Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the silence...we've been off on holiday. We'll definitely catch you up in the New Year.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the X PRIZE Foundation. Thank you for sticking with us through the year. And we look forward to seeing you in 2009.

The X PRIZE Foundation Staff at our HQ in Playa Vista, CA.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Re-establishing NASA's Leadership

Chairman/CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, Peter Diamandis, recently wrote about how NASA should reposition itself, now that a new administration is coming on board. He writes:
As President-Elect Obama takes office, NASA stands positioned to benefit from the change and enthusiasm brought by his new Administration. Five years out from the announcement of a new vision for America's Space Exploration program, important lessons about what NASA should be doing and how it can best meet those goals are available, and must be learned. So long a source of national pride and inspiration as well as cutting edge research, NASA is now losing its position of world leadership. Thankfully, the ingenuity and the talent necessary to reassert America's pre-eminence are still hardwired into the fabric of this nation. NASA and its peer agencies can be in a position to efficiently tap into it and direct it.
He further lists his recommendations for what NASA should do here.

[Read more].

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Amazing Grace: the story of the anti-slavery movement

If you are American, British, Scottish or were influenced by the civil rights movement in the United States, you are probably familiar with the song Amazing Grace. Most people in the United States equate it with an old negro spiritual or gospel song that became the anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960's. What few know is that it originated in England, was written by John Newton, a converted slave-trader turned minister, and was the anthem of the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain before it was adopted by the Americans.

While it was the British who started the slave-trade from Africa, they were also the first to see the inhumanity of what they were doing and stop it. The tireless leaders of this movement were a pair of friends - William Wilberforce and William Pitt (who was the youngest Prime Minister of England at one point). Pitt unfortunately never got to see the fruits of his labor; he died before the anti-slavery legislation passed.

I recently saw a brilliant film outlining this amazing story, aptly titled Amazing Grace. View the trailer here and below. HIGHLY recommend watching it:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blog Spotlight + Video of the week

Yatin Sethi has a great blog on social innovation largely focused on India. Its an aggregate site, in the sense that unlike the other blogs I've highlighted so far, Yatin's blog gleans content rather than sharing his own views on things. Its really good stuff, particularly if you are trying to figure out what the upcoming ethos of social innovation is in India.

One of my favorite posts from his recent stuff is this video (borrowed from YouTube). Someone surveyed various segments of the Indian population and asked them what they would do with Rs 500 (US$10). You'll get a good idea of the value gap (the gap in what a specific thing, in this case a set amount of money is valued) between different social sectors in India. To the poor this is a HUGE amount; to the middle and upper classes, its absolutely nothing. The video is great, though I wish it was translated. I will do my best below to make up for this. Keep in mind that:
  • middle and upper classes in India usually speak English (though they are multilingual)
  • the poor classes usually speak only in local languages
  • most of the little boys interviewed here are already working for a living, so they understand the value of Rs 500.

Again, the question is:

Q. What would you do with Rs 500??

Answers (italics are the translated versions)...I must say I am embarrassed for the middle class Indians...doing a good job with their youth, eh?? Lofty goals...
  • get a piercing done
  • "freak out" ("freak out" is slang for "enjoy myself) at all the eating joints.
  • buy school supplies**
  • buy home supplies**
  • movies, movies, movies (in India, a movie theater ticket ranges from Rs 150-800)
  • I'll buy things for my kids and then save the rest for a rainy day
  • What the heck can you do with Rs500?? Can't get or sell anything
  • Buy things for the house; I'll go to the market and buy tomatoes and potatoes
  • Hide it somewhere for another day
  • Go meet my friend
  • Eat lots of ice cream and have a party
  • Give my family and mom and dad out a really nice meal.
  • Get a nice present for my friends in Italy
  • Get a first-class railway pass
  • Buy drinks
  • Alcohol
  • what I don't have and need, I'll go and buy
  • Buy movie tickets
  • Top up my mobile phone
  • I'll buy a [cricket] bat and [some type of cheap] gold bracelet
  • I'll eat a nice meal in a fancy restaurant
  • Go and have a big biryani (rice dish from the Deccan area)
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Buy stuff for my kids
  • Blow it up on booze or smokes
  • Have a party or something with it
  • Pay for my school tuition fees
  • Get some medicine
  • Buy some clothes or something
  • Buy a branded underwear
  • Get a much better, and more stylish haircut
  • Actually nowadays with Rs 500, you don't get anything...

