Showing posts with label Bangladesh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bangladesh. Show all posts

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Steve Jobs

I ordered the book. That was months ago. If you know what I mean. And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally I went online to and filed a complaint. I never received the book, I said. I was immediately refunded. I used that money to immediately reorder. This time I was closely tracking the delivery. One notice said, delivery attempted. Two days later the notice said, delivered. Delivered? I never received the book. I went to the post office. They gave me a print out. See? Delivered. They said. I talked to pretty much everyone in the building, including the landlord. No book, nowhere to be found. I figured either the post office lied to me, not very likely, or there is a Steve Jobs fan in the building. Or the delivery man himself is a Steve Jobs fan. I went online to Amazon. This time there was no refund. The book was delivered, they said. I did not get the book, I said.

Oh well, I thought.

Today I bought the book from this sidewalk bookseller. The cover price said 35 dollars. I haggled. I looked interested, then I walked away. The guy came after me. He said 30. I said 25. He said okay. I don't have the cash, I said. I need to get money from the bank. How long, he asked. Five minutes, I said. Then I reached into my pocket. I had 21 dollars. This is all I have, I said. You can have this right away and I will take the book. He thought for a split second. He looked at me. He took the money, and gave me the book. I could not believe it. I had just brought the price down by 14 dollars. When will you be back, he asked. When will you be back with the four dollars? Five minutes, I said. And I walked over to the ATM at the bank on the same block. On my way back I bought a mango lassi for two dollars. So I had a 10 dollar bill, a five dollar bill and three one dollar bills. 20 minus two is 18. I gave him three dollars. I was trying to get one dollar ahead. He took it. Then he grabbed my mango lassi. Can I have it, he asked. Sure, I said. He made it look like he gave me the book for 24 dollars when we had already brought the price down to 25 from 35. Mango lassi does not count for payment, it counts as hospitality.

I don't know if he got one dollar ahead, or I did. But I finally have the book now. This sidewalk bookseller just beat Amazon in delivery - instant - price - really low - and there is no way Amazon can match the experience.

Tip: try haggling.

"Where you from?" I asked as I walked away.


Steve Jobs And NeXT
Steve Jobs — 1955-2011
Steve Jobs Stayed A Pirate
My Disagreements With Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs: 1997
Rest In Peace, Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs' Departure
An Ode To Steve jobs
Steve Jobs: iPad 2 Announcement
Steve Jobs At A City Council Meeting
How Steve Jobs Gets Things Done
Steve Jobs Should Never Have Been Fired
Steve Jobs: Android Rant
Sculley: Scum

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ignite NYC Premonitions

I had a few Direct Messages from Tikva this morning. Looks like I did not make it in the first round of Ignite NYC slated for Internet Week. None of the panel people I reached out to on Twitter reached out to me either. How does this work?

Excited About Internet Week

In Tikva's case she said my description of what I was going to talk about was incomplete. So I sent her an email. She wrote back. Other than the fact that you are suggesting you are a gift from God to the world I still don't have a description of what you are going to talk about.

So my newest mail goes something like this.
The first major revolution of the 21st century happened in Nepal, and
Paramendra Bhagat was the only Nepali in America working full time for
it. In April 2006, over a period of 19 days, about eight million
people out of the country's 27 million came out into the streets to
shut the country down completely to force a dictator out.

"There is a concrete mathematical theory called the butterfly effect.
A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon forest could be the
reason a cyclone hit Bangladesh. What happened in Nepal in April 2006
was a political cyclone. I was the butterfly flapping my wings in New
York City."

