Archive for the ‘Open Collaboration’ Category

I was alerted to this excellent report by Melinda Smale and Timothy M. Mahoney who created a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Agricultural Productivity in Changing Rural Worlds


The report highlights negative effects the Green Revolution has had as well as discusses solutions/ways to avoid these mistakes moving forward. A strong case is made for what they call agroecology (organic farming methods in common parlance).

It is the first report I’ve seen which takes into account geographic, climate & cultural differences between sub-Saharan Africa and Asian countries. The authors advocate for systems which allow farmers to share their knowledge & expertise amongst themselves instead of extension/”expert” based systems which tell farmers what to do.  However, agricultural researchers are still needed to formalize the knowledge which farmers share/create.  ICT is viewed as essential to making this happen, esp. to enable farmers to overcome institutional barriers (e.g. establishing information sharing networks, reducing the cost of searching for/acquiring information, linking farmers to markets & credit).

There is also a very interesting panel discussion which focuses on US/USAID policy in facilitating transition to market driven approaches to agriculture:

Public-Private Partnerships to Develop and Spread New Agricultural Technologies in sub-Saharan Africa http://csis.org/event/public-private-partnerships-develop-and-spread-new-agricultural-technologies-sub-saharan-afric (the third audio clip below the video highlights the authors of the report)

There are a lot of highly pertinent sub-topics brought forth in the discussion so it is well worth listening to, in addition to reading the report.

Entities mentioned in discussion which I hadn’t heard of before (see speaker agenda/bios for more details):

Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa http://www.partnership-africa.org/

African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) http://www.aatf-africa.org/ (focused on licensing technology from the private sector)

Arcadia Biosciences http://www.arcadiabio.com/

Fertilizer Development Research Center http://www.ifdc.org/

CIMMYT (International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center) http://www.cimmyt.org/

Development Credit Authority http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/economic_growth_and_trade/development_credit/

Global Impact Investing Network http://www.globalimpactinvestingnetwork.org/cgi-bin/iowa/home/index.html

Terragua project http://www.globalimpactinvestingnetwork.org/cgi-bin/iowa/council/terragua/index.html

Root Capital http://www.rootcapital.org/

BizCLIR (Business Climate Legal & Institutional Reform) http://www.bizclir.com/

Report Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development http://www.ifpri.org/event/millions-fed-proven-successes-agricultural-development

Terminology “Soft Infrastructure” http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTURBANDEVELOPMENT/EXTLED/0,,contentMDK:20198974~menuPK:404390~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:341139,00.html

Commentary (not mentioned in discussion but reflective of general sentiment) on impact privatization is having on land ownership http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=23003 (based on a brief mention in John Lamb’s talk, the World Bank appears to be working to address these concerns by establishing investment standards )

World Bank’s Investment Across Borders project



John Lamb’s research (mostly focused on food standards)

Food Safety & Health Standards http://vle.worldbank.org/bnpp/en/publications/trade/food-safety-and-agricultural-health-standards-challenges-and-opportunities-develo

Agriculture for Development discussion http://info.worldbank.org/etools/BSPAN/PresentationView.asp?PID=2236&EID=1007

International Agro-Food Standards http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/TRADE/0,,contentMDK:20334931~isCURL:Y~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:239071,00.html

Not mentioned in the discussion but came up in search results while I was looking up information that was mentioned:

African Agricultural Opportunities Fund http://www.aaopfund.com/

Next Billion http://www.nextbillion.net/

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I have just had the deep privilege of assisting with the coordination and screening of the documentary Milking the Rhino at both Carnegie Mellon and Penn State universities.

