wage inequality
At Solbridge International School of Business in South Korea, students and teachers gathered at a seminar and spoke of how Asian markets were booming because of the combination of huge labor pools, unregulated industry and extreme wage inequality. In combination, these factors have attracted business and manufacturing firms from around the world, producing products at miniscule costs.

Every lecturer spoke with great confidence on the boon of wage inequality and unregulated industry. For the corporate beneficiaries at Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Wal-Mart and other manufactures with production lines in Asia, the low wages, no labor benefits and unregulated industries are certainly a great benefit. But what about the actual worker on the assembly line?

Estimates from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics approximate that Chinese factory workers earn a paltry 64 cents an hour. Such low wages are not sufficient to lift oneself out of the perpetual cycle of poverty. Lack of labor unions or collective bargaining rights prevent worker representation to counter corporate interests, resulting in long hours in unsafe working conditions for little pay and no benefits.

The prevailing economic ideology at the seminar ignored the blatant instances of social and financial inequality that perpetuates so many instances of poverty around the world. From a moral perspective, workers should be given fair wages and proper representation because that’s what’s “right.” But big business and fairness are rarely considered simultaneously. However, even from a financial perspective, a well-paid, safe and cared-for labor force can benefit everyone.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, wrote on the validity of paying workers fair wages. Reich pointed out that in 1914, business magnate Henry Ford paid his workers $5 per eight-hour work day for his Ford Model T production – triple what the average factory worker earned at the time. And yet to the chagrin of critics who called Ford crazy, socialist or both, these high wages created a class of laborers capable of remaining financially secure and able to become consumers of their own product. With higher wages, Ford’s autoworkers could eventually purchase a Model T of their own, reimbursing the company for money spent on higher wages. In the next year, Ford’s profits doubled.

Reich makes an important note in his book, “Aftershock:” “Workers are also consumers,” he says. “Their earnings are continuously recycled to buy the goods and services other workers produce. But if earnings are inadequate…an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.” In the end, everyone suffers from unfair wages. The economy stagnates and poverty reigns.

In addition, the seminar wrongfully ignored the potential for blow-back resulting from the unfair wages and dangerous working conditions. This is highlighted at Foxconn in China, the primary electronics manufacture for Apple. Work conditions and pay have been strenuous enough to cause a stream of suicide attempts. In 2010 alone, 18 workers leapt from the company’s rooftops. Without financial recourse, factory workers like those at Foxconn strike for better working conditions, damaging both the company’s profits, investors’ returns and the workers’ ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Criminally cheap labor is not conducive to an efficient workforce, and while the Asian markets continue to boom, laborers have not seen a proportional share of that growing economy. Promoting prosperity is as simple as decreasing this vast inequality.

– Michael Giacoumopoulos

Sources: Business Week, Aftershock: The next Economy and America’s Future, Telegraph
Photo: Cult of Mac

Maldives has made significant strides in creating a robust and effective education system for its young students. In 1978, the government of Maldives created a unified state education system. As a direct result, the literacy rate of the nation has increased from 70 percent in 1978 to 98 percent today. Additionally, the literacy rate is now even for men and women while primary education is universal throughout the nation.

However, there are unique challenges in further improving access to education in Maldives. One of the toughest challenges is a matter of geography. There are 192 inhabited islands in Maldives, many of which are isolated and difficult to travel to and from. While secondary and special education is particularly strong in the capital city of Male, 70 percent of students live on islands far away from Male, so access to these institutions is difficult.  Furthermore, two-thirds of teachers on these islands are untrained and do not have proper facilities or resources to hold classes. And recruiting teachers from other islands or teachers from abroad is tough.

While Male has flourished as a contemporary cultural center, there is a distinct disconnect between the city and the rural areas of the country. Students from islands deemed too small to even host a secondary school must make costly and time-consuming travel arrangements to schools in larger areas. This leads to families hesitating to send their children off to school. It also creates a gender gap in secondary schooling.

Only 65 percent of the population attends secondary school and only seven percent attend a university. The result is a workforce that is not qualified for an industrial and technological job market that can further improve and diversify the economy of Maldives. And with 35 percent of its population under the age of 18, Maldives will face a significant amount of young people entering the job market as under-qualified.

