[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Khan way of Transforming Learning

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Listen, you want a glimpse of the future of education? How about Bill Gates vouching for it?

Even If you already know of Khan Academy, still take a few minutes to watch this latest TED Presentation. If you are patient enough, Bill Gates will join Sal Khan on stage around the 18th minute.

I stumbled upon Khan Academy last year, and since that time, he has gone from “somebody” to “the man”. His vision is rather unbelievable – educate the world for free on every topic! His story and rise to limelight is a worth a short film.

This story has been inspiring to me in many fronts. For one, he is making things happen for real. When million others are simply dreaming or talking about just ideas, he is out changing the face of learning, still one day or one video at a time. The realization of his vision in just the last few months is really commendable. They have create an innovative software to facilitate a non-invasive, individualized learning – augmented by the thousands of tutoring videos. Not only that, behind the screen, the software captures tremendous data for the teachers & tutors to evaluate a student’s performance and to have a constructive, thoughtful discussion for further learning and improvement. The best of today’s teachers are manually collating these type of data which takes away the time from focusing on their only goal of positively influencing the development of the students.

When most innovators are behind the startup wagon with a hope of making it big in an IPO, Sal is running this as a non-profit, a social enterprise as I like to think of it. I am certain money is never going to be an issue – even if Gates and Google don’t care for them, scores of philanthropists will line up to write a check for some who is truly impacting the lives of so many people across the world.

Let’s not forget, next to the gift of life, the second best gift to give anyone is education. If he can do that in a simple, easy way that anyone across the globe can use – I salute he is indeed “the man”.

Khan Academy already has a pilot program with Los Altos school district that is showing great promise. Now that he has assembled a fantastic team (I wish I could be part of this team and their mission!!), they are all set to fundamentally transform the way learning will happen in classrooms. No other company, including Microsoft, has been able to introduce this type of transformation. Which is likely why Bill Gates is backing Sal’s vision, besides using it himself to teach math to her daughter.

We need all the other dreamers to take Khan Academy truly global across languages and villages on a mission to educate the masses. Any takers from India?

A fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Often I stumble upon on the same day, two different perspectives on the same topic. One of my favorite past time is to pick up random magazines from the library. The lucky winner the other day was The Progressive magazine. Very thought-provoking articles focused on current events in America, and with arguments that normally fly below the mainstream media.

Quite a few articles caught my interest due to the nature of the topics that I haven’t come across lately. An article, “Fighting Fire with Water” by Colman McCarthy, on the idea of pacifism was a great reminder of why the revolts in the middle east are so effective.

Another article by Luis J. Rodríguez, “the Latino vote” cleared up my common misconception of treating the entire Latino population in the US as one entity. On one of the panel discussions that the author was part of, an average American would have classified the panel participants as all “Latinos” but the author highlights that the only thing common amongst them was writing, if that.

But the best one was waiting just for me. The blockbuster article of the February edition was “The Rule of the Rich” by Bill Moyers. Some of you may know him from the PBS show Bill Moyer’s Journal – which I recommend if you are interested in thoughtful talk shows. The article is based on a rather lengthy speech he gave at Boston University in honor of Howard Zinn. Apparently, the Progressive article not available online in its entirety.

The article starts with defining the word Plutocracy (a new word for me and it means “state in which the wealthy class rules”) and goes on to open your eyes on why Richest Americans do not need the rest of America. The point of Moyers’ article is best summarized by this quote, ““There are two things that are important in politics, The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”. What you will realize, after reading his speech (or the article if you can get hold of the magazine), is how in the name of capitalism, American politics and governance has outright sold itself to the wealthiest in America. Here is a key part of the article to ponder

from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

Just a couple of days prior to reading this article, I was watching the PBS show, Need to Know and they had a fantastic segment on “Income inequality in America: An illustrated interview”. Try to watch the video on the link but the summary of it is that if this deadly canyon of inequality doesn’t stop, America may split into two parallel worlds.

If the trend that we’ve seen for the past 25 years were to continue over the next 25 years, I can’t imagine what the world would look like. Because suddenly you’ve got two separate education systems, two separate housing places. Two separate levels of experience. So, of course, I do not see how, in a system such as this, somebody that begins at the bottom can end up at the top.

Corporation, Profit, Politics & Corruption?