Friday, December 12, 2008

How I would revive the Big 3 Automakers

How the Big 3 can save themselves...

As you know, the Senate denied the bailout for the Big 3 automakers yesterday. There were mixed reactions (see the comments). I drive an American car, while my family drives primarily Japanese cars, and many friends drive German, Australian, and Swedish cars (well, I guess Indian too, now that Tata has bought up Jaguar and Land Rover). Its clear which ones are seriously lagging in quality in the American market.

A couple of us were sitting around talking about it yesterday...what now? proposes an interesting solution: rather than put a $14 Billion dollar bailout, put a little bit of that money (about $1 Billion) into an X PRIZE type of competition.

Well, as you know...we already have one...the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE...and none of the Big 3 have entered yet, even though they could have a lot to gain out of it. I think they should. What have they got to lose right now??

Actually, if I were them, and faced firing hundreds of my employees, I'd open up the X PRIZE competition to my employees instead, and possibly add a couple of bonuses on top. Thinking $1-$5 M bonus on top to anyone who came up with a truly innovative idea the quickest (essentially incentivizing them to beat out the competition). This is what I would tell them:
  1. Form your teams
  2. Enter the competition.
  3. Show me your project plan.
  4. Once approved, the company will pay half your entrance fees, $2000 per month flat for each team, plus upto ten team members per team get to keep their benefits (health insurance, etc) for the next year (to prove progress)
  5. Deadline to the enter the competition is Feb 28, get cracking.
  6. Once entered and officially approved, you can use company facilities for office space; and company labs on a case-by-case basis.
I mean, seriously...its incentivizing grassroots innovation for such a low cost. Why NOT?? isn't it time for innovation?? Plus, create a sense of purpose and hope for the good employees of your companies. Use them in a way that is good for them, the companies, and the country!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Being sick and poor in rural India

Abhijit Banerjee, Professor of Economics at MIT and Director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), has put online an excellent documentary that he made while studying health issues in rural India. The documentary, The Name of the Disease, gives a very raw and honest look at what it is like to be poor and sick in rural India.
The documentary "The Name of the Disease" explores the voices of patients, shamans, doctors, and varied health officials in some of the poorest parts of rural Rajasthan, India, to attempt an understanding of the complex and multi-layered narratives of the poor and the sick. The film looks at some of the often conflicting perspectives, and it addresses the questions of daily tragedy and fatalism, tradition and modernity and complacency and rage, as it traces stories that people tell about their lives [...]
This is on YouTube and comes in six parts. I'm putting part 1 below, but you can link to the rest:

(part 1) (part 2), (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Panel Discussion on Technology as an enabler of socio-economic development in India/Africa

In this EXCELLENT discussion, pioneers Mo Ibrahim, Sanjiv Ahuja, and Sunil Mittal reflect on how technology and governance is enabling development

A GREAT discussion about technology as an enabler of socio-economic development in India and Sub Saharan Africa. This does focus heavily on the mobile industry...but they do have an understanding of the issues. The panelists include Sunil Mittal, Sanjiv Ahuja, and Mo Ibrahim. Its wonderful and refreshing to hear Indians and Africans who are educated and successful, educated about the issues, and care to rebuild their countries. (You have no idea how rare this is...which is part of the problem!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Learning to Love Africa

From Google's youtube channel, a beautiful and enlightening story by Monique Maddy, a native African, returning back to the continent of her birth to rebuild.

