Rarely do I use my blog to write book reviews, but rarely do I enjoy books as much as Charles Arthur’s new Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the Internet. Not only is this highly informative, but it is extremely well written. I used every spare moment – in other words take offs and landings on recent flights, when laptops have to be switched off – to read it! He somehow manages to craft an exciting thriller out of what could have been written in a very arid and boring way – the recent history of Apple, Google and Microsoft. This really excellent book builds on Arthur’s journalistic work over the last 25 years, and combines deep insights about the evolution of these companies with fascinating interviews with people who have been involved from the inside in their evolution.
Digital Wars begins with accounts of some of the key personalities involved – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. His story then kicks off with Steve Ballmer’s elevation to CEO at Microsoft, and the aftermath of the Antitrust trial, which Arthur sees as having had an enormous effect on the company. At a rapid pace, the book is then structured around four themes:
- development and control of “search” – seen primarily as a conflict between Google and Microsoft
- the innovative shaping of a digital music industry, in which Apple outplayed Microsoft
- the creation of smartphones
- the emergence of tablets
This book is a “must read” for anyone who really wants to understand some of the changes that have taken place in the ICT industry over the last 15 years. In some ways, the book can be read as being about the demise of Microsoft, and the rise of Google to be the lead player in search, and Apple the dominant force in digital music (iTunes) and top-end telephony (iPhone). However, it is much more than this. Arthur manages to weave into the text fascinating insights into leadership, the ways through which small individual decisions – both good and bad – can shape the future of whole corporations, and the ebb and flow of recent corporate takeovers.
Do get hold of a copy and read it. There is much to be learnt about the past from Digital Wars to help us shape the future.
Noted below is the call from the Arab Gulf Programme for Development for the AGFUND Prize 2011 focusing on Empowering Youth through Entrepreneurship and Job Opportunities. This is a very worthwhile initiative, and I would encourage people working in this area to apply.
“FOR UN AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, NGOS, GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES AND INDIVIDUALS
AGFUND ANNOUNCES THE OPENING OF NOMINATIONS FOR ITS PRIZE ON
YOUTH EMPOWERMENT PROJECTS
May 31st is the deadline
The Arab Gulf Programme for Development (AGFUND) has opened the door for nominations for the AGFUND International Prize for Pioneering Human Development Projects. It invites the United Nations, international, and regional organizations as well as NGOs, ministries, public institutions, universities, and research centres worldwide to submit their nominations for the Prize amounting to $500 000 in its four Categories. The theme of the prize for the year 2011 is ‘Empowering Youth through Entrepreneurship and Job Opportunities.’ subdivided to match the four categories of the Prize are as follows:
- First Category:The role of international organizations in supporting the developing countries’ national policies and programs for empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects implemented by UN, international or regional organizations)
- Second Category: NGOs-led efforts to empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects implemented by national NGOs).
- Third Category: The governmental bodies’ efforts in adoption of pioneering entrepreneurships for empowering youth and increasing their job opportunities. (For projects by government ministries and public institutions).
- Fourth Category: Individual-led efforts to empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects initiated, sponsored and/or implemented by individuals).
The Communications Department is receiving nominations at the address of the Arab Gulf Programme for Development: Riyadh 11415, P.O. Box 18371, KSA; or the email address email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> . For more information and for downloading the nomination form, please visit the AGFUND website http://www.agfund.org <http://www.agfund.org/> . Nomination forms will be accepted until May 31st, 2011.
The projects submitted for the Prize are evaluated with high objectivity and transparency by juries chosen every year with regard to the experience and specialization relevant to the Prize theme. The number of projects which have won the Prize since its inception in 1999 amounts to 38 projects, implemented by UN and international organizations as well as NGOs and individuals. More than one hundred developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe have benefited from the prize.
The Prize Committee is composed a number of distinguished world personalities representing the world’s geographical regions. The Committee convenes annually to discuss the evaluation results of the nominated projects and to choose the winning projects. Prizes are presented in a ceremony to which representatives of the winning organizations, specialists and experts in the field of development, celebrities interested in development issues, and media representatives are invited.”
P.Vigneswara Ilvarasan and Mark Levy have just made available the final report from their exciting and innovative IDRC funded research on the use of ICTs by urban micro-enterprises in Mumbai, employing fewer than 20 hired workers. This is one of the most important analyses of ICTs and entrepreneurs that I have recently read. The methodology is much more rigorous than that of most research in the field of ICT4D, which means that considerable credence can be placed on the reliability of the results. Some 329 male owners or managers of micro-enterprises, and 231 female owners were interviewed between April and June 2009, and a further 102 men and women were surveyed in September and November 2009.
Whilst I might have some quibbles over definitions – surely in general usage, the term micro-enterprise is used to refer to much smaller units than those employing 20 people – this is a really excellent piece of research that deserves widespread citation. Its key findings are:
- “Nearly everyone who owned or managed a microenterprise—regardless of sex—had a mobile phone.
- Many female and male microentrepreneurs who owned or managed microenterprises and who used a mobile for business communication reported that the year-over-year income of their business had risen.
- Urban microentrepreneurs experience different levels of economic growth depending on how they use their mobiles for business communication.
- The positive impact of mobile phones on microenterprises might emerge only after two years of use. Microentrepreneurs who owned a mobile for two years or less saw some growth in business income; those who had begun to use their mobile more than two years earlier experienced even greater income growth.
