging $1600 (which is currently average for all non-American carriers). Normally, I would pay the extra $100 or $15o over Delta just to get better service. But this time, I can't even afford the $1121. But its my only choice, so I take it. So here we have it...the market is working against us and them.

Yes, airlines have investors and shareholders. But shareholders are reasonable people. Everyone knows that the economy is doing terribly. It would be ridiculous to expect that Delta would churn out record profits at this time...

My point is this...short-term thinking, without considering the bigger picture is very stupid and dangerous. While the ailing US institutional airlines continue to get through another year, its only a matter of time before they will have to bow out. After all, GM just did...only a matter of time with the rest...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thwarting Terrorism

The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, during the 26/11/08 attacks. photo courtesy:

What is the best way to thwart terrorism?? Well, how about we start with where and how a regular person becomes a terrorist...

I was reading this article about Ajmal Kasab the 21-y/o sole surviving terrorist from the Mumbai Attacks on 26/11. He was recently arraigned in court, and strong international interest followed what he had to say. Young and alone, Kasab confessed to his deeds, but what struck me was the story that he told...

He told [the judge]... that he was broke and tired of his job working for a decorator in Jhelum, a small town in Pakistan, and making a pittance. He and a friend had hatched a plan. They would earn cash by robbing people. And to improve their banditry skills they would seek out military training from the easiest source available to a young Pakistani man: Islamic militants.

Mr. Kasab and his friend went to Rawalpindi, he said, and asked in the market where they might find mujahedeen. They were directed to the office of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Indian and American investigators say that Lashkar-e-Taiba planned the attacks in Pakistan. Although Pakistan initially denied that any of its citizens had been involved, it has now charged five men believed to be Pakistan-based Lashkar operatives with involvement. The organization’s founder, Hafez Saeed, has not been charged.

In the months before the attack, Mr. Kasab said in court, he and the other attackers were taken to a safe house in Karachi, the coastal city that is the commercial capital of Pakistan and is a world away from the Punjabi village where his family lived.

There the young men were cut off from the world. He said they and their trainers were not told where they would go next nor were they given any details about their mission, though it was clear that it would involve lethal weapons and deadly force.

“They told us we were to wait for some time,” Mr. Kasab said in court. “There was some problem.” They were warned sternly that “nobody will disobey” their orders.

In a month and a half, they were allowed out of the house only once for a training exercise when they were taught how to navigate the inflatable boats that they would use to leave Pakistani waters.[...]

In his TEDGlobal talk this morning, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who gave a splendid talk largely on foreign policy and Third World Development) said that we needed to start being more effective than the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. The reason these terrorist organizations are SO effective is because they take poor frustrated young men and treat them like human beings. Suddenly they have food, attention, and a roof over their heads, and they have "purpose"; but this comes at a cost...they must sell their souls. The way to turn around terrorism is to more effectively get to these people before the terrorists do.

On this note, I highly recommend reading Three Cups of Tea, and watching this great documentary by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who did a phenomenal (and brave) job of covering the Taliban's recruiting mechanisms.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The meeting of great minds: Jobs and Gates

Information Technology and the personal computer have really changed the way the world works. The two big pioneers that took computing from a distant "techie-only" space and made it accessible to the rest of the world were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Both came of age at around the same time (1975-77), followed completely different models of development, and had a significant impact on each other and the development of information technology.

Recently, I came across a rare interview that brought the two together to recount the "rivalry" and the contributions that each brought to the other and their common field. Here they are in parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

(and can I say that the interviewers are just plain annoying!! Barring them, its a great interview!!)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pixar: Interview with Jobs and Lasseter

Rounding out my past two Pixar-centric posts, I wanted to end the week with this video interview, that Charlie Rose did with Pixar creative director, John Lasseter, and Pixar owner and CEO, Steve Jobs.

Jobs, as you may already know, is notoriously hard to get on film. He hasn't done an interview in years! Also, this interview was done before Toy Story became the pioneering success that it is still perceived to be today. The interview is consequently fresh, fascinating, and enlightening. Here, Pixar is trying to make a case for the audience to believe and buy into their product (a very different place from today). Much to learn here about how the company's innovative atmosphere and focus was developed.

Bottomline: Focus on the story...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pixar's work culture

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, receives a Technical Academy Award. Below he speaks about leadership and managing Pixar's work culture (photo source:

Following up on yesterday's post, here's more from Pixar president, Ed Catmull. In the video shown yesterday, Ed emphasized the importance of having a good team. In this interview, he elaborates further about what he means.

In case you can't watch the video, here is the essence of what he says and what Pixar strives to inculcate:
  • Cultivate an air of open and honest communication: The basic work culture at Pixar is that movie production is a team effort. Everyone is needed and important, and everyone has the right to speak and be heard. Ed says that the Pixar team works constantly on keeping communication lines open. There is also a significant emphasis put on trusting each other. This comes from attracting high quality people, and maintaining a high level of open communication.
  • Keep it egalitarian: Artists and engineers work together; one is in no way above the other. And it is management's job to emphasize this.
  • Keep your eye on the ball: At Pixar, the bottomline is making a good movie. Everything else is a means to that end.
  • Maintain your quality: Get the best people you know on board, as they will not only deliver a good product, but also bring in better talent.
  • Trust the artists: Ed strongly believes that the creative people need to drive the innovation, not the technical people or management. Given this high level of trust, the creative workforce works hard to include everyone else in their decisionmaking, and deliver a high quality product

If you are further interested in Catmull's take on running successful companies, I would also recommend watching this lecture that he gave at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2007.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pixar Story

photo source:

Pixar is pure magic and genius. It is the Walt Disney Company for the 21st century.