I fully subscribe to Monique's views. This is why I work at the X PRIZE Foundation. I believe that the right X PRIZE in Global Development will radically change the way aid is done moving forward, as well as (most importantly) create the paradigm that a developing country can fix itself using indigenous resources, without having to rely on traditional aid systems. Think of $2.3 Trillion being invested more wisely.
Upon graduating from Harvard Business School, Monique Maddy, born in Liberia and educated in Britain and the U.S., relocates to Tanzania to execute a start-up business providing telephone service. With the excitement attendant to starting a new company and the soul-searching of a young woman on a mission, Maddy brings personal experience and a different perspective on the troubled history of conquest and colonization of Africa, including the resettlement of American slaves in Liberia. Having worked for the UN, Maddy also brings a perspective on capitalism versus the benevolent efforts of world organizations.

Meet a Board Member: Dean Kamen (a.k.a Lord Dumpling)

The next Board member that I'd like to feature on the neXtPRIZE Blog is Dean Kamen. I've had the pleasure of meeting Dean Kamen once, when he came in to talk about some of his inventions, and how he's trying to change the world.

Dean is a prolific inventor, and an advocate for science and technology. He's the founder of DEKA Research and Development Corporation. He holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents for innovative devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide. Some of his notable inventions include the first wearable insulin pump for diabetics, the HomeChoice™ portable peritoneal dialysis machine, the INDEPENDENCE® IBOT® Mobility System, and the Segway® Human Transporter.

Many people have asked me "Why the Segway? How is that beneficial, other than to having fun?" Well, What many people don't know is that the technology that keeps the Segway upright was developed to create a wheelchair that can do the same thing, allowing handicapped people to rise up and have eye contact with people.

Here's a picture of what I'd talking about, because I don't think I did a great job explaining.

Dean Kamen showing his iBot wheelchair to President Bill Clinton

Dean also owns North Dumpling Island in the Long Island Sound, which he refers to as the "Kingodom of North Dumpling." Now, I don't know how accurate this is, but according to Wikipedia: "Kamen was initially denied permission to build a wind turbine on the island, so he joked that he was seceding from the United States, and later signed a non-aggression pact with his friend, then-President George H. W. Bush."

Obviously the secession, if it actually happened, is not legally recognized.

Does anyone know for sure? I understand that Dean has created a constitution, a flag, and a national anthem. He's also got a Navy (a single amphibious vehicle).

All in all, Dean is a fascinating man who has done a number of great things for the world, and will continue to do so, I'm sure.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Links I liked

1. I am traveling again, this time between the U.S and India. Naturally, this caught my eye! Commercial Air Travel as seen from around the world. This is super cool.

2. Again for the same reasons perhaps, How to Nap. Who knew that it was an art??

3. Bangladesh Scientists produce petroleum from organic wastes. Petrol from poop...means we'll be a lot more careful about where we put our waste!

4. Would you pay to drink purified water from a fuel cell plant?? This story comes from India.

5. A solar powered refrigerator that can bring health and energy savings to rural India.

6. On a completely unrelated note, how to make chocolate from bean to bar, from scratch!

Its been a while since Wordle...

...Yeah I here you go. Thoughts??

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The World Food Prize

(photo source: USA Today)

You may not know this, but about a month ago, former senators Bob Dole and George McGovern got the World Food Prize, also known as the Nobel Prize for Hunger.

Here's the full story:
Two former U.S. senators will be honored this week for their work in creating an international fund to help feed children around the world, the World Food Prize Foundation said.

Bob Dole and George McGovern — both former U.S. presidential candidates — established their George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program in 2000.

The school-feeding program, funded primarily through the U.S. Congress, has provided more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries, the foundation said.

The program is credited with boosting school attendance by 14% overall, and 17% for girls, who are often kept at home to work, but are more likely to be allowed to attend schools that provide a meal, according to a news release announcing the award.

Dole and McGovern will be awarded the World Food Prize on Thursday, a distinction that some observers have called the Nobel Prize for hunger. The 1994 World Food Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus went to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his "efforts to create economic and social development from below."