For those unfamiliar with the documentary:

Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbzWM6Kqbhk

Movie Website  http://www.MilkingtheRhino.org/ (copies available for purchase)

The documentary was filmed in Kenya and Namibia.  It provides an in-depth view of the challenges and opportunities offered by the Community Based Conservation model http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-based_conservation

My role was to:

  • Connect the film’s Originator & Co-Producer, Jeannie Magill, with interested parties at Carnegie Mellon and Penn State
  • Assist with planning and logistics
  • Moderate the panel discussion at Carnegie Mellon
  • Participate in the panel discussion at Penn State
  • Help to promote post-screening dialog and activities

You can find details on the Carnegie Mellon panel discussion here http://www.cmu.edu/uls/november/rhino.html (link to video is forthcoming).  My moderator comments can be downloaded here http://www.box.net/shared/yzen6lqgml

My presentation for the Penn State panel discussion can be downloaded here http://www.box.net/shared/h6nekgobj1 (focus is on a community owned hippo sanctuary in Ghana)

Penn State has created an Innovative Solutions Showcase.   http://mtrsolutions.weebly.com/ Students were asked to create video pitches of no more than 3 min in length and to post them on YouTube.  While this is the first year, it is hoped that next year others (other students, general public, entrepreneurs, etc) will join the competition.

You can view the 12 student submissions here http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=AB8BA0AC68E84D71 The winning entry was video #10 (Milking the Rhino – Lion Solution)

Patty Satalia host of Conversations from Penn State on WPSu TV interviewed Jeannie Magill on November 18th.  Interview can be viewed here:  http://conversations.psu.edu/episodes/jeannie_magill

The following comment from Lisa Premo (Program Associate, Office of the Vice-Provost for Education) at Carnegie Mellon has prompted me to attempt to create this blog as an online forum whereby discussion can continue.

“You are an amazing moderator! On the spot you seamlessly pulled together all the threads of discussion into a coherent and visible pattern.”

Now that shameless self-promotion is out of the way, I will attempt to summarize the different themes that arose from 3 days of discussions and meetings:

Community Based Conservation

What it is:

  • An attempt to dispel the myth that the natural environment is a “free” resource.  It creates an awareness that there is a delicate eco-system balance on this planet and the eco-system is not centered around humans but rather on the peaceful and collaborative co-existence between humans, wildlife, plants, insects, even microbes.
  • Recognizing that (a) there is a cost to maintain the natural environment, and, (b) professional conservationists alone are not sufficient in number to protect all the natural resources on the planet, we need business models that create incentives for local communities (urban, suburban, rural, remote) to take ownership of and effectively maintain their local eco-systems.

What it is NOT:

  • Easy/Simple
  • A quick solution (These models need at least 10 to 15 years of nurturing and collaboration before they become successful)
  • Standardized approach (Each solution must be localized to the existing environment AND driven by the individual and collective needs of the community that is participating)
  • A synonym for tourism (While the film showcases tourism as a business model, there are many instances where tourism is not a feasible model due to safety, e.g. Liberia, or lack of tourist interest, e.g. a remote community in Kazakstan is preserving local bird species but it is not yet a tourist destination, or, cases in which the traffic of tourism will cause more harm to the local environment than the benefits it brings)
  • A model centered on Western values (This planet has a multitude of human beings each with their own cultural and religious identities and beliefs.  As an example, in African and Native American cultures, the notion of hunting animals for food is widely accepted.  The notion of killing any animal is horrifying and socially disgraceful in Buddhist cultures.  Hunting animals only for sport is often viewed as a Western preference.  Often times the judgments and decisions made based on these differing value systems create intense conflict between groups so we need to find ways to harmoniously resolve our differences.)

Respecting Local Autonomy AND for “The Poor”

Across the globe, any time a community is given the label “poor” (based on their lack of monetary wealth), there is an unspoken assumption that they are also incapable of sound judgment let alone making sound business decisions.

Hence the “poor” (in any part of the world whether in rural Africa or urban slum neighborhoods) are treated more like ignorant children than autonomous adults.  It is expected that they will acquiesce and comply with whatever solutions and assistance are provided by the “more enlightened” people (i.e. people with money or certified education degrees).