To combat these issues, organizations such as UNICEF and Microsoft are partnering with the government of Maldives to create innovative solutions.  UNICEF is in the process of creating 20 “Teacher Resource Centers,” which will give rural teachers Internet and satellite access to online databases and curriculum.  Microsoft is launching the “Coding Your Way to Opportunity” grant program to encourage youth in Maldives to participate in computer programming.  These programs are crucial steps in helping Maldives continue to develop a sustainable education system.

– Taylor Diamond

Sources: UNICEF, World Bank, UN Development Program
Photo: EDC Online

Microsoft and the Rwandan Ministry of Education are teaming up to bring a better learning experience to Rwandan children. Through its Partners in Learning Program, Microsoft hopes to increase information and communications technology (ICT) throughout the Rwandan school system. Both parties feel that improved ICT access will facilitate teaching and learning while also increasing the chances every child receives a quality education.

Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program seeks to improve the student and teacher experience through technology. The program has invested over $750 million throughout the world, helping 12 million educators in 134 countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 13 million students  have received benefits due to Microsoft’s initiative.

On the other hand, Rwanda’s educational system is in desperate need of aid. Only 6% of primary schools and 18% of secondary schools are connected to the Internet. Additionally, the student-to-computer ratio in Rwandan secondary schools is a feeble 40-to-1. Without adequate resources, it is difficult for many of these children to receive the technological background that is needed to survive in the modern age.

Rwanda is a country with a tumultuous history.

It has experienced the worst genocide in modern history, when clashes in 1994 between the minority Tutsi population and the majority Hutus left up to a million Rwandans dead and eliminated approximately three-quarters of the Rwandan Tutsis. Since the tumultuous violence of the 1990s, Rwanda has been working to remake its image.

In fact, it has made substantial gains in bringing stability, and subsequently the country has experienced average growth of 7% to 8% since 2003.

Microsoft and Rwanda’s partnership goes along with the government’s desire to become a regional leader in information and communication technologies. It has taken steps, such as establishing a Specialized Economic Zone in Kigali, to attract further private investment in the area and help jump-start the economy.

Through increased investment, Rwandan hopes to build up its infrastructure and lower poverty.

Currently, 44.9% of its population, almost six million people, lives below the poverty line. Additionally, Rwanda suffers from energy shortages and a lack of adequate transportation linkages to other countries. Through efforts such as the Partners in Learning program with Microsoft, Rwanda is making the correct moves to attract private investment and improve both its economic potential and the lives of its people.

– Martin Levy

Sources: IT News Africa, CIA Factbook

China lifts the ban on video game consoles by allowing its production in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

As the hub of financial reform and experimentation, the Shanghai Free Trade Zone is envisioned to be a bastion of foreign business interaction in the otherwise heavily government-controlled Chinese economy.

In addition, the Free Trade Zone is meant to allow the market to set interest rates (as opposed to government overseers) and enable the conversion of the Chinese Yuan to foreign currency.

Gaming consoles in China have been banned since 2000. Previously, consoles were only available through underground markets, including restricted game titles.

For this reason, gaming heavily centered around the PC. The $13 billion industry dominates two-thirds of the market in China.

With this new overture, consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are allowed production in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone to be distributed nationwide, an untapped market in the world’s most populous nation.

From its November release to the end of 2013, Sony’s Playstation 4 sold 4.2 million consoles. Microsoft’s Xbox One sold 1.2 million consoles. During their initial day of release, both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, respectively, sold one million units.

Manufacturing companies have yet to comment to comment on the new reform policy. The consoles constructed within the zone must, however, undergo governmental inspection before possible nationwide distribution.

Among the other initiatives in the Free Trade Zone include freer Internet at-home access. Internet availability stems from foreign ownership of telecom services, including call centers.

This recent reform comes alongside foreign companies, including products made in America and plans on capitalizing China’s burgeoning market. Such products include air purifiers for China’s heavily polluted urban centers, California wines and toys such as K’Nex.

Whether economic reform is to lead to further reform, the global reach of the gaming community will reach expansive proportions. This possibility will largely be in part due to the online gaming community, which will be a step forward, to say the least.

– Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC Business, BBC Technology, CNN Money, CNN, CNN Technology, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Gizmodo

Development Gateway is built upon the foundations of the twenty-first century: the Internet. The organization’s founders believe that empowering others with simply the opportunity to connect and share information to leverage resources is the key to poverty alleviation. According to the Development Gateway 2011 Annual report, “technology brings information to life and enables everyone from policymakers to citizens to engage in efforts to strengthen their communities.

