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Sunday, October 30, 2011

My First Eisenhower Meetings.....


On Thursday, Oct 27th, I awoke from my Diwali haze and still hadn’t properly adjusted yet to the time difference.  After I finally went to bed at 7am only to have to wake up at 10am, I was definitely feeling an energy lull and was hoping to get some more rest before I officially started meetings on Friday.  However, I received an urgent call stating that my meeting with the Ministry of Education was granted for 3:00pm that day.  “Wow!!” I thought, “this was great!”.  Since last month, I had been wanting to get an appointment with the Indian Ministry of Education to discuss the new $35 tablet that has come out of India in order to address the digital divide and provide alternative ways to provide online education in schools and universities.  This innovative and new device is a very progressive initiative coming from the Indian Government. 


N.K. Singh (Ministry of Education)
My first meeting in India, especially on this topic, went pretty well.  I met with NK. Singh, a very quiet man, and apparently the individual in charge of developing the concept of the $35 tablet.  We spoke about how  under his leadership, the Indian Government started negotiations, about 4 years ago, with a company out of London to create and manufacture the now Askash Tablet.  It was developed to just provide the very basics of applications for Indian youth and underserved people to access the internet, get online educational content, and have another way to learn while in the classroom and when at home.  The tablet has been stripped of the normal “bells and whistles” of mainstream tablets such as the ipad or the android.  This is why the price was able to be so low at $35.  Mr. Singh and his associate also allowed me to test and play around with one of the tablet.  It was amazing.  Some specs of the tablet - small, about the size the size of an android, Has 2 USB ports, touch screen, can download applications, basic in design, light in weight, has the same operating system of the Android 2.2.  I was very grateful for the time they gave and the opportunity to “test” and actually physically see India’s new “magic pill”.   In the end, of course I asked what were their intentions of taking this global and testing the device in other Countries were similar education and broadband initiatives were taking place.  Their response, “we want everyone to be able to have this product”. That was all I needed to hear.  We made action steps to move conversations along and to connect with other Heads Of State in regards to partnership and collaboration opportunities. Not bad.

On Friday I met with two other organizations that were very interesting. One was Digital Green and the other Western Union.

Digital Green
I had the chance to meet with Rikin  Gandhi. He is the President and CEO of Digital Green. DG is an organization that provides builds and deploys information and communication technology to amplify the effectiveness of development efforts around the world to affect sustained, social change. The Digital Green system combines technology and social organization to improve the cost-effectiveness and broaden the community participation of existing agricultural extension systems. The unique components of the Digital Green system include (1) a participatory process for local video production, (2) a human-mediated instruction model for video dissemination and training, (3) a hardware and software technology platform for exchanging data in areas with limited Internet and electrical grid connectivity, and (4) an iterative model to progressively better address the needs and interests of the community with analytical tools and interactive phone-based feedback channels.
I met with them to talk about ways in which our organizations in Philadelphia could leverage some of their platforms to organize underserved communities and provide alternative ways for underserved communities to adopt and share amongst each other, the new technologies that are being deployed throughout broadband initiatives in Philadelphia.  Very good meeting.  Rikin is very ambitious, passionate, and is one the rise as it pertains to deploying and engaging rural Indians to adopt technology.  Very impressed.

Western Union
My next meeting was with Kiran Shetty.  I know meeting with Western Union may seem a bit curious compared to my initiatives with technologies.  However, Western Union is doing exactly what has been labeled as “The Indian Way” in business.  Combining a way to provide services, reach their bottom line in profits, but also making impact by empowering the community through technology. They are engaging in a social mission of connecting rural Indians to technology in order to transfer money, create bank accounts, and begin to have ways for rural Indians, in particular women, to take charge of their financial futures.  One of the ways is in offering services which allow for poorer communities to use mobile phones in order to create and make financial transactions without starting bank accounts.  When speaking to Kiran, he stated that he never thought of what they were doing as “social business”, but after speaking with me, he got it.  I shared my company’s goals as doing the same and we spoke about ways to provide the mobile technologies being used in rural India, within areas of Philadelphia.  A very good conversation.  Next steps, connections to the software companies that are helping Western Union with such endeavors. 

My first impression in regards to this first slew of meetings was how well I was received and how sincerely open the Indian Government and both Digital Green and Western Union,  was to have further conversations and how quickly they forwarded me additional information after the meetings.  This is always a good sign .  I was a bit nervous given that here I was, never seen nor heard of before, and already was, for example, able to test the device that was in the Global news not less than a month ago.  I knew I was now going in the right direction.  I am glad I had information about broadband initiatives taking place in Philadelphia and shared more information about my new appointment to the FCC during all three meetings. That has helped in validating why I was there and what I wanted to discuss especially seeing ways for our countries to connect across shared visions of education and providing access to “the people”. 

Overall, not a bad first week in India. Experienced a new cultural holiday in the most authentic ways as possible, spent time with families, saw a device which has the potential to change the world, and met with great people who were sincere in hearing what I had to say and were engaged in my topics of conversations.  A good start for the Fellowship! Let’s keep it up! B

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