Archive for 'Economic Development'

Rosebank Hotel refurbished and rocking

by on December 3, 2008 at 2:00 am

This post is a few days late but nonetheless deserves to be written as the Rosebank Hotel really is worth visiting if you get the chance.
Working in Rosebank I have, over the past months, driven past men and woman working at a steady rate at rebuilding and developing the renowned Rosebank Hotel. I was […]

South Africa Sluggish on Wind Power

by on December 2, 2008 at 9:00 pm

In many parts of the world, the winds of change may be blowing towards renewables, but don’t expect the South African government to participate.

That’s the assessment of Herman Oelsner, president of the African Wind Energy Association. Standing in front of four wind turbines in Darling in the Western Cape province, Oelsner told our group of bloggers that private industry and regional governments would have to lead the way. He explained that South Africa is rich in coal, and that the federal government owns Eskom, which provides 90 percent of the energy to the country. Because coal is cheap and abundant and the mining industry provides a lot of jobs, the country has little incentive to change. “The utility (Eskom) is against renewables, and that’s why we don’t have any in this country,” said Oelsner. South Africa currently produces 93 percent of its energy from coal.

The wind farm is selling electricity to the Capetown City Council through a power purchase agreement. “We are ‘pulling a Schwarzenegger’ by working directly with provinces which have their own policies,” said Oelsner, refering to the California governor’s penchant for enacting envirornmental regulations that far exceed federal standards.

The federal government did provide some money for the wind farm project, which is led by Danish investors, according to Oelsner. He envisions expanding the wind farm from 4 to 20 turbines, each with 1.3 megawatt generating capacity, and has designs on adding a 770 megawatt wave power project off the nearby western shoreline. Adding wave power would provide a “hybrid power source” as the waves are more powerful in summer while wind power is stronger in the winter.

Financing for the projects has not been lined up yet, but Oelsner does not anticipate problems. A pilot wave energy project of 5 megawatts would cost about 200 millon rand.

The wave project won’t go forward until a feed-in tariff from the province, which would guarantee an incentive for renewable power, is passed. Oelsner expects this to happen in March and hopes for an 85 cent (South African) tariff. This will give the project a big boost: feed-in tariffs in Germany and Spain have sparked the solar industry in those nations to lead the world. “We have to get a return on investment that is higher than the Eskom rate,” he said.

The mining and energy companies control government policy in South Africa, according to Oelsner. He said his organization was vying to become the first working wind farm in South Africa, but the permits were held up by the government until after a small test project from Eskom could be launched. In this sense, Oelsner’s project is going against the, er, wind.

Joule, the South African Electric Car

by on December 1, 2008 at 8:53 am


[Blogging Tour – South Africa 08] This morning we went to Optimal Energy in Cape Town to meet with CEO Kobus Meiring for a presentation of the South African electric car A.K.A. Joule. Presented last September at the Auto Show in Paris, this promising green vehicle got a lot of attention from the industry, but it will not hit the market until the end of 2010. The goal of Optimal Energy is to compete with the mainstream offering and not only with the other electric cars, that is the reason why it fits 6 passengers and has a 130 km per hour maximum speed. The company does not know which type of lithium battery it will use for the final product yet, and we did not see any drive test. If the final Joule is really as good as it is on the paper, we can expect a bright future for clean automotive. Features include: 200km to 400 km range, 0-100 km in 15 seconds, 0-50 km in 5 seconds, energy cost 4c* /km (compared to 80c/km with petrol, diesel). It will be priced around $22,000.

* This is the South African cent.

Sustainability Includes Planet AND People

by on November 22, 2008 at 12:14 am

If you ask five friends what it means to be sustainable, you’ll likely get five varying interpretations. Most response would center on the treatment of the natural environment, or possibly the ability of a business to continue into the future.

On a macro level, sustainability also includes about the health impact of its mining industry, according to The New York Times.

The rate of fatalities in South Africa’s gold mining industry is improving, but still runs at more than four people per week. This is of particular concern to me since I’ll soon be a few thousand feet underground in the TauTona gold mine , as part of the We Blog the World media tour. The Tau Tona mine — the deepest operating mine in the world — has been improving its safety record but experiences dangerous seismic activity.

No enterprise where mother nature has a say in the outcome can ever be 100 percent safe, but it is important that strong guidelines be in place. As long as there is demand for high value minerals and metals, there will be mining, and people will lose their lives.

To ensure that those events are as rare as the metals being mined, the South African parliament is considering a law that would criminally prosecute mining executives — including jail time — for avoidable accidents on their watch. This would be a significant step towards protecting workers and making mining a more sustainable endeavor. All nations should consider such penalties.