There is never an attempt to ascertain why certain behavior patterns or preferences have evolved over time.  When people are “poor” it is automatically assumed that their modus operandi is either primitive or wrong.  However, those who are considered primitive are able to construct housing that leaves zero footprint on the local environment (something that those with money and certified degrees have yet to figure out).  Those in the US who were labeled as wrong for not wanting to invest their money in banks because of the excessive fees are now being proven right during the economic downturn as more and more “wealthy” individuals get hit with 30% interest rates and other onerous bank fees.

It has often been said that societies are judged based on how they treat their least fortunate members.  (see quotes http://ask.metafilter.com/23612/Quote-About-Government-and-Poverty)  Within our country borders AND as a global community it is time that we put actions behind our words.

The first step to respect is listening without judgment or bias.

The second step to respect is asking others: How can I best help you? Instead of assuming one knows what is best for that person or group.

Are movies truly educational or do they just serve to promote myths and stereotypes?

This was an interesting polemic discussion

Point: A film such as Milking the Rhino is just a snapshot in time.  For those who are uneducated about foreign cultures it can reinforce negative stereotypes and beliefs (i.e. continue to promote ignorance rather than increase understanding).

Counter Point: A film such as Milking the Rhino is an invitation for further dialog and informed discussion.  It presents the complexity and depth of the issues so that we are forced to argue amongst ourselves.  Through these arguments we will eventually increase our understanding and create better solutions.


One polemic discussion leads to another.

Point: Throughout the film, Africans refer to “white people” in a derogatory manner.  This is offensive and why are we asked to help when they are so hostile to us?

Counter Point: In the film, the Africans also state that “we cannot kill them [whites] and we must continue to live with them.”  When it comes to Africa, as the film shows, there has been no shortage of derogatory and abusive treatment from whites to Africans.  The Slave Trade, Colonial Rule, Exploitation of Natural Resources through lopsided contracts and trade agreements, constant biased media portrayals of “savages” and “primitive people”…The list is virtually endless.  This behavior naturally generates deep resentment and anger.  Anyone who is treated this way would react in the same manner.  Instead of being surprised by the reactions, the reactions should be taken as a wake up call that the treatment of Africans needs to change.  When this happens, their remarks will change.

Can Technology help to reduce Human-Wildlife conflict?


In Kenya, elephants are being tagged with collars that send an SMS (text message) alert to game rangers any time an elephant gets too close to the farms of a local village. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/11/tech/main4515365.shtml

Todd Katzner, Director of Conservation & Field Research at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, is working on tracking devices that use a GSM mobile platform in order to track the flight patterns of eagles.  This data is collected at 30 second intervals.  It allows for things such as the appropriate placing of wind turbines (renewable energy windmills) in locations that do not pose risk to eagles as they fly by.  Perhaps one day there can be devices for each animal species so that we have the tracking mechanisms that will enable us to issue and trade wild life credits in the same manner we are beginning to trade carbon credits.  http://www.aviary.org/cons/katzner.php

Penn State faculty and students are working on a WishVast project which leverages the power of social networks combined with mobile telephony in order to enable rural communities to directly interact with the global community.  Information can be readily transmitted to them (e.g. Have you tried to protect your crops from elephants setting up natural barriers using chili pepper bushes?  You can also harvest and sell the chili peppers for money.) http://sites.google.com/site/thewishvastproject/

Is Development Aid a problem or a solution?

Across the globe, development aid has had many mixed results.  In some parts countries such as the Asian TIGERs have flourished.  In many parts of Eastern Europe and Africa, the impacts of development aid and development policies by foreign donors have made things worse not better.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The complexities of delivering effective development aid are highlighted in Working Paper 185- Beyond Planning: Markets and Networks for Better Aid published by Owen Border at the Center for Global Development. http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/1422971

For development aid to work, donors and technical assistance providers MUST learn to synchronize their interests with local interests in a manner that is collaborative and mutually beneficial.