Development Gateway operates under the objective to provide low cost access to development resources for people around the world. Instead of funding large, on-the-ground projects overseen by powerful decision-makers in developed nations, Development Gateway empowers citizens on the ground with the knowledge to lift themselves out of poverty. According to Mary O’Kane, Chair of Board of Directors, “It is clear that the days of top-down development, with resources and planning controlled by a handful of powerful actors, are over…Against this backdrop, Development Gateway’s role connecting development workers and citizens with easily accessible and usable information, and acting as a convener of like-minded organizations – is more relevant than ever.”

In the past, Development Gateway has partnered with IBM, Microsoft, Intel, the World Bank, the United Nations and wide variety of governments around the world to produce programs and platforms to suit their needs. Development Gateway’s programs focus in three areas: governance, knowledge and networking, and transparency and accountability.

In order to govern well, leaders require the most up-to-date information. Development Gateway’s information management solution allows citizens and leaders to engage in a mutually beneficial dialogue at low costs, which democratizes the development process. Additionally, Development Gateway provides institutional strengthening programs to create a stable infrastructure for years to come. In its Aid Management Program, Development Gateway provides software tools and institutional strengthening activities that improve the availability of aid information at the national level. The program has been implemented in over 20 nations and is used to record billions in official aid flows.

Development Gateway utilizes advanced data management and collaboration tools to provide information solutions for practitioners from around the world to learn from one another, keep up-to-date on the latest research and coordinate innovative solutions. One such solution is known as Zunia. Zunia is a database for a variety of resources resources including articles, reports, and research related to development. Zunia helps development workers around the world to share knowledge, discuss challenges, and find solutions together. Another such program to increase knowledge and networking was the Teamworks platform, which was built for the United Nations family of organizations and is now used by over 35 UN agencies. The Teamworks platform, like Development Gateways other forms of knowledge sharing tools, eliminates the costs of duplicate or wasted efforts due to miscommunication and supports a more collaborative environment for geographically dispersed organizations.

Without real-time feedback and transparency, stakeholders have no way of being held accountable for providing results to those in charge. Accordingly, Development Gateway provides transparency and accountability in its programs by tracking development finances, publishing aid information, and creating mobile apps for on the ground feedback. In 2005, Development Gateway partnered with the World Bank, the United Nations, the OCED, and the governments of Ethiopia and India to create the Aid Management Platform (AMP). The recently-developed Aid Management Platform mobile app (AMP 2.0) allows users to access data and report progress on aid-funded projects on-the-go. Overall, Development Gateway expects AMP and other similar mobile apps to create a feedback loop between donors, governments and other stakeholders. In addition, Development Gateway has worked with the World Bank in its Mapping for Results initiative, to geocode all of the World Bank’s activities around the world.

According to the World Bank’s OED, which works closely with Development Gateway, the organizations process of program development and further refinement is what makes Development Gateway different, if not more efficient, than other organizations. The value of Development Gateway’s programs “lies not only in what is delivered, but also in learning about effective models and processes for using the Internet in order to extend the Bank’s and the development community’s capacity to affect knowledge sharing and development effectiveness.”

Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: Development Gateway, World Bank
Photo: Development Gateway

United States Global Leadership Coalition
On the heels of President Obama’s trip to Africa, the United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) gathered to unveil their 2013 campaign, “Innovations in Smart Power.” Composed of authorities from both the public and private sectors, the conference rested on one key theme: the idea that through mutual cooperation, smart policymaking, and dedication, we have the power to reduce global poverty to below 3% of the global population.

In doing so, the coalition argues, we can create a framework to yield an unprecedented return on investments. In turn, national security and peace will become more attainable than ever before. In essence, everyone wins.

The USGLC is a Washington D.C. based organization representing over 400 American businesses, NGOs, diplomats, government and military advisors, and policymakers. Through mutual cooperation, the USGLC hopes to foster an environment of American global leadership through “strategic investment in development and diplomacy.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, a vibrant spectrum of global leaders heralded the efficacy of government/public sector cooperation. Microsoft’s/USAID’s partnership, 4Afrika, aims to equip underprivileged Africans with mobile phones and provides a crucial communications service while simultaneously creating a foundation for an emerging market. Similarly, Merck’s partnership with Mectizan Donation Program is working to effectively rid the world of onchocerciasis, more commonly referred to as “river-blindness.”