Friday, April 01, 2011

Grameen Miracles

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 01:  Grameen Bank Mana...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
New York Times: Grameen Bank and the Public Good: it’s important to protect successful social institutions from political maneuvers that could be damaging to them, and that an abrupt and forced removal of Yunus could damage confidence in the bank, which has 8.4 million mostly women borrowers and holds $1.5 billion in villagers’ savings. ...... Yunus was being targeted for political reasons. ....... others said that there were people within the government, as well as across Bangladeshi society, who opposed the work of the Grameen Bank on principled, if ideological, grounds. Simply put, many people don’t think that microfinance helps the poor and they believe that socially-minded businesses, like the Grameen Bank, undermine the work of government. ....... The question: ‘Does microfinance work?’ has been posed increasingly in recent years — sometimes in accusatory tones because microfinance, and its leading practitioner, Grameen, have received so much praise. ....... microfinance — including both loans and savings services — is, in fact, good for microbusinesses ....... microfinance is not, itself, one simple thing. It may involve loans, or savings, or a combination of the two, plus training, insurance or other services ...... the way poor people manage their households is far more complex than anyone had previously understood. ........ If microfinance doesn’t accomplish anything positive, then why are 128 million poor families busy taking loans? ....... what it really means for most people to be poor: to live with perpetual uncertainty. ....... the problem of living on $1 or $2 a day is that you don’t actually earn $1 or $2 every day ...... Some days you receive $5 and then nothing for two weeks. Life is unreliable ...... what we saw microfinance was doing for people was offering them a reliable source of money. With microfinance, you get a sum of money that’s promised on the day it’s promised in the amount that’s promised. It’s often the only reliable service that poor people have — and that’s incredibly powerful. ........ contrary to the depiction of poor people as passive victims of microlenders — as the field is often portrayed by its critics — Morduch and his colleagues found that the families they followed were “strategic” in their use of credit, often mingling a variety of formal and informal sources. “They weren’t always making the best choices — some did well, some didn’t — but they were very actively managing their affairs,” he said. “Our view is that there’s a lot more going on with microfinance — that it’s helping people keep an income flow, deal with health problems, keep their kids in school, get food on the table every day, and perhaps invest in businesses.” .......... self-employed women in Kenya were able to invest more in their businesses and increase household spending when they had access to savings accounts ...... “extending basic banking services could have large effects at relatively small cost.” ....... a middle path: the social business — the business that seeks not to maximize profits but to maximize some form of social impact. ...... Social businesses seek to harness market forces to provide essential goods and services to people who are typically underserved. ...... social businesses provide things like loans to small farmers, rural electricity and access to potable water. They also supply health services like ambulance care or cataract surgery. In addition to microfinance, Grameen has helped establish an array of for- and not-for-profit companies such as Grameen Danone, a joint venture with Danone (known to us as Dannon), which markets an affordable fortified yogurt product to address micronutrient deficiencies among the poor and Grameen Shakti, a renewable energy company. ....... Social businesses have evolved to address both the operational weaknesses of many government agencies and the lack of affordable products and services available to the poor through the market. By and large, they are a new invention .......... , it appears that social businesses can bring things like renewable energy, mobile technologies and affordable housing to poor people faster and more efficiently than governments ...... However, ongoing access to safe water for all is not something that can be guaranteed without the leadership of governments.