Within the context of Africa this means that, within each country, donors and technical assistance providers need to start sharing information about their projects with local communities AND with each other.  Each country has an almost infinite number of projects on the same topic (wild life conservation, value added agriculture, HIV/AIDS treatment, small business development).  There is no mechanism which provides a country-by-country across the board evaluation of which projects are working better within each sector/issue.

In addition, the one-off pilot project approach needs to be replaced with a long-term intervention approaches (e.g.  minimum of 10 year commitments to a project).  1 to 2 year pilots where activities stop as soon as funding stops are not helpful.  In the context of development aid, we are not manufacturing widgets.  We are working with individuals and groups of individuals to change behaviors and transfer skills (bi-directional, i.e. changes from donors to communities and from communities to donors).

Think about how long it has taken to create awareness of global warming.  Think about how long it takes someone who decides to stop smoking to actually quit smoking for good.  Think about how long it takes even the most successful entrepreneur to start a company and start making money.  The film Milking the Rhino took 6 years from concept idea to final production and with an additional 1.5 years of screenings and discussion we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what the film’s producers intend for the film to accomplish.  http://www.milkingtherhino.org/makingof.php

If the 1 to 3 year pilot approach is not adequate in any of these contexts, why is it then assumed that it is suitable for the context of development aid?

Why are initiatives like these being spearheaded by foreigners instead of Africans?

This question was raised by a Penn State student from Ivory Coast.  He also lamented that he was the only African student at the Penn State screening.  I can attest that at the Carnegie Mellon screening there was only 1 African student from Rwanda.  Both universities have a much larger African student population.

There is also a lot of African led research and activity that takes place within each country.  Unbeknownst to many, Africa has a large and distinguished scientific research community as well as business community.

If I had to answer as to why their efforts are not better known, I would say it is due to lack of marketing.  Africans need to get better at self-promotion so that they are in control of the spin and the voices that are heard.

In the interim, I am hoping that at least some Africans will post on this blog…  (-:

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They say “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”  One of my biggest frustrations is the amount of time we spend creating “new” stuff because we never bother to check what has been done in the past.

There are many who have come before us and often, those with ideas that were ahead of their time, got ignored.    This does not mean that when an idea comes back the person proposing it is not innovative.  Every person has a unique way of stating things, organizing ideas, sharing information, etc.

As an example, let’s examine the term/concept Open Innovation. The term is promoted by Prof. Henry Chesbrough at UC Berkeley.   (You can find more details on his work here http://www.openinnovation.net/)  Open Innovation is used to describe the process via which a company or organization creates new products and/or services by collaborating with individuals/organizations that are not part of the firm.

I also need to belabor a point.  For those who think the coining of terms is not important, I would strongly disagree.  Terms are very important because, as humans, things are not tangible until they have a name.  Think of it this way, what would you think of me if I came to you and said, “You cannot look directly up at the round yellow ball in the sky which is very bright and gives you heat during the day.”?  However, if I came to you and said, “You cannot look directly up at the sun.”, you would immediately understand me.  At some point in human history, there was no word for “sun.”  Once the term was created, it enabled us to readily understand each other as well as to shortcut our communication process when dealing with this object.  The same principle applies to concepts.

Now that I have stressed the importance of terms, here is an Open Innovation example from Home Depot (cited in InformationWeek.com on May 7, 2001)  http://www.informationweek.com/836/collaborate.htm;jsessionid=3FQNAQNSDRHEXQE1GHRSKHWATMY32JVN