Cooperation on such a level has been described by World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, as a shift in the global business ethos to “do good” while “doing well.” And with developing countries expected to grow at a rate of up to three times faster than developed nations, there is a clear indication that investment in the developing world could greatly benefit the private sector.

To this point, Unites States Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew argued the unique position we, as the United States, occupy in battling global poverty in a practical sense. Through engagement and utilization of “Smart power,” we can spearhead a culture of mutual cooperation between public, private, and NGO entities in the pursuit of global development and poverty reduction.

When Lew speaks of “Smart Power,” he is referencing what is commonly referred to by International Relations academics as “Soft Power.” Coined by Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” Rather than defeating the enemy through military might, he argues, we win their hearts and minds through building schools and hospitals.

As a nation with unparalleled economic and military power, Lew argues Smart Power is a vital yet underutilized arrow in our national quiver. “It can’t just be about doing good. It is about doing good to help end poverty and improve the quality of life, but it is also very practical.” Lew continues, “from the government perspective, it is about security because we are safer in a world where we have stability and they aren’t starving.”

“The two [smart and hard power] together,” Lew says, “give us an enormously enhanced ability to make the world a safer and better place.” Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize that the percentage of our national budget allocated to International and Foreign Affairs, is roughly 1%. At the same time, however, defense spending eats up roughly 15% of the budget.

What the USGLC hopes to convey, in the end, is there rests far more opportunity in a world where there are peace and prosperity. Through encouraging peace through peaceful means, we are not only expressing goodwill, but we are also renovating the foundation on which society sits.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Mectizan, USGLC, YouTube, UCLA, USGLC
Photo: US General Services Administration

Digital Green Strengthens Food Security

With children suffering from malnourishment all over the world, and people hungry for food, it would be amazing if simple tools could be implemented to create substantive change. The incredible reality is that so many researched techniques have now been established, with dramatic benefits. The problem is that most small, rural farmers in the developing world do not know about them.

For example, a fern called Azolla which can be easily cultivated, if added to animal feed can boost the production of cows milk by 15 to 20 percent.  Or a System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which involves transplanting rice saplings, and tending them in a certain way, can produce marked crop increases. SRI is called one of the most important agricultural innovations of the past 50 years, yet it is only known to a fraction of farmers.

For Rikin Gandhi, one of the great paradoxes of today’s world is that information is so easily transmitted, yet efforts share life-saving information to critical people is so ineffective. This was a problem he wanted to solve. An American-born software engineer working in India for Microsoft Research, Gandhi spent six months in villages experimenting with communication formats — posters, TV shows, locally-made videos, public screenings, home screenings. His impactful discovery was that short, 8 to 10 minute videos that featured local farmers (both men and women, as most agricultural work in India are done by women) talking about their experiences was the most effective method of information dissemination. Films were screened locally with a facilitator who engaged discussion, and farmers were finally highly engaged with the new information, and consequently utilized the practices. Gandhi found that when sessions were actively facilitated, people remained and participated, if not, farmers left quickly. Farmers were more likely to adopt new practices if they heard about them from someone of a similar socio-economic background, speaking the same dialect, and without too much formal expertise.

Kentaro Toyama, Gandhi’s boss at Microsoft, set up trials to test Gandhi’s approach. Among 1,470 households in 16 villages, they found that increased adoption of some agricultural practices increased by seven-times, and the cost to get one farmer to adopt one new practice dropped by ten-times (from $38 to $3.70, with this video-based model).

So Gandhi created Digital Green – a platform and process for extending knowledge and influencing behavior. Gandhi and his colleagues established the NGO and The Gates Foundation provided support. It produces locally made videos in India’s rural areas, using locals, requiring only a battery-powered “pico” projector and mini speakers, which can fit in a backpack, then projected onto a wall or sheet – a major logistical advantage. See some here.

Today, Digital Green works in 2,000 villages in India, 100 in Ethiopia, and 50 in Ghana. Working with a variety of partners, it has produced 2,600 videos that have been viewed by 157,000 farmers. It reports that 41 percent of viewers in the last two months have adopted at least one practice. Gandhi now has 60 colleagues working with him and plans to be reaching 10,000 villages by 2015.

– Mary Purcell

Source: NY Times

Youth SolutionsA South Asia regional grant competition called “Youth Solutions! Technology for Skills and Employment” will grant four young individuals the chance to carry out an innovative project. Organized by the World Bank and Microsoft, Youth Solutions is looking for ideas on how to effectively and imaginatively utilize the information and communications technology abilities of youth living in the South Asian region and provide them with employment opportunities.

In South Asia, around twenty percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 24. The region suffers from a lack of employment opportunities and with a projection of more than a million youth entering the labor force every month over the next twenty years, this is a problem that will only intensify. The idea behind this project is that the solution to massive unemployment should come from the youth themselves.

The World Bank and Microsoft are launching the project in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka calling for proposals on how to use the information and communications technology to address the problems of lack of skills development and unemployment. One grant of US$10,000 to $20,000 will be given to each of these countries to the winners for use in carrying out their projects.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: World Bank

3 American Tech Companies and Africa

While Africa has its share of security issues, it has its share of economic growth as well. In fact, as a continent, it is growing at a faster rate than North America. This has spurred a big push in many African countries to modernize technologically which has given rise to many tech hubs and even a few tech cities. All of this begs the question: What are American tech companies doing to contribute to and capitalize on this type of growth? Here is a list of what three of the largest American tech companies have been up to in Africa.

IBM recently opened an office in Dakar, Senegal which the company believes will bring in roughly $20 billion by 2015. IBM is no stranger to the region as it sold supplies to South Africa in 1911. Recently, IBM has become more and more focused on Africa and has established a presence in 20 of Africa’s 54 countries. No doubt IBM is hoping to establish a bigger presence in many of the upstart tech hubs which have begun sprouting up all over the continent.

In an attempt to gain ground in the smartphone market as well as capitalize on Africa’s quickly growing tech industry, Microsoft has introduced its Microsoft 4Afrika initiative.  Microsoft 4Afrika will be producing a moderately price $150 smartphone. The phone will be marketed toward Africa’s middle-class which comprises one quarter of Africa’s billion people. Microsoft has plans with Nokia to release two more smartphones in the near future. This decision was likely influenced by Africa’s number one spot as the world’s fastest growing region for smartphones. The region has grown by 43% per year since 2000.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt noted that Nairobi has become a remarkable tech hub and has the potential to become an African leader in innovation. However, Google seems to be losing ground in Africa as French based mobile operator Orange and Baidu, China’s answer to Google, have collaborated on a jointly branded smartphone. This comes as no surprise as China has been aggressive in its attempts to forge business partnerships all over the quickly changing continent.

Africa’s main draw to tech companies is that it continues to grow while larger economies have stalled. If this trend continues, those companies who are left behind investing in these developed markets may see their profits eclipsed by these fast growing economies.

-Pete Grapentien

Source The Economist

Apps for Aid HackathonLast month at the International Women’s Hackathon, female university students from around the world in countries such as Brazil, Australia,  Pakistan, and Kenya participated in a focused competition to develop applications that would help combat human trafficking. With technology acting a huge catalyst in carrying out kidnappings and sex trafficking, a new trend has emerged that brings together technology, business, and humanitarian efforts.

At the University of Washington, one of the dozen or so schools participating in the event, students are working on the blueprint of an application called ‘Blossom’. While it is disguised as a lifestyle and pop culture-based app, featuring celebrity gossip and fashion tips, the app will actually allow young girls who are being trafficked to access a chat room and receive help through a hotline number, among other resources.

Some may become skeptical when realizing apps require mobile smartphone access. However, based on presentations and research from the hackathon, the audience these apps are designed for usually have smartphones. Now whether we would like to digest this information with a grain of salt, keep in mind that sex trafficking doesn’t just happen in developing countries. In fact, in 40% of sex trafficking cases undergoing investigation by the Department of Justice from 2008-2010, 83% of the victims were U.S. citizens.

Reverting back to the hackathon, which was sponsored by Microsoft, the event gives females studying computers, technology, and engineering an opportunity to gain a sense of empowerment by coming to understand the profound effect they can have on changing the world. Although they may not be able to go out and capture traffickers directly, their energy, creativity, and knowledge are no doubt going to save lives as these applications are put to the test and developed.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: npr