Grameen Under Attack At Home

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen BankImage via Wikipedia
New York Times: Opinionator: Microfinance Under Fire: Both the bank and Yunus, have come under attack by the government of Bangladesh and its prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed. It has taken 35 years of painstaking effort to build Grameen into a world-class institution that serves millions of poor people. That progress could be lost if the country’s leaders fail to appreciate what makes the Grameen Bank work........ The Grameen Bank is not just the largest microlender in the world, with 8.4 million borrowers (most of them women villagers) who received more than $1 billion in loans last year, it is the flagship enterprise in an industry that, in 2009, served 128 million of the world’s poorest families. ...... Yunus, the founder of the bank, is an entrepreneurial figure cut from the same cloth as Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. He has devoted himself since the 1970s to demonstrating, institutionalizing and spreading microfinance. ...... Legally, the government owns 25 percent of Grameen and has the right to appoint a quarter of its board members, including its chairperson. In practical terms, however, the government has little justification to intercede in the bank’s operations. Today, of the Grameen Bank’s paid-up share capital, only 3.5 percent comes from the Bangladeshi government. It is the bank’s borrowers who are its majority owners. They control 75 percent of the board seats and they have supplied 96.5 percent of the paid up share capital. And it’s the savings of villagers — about $1.5 billion — that now finances the bank’s activities and growth. ......... Nevertheless, the government is proceeding to remove Yunus against the objections of its majority owners and will probably succeed. ...... Yunus is being punished for criticizing the government and making a bid to start a political party in 2007. ......... The Grameen Bank is a strong, well-managed institution with 25,000 employees. It could probably withstand his departure. Indeed, given Yunus’s age, it’s critical to pave the way for a successor. But if he is replaced in a manner that diminishes confidence, the bank could face problems. ........ the Grameen Bank depends on unusually high levels of motivation among its staff and high levels of trust among its borrowers. A forced removal of Yunus that is seen as illegitimate, politically-motivated, or vindictive could alienate thousands of employees and trigger a run on savings or loan defaults. ......... The state-owned banks have regularly extended loans to elite borrowers (who default at high rates) as a form of patronage. Unlike Grameen, which is financially self-sufficient, the state banks are perpetually in need of cash infusions from the government. ........ The Prime Minister has made it clear that she believes the interest rates are too high. ...... if the government installed a bureaucratic manager who failed to appreciate the bank’s 
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh HasinaImage via Wikipediaentrepreneurial culture, it could suck the life out of the bank. ....... Before Grameen Bank workers get hired, for example, they spend close to a year demonstrating their interest in serving the poor. They have to do things like write detailed case studies about the lives of village women to show that they genuinely care about, and understand, their clients. Managing this workforce is nothing like managing a run-of-the-mill bank. ........ Over the past few months, officials have sought to damage Yunus’s reputation, claiming without evidence that he has enriched himself at the expense of the poor, intentionally harmed borrowers, and engaged in fraud. The prime minister has called microlenders loan sharks “sucking the blood of the poor.” Her son circulated a letter which contained a litany of unfounded accusations against Yunus — the most outrageous being that the government created the Grameen Bank, not Yunus. ......... It’s not as if Bangladesh is lacking real problems that require government attention. There can be no sense in destabilizing the leading institution in an industry that provides financing to more than half of the households in the country. ........ On March 15, the Bangladeshi Supreme Court postponed ruling on Yunus’s case for two weeks........ Given that Yunus understands Grameen’s culture better than anyone, he should have a key say in any leadership change. ........ Wise governments should view microfinance programs not as adversaries, but as partners in furthering public goals — organizations that need to be regulated, but not controlled. ...... Foreign governments and multi-lateral institutions have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Grameen Bank and other large microfinance organizations in Bangladesh, and elsewhere, with the goal of alleviating poverty. They also need to remember that it’s not enough to finance development organizations. They need to protect them, too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jagdish Bhagwati: Misplaced Criticism Of Yunus

Jagdish Bhagwati - World Economic Forum Annual...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrThere is no doubt that Yunus has done pioneering work in the field of microfinance. It is not that others have not, but I do think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded. Not only did he do pioneering work, he scaled it. The Grameen Bank is huge in size.

But if Jagdish Bhagwati gives Yunus less credit than I would like to, I don't have issues with that. That is a matter of difference in opinion.

What I do have issues with is where Bhagwati pours down a dozen paragraphs siding with Sheikh Hasina in her crusade against Yunus, and then concludes in the final paragraph by saying good governance plays a more central role in poverty alleviation than does microfinance, something I agree with. I'd put good governance, education, health, infrastructure, job creation, and microcredit, in that order.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yunus Should Launch A Political Party

The father of microfinance - Muhammad Yunus - is being hounded in his own homeland. It is sad. But it is politics as usual in Bangladesh. Politicians get in the way. Now you know why Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, a blight on the face of earth. It is these people.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Microfinance Alone Can't Cure Poverty

Father and Son - The Cycle of Poverty ContinuesImage by uncultured via FlickrMicrofinance is no magic bullet. Microfinance alone can't cure poverty.