The World Food Prize includes a $250,000 cash award, to be split between Dole and McGovern.

[read more here]

Christiane Amanpour covers Genocide and related Policy issues on CNN tonight

At 9pm ET/PT tonight, CNN's Christiane Amanpour will host "Scream Bloody Murder" on CNN, covering genocide and the policy issues that surround it.

I wanted to call everyone's attention to an excellent report called Scream Bloody Murder that CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour is doing tonight (December 4) on CNN at 9pm ET and PT (this is American time, but I'm sure this will be broadcast around the world depending on where you are). It is a two-hour special report on genocide and why countries are so slow to respond.

I was listening to a preview of it on NPR this morning on my way in, and it sounded brutally honest (for once) and very educational. Christiane has been covering this issue, one close to her heart, for over 25 years...its sizing up to be a very powerful episode. There are many warnings out that the pictures and testimony will be gut be forewarned!

Unfortunately, I don't have cable TV (well, I don't really have a TV), so I'll be heading to someone else's house (anyone with cable TV need a new friend??)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Scotland announces details of its $15 million Saltire Prize!

Awhile back, the Scottish government announced it's then $20 million Saltire Prize to harness the power of the oceans. Details were a bit fuzzy (there really weren't many more).

Today they have come up with some more specifics for what people have to do: "The award will go to the team that "successfully demonstrates—in Scottish waters—the best commercially viable wave or tidal technology capable of providing electricity to thousands of homes," according to Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond.

You can have a read about the prize on National Geographic's website:

It looks like prize incentives are becoming a serious part of the future of innovation. Which is just where we at the X PRIZE Foundation want them to be.

Anyone think they have an idea that can let them compete?

Links I liked and a question to the void

1. On one hand, the Indian tourism industry worries that mumbai attacks might turn away tourists just as they were entering peak tourist season for 2008-09. On the other hand, the Taj Mahal Hotel, site of the recent attacks becomes a hotbed of "disaster tourism"

2. A young muslim woman reflects on the real meaning of her religion and why it needs to be reclaimed.

3. How free is free speech, particularly when we use private search and post engines like google and YouTube?

4. A general question to the void: At the X PRIZE Foundation, we rely heavily on the telegenic nature of our prize concepts and how they can engage people. So I'm always wondering How does the media decide what stories to pick up??

During the Mumbai attacks, I was wondering about this for the following reason: the Mumbai attacks in no way contributed to India's most substantial death toll. (The 1947 Partition takes the cake, but that might be taking it too far back). More recently, more people died in the Mumbai train blasts from two years ago than in the recent Taj/Oberoi attacks. Yet one got all the attention. Why?? Was this an issue of race or wealth?? While the Mumbai attacks happened, atleast 300 people were killed in a Christian-Muslim clash in Nigeria. This got almost no attention...why is that?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An X PRIZE for employing youth

Problem-makers from around the world, like with the terrorists in the Mumbai shootings, are usually young, energetic males (in their teens and twenties), poor, barely educated, with plenty of time on their hands to make trouble for everyone!

This whole India bombings thing has really got me thinking.

As I said in my last post from Nov 26th, our team was in India to meet with an interdisciplinary group of experts from across the country. Our goal was to glean ideas for X PRIZEs that would radically change poverty issues in India. The event took place on Nov 19th in the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, and was energizing and fascinating in many ways. Emeka and I are working on preparing the report now. Maybe we can share some of this information with you once we are finished.

But thinking deeply about poverty issues in India and the recent terrorism attacks in Mumbai started something in my head. The terrorists in this case (and often in most cases, as also with soldiers, rebels, or other problem makers) are often teenage/young 20-something males with a lot of time on their hands. The phrase "an idol mind is a devil's workshop" has obviously never reached them! Many of the countries with problem-makers have relatively chauvenistic cultures where the women do the majority of the work. A significant portion of the population is poor, under the age of 30, with a preferential selection for boys than girls. This, in the end, amounts to a lot of male youth who are barely monitored and have plenty of time on their hands to do with as they will. The bad elements of the world quickly entice these kids and turn them into problem makers.