- Levels of PC ownership and usage at home and work were low.
- Few microentrepreneurs frequented Internet cafés for business purposes.
- Only small numbers used their mobiles for the full range of business-enhancing activities.
- Consideration of a microentrepreneur’s full repertoire of ICT use showed a positive relationship with microenterprise growth, especially when other factors such as gender and motivation were also taken into account.
- Compared to women-owned microenterprises, microenterprises owned or managed by men had much greater increases in business income, although female owned microenterprises also experience some growth
- The more positive a female microentrepreneur felt about her status and power because of her business, the more she was motivated to use ICTs in support of her business.
- The more that a woman entrepreneur used mobile phones, workplace computers, etc., the more her microenterprise grew, especially businesses in the trade sector of the informal economy.”
Thanks Vignesh and Mark for enriching us with this important study.
A report today by the BBC highlights that a new partnership has been established between One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and the East African Community (EAC) to deliver 30 million laptops in the region by 2015. As the report goes on to say, the EAC first needs to raise cash for the laptops! It also comments that “OLPC has had difficulty selling its computers and its alternative vision of education around the world”.
I find such announcements hugely worrying. There have been sufficient critiques published on the OLPC model for governments, donors, and all those involved in education to be aware of the fundamental difficulties associated with its roll out (see for example Bob Kozma‘s comments in 2007, David Hollow‘s 2009 account of their introduction in Ethiopia, Scott Kipp‘s comments in 2009, and Ivan Krstic’s devastating critique of the concept and its implementation at the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning Fifth International Seminar in 2008).
Let me here highlight what I see as being some of the most important issues:
- Cost – 30 million laptops at $200 each amounts to $6,000 million. Might this money not be more effectively spent in other ways, such as providing teachers in East Africa with better training, or even simply remunerating them better so that they do not have to do several jobs at once in order to support their families?
- Pedagogic model – is there one? OLPC has claimed to be an educational initiative, but a fundamental problem with most OLPC roll outs has been that they have not been integrated into the existing educational structures. In the worst instances, the laptops have been given to children but not to their teachers. The tensions that this causes are immense.
- Lack of Content – the OLPC vision is “To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning”. The problem is that there is very little available learning content suitably designed and integrated with the curricula in the countries where the laptops are being introduced. Simply expecting young people to be able to learn by connecting to the internet is like throwing someone into the sea and expecting them to swim.
- Monitoring and Evaluation – there have been too few rigorous monitoring and evaluation studies to be able to say with any certainty what the impact of these computers might be in Africa. Surely, we should undertake high quality studies of the educational impact before spending such huge amounts of money on rolling them out?
- Who gets them? This is a real issue. In many instances, the choice about where the computers are given reflects social, economic and political interests. The sampling strategy for the roll outs needs to be thought through extremely carefully, and not just left to some enthusiastic youth volunteers (as in the OLPCorps programme – the selection of participants for which is itself highly problematic and controversial). If XO computers do have a beneficial effect, then why should only some young people (in most cases those who are already privileged in some way) benefit from them? Will they go to the poorest and most marginalised, those who most need help in isolated rural areas? Ethiopia alone has an estimated 9 million children out of school. Will they receive laptops?
- External technology-led initiatives – most of the evidence suggests that top-down, externally-driven and technology-led initiatives are much less successful than initiatives that are explicitly designed and tailored to the needs and aspirations of the people for whom they are intended. It is crucial that we begin with the educational needs of people in East Africa, and then identify the most cost-effective way of delivering on them. As Bob Kozma says, “Is this an education project or merely a laptop project?”.
- Sustainability – what happens when the first batch of computers breaks down, or becomes outdated? Let’s be generous, and estimate that each might last five years. Can East Africa afford another $6,000 million in five years time? What will happen to the debris of the old computers? How will their materials be recycled, or will they just be dumped?
- The technology? There are some great things about the technical achievements in creating the OLPC XO laptops – but anecdotal evidence suggests that actually it is not quite as good and effective as is often claimed. In particular, there have been numerous issues with the mesh networking and connectivity when actually rolled out into the rural village conditions of Africa.
So, I ask again, why does there remain such euphoria about the OLPC initiative? Surely, the East African Community has better things to spend its money on? If only it could find the funds to support good education effectively, that would be a start! Nicholas Negroponte is a charismatic and enthusiastic champion of OLPC, but is it not time that he recognises that his vision is fundamentally flawed? African governments have better things to do than to be beguiled into spending their limited resources on such a delusional concept.
Colleagues with whom I am have been working at the World Economic Forum have recently launched an interesting new report on Educating the next wave of entrepreneurs.
The Forum’s Global Education Initiative (GEI), in announcing this report, commented that “With its groundbreaking report: “Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs”, the GEI wants to consolidate existing global knowledge and good practices in entrepreneurship education around three focus areas that cover the lifelong learning process of an individual: Youth (with a focus on disadvantaged youth), Higher Education (focusing on high growth entrepreneurship) and Social Inclusion (with a focus on marginalized communities). This is the first time entrepreneurship education has been considered in such a comprehensive manner. The report also outlines specific approaches that are needed for each one of these areas, as well as opportunities, challenges and practical recommendations for key stakeholders. The report will be further discussed in sessions at the Forum’s 2009 regional summits in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and India. Key education decision-makers and meeting participants will review the report’s recommendations specifically as they apply in their region’s context”.
It’s an interesting read for all those concerned with entrpreneurshiup education