Good governance, I think, is the first precondition. Yunus saw that. That is why he tried to launch a political party in Bangladesh a few years back. But looks like the politicians in Bangladesh have managed to unlaunch him instead.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not Rich Yet

Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants be...Image via WikipediaI am not rich yet, and it really, really bothers me.

For me it is about the power. The power to run and grow a corporate organization. The power to do good. The power to go after the stated mission of curing poverty.

Unless you yourself can create serious wealth, how can you claim you are in the curing poverty business?

Democracy + Education + The Market = Wonderful Things.

Microcredit is only a small part of microfinance. Microfinance is only a small part of the many tools needed for the War On Poverty.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Microfinance: No Substitute For Good Governance

Community-based savings bank in CambodiaImage via WikipediaDemocracy is basic. I am a firm believer in democracy. The year a country becomes a modern democracy is year one in that country's life. Lack of democracy, bad governance, massive corruption, and civil war are situations that are not within the domain of the microfinance industry. Basic good governance is critical for the microfinance industry to have a playing field where it can start performing, it can start to lift people out of poverty in large numbers.

There is plenty of diversity within the microfinance industry. There are many right ways. And microfinance is not the only tool with which to cure poverty. China has lifted more people out of poverty the past few decades than any other country, and it does not even allow MFIs to come in.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Microfinance, Not Just Microcredit

Microfinance Information ExchangeImage via WikipediaOne of the major lessons the microfinance industry has learned over the decades is that the poor need more than microcredit. They need a broad swath of financial services.

As soon as they start a business, they want to be able to open up a savings account with you. They want to be able to make easy payments. They want to be able to receive money from relatives who might have gone to some distant city or country.

And you have to offer the whole package deal. Although I do think microcredit continues to be the crown jewel of microfinance. But people don't just wear jewelry. They also like to wear clothes, also undergarments perhaps.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Microfinance: The Basics

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen BankImage via WikipediaThe basic premise behind microfinance is simple: access to credit is basic, it is a human right. You give people three tools - education, health, credit - and they fly. Traditional credit has depended on your ability to put down some collateral. And that has cut off a large swath of humanity. There are over a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day. There are over two billion people who live on less than two dollars a day.

Yunus in Bangladesh has proven the default rate among these small borrowers tends to be really, really low. 98% of those who borrow pay back. That is a much better rate than rich people and corporations in New York City. Their default rate is higher.

So what gives? Why were mad men bankers pouring trillions into real estate and shady finance tools a few years back instead of pumping that money into microfinance? Stupidity. Racism.

You can't build enough schools and colleges and print enough textbooks on time. But you can hope to take everyone online. Similarly microfinance has to be taken to all those people. Microfinance is the ultimate fishing net.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Leave Yunus Alone

Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel prize for li...Image via WikipediaThe Stink From The New York Times
Nazrul Islam Chunnu: Motherfucker
Telegraph: Bangladeshi leaders decide Nobel financier Mohammad Yunus must go: Professor Yunus is Bangladesh's most respected international figure ..... Prof Yunus was now too old and that the government wants to redefine the bank’s role and bring it under closer regulation. ..... the government of Sheikh Hasina, which, according to Western diplomats, regards his international profile as a political threat. ..... The government’s stance also sets it on a collision course with Western governments, aid and finance organisations ..... Hillary Clinton has voiced her fears that Grameen Bank’s independence is under threat ..... former Ireland president Mary Robinson and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, launched Friends of Grameen to save the bank from a government takeover. ..... Yunus said the government wanted to take control of the bank from its 8m borrowers and savers ..... The bank’s borrowers and savers own 75pc of the company, while the government has a 25pc stake. According to the bank, it lends $1bn every year while lifting 5pc of its borrowers out of poverty. ...... Sheikh Hasina, who said the bank was “sucking money” from the poor and using them as “pawns to get more aid”. ..... Yunus said government control would lead to the bank being used to help “win elections” and fuel corruption and that he would not step down until the government promised to maintain the bank’s independence and mission to help the poor
This is like Putin going after that businessman dude in Russia. This is a severe abuse of state power. While they are at it, the Bengalis should go ahead and disrespect Rabindranath Tagore as well. This is insane.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Yunus On Loan Sharks

Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad YunusImage by amioascension via Flickr
Muhammad Yunus: The New York Times: Sacrificing Microcredit for Megaprofits: one of my goals was to eliminate the presence of loan sharks who grow rich by preying on the poor. In 1983, I founded Grameen Bank to provide small loans that people, especially poor women, could use to bring themselves out of poverty. At that time, I never imagined that one day microcredit would give rise to its own breed of loan sharks...... India’s crisis points to a clear need to get microcredit back on track. ..... Troubles with microcredit began around 2005, when many lenders started looking for ways to make a profit on the loans by shifting from their status as nonprofit organizations to commercial enterprises. In 2007, Compartamos, a Mexican bank, became Latin America’s first microcredit bank to go public. And this past August, SKS Microfinance, the largest bank of its kind in India, raised $358 million in an initial public offering. ...... Commercialization has been a terrible wrong turn for microfinance, and it indicates a worrying “mission drift” in the motivation of those lending to the poor. Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity. ..... these commercial organizations raise larger sums in volatile international financial markets, and then transmit financial risks to the poor. ..... commercial microcredit institutions are subject to demands for ever-increasing profits, which can only come in the form of higher interest rates charged to the poor, defeating the very purpose of the loans. ...... Grameen Bank .... has 2,500 branches in Bangladesh. It lends out more than $100 million a month, from loans of less than $10 for beggars in our “Struggling Members” program, to micro-enterprise loans of about $1,000. Most branches are financially self-reliant, dependent only on deposits from ordinary Bangladeshis. When borrowers join the bank, they open a savings account. All borrowers have savings accounts at the bank, many with balances larger than their loans. And every year, the bank’s profits are returned to the borrowers — 97 percent of them poor women — in the form of dividends. ..... we charge 20 percent to the borrowers. .... every country where microloans are made needs a microcredit regulatory authority
I share Yunus' aversion to "loan sharks." I grew up in the Third World. I know what loan sharks are. I saw too many of them in action while growing up. It is not a pretty sight.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Google Car, Google Monorail

Offshoring The Wind Harvesting: Google Wind
Smart Cars Should Talk To Each Other
Robert Scoble's Not Google Car
Self Driving Google Car

This company is going offline, it looks like.

A few problems: for this to be feasible for long distance travel of even a few miles you are going to have to make room for the fact that some people might have mood swings and just stop pedaling half way there, causing traffic jams. Having several tracks might be one way to do it. So when one track jams, you switch traffic to another track. Or having central control so that a stuck "car" is centrally moved with electricity even if the person inside has stopped pedaling.

Got to make room for the human element. The human finds ways to throw a wrench into the cog.

Otherwise the monorail looks like a fantastic idea. Fun, environmentally friendly.

Wait. What about the air inside? How do you maintain the temperature and still make room for the fact that the person inside might want to breathe? You don't want someone to use up all the oxygen inside, and then what?

Looks like there are little holes for air. So it can't be too cold outside, right? Or too hot.

I am mighty impressed with the speed of this thing. The zero carbon promise, and the speed: those might be the two big attractions. And the individualistic bend to having your own little cubicle. I am very interested in the technology behind this.

"The most efficient vehicle on earth," wow. This is like bicycle on steroids. At 70 kilometers per hour, this is practically a car. And, wow, the view you will get to see along the way. It is like there is nothing between you and the landscape. You are floating through the landscape. I can see this being a big hit in all the tourist spots of the world. This could be a great way to watch wild life in Africa, or to gawk at the snow and ice high up in the Himalayas. There though, you might need to carry oxygen tanks.

This feels like ought to be that layer that needs to be added atop all the cities of the world. You buy your monthly metro pass, and you ride these things as much as you want. It is just like a car, minus the hassle. This might do to big city transportation what microfinance has done to poverty in Bangladesh.

50 miles per hour is a car. I could go cross country with this thing. Perhaps there is a room for a hybrid. Bring the smarts of the smart car to this thing, and make "car pooling" possible. You want 100 of these things to move in one rhythm over long distances.
Animation of a spinning bicycle pedalImage via WikipediaThe aerodynamics of this thing is mighty impressive. You spend most of your biking energy fighting the wind, not pedaling the bike, it seems like.

So two or more of these monorail cars can go faster than one? But then how do you avoid the free rider problem? What if I stop pedaling and simply go along for the ride? Again, but that is the human element. That is not a technology issue. The technology of this thing is just fine.

In a smart grid, the best idea could come from anywhere. And now from the part of the world that brought us Google Maps, we get the Google Monorail. Bravo. This thing takes the best of many forms of, perhaps all forms of transportation. This is like flying a small plane. This is like gliding through air. This is like biking on land. This is like riding a train. Air is like water, this is like water transportation. This is like skiing.

If the 21st is going to be a green century - what are the other choices? - then this monorail has a big future.

No traffic lights. Wow. That is like the town I grew up in.

PSFK: Kyle Cameron: Google Explores A Pedal-Powered Public Monorail System: Shweeb is a transportation project that has come out of Google’s Project 10^100 program, where Google solicits and supports ideas that change the world by helping as many people as possible.
I like it that Google is using its surplus money to think outside the box, the box being software. Clean tech is one of the next big things after web technology. Soon enough web tech is going to become utility, it is going to be fundamental, but it is going to recede into the background. Clean tech is a great sector to bet on. The next industrial revolution is going to be clean.

This monorail is a multi billion dollar idea. It deserves to take off like crazy.

Its next incarnation might be a version that is electric powered and weather proof and has two way radio communication. Then we could dream long distances. As long as that electricity is coming from a wind farm, it is still clean. Could you make it much faster then? Could you make the cars bigger? How about 10 people to a car? Then we could have conversation. But then Google has struggled with social.

You don't have to confiscate people's lands to build this thing, or at least not too much of it. Roads ask for land, lots and lots of land.

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy July 4 Fred Wilson, Brad Feld

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28:  Iranian-Americans ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Hello VCs.

I am about 15 months away from a green card, and about that far away from launching my startup, which right now I think will be something to do with the last mile of the ISP business. I think the best use of my time from now till then would be to pour myself fully into the democracy movement in Iran. I have done this before, I can do this again. I did this for Nepal in 2006. This is what I have had to say about that:
There is a concrete mathematical theory called the butterfly effect. A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon forest could be the reason a cyclone hit Bangladesh. What happened in Nepal in April 2006 was a political cyclone. I was the butterfly flapping my wings in New York City. In April 2006, over a period of 19 days, about eight million people out of the country's 27 million came out into the streets to shut the country down completely to force a dictator out.
This work will help me keep polishing my two strengths that I would bring to my startup: vision and group dynamics. Internet access is the voting right for this century, the Internet Century, and to do well in that business you have to be able to deeply care about masses of people like those that have been thronging into the streets of Iran.

Iran is a low hanging fruit. The hardest part of a democracy movement is getting people to come out into the streets. Well, that has been happening in Iran. This world is connected enough by now that one Digital Ninja/Commando based out of New York City could make that fundamental difference. Everyone I need to meet in person for this work is right here in New York City, primarily members of the Iranian diaspora. All I would need is a laptop, a smartphone and a monthly metro pass. And me.

I need you guys to sponsor this work out of your own pocket. Put in 5K each, and find me 18 other VCs who will put in 5K each. I ask for 100K and 15 months. That would be enough time. If I succeed, you get to put in another 2.5K each for a 50K bonus to me. This 5K you might put into this is the equivalent of 5 million you might put into Kiva. Democracy is the ultimate fishing net you can give to a people. Once they have a modern democracy, they can help themselves.

Looking forward to it. Happy July 4.


Me @ BBC
An Immigrant Story For Brad Feld
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