Synopsis Excerpt:  “Few companies are being as aggressive as Home Depot in sharing information with suppliers to drive sales and cut costs….By providing its top suppliers with more detailed information about how its people perform on the store floor, Home Depot hopes to increase its sales as well as those of its suppliers. ‘Hopefully we’ll both end up managing a better business together,’ Home Depot CIO Ron Griffin says….To get the data, suppliers have to show that they can translate a smaller inventory into lower prices and fewer out-of-stock shelves for Home Depot. ‘Then we’ll allow them whatever information they want–sales by store, geography, day of the week, whatever,’ Griffin says….Home Depot first began implementing an electronic data interchange network in 1992; today, 85% of all the company’s dealings with suppliers–from ordering to invoicing–are conducted electronically. Home Depot is working with suppliers to bring consumers into an electronic network, thereby completing the loop among supplier, retailer, and customer. For instance, the company is linking its E-commerce engine to marketing sites operated by manufacturers. Shoppers browsing small-engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton Corp.’s Web site, for example, are dropped directly into Home Depot’s checkout page if they click the ‘Find a merchant’ button; they can buy from the site if there’s a store in their area….Collaboration may sound like one of those mom-and-apple-pie business ideas that everyone supports, but the reality is that companies such as Home Depot and Franciscan Estates are at the forefront of this wave.

In some cases, companies will share their intellectual property with others.  One example is Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK).  GSK is letting scientists use some of its patented IP in order to create “drugs for neglected diseases.”  Here are links which explain the process in a little more detail:




Open Source Drug Discovery http://www.osdd.net/

The concept is not restricted to the private sector.  Here are examples from the government sector http://wiki.milcord.com/wiki/Open_Innovation

Now for the historical perspective:

Thus far my favorite Open Innovator is George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver While he is most famous for sharing his discoveries on the many uses of peanuts, he also was prolific at creating a number of other naturally based products http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,757923-1,00.html

Mr. Carver wanted to help poor farmers in the south to improve their economic status.  Hence, he not only studied natural pest remedies which they could create from crops they were already growing, he also created recipes for home made lubricants and other items they would need as part of the production process.  He held the firm belief that nothing should be thrown away and would show people how to use every aspect of a plant or product.

All this information he freely shared through his Carver Bulletins.  While his inventive genius was recognized by the likes of Henry Ford (they worked together to develop synthesized rubber from soybean), Mr. Carver preferred Gandhi as a role model and felt that his knowledge should be shared for the good of humanity rather than for his personal profit.

In this day and age we think of ourselves as pioneering when we discuss sustainability, eco-industry, or, open collaboration.  However, George Washington Carver accomplished all of this 66 years ago.  Which other pioneers of ideas we consider modern have we overlooked in our global human history?

Bio http://gardenofpraise.com/ibdcarve.htm

References to his body of inventions




For more information on Open Innovation initiatives you can visit:



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I was very excited to see in this week’s Japan for Sustainability digest that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development has created an Ec0-Patent Commons (www.wbcsd.org/web/epc/)

Here are excerpts from the site which explain the purpose of the EPC

“The Eco-Patent Commons is an initiative to create a collection of patents on technology that directly or indirectly protects the environment. The patents will be pledged by companies and other intellectual property rights holders and made available to anyone free of charge.

The Commons is a resource for connecting those who have had success with a particular challenge in a way that benefits the environment and those who are facing similar challenges.

Experience has shown that free exchange of intellectual property fosters innovation by allowing new players in and freeing resources to work on other problems and improvements—working on the gear rather than reinventing the wheel. The Commons provides an opportunity for businesses to identify common areas of interest and establish new collaborative development efforts.”

It is very heartening to see a shift from Competition to Collaboration and Restriction to Sharing.  Conventional business wisdom focused on scarcity and the notion that the only way to succeed in business was to limit how others could use one’s intellectual property.  Perhaps this is why we live in an age where we have more problems than solutions.

Leading business research is causing a paradigm shift towards Open Business Models.  More information can be found here:

Wikipedia summary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_business

Harvard Business Press Book Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape

UC Berkeley Haas School http://openinnovation.haas.berkeley.edu/openbusinessmodels.html

As with any new business model, there will be a lot of different approaches, many will not work, eventually a best of breed model will emerge.  Until this happens, the shift in business consciousness is an encouraging one.

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