Even in cultures where there is no "terrorism," these youth find ways to become menaces. In Tamil Nadu (southern India) for example, there is a word called "udavakaray" which literally means "useless fellow." These tend to be barely educated, young, poor, unemployed males who go about the village tormenting the women. Women are terrified of leaving their houses because of "eve-teasing," a phenomenon so called because these "udavakaray" hang around the wells in the evening when the women come to get their water, and then harrass and molest them. Often they hang around in groups, making them stronger, faster, and more uncontrollable. This type of problem is sadly common across many parts of the developing world that I have been to.

So a worthy X PRIZE would be to find a way to address this issue. How do we create an XPRIZE that would turn the plethora of useless young men in the world into beings of usefulness?? Any thoughts?? (of course, the Taliban and many gangs might argue that they have the solution...but I'm not leaning in that route, and frankly we need to guard against exactly this in our development of this prize concept!)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Newest Comment on a potential Health Care X PRIZE

I wanted to share a comment that someone posted about a potential Health Care X PRIZE, which we are exploring with the help of WellPoint, Inc. We're looking for the areas that we should be exploring or trying to fix within the Healt Care System.

We'd love to hear other people's thoughts!

"The prize should focus on dramatically lowering the total cost of care (50-75%) while improving or holding constant quality and access. Total costs include all expenses involved in the diagnosis, treatment, resolution and on-going management of the injury, disease or other health problem. Focusing on the total cost of care means we avoid cost shifting from one stakeholder group to another and we are forced to align incentives.

The prize should be scoped to one high cost/risk patient population. Ideally, the prize will not target a specific process or subsystem in the healthcare system but provide a systemic goal (e.g. reduce the total cost of care for diabetes by 50-75%) and let the participants figure out what needs to be changed and how to achieve that.

This will likely require an emphasis on a chronic care model, re-alignment of incentives to focus payers, providers and patients on outcomes/value (or the behaviors we believe produce them), sophisticated demand/capacity management disciplines, a radical simplification of the concept of health insurance and increased support for consumerism."

Gratitude and other thoughts on the Mumbai shootings

(This was supposed to go out earlier, and I accidentally messed up the posting times. Please excuse this delay!)

Several of you wrote to enquire after the team, our extended team in India who were working on this project, and on a more personal note, about my family and friends. Thank you so much for doing so. Fortunately everyone is fine and well, and we are all extremely grateful. Our hearts go out to all the victims, their families, and Republic of India at large.

During this period, it was very interesting to read the comments and thoughts bubbling up from within the blogosphere, particularly from the Indian and South Asian bloggers. There was irritation and frustration with the Indian government for many reasons (including blatantly pointing the finger at Pakistan before any information had come out), the embarrassingly lacksidaisical/sluggish response of the authorities to the situation, and anger with the media for unnecessarily blowing things out of proportion and scaring the population that could do without it.

And then there were beautiful and feeling messages of sympathy, and a good kind of anger...general fatigue with violence and a common need for unity and patriotism. This I saw coming from all around the world - young and old, irrespective of nationality. Pakistanis, Bangladeshis (formerly Pakistanis) and Indians urged their governments NOT to jump to conclusions about the other...this wasn't about settling age-old scores, rather working together to find their common enemy. Muslims and Hindus from around the world reached out to each other across the internet to share pain. Where governments fail, technology and humanity will not (Twitter, and the use of mobile phones is proof).

I don't know if the terrorists realize this, but they are just shooting themselves in the foot everytime they do something stupid like this. I agree that there are a large number of idiots in the world, but there are (fortunately) a phenomenal number of good and intelligent people alongside who are getting increasingly aware of how desperately they need to wake up and help this aching world. Come on people, let's do this...

Global Development at its best perhaps...

Some great reading to support the above: