Monthly Archives: July 2008

Prof. Yunus continues to speak on Social Business

Prof. Yunus continued to speak about his vision of creating social businesses to help address some of the pressing issues facing us. He was hosted by the MIT-Bangladesh Students’ Association and Bhin-Golardho – a Bangla-centric group – during his visit to Boston.

He challenged the youth to start social businesses by saying. “I would like to say that while we at Grameen have done a few things, there are many causes that are waiting for you to take up”

You can read Ranjani Saigal’s write-up of his visit here on Lokvani

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Innovative bus technologies go green

Looking for a quick and inexpensive way to make a short day trip to New York, I came across a couple of new bus services from Boston – Megabus and BoltBus – both offering free internet connectivity on the ride down. Always a sucker for technology, I chose to take the Megabus to NYC. The ride was surprisingly pleasant, on-time with clean new buses and continuous Wifi enabled internet access throughout as advertised.

Curious, I decided to find out more about the company and the technology. Looks like the buses are most likely equipped with Moovera Mobile broadband gateways. They connect to a 3G network on one side and provide Wifi coverage in the bus on the other side. An additional benefit is the availability of real time GPS tracking of the vehicle, plus Ethernet based connectivity for on board instrumentation and telematic applications. It all sounded very cool and hi tech for a bus company. I think the new Wifi bus services between Boston and NYC are attracting a younger hipper traveler as evidenced by my co-passengers on the trip.

Digging further I found that Megabus is a subsidiary of a UK based corporation, the Stagecoach Group.  The company seems to be an innovator in the area bringing inexpensive modes of mass transportation to market, encouraging more commuters to take their buses, trains and hovercraft and reducing carbon as a result.

In addition the company has also introduced a number of innovative environmental initiatives. In the past they have been one of the first companies in UK to introduce biofuel buses. An interesting program that they have implemented gives passengers a discount in exchange for their used cooking oil. Argent Energy, which operates the UK’s first large-scale biodiesel plant, is supplying all the biodiesel. In April they introduced a carbon neutral bus service in Scotland where they are looking to offset their emissions in partnership with a Scottish charity Global Trees

One hopes they will try to replicate their biofuel model in the US.

The New Philanthropy – New models for Social Impact

I had a great time attending the conference to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of my alma mater, IIT Bombay. The event was well attended with over 800 attendees and very well organized. It was fun catching up with some of my classmates after 30 plus years!

I had the pleasure of moderating a wonderful panel on “The New Philanthropy – New models for Social Impact” with four great speakers presenting a wide range of activities that their different organizations pursue in the social sector.  The panelists were

  • Shari Berenbach, Executive Director, Calvert Foundation
  • Omer Imtiazuddin, Health Portfolio Manager, Acumen Fund
  • Lisa Nitze, Vice President, Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur Program, Ashoka Global
  • Linda Segre, Managing Director, Operations & Initiatives, Google.org

I have written a more in-depth article for Lokvani, but some of the key points were: Continue reading

Boston Globe interview with Prof. Yunus

Follow up to my post on Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. The Boston Globe published an interesting interview with Prof. Yunus while he was in Boston to speak at the MIT commencement. I have excerpted one of the questions below. You can find the rest of the interview in their article online at A really unconventional lender

You have a different view of how capitalism should work. How do you think capitalism should be reformed?

Capitalism is very narrowly defined in the way we practice it. You ignore everything else but money making. And by ignoring the other parts of human beings – concern for other people, concern about the planet, willingness to make a difference in the world – we’ve created a distortion. So I’m suggesting there’s not one type of business model, but two types. One takes care of making money, which can lead to happiness. The other happiness comes from the other type of business, which is to do good to other people. You cover your costs – it’s not charity. Charity money has only one life – once you use it, it goes. Use the money in a social business, then it has an endless life. It’s recycled. It never disappears.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Motomen make Wireless Internet happen

A couple of years ago, I met with Amir Hasson Alexander, an enterprising young man from MIT with a vision of bringing internet connectivity to the 2 Billion underserved in the farthest regions of the world. Using buses equipped with WiFi. Amir’s company, United Villages  (www.unitedvillages.com)  and his enterprising band of ‘Motomen, provides web content to computers with no internet connection. A small box, with an antenna, onboard the buses or motorcycles, communicates with the rural computers. Every time a WiFi bus/motorcycle rolls by the village, the web content on the village kiosk computer is updated and email delivered. In remote locations with no wired connections, villagers can communicate – albeit asynchronously – with their cousins in faraway lands, order parts, lodge complaints, or review the status of their claims. With every kiosk Hasson’s company makes the world a smaller place.

Click here to see a CNN video of Amir’s Cambodian Motomen scooting around on their bikes