Monday, June 29, 2009

Google's Push Into Africa via SMS

The post below is taken directly from Tech Crunch. I thought it was encouraging news for Africa and wanted to re-blog it here.

Google’s Africa Strategy: Search And Trade Via SMS

Not only does Google want to organize all the world’s information, it also wants to make all that information available to everyone in the world. For the majority of the world’s population, that means making it available on a cell phone, and not a fancy iPhone or Android with a Web browser either. I’m talking about $10 cell phones with not much more than voice and SMS capabilities. If Google can reach people, especially in developing nations, with SMS, it can reach everyone with a cell phone.

In Africa, it is launching a suite of SMS services today, including SMS search, Q&A-style tips, and an SMS-based marketplace. The first country to get these services is Uganda.

The search service works like Google SMS in North America. You text a search term, and it responds via SMS with the result. Searches can be narrowed by using specific keywords such as “local time,” “weather,” “news,” “maps,” “translation,” or “currency conversion.” For more complicated searches, the related SMS tips service offers answers in an automated Q&A format.

But the most interesting application is Google Trader, which allows people to post items for sale and jobs via SMS. Other people can search for them by texting the service with the word “BUY” preceding the search term. Google Trader connects the buyer and seller together (each listing contains the seller’s cell phone number).

Update: Google created these particular apps in partnership with the Grameen Foundation, through its newly-launched AppLabs project. The mobile suite of SMS apps also includes Health Tips, Clinic Finder, and a Farmer’s Friend database.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The President's Volunteer Service Award

Readers of this blog will recall that back in February of 2008 I wrote some posts about my trip to Turkmenistan where I worked with women artisans hoping to sell their goods in Western markets. The organization that sponsored and organized the trip, Winrock International, sent me a packet in the mail this week and in it was a very nice letter (electronically signed by President Obama) and a certificate indicating that I had won the bronze level President's Volunteer Service Award for the time I volunteered in Turkmenistan.

While I certainly wasn't expecting any sort of award or recognition, I have to admit that I thought it was a very nice way to recognize the efforts of volunteers. A total of 99 Winrock volunteers won the award. I particularly like this organization because among other things it has a strong focus on
programs that support the establishment and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, which as I've said time and again is what I believe is the key to poverty alleviation.

The other cool thing about the award is that the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation encourages as many "winners" as possible - volunteering is not something that should be exclusive.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sustainable Communities: The Local and Global Impact of Fair Trade and Responsible Sourcing

Tonight I'll be part of a panel discussing the global impact of fair trade and responsible sourcing.

The event is being hosted by ABC Carpet & Home in NYC and is being presented by New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE)This forum features leading women social entrepreneurs who will share their insights and experience on the guiding principles of fair trade, the pros and cons of certification, and the state of responsible sourcing in the face of an economic downturn.

The event will be facilitated by Marisa Guber, curator/ shop manager ABC Home&Planet and the other p[anelists include:

Patti Carpenter: Carpenter + Co., President and Founder
Amy Chender: ABC Home, VP of Social Responsibility
Rebecca Kousky: Nest, Executive Director and Founder

Should be an interesting evening. Will come back with some highlights.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"What is happening in Congo is the most brutal and rampant violence toward women in the world. "

The above statement was made by Eve Ensler in her poignant article posted on CNN today about what's happening to women not only caught, but specifically targeted in the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo - an enormous central African nation with loads of natural resources and few rules of law.

She not only highlights the brutal facts: "In 12 years, there have been 6 million dead men and women in Congo and 1.4 million people displaced. Hundreds and thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn apart." But also asks the simple question of "Why?"

Anyone have any answers?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Water The New Oil?

Read an interesting post today by Kim Miller on the Seeking Alpha website talking about the value of water. Traveling back and forth from Africa for several years truly drove home the value of this precious commodity and Miller makes the point quite clear when he surmises that it might be the next thing traded on an exchange:

"You can’t – at least not yet – buy water on any exchange in the world. As water supplies get tighter across the world, this could change. Water is the new oil – a precious commodity, increasingly harder to find, manage and distribute; and that supply is often subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Control of available water is subject to the whims of government. In some parts of the country, the availability of water is restricting the building of housing."

While Africans know all too well the value of water, Americans (at least North Americans) often take it for granted. Global warming has us focused on fossil fuels, but water will likely turn out to be worth much more "per barrel." I remember a couple years ago driving back to NY from DC in October during a freak heat wave and making an off-hand comment to a woman at a gas station that someday we might really have a severe drought, her response was "that's not a big deal for me 'cuz I don't wash my car and I drink soda." Clearly we need to do a better job educating people on the life sustaining value of water.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a day in America!

January 20, 2009 will certainly be a day to remember. Whatever the ultimate legacy of Barack H. Obama, now the 44th president of the United States, on this day people from both sides of the political aisle, of every race, religion and economic station came together (about 2 million in person!) to witness the first African-American take the oath of our highest office.

(Photo from

It will certainly be one of those "where were you when" moments. I'll remember being in a bar/cafe in SOHO (NY) with a work colleague and about 50 strangers, all of us with our eyes glued to the TV and all feeling like somehow we had a new lease on life as individuals and as a nation. Pretty cool.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Wishing my family, friends and colleagues around the world a very happy New Year! May 2009 bring you health, happiness, prosperity and really good chocolate!

I rang in the new year in traditional NY, that does not mean I stood with the tourists in Times Square. Rather, I threw a party at my place and then did the New York Road Runners Club 4-mile midnight run in Central Park which was a total blast. A full fireworks display kicks off the event and many people run in costumes, making it very festive despite the freezing temperatures! And yes, I had plenty of food and drink both before and after the run so though I did not post my best time, I have to say it was one of my favorite "races" of the year! I just might have to make it an annual tradition :-).

Can't wait to see what 2009 brings!