Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Measuring Up

Since my first days studing NGOs and working with international organizations, I have wondered about appropriate metrics for measuring the "effectiveness" (whatever that might be) of social enterprises.

Recently, I came across a very interesting rubric from RISE. I like its double bottom line approach of financial and social assessment factors. It's also sufficiently straightforward to be broadly applicable yet sufficiently thorough to provide metrics that can be used to measure changes in performance over time.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Knowledge and Empowerment through Education

I think that knowledge is power.

That is why in areas of the world where access to knowledge is limited, providing knowledge to poor, remote populations can empower, embolden, and drive people toward higher standards of living (and more choices for better lives).

I recently came across a fascinating article in the MIT Technology Review about EduVision, a company that provides appropriate information technology tools for the classroom. "Appropriate technology" means that the technology can be adapted to the environment in which it can be used and to the users, without making assumptions about the users understanding of the technology based on out-of-context generalizations.

From the EduVision web site: "To lower the overall cost of primary and secondary education, EduVIsion aims to replace physical textbooks, notebooks and stationary items with a single integrated system (EELS) which will follow each student throughout the course of their education."

The project is financed by Bridgeworks Capital, a Swiss venture capital firm with a mandate to commericalize technologies that address global concerns.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Environmental X-Prize

The U.S. Government has announced that it will make funding available for the "H-Prize," which is a $10M reward to drive innovation in using hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

The prize is modeled after the X-Prize, which offered a $10M prize for the development of a manned space flight vehicle developed by private citizens (as opposed to NASA).

The benefits of the prize extended beyond just the winning design. Since many teams around the world were working toward a solution, more solutions were proposed and developed - and continue to be developed (by the Canadian Arrow Team, for example).

Hopefully, the H-Prize will drive the development of many technologies - and raise public interest in the topic - regardless of who wins the competition.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Vinod Khosla on Energy 2.0

I just found out about a really cool event - the Energy 2.0 conference at MIT on May 13th.

The event features live webcasts of the keynotes:

8:30 AM - 8:45 AM (EST) - Ernest Moniz, Former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy
8:45 AM - 9:30 AM (EST) - Joseph Romm, Author, "The Hype about Hydrogen"
2:45 PM - 3:30 PM (EST) - Vinod Khosla, Founder, Khosla Ventures, Partner, Kleiner Perkins

It's a great chance to hear a vision for Energy 2.0 straight from visionaries - and "actionaries" (i.e. people who take action).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Taxi for the World

While in Boston, I took a PlanetTran cab to the train station.

Even at 4:30 AM, I had a riot!

Reasons why I really liked PlanetTran (and hope to see it in other cities):

1. The cab was a Prius (I fell in love with the Prius while driving it in San Diego).
2. The driver was waiting for me and we got to the train station in record time.
3. The tip is included and I was told my total charge when I called for reservations, so there were no surprises.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

IDEAS Competition Continued

Participating in the IDEAS competition was incredibly exciting. As I had mentioned, the caliber of the participants was impressive.

Some of the teams that received prizes are also, coincidentally, finalists in the Sloan School's Social Impact Competition.

Check out the descriptions for Aerovax, AllHeal, and TurnPure, which also did well in the IDEAS competition.

Apart from making amazing progress in the eight or so months since the inception of most of these ideas, the teams participating in the competition were incredibly well-rounded. I was also quite impressed with the attention that the teams allotted to the protection of intellectual property. I am sure that we will see a lot more from all of the participants!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Room for Innovation

Today, I had an opportunity to sit in on a design class at MIT, with a focus on innovation in humanitarian removal of land mines. The class featured a presentation by two representatives from the United Nation's Mine Action program. Students in the class had an opportunity to present innovations in the field.

Prior to the class, I had not given a lot of thought to land mine removal technologies. It is an incredibly intricate process that involves a diversity of equipment. The initial focus in land mine removal is on reducing areas suspected of having land mines as quickly as possible, not necessarily on removing as many land mines as possible.

Since many minefields are located in particularly fertile areas, minefields represent not only a clear danger, but also an obstacle to development. Granted, I am a complete novice to the field and technologies, but it seems as though there is a room for a lot of innovation. There are still humans and dogs that are used to detect mines (or at least do quality control on areas sweeped by robots and other devices) (!).