Top
Friday
Apr012016

The race to connect the next billion, and the business models to get there

Google and Facebook both have a mission – to “connect the next billion,” as Google puts it. This Financial Times article, “Facebook, Google and the race to sign up India,” explores the tech giants’ initiatives that are “bringing internet access to India’s masses as a way of alleviating poverty, improving education and creating jobs.”

Google, in partnership with NGO Tata Trusts, is sending thousands of tech-connected bikes to women in rural Indian villages. (In these regions, women are much less connected than men.) The bikes, loaded with two Android smartphones and two tablets, educate women about using the internet, and these women can then pass their knowledge on to other villages. Google also aims to launch its pilot technology, “Project Loon” later this year, sending balloons into the sky that will provide internet connectivity to remote areas. Additionally, the company, through a partnership with India’s railway ministry, is in the process of rolling out high-speed wifi to a hundred train stations this year.

Facebook, on the other hand, has been heavily focused on its “Free Basics” program. This program, an app that is part of the social network’s Internet.org initiative, offers users of partner telecoms networks free access to Facebook and a number of other well-known sites (Wikipedia, BBC News, Accuweather, etc.) Since it’s 2004 launch, 38 countries have come on board.

Both companies’ goals are echoing those of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes an aim of universal internet access. What’s notable is that these tech giants aren’t using funds they’ve set aside for corporate social responsibility, rather they’re driving these initiatives with money from their core budgets. This speaks to their belief that connecting the unconnected is more than just a charity effort, rather that there is “solid business logic of investing in connectivity in India and other developing markets,” according to the Financial Times article, and a benefit for both companies to gain a first movers advantage in these regions.

Despite their grandeur and reputation, these companies still face challenges developing business models that incorporate their social impact efforts. Recently, Facebook’s Free Basics app was blocked by India’s telecom regulators, after they ruled that “differential pricing” by internet companies infringes on the principles of net neutrality. While the ban wasn’t targeted specifically at Facebook, it has created a major roadblock for the company. However, the tech giant isn’t ready to wave the white flag allowing Google to take the lead in this race to connectivity just yet, saying it plans to pursue other connectivity projects in the region.

-- Clara Shen

Monday
Mar212016

Bureaucracy (and worse) vs entrepreneurship in fighting poverty

The trailer for the documentary Poverty Inc. challenges the traditional charity/aid approach to fighting poverty, and starkly suggests that--while intentions may be good--the donor-driven approach will never bring about real change. 

At what point do aid efforts become so entrenched that they effectively compete against real business development? And how can real, sustainable economic growth be cultivated?  These are important questions to ask. As one interviewee in the film states,

I know about countries that developed on trade and innovation and business. I don't know of any that got so much aid they suddenly became a first world country."

We are focused on developing mutual solutions based on real business models, and are interested in your point of take on the issues raised here.

 

POVERTY, INC. | Official Trailer from POVERTY, INC. | The Movie on Vimeo.

 

-- Clara Shen

Wednesday
Mar092016

More on the dynamics and communication patterns of highly effective groups

Clara’s post last week got me thinking about other research that has been undertaken regarding the dynamics of teams within the workplace, and what that data might contribute to the discussion.

The practice of allowing "Equal Share of Speaking Time" in meetings, or "Conversational Turn-Taking," has also been independently identified by MIT researchers (from my favorite group there, Human Dynamics) as one of a handful of key factor of success for teams (see this article from Harvard Business Review).

According to the MIT research, successful team meetings are characterized by the following:

  1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.

  1. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  2. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
  3. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
  4. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

Personally, I love #4, which busts the myth of the necessity for stern unyielding meeting discipline.

The team at MIT has even developed an online teleconference tool that shows a visualization of the participants: a circle that starts at the middle and gets closer and closer to you if you speak too much; the objective is for the team to "keep the ball at the center.”

Image source: Harvard Business Review

-- Yassine El Ouarzazi

 

Monday
Feb292016

Google, working groups and the nature of work

What happens when a company at the forefront of the digital economy -- one that is known globally for fostering new ways to unleash employee creativity to drive growth -- decides to apply it's expertise in data collection and analysis to improve the performance of its teams? Google undertook this effort, and the short answer is that for a long time, nothing much happened because the data yielded few patterns...and the ones that did emerge were often contradictory.

Ultimately, despite the apparently contradictory data, Google’s intense data collection and number crunching  led it to a conclusion that good managers have intuitively known for a long time: the best teams find ways to listen to each other and read the reactions, moods and feelings of other members.

The team at Google responsible for the ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ research believes the effort was valuable even though its conclusions echo those previously articulated by earlier managers. They argue that it has created a method for talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations in more constructive ways, and that it also has given us the tools to quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb.

Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention." -- Julia Rozovsky, Google

We encourage you to read through the interesting, more complete story in this New York Times feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest To Build The Perfect Team. You can also check out Google's own "curated collection" of tools and lessons learned from its study of the workplace here.

-- Clara Shen

Monday
Feb222016

Connections and globalization

We enjoy -- and encourage you to explore -- Catalyst Fellow Parag Khanna's exploration of how shifting demographics and increased global connectivity are reshaping civilization.

His 2011 book, How to Run The World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance, contemplates a world in which non-state actors have as much influence on the course of world events as countries do -- in many ways similar to the 16th century.

More recently, Khanna has focused on connectivity and how it redefining how we approach issues of commerce and government. His new book, due out in April, is titled Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, views current market trends and international conflicts through the lens of how each is related to connective infrastructure. This was also the theme of his 2016 TED talk (while waiting for the video to post, you can read the Tech Insider review). "Connectivity, not sovereignty," Khanna says, "has become the organizing principle of the human species."

And although the transformation can appear chaotic, Khanna is optimistic about the future -- that beneath the chaos of a world that appears to be falling apart is a new foundation of connectivity pulling it together.

 -- Bruno Roche and Clara Shen

 

Page 1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 ... 32 Next 5 Entries »