Thursday, August 21, 2008

Harder challenges make for better solutions

A great article on how the constraints of delivering medical care in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, has led to a reduced cost and better outcome treatment for patients in the UK as well.

An example of how products/services created for the world's poor can compete and win against those designed for the fortunate 10%.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

VIT interviews candidates for Student Project Support Scheme

The Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) University in Vellore today interviewed 17 candidates for the L-RAMP Student Project Support Scheme. Each student (or team of students) has an idea for an innovative project with social benefit and so, through the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) at VIT, presented their idea and where they plan to reach in 1 year. A total of Rs. 2,50,000 is available for disbursement and the committee comprised of the VIT TBI coordinators, VIT faculty and an L-RAMP representative will decide on the top projects in the coming days.

Projects presented ranged from innovative ways to reduce heat transmission through windows to novel ways to generate electricity from VIT food waste and many things in between.

We at L-RAMP are happy to support budding student innovators and help them along their journey from idea to reality, especially whilst they're busy in that most fertile of times, college life. Look for future updates on the progress of our selected students from VIT and our other nodal partners.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Reduced global food availability - the Europeans and Russian react

Two articles (from the BBC) discussing changing patterns in agriculture as a result of global changes in food availability are listed below.

This article discusses the European response, with 1.3 million hectares of previous fallow land coming back into production in Europe. Leaving aside the potential significant environmental consequences, it is interesting to see how quickly the Europeans have reacted to the economic potential of food in the face of reduced global availability.

This article
discusses a similar situation in Russia with over 40 million hectares (100 million acres) of fertile agricultural land, previously lying idle (a result of post-communist collapse?) now coming into production through large commercial farms. In this case again, it is the global demand which is fuelling this investment.

It raises interesting questions in my mind (particularly given the recent collapse of the Doha round of WTO talks) around issues such as
  • How long will global food prices stay at current high levels
  • How can countries like India leverage their vast farming potential in more productive ways
  • How can countries like India benefit from global food demand
Any ideas?

Friday, August 1, 2008

L-RAMP attends the J-PAL 'Evaluating Social Programs' course

From the 28th of July to the 1st of August, L-RAMP was fortunate to be part of an executive education course dealing with 'Evaluating Social Programmes' held at the IFMR in Chennai. The course was organized and delivered by MIT's J-PAL lab, the base of a network of development economists advocating the use of randomized trials to conclusively determine the impacts of social programmes. J-PAL (or the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) is in some ways the epicenture of a new movement in economics, focussing on micro-level studies to impact macro-level policies.

Taught by 4 faculty members from MIT (A. Banerjee), Harvard (S. Cole, R. Pande) and New York University (R. Hanna), the course covered topics relating to understanding and designing randomized impact trials.

Innovation at General Motors? The Volt.

General Motors (GM) has been pursued for decades by competing automakers but in recent years, the news has turned exceptionally bad. Just today, they reported a 3 month loss of $15.5 billion USD, a staggering amount even considering that many of the charges are one-time charges relating to their ongoing restructuring efforts.

Losing money, stock value plummeting, their public perception poor and their product mix unsuited to the world conditions, in 2006 GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz began work on an uber-ambitious project to take on the sector of the automotive market which the other market leaders were not attacking and which they said was not possible. The 'plug-in' car, today called the 'Chevrolet Volt' had no competitors because other companies, notably hybrid leader Toyota, said it wasn't possible, and especially not possible in the 2010 model year as announced by GM.

This article discusses in very interesting detail the various ways which necessity has forced GM to change in order to allow the development of the Volt in such a short time span and the myriad innovations necessary to bring it to today's point in its development. In short order, most other leading automakers announced their own plans for plug-in cars, following GMs lead shortly after poo-pooing the idea.

I find the parallels between GM (with the Volt), Apple (with the iPod and OS X) and the grassroots innovators we work with interesting, each innovating when faced with difficult situations. It will be interesting to see if GM'ss push with a 'game-changing' product (if such cliche is permitted) will be the harbinger of a turn-around and perhaps they will return to their glory days, using innovation to maintain their automotive leadership.