I've been reading the Pixar Touch (which I highly recommend) that gives the whole story of a group of visionaries whose visions were nearly killed several times. This lecture/panel discussion with the founders and main leaders in Pixar gives a great behind-the-scenes look at what makes the Studios tick, and what their recipe for success is (hint: people, people, people).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Missionaries are the Most Successful international development agency in the world!!

(photo source:

I'm serious. I can go to any part of the world, and the best-looking hut in that area will have a missionary in it. During my work travels, I've been through numerous huts. Quite often, the people I've encountered have never seen another non-native person but for some caucasian guy with the Holy Bible (the only other thing that is equivalent is coca-cola). On one hand I get frustrated, but on the other, I'm seriously impressed. So how the heck do they do that?? And what can we learn from them??

Alanna Shaikh has done a brilliant write-up on the subject. Among her points are the following:

  • Long Term Commitment: Missionaries come for the long haul. Once they come, they often stay for a long period of time creating trust and a relationship.
  • Community Investment: They invest time in the community learning their customs and language. Further, they make the effort of living like them, generally eating what they eat and drinking what they drink. Again, the community honors the commitment and trusts them. Further, this level of investment guarantees that they understand the community well. Essentially they customize their initiatives to work with the psychology of the community.
  • Focus and Consistency: Missionaries are darned focused on their target. Until the day they die, they keep a consistent message of converting everyone to their religious beliefs. Regardless of whether you believe in this or not, you've got to respect the level of focus and consistency that they bring to the table. There are never mixed messages. If you keep drilling the same thing over and over again, at some point, people will listen.
  • Hard Work and Persistence: Missionaries are hardworking. You'll often find them on their hands and knees cleaning up with the rest of the locals. They don't act that much more different than the people they are working with.
  • Good Role Models: They are good role models. Always clean, well-dressed, and polite, the missionaries present good model citizens. Its easy to want to follow them.

Essentially, if you've been with an International Development project in the developing world that isn't working, look at their leadership and compare them to the missionaries as stated above. You'll see quickly why they are failing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A blogger's dream vs reality

If you are a blogger, no further explanation necessary here.  :-)

(via SansSerif)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Links I liked

1. If you've ever been unhappy at work and considering quitting, read this post. It also has the best resignation letter ever.

2. Being a geek myself (and sometimes described as "Vulcan", if you are a Trekkie), I'd highly recommend reading this bit on the top ten mistakes people make when managing geeks. In fact, its so popular (and sanctioned) that its been voluntarily translated into 10 different languages, including Persian and Danish

3. An award-winning toilet made from horse-dung. Would you use it?? I would! Truly amazing what good design mixed with decent engineering can do. Here's another example of good design, good idea, and good engineering.

4.  Love reading while taking a dump?? Here's an innovative new dual purpose toilet book...literally!

5. Do our things make us happy?? Happiness Objectified...a must read on a survey done. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Great Quotes to Ponder

Some great quotes I came across this week:

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow-

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
-George Bernard Shaw-

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers
-Lord Alfred Tennyson-

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Future of Farming: Will Allen, the Urban Farming Hero

(photo source: Growing Power)

Will Allen is a regular guy who is changing the way urban and rural societies will interact in the future. At the moment, urban societies rely heavily on rural societies for their agriculture. But with the world urbanizing at a rapid rate, and farmers' children leaving their homes in droves, one must wonder what the changing face of agriculture will be like.

Will Allen is the guy shining the torch and showing the way.

Allen is an urban farmer. He takes rooftops and urban patios and turns them into beautiful vegetable gardens and fish farms. His work recently won him a MacArthur Genius grant.

In a recent article profiling the brilliant Allen, it speaks about how a sharecropper's son turned basketball player, learned composting from Belgian farmers.

“I started hanging out with Belgian farmers,” Allen said. “I saw how they did natural farming,” much as his father had. Something clicked in his mind. He asked his team’s management, which provided housing for players, if he could have a place with a garden. Soon he had 25 chickens and was growing the familiar foods of his youth — peas, beans, peanuts — outside Antwerp. “I just had to do it,” he said. “It made me happy to touch the soil.” On holidays, he cooked feasts for his teammates. He gave away a lot of eggs.

After retiring from basketball in 1977, when he was 28, Allen settled with his wife and three children in Oak Creek, just south of Milwaukee, where Cyndy’s family owned some farmland. “No one was using that land, but I had the bug to grow food,” Allen said. As his father did, Allen insisted that his children contribute to the household income. “We went right to the field at the end of the school day and during summer breaks,” recalled his daughter, Erika Allen, who now runs Growing Power’s satellite office in Chicago. “And let’s be clear: This was farm labor, not chores.” [...]