a"50% of the world's pork is eaten by Chinese people. The other 50% is eaten by Chinese people outside of China." -Me, tongue-in-cheek about my relatives love of pork
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
The idea is to create a combo distance learning program with live, in-person facilitator to create a quality education at a low cost. Pure distance learning has proven to be a flop in India, providing very low quality of education at low cost. What Mr. Rai thought was needed, and our market research bears this out, is a medium quality education at a low cost. The key is that this is not so low that the quality is just terrible. After all, the graduates must be of the caliber that they can be hired into meaningful jobs for the program to be sustainable.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I recently posted about Blackboard's patent on Internet-based education. I've been learning more about this space since I'm evaluating course delivery models for my project with the Rai Foundation here in India. They've built their own internal system for their 16 campuses, but we still need to figure out if it will fit this radical rural education model that myself and three of my MIT Sloan colleagues are helping them develop.
It looks like Blackboard had all of the claims (44 of them) of Internet based education rejected in 2008. The India article I had originally cited dated back to 2006. Here's a summary of why the claims were rejected:
The patent in dispute involves a course-management system in which a single user with a single log-on could have multiple roles in multiple classes. For example, someone who was a student in one course and a teaching assistant in another could log on once and get different levels of access to all the course materials.
Desire2Learn and its supporters have argued that the patent should not have been granted because similar technology existed in 1999, when Blackboard applied for the patent.
The patent office awarded the patent in 2006, and within months, Blackboard sued Desire2Learn for infringement. However, the patent office, in its re-examination, cited several examples of "prior art," or previously available technology, that was similar to what Blackboard claimed to have invented.
Blackboard also describes some of their patent pledges here. It's hard to blame a company when they're not enforcing against free and open source software options. While I believe strongly in corporate social responsibility, a company like this also has an obligation to shareholders to compete.
In microeconomics, third degree price discrimination means that price of a good or service varies by location or by customer segment to extract surplus according to willingness or ability to pay.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I'm still here in India - spent this weekend in Goa where I had my first ever Ayurveda consultation, one of those things where they essentially tell you to meditate, get massages stop eating everything that you like eating to improve your health.
In December 1993, the University of Mississippi Medical Center had a patent issued to them by United States Patent and Trademark Office on the use of turmeric for healing. The patent was contested by India's industrial research organization, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (C.S.I.R), on the grounds that traditional Ayurvedic practitioners were already aware of the healing properties of the substance and have been for centuries, making this patent a case of bio-piracy.Just last week the Indians were trying to figure out how to get around a catch-all patent that Blackboard has on e-learning.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wow. I'm researching courseware that we could potentially deploy in India as part of this project for the Rai Foundation trying to develop a distance learning program for villages. I'm amazed at some of the things you can have a patent on that can be enforced. Apparently, Blackboard has patent on delivering Internet-based education and support. Talk about a valuable patent.
US-based Blackboard, has been granted a patent for technology used to deliver Internet-based education and support.I wonder how much longer a patent like this is good for and how broad it is. The Times seemed to think Indian companies would get around it.
The patent is already applicable in US, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Its sweep spans every little bit of online education including processes like how courses are offered and managed. The patent is now pending in other countries including India.
Signalling what it intends to do with the patent, on the day it was awarded, Blackboard sued Canadian company Desire2Learn, its main competitor in the market that caters to American students.
Indian companies feel the patent can cover only specific systems and there are many avenues to deliver e-learning without infringing on Blackboard's patents. Since Blackboard's patent is specific to its methods, it won't affect popular tests like GRE and GMAT, they say.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Yesterday we met with the world-renowned education entrepreneur Vinay Rai. Mr. Rai graduated from MIT in 1970 and went on to become a successful industrialist. In the late 9s, he retired from his work and decided to use his riches to drive improving education in India through his organization, the Rai Foundation. He now runs 16 schools with nearly 9,000 students.
Problem Statement: Mr. Rai believes there are 3.5 million plus people who are college graduates who are not employed or severely unemployed in villages. The undergraduate curriculum at the government-sponsored schools is 40 to 50 years old, and the faculty is not that strong. As a result, the employability of graduates from these lower tier programs is poor to none. The industry is crying that they don’t have good people to employ. Jobs are available here for people with basic skills – but many don’t have them. Many feel demotivated because they have studied a lot but really don’t have the skills to be employed.
One of the core goals of the program is to give them the first level basic skills and knowledge to make them employable. The existing curriculum does not link up with practical needs. Soft skills and personality development need to be provided as well. These are very underdeveloped in India.
We discussed this as a team and we will do a gap analysis of the current state potential village business school student and the needs of potential hirers as determined by our market research and interviews.
Cost: 80,000 rupee in the village, 6x that minimum would be the cost in the city, and that’s not including the city. Low-cost online MBA can be 30,000 to 40,000 rupees with almost no contact. The industry knows the difference. Between these and pay accordingly. Starting salaries after graduation can range from $1,000 to $40,000.
Loans: Students would be able to get a full loan. We need to work with banks, but it is not a problem to do loans fewer than 400,000 rupees. No collateral is necessary. The rates would be 9 to 10%. Just a few years ago they were 20%. Mr. Rai reiterated that Indians are very risk averse.
Facilitator Model: The village business school will use facilitator model – people who speak the local language who can translate the curriculum when necessary. Even if we transmit the classroom live, they will not be able to understand all of it so the facilitator is necessary.
Corporate Interface: The village business school is considered a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. Just spoke to MD of Microsoft India’s CSR. Microsoft will be willing to support them if the project is right. The concept needs to be good and relevant. CSR budgets are large but companies don’t know what to do with it. Multinationals are interested because they want to get trained manpower in the villages to capture market share.
There is currently a major disconnect between industry and students. But companies need talented employees in the villages to execute their business plans.
There is already a lot of cynicism about the quality of the program. We must make sure we do not overpromise and under deliver.
Do we provide them with a laptop? That can go into the bank loan. We must consider this.
There is no formal accreditation facility in India other than the government assessment.
Internet and electricity are major issues. Generators? Landline or wireless? These are among the decisions that must be made. Computer skills are generally quite low, no Internet cafes. Computer literacy is a paper thing. It’s not happening in the village, according to Mr. Rai. The laptop might be expensive, but it will help build computer skills, which is likely to be a pre-requisite of hiring companies. The lack of computer skills will also mean that a higher level of IT support will need to be provided.
Women: Villages won’t sent daughters if they have men around. There is a lot of conservatism in the villages. Must be convinced that they are safe and secure. Differential pricing for the women is a possibility.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Day 1 was a community organizing effort to gather information in the state of Uttar Pradesh, two hours from our home base in New Delhi. Our teammates from thee Rai Business School went door-to-door with loudspeakers to recruit people for the focus group.
I had an interesting conversation with my colleague Aftab beforehand about the agriculture out here. It is almost all small-scale agriculture (12 acre or so plots). At this meeting, there were many young men who were college graduates, but tied up working on farms. One key for countries to move from a developing economy into a middle-income nation is to move from small-scale agriculture to mass production in larger lots. Not only does this increase GDP and food security, it also frees up intelligent people like this stuck tending irrigation ditches to become industrial managers and entrepreneurs. The village business school idea can be a way to drive that.
We had a very good turnout, approximately 20 students, at least 8 or 10 other onlookers. All male. Literally not one female. Some locals came and advised us there are not more than 20 to 25 of the right students in this village, students with undergraduate degrees who are underemployed. This village may not be the right target at this size. They are targeting to have 15 or so people in the program in each village initially, and grow the number. This village would have to be included in a pool strategy with several other villages nearby to work. Additionally, Rai will have to work hard to develop awareness and demand.
A social worker here said that he believed that the motivation was very low in this village as well, and people would have very little money to pay. Skilled worker, engineers, doctors, lawyers and others have already departed for more urban areas where they can make more. There is a need to somehow develop the initial motivation here by providing a seed.
Financing will be another issue. When Indians deploy their capital, they want big upside. But they want you to guarantee them on any risk! This may be necessary early on in the life of this project – handing out lots of scholarships and “money back guarantees” for those who the Rai Foundation can’t get better jobs.
Since I was sitting there on my laptop in a chair, apparently one of the villagers with a microphone thought I was important enough to ask a direct question to. The question was questioning the role and fit of MIT curriculum in the village. He was saying that MIT as a research school didn’t fit with the agricultural learning needs of the locals. It was actually a good question, although they guy who was asking it seemed upset at us for some reason. Maybe he was just trying to show he wasn’t terribly impressed by the MIT brand.
I almost said, “Hey man, I just got here!” I really had JUST gotten there, about 10 hours earlier, with less than 2 hours of sleep.
But in the spirit of openness, I said that this initiative is about building something that fits the needs of the people in the villages, not about pushing a MIT MBA curriculum that would be full of information that might be useless in village India. I said that we wanted to hear what they were interested. That seemed to change the tone of the talk towards being more open. I think that they didn’t want people looking at them and seeing them as backwards and proselytizing this new program to them. That's a line we'll have to tread carefully.
Many in the villages seem to be more interested in public sector jobs. These jobs are substantially easier than working on the farm and it is almost impossible to lose the jobs. Those who are interested in these types of jobs don’t seem to think a MBA will help them.
Loan rates are very high. 9 to 12% is typically on collateralized loans. What collateral would be offered for the village schools program? Those are details that need to be worked out.
One last thing is that a key part of the MBA experience is networking and the shared culture. How will we build that here? Perhaps if it is people coming together from the local villages, this will unite communities.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
“Eventually, the US government will have to use taxpayer’s money to arrest the decline in house prices. Until it does, the declining will be self-reinforcing, with people walking away from homes in which they have negative equity and more and more financial institutions becoming insolvent, thus reinforcing both the recession and the flight from the dollar.” (George Soros, Economist 10/23/2008)
For those who are interested, Soros' talk from the MITWorld channel:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
MIT Sloan School of Management
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Staying on a sports theme, I do believe that the hip injury that Alex Rodriguez has at least a partial root in steroid usage. Having been an athlete who has been around teammates who used performance enhancing substances, I have noticed an increased likelihood of injuries caused by torque. That is exactly what the labrum injury is, a stressed induced injury from high torque from a powerful swing.
Had a great time yesterday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, which ESPN.com writer Bill Simmons dubbed Dorkapalooza. As a guy who spends hours looking at John Hollinger's PER Ratings, this was the event for me. As some of you may know, I had a brief stint as an ESPN writer, and a longer one covering fantasy football for various e-zines. But I went to this event purely as a fan.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
During our time in Africa training a community based organization, this document written by Jayne Cravens was one of the most useful docs for helping communicate fundraising fundamentals to them. Since Jayne has openly encouraged sharing of this document, I'm posting it out here for all the social entrepreneurs who read this blog to utilize.
Basic NGO Funding Final-JCravens
Sunday, March 1, 2009
The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.
The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word “compensation.” It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)
The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.
Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda’s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.
The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.