You know about six years ago I made a big decision to get a MBA from a reputed university. Which I did. But about half way into my short journey on business education, I realized I was losing appetite for corporate America’s lure. The courses I took, and some of the wonderful teachers at NYU made me discover what really clicked for me was the Social Enterprise Sector (Non-profit). I disliked finance, accounting and investment banking. I grew wary of Capitalism. Most students out of a business school get out deeply married to the ideas of Capitalism, I emerged crystal clear of its perils. The stories by Bill Moyers and Eduardo Porter reminded me of the heated discussions we used to have in the classes on corporate ethics, global economy and social entrepreneurship.

The subtle reality is corporate America is becoming monstrously huge and ruthless. The pointless year over year growth syndrome is driving corporations to seek wealth at any cost. Where the costs are too high, Washington devises clever policies to rescue Wall Street.

The agony is America is creating a fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption. The rest of the world is boozing the hell out of it.

Feeding a billion people every day

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Listening to NPR’s special report yesterday, I was astonished to learn that some of Nebraska’s farmers manage as much as 2500 acres, with help from few humans and monster machines. I hear Nebrasks’s corn belt is booming but I was left to wonder how could just few people farm thousands of acres? I cannot fathom this conquest of agricultural technology – virtually erasing farm labor from the equation. You may also want to know, Twitter too is part of Nebraska’s success story! (more here)

Nebraska's Farming Profits Abound

On the other side of the globe, Indian farmers are struggling to keep up with rising demand on one hand and age-old, labor-intensive agro practices on other. Add to that the dependence on a lackluster monsoon season. For its part, the government of India hasn’t provided the infrastructure support for electricity, irrigation and storage. As much as half of farm foods don’t get to the people and rot even before it reaches its first trading post. This is pathetic and colossal waste of human and natural resources. Consequently, inflation in food prices is at unbearable levels – leaving most Indians to spend all of their income on just feeding the families. Though GDP growth is elevating many out of poverty, many wonder if it is as effective as economic theory suggests.

Such is the state of food production in a country that must feed over billion people every single day. About 250 million of that are adolescents – whose health and nutrition is crucial for the future of India. There is no concerted vision or effort from government or private sectors to address these problems holistically.

India’s problems are manifold and which one is a priority is debatable. In fact, the endless is debates amongst political groups and media is one reason decisions are stalled. I believe the livelihood and as UNICEF attests, the future of the country, rests more on agriculture than on information technology or skyscraper-studded cities. Yet, it appears there is no sense of urgency or apprehension around state of agriculture. No doubt, the decision makers are enjoying a smooth ride on the GDP bullet train. When would they have the time to step back?

Pegging our hopes on India's budding entrepreneurship

There were times when some of India’s leaders had the will, but not all the means to make it happen. Today, there are probably many ways to address this issue within a 10-year timeframe, but a vision, leadership and of course, the will, is obviously missing.

The one ray of hope is the phenomenal power of India’s educated youth. I know they are entrepreneurial (Tarun Khanna, a Harvard Professor claims billions of entrepreneurs here and here!) with the will and capability to take the best from around the world and mix it with the best of India’s past to revolutionize its future. May the almighty bless my wish to come true soon!

PS: Think Change India is a wonderful place to check out and keep track of growth in social entrepreneurship in India, specifically around agriculture.

Nominating Babar Ali for Youth Social Entrepreneurship

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Some of my readers know my interests in Social Enterprises. Ashoka is one of the organizations that inspires me and to my luck, I had one chance to meet with Mr. Bill Drayton, Ashoka’s Founder.

Ashoka is now looking for 10 youngsters from across the world to go on a TED-style stage (TEDx) to talk – and inspire the masses – about how they are changing in the world. The Staples Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition is open for nominations.

On my part, I had nominated Babar Ali – who BBC called the youngest headmaster in the world. I stubmled upon his story in BBC a while ago and boy, he did touch my heart. When I came across Ashoka’s nomination request for young, inspiring entrepreneurs, Babar Ali immediately came to my mind.

Babar Ali's students Source:BBC

He may not have had a huge impact in Ashoka’s scheme of things, but his heroism and leadership is exactly what Ashoka is looking for. Imagine how many kids and adults across the world he could inspire if he gets 18 minutes on a world stage, in Washington DC, to tell his story about how he runs a evening school for poor children – while going to a government public school himself during the day. He teaches at night what he learns in the day. About 800 kids around his village are now able to learn and get educated, who otherwise stay at home to take care of siblings or or work during the day to feed their family. You can read more about Babar Ali in the detailed BBC report by Damian Grammaticas.

I would super excited if Ashoka picks up him! I have no idea who this boy is but I hope he will be too.