Learning about the Q Fund

by on November 17, 2008 at 12:29 am

Logo_smaller I ran into some folks tonight who know the founders of the Q Fund, an organization dedicated to ensure a free education for vulnerable children so they can realize their dreams and talents. Yes, education, but its about so much more as I geared up to hear more.

No surprise that the discussion came about as we were discussing my upcoming trip to South Africa. The founder was living South Africa in 1997, not long after I was living there the second time around. As she came face-to-face with the plight of millions of orphaned African children, she used photography to recount their courageous and heartrending story in her book, African Journal: A Child’s Continent, an inspiring narrative of how these children taught her the true meaning of love.

The Q Fund has developed partnerships with numerous like-minded organizations and individuals and is spearheading a collaborative effort to build the Mucinshi School – a world-class high school in Zambia which will become the prototype for a scalable, replicable model that can be used to help children and communities in need anywhere in the world.

I plan to dig deeper but didn’t want to miss an opportunity to introduce the organization to people who may never have heard about them. Introduce and of course share their core values:

Free education for vulnerable children.

To honor cultural differences and heritage of communities.

To design and build facilities and infrastructure that conserve, protect and enhance natural resources.

To empower individuals and communities to achieve financial independence.

To deliver measurable results within a specified timeframe with transparency and complete accountability.

To develop community-based businesses which become the foundation of thriving, sustainable economies.

To acknowledge through our mutual endeavors our growth and development as human beings.

Bush Cheerleads While the Economy Dives

by on July 21, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Once upon a time, I lived on a kibbutz

by on June 12, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Returning to Israel after so many years was more than a rendezvous with nostalgia. My current life as a publicist, entrepreneur and blogger met the former me, a teenage girl with a pony-tail on an adventure that more than shaped the rest of her life.

This story is a very long one and not typical of my regular blog posts. For that reason, I’ve shortened the introduction – click on more if you’re interested in reading the entire piece. It’s a story of a journey back in time, back to Israel and the life I knew 23′ish years ago, hitching and living on the road and working on a far left Zionist kibbutz, a fact I didn’t know when I first arrived.

My first experience in Israel was a coming-of-age story in countless ways. I never saw Israel as a new country full of immigrants who went there to find a better life for many of the same reasons the oppressed and the misfits flocked to the States at the turn of the century.

Nearly all of my encounters during that trip so many years ago were with misfits — misfits who were on a journey to find themselves and each other. They came from nearly every corner of the world, had a wide range of belief systems and religions, and ranged from 17 to 70.

(more…)

Valley-Ho!

by on May 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm

If there’s one theme that I’ve thought about, talked about and written about the most over my career covering tech and finance it’s the debate of whether you need to relocate to Silicon Valley to be successful. In my case, there’s no doubt I’ve had a better career just by covering business in the Valley, so it’s hard for me to believe anyone who wants to profit from the startup ecosystem wouldn’t be more successful here. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of weak treatises that say Valley isn’t all that great, ultimately coming off either bitter or just naive, but here is a pretty nice piece arguing against Valley relocation. Although, I’m still not convinced.

The strongest point the writer makes is about the damaging affects of the temptation to bulk up on venture capital and not figure out a real business. There is a certain “Valley game” you can get sucked into that can cloud good judgment. Although, I think tying that to Web 2.0 is a bit misleading since the hottest Web 2.0 companies all bootstrapped themselves or lived on angel funding for most of their early days. And besides, really, isn’t knowing when to take money just a test of a good entrepreneur? Hell, I’ve been offered money to start a company before. It’s not access to cash that defines your worth, it’s the discipline to know if that’s the right thing for you and your business.

Per the point about it being harder to retain great people in the Valley, that argument can go both ways. Pro argument for the Valley: the Valley has more talent than anywhere else and they all know the costs and risks of being at a startup. Con: the best people always want to flock to the next hot startup. Personally, I think the latter is overstated. There are certain momentum seekers who will flock to the next pre-IPO name, but those are the people most entrepreneurs don’t want working for them, so actually that phenomenon can be a nice filter. After all smart people work at Mozilla, a company that has said it will never go public. Also, if startups are worried a hotter name will steal their coders, doesn’t that put a healthy pressure on startups to be the best they can. I just generally think competition is good for business. I guess it comes down to what you want: a nice business that might get acquired or to really build something big and lasting. If it’s the latter and you can’t make it in the Valley, are you really good enough to be a billion dollar company?

For good measure, here is a nice piece Evan Williams wrote about it earlier this year. As you’ll see he’s mixed too, but I think his story underscores the more practical point: There’s an undeniable correlation with being in the Valley and success, so if it’s easier why wouldn’t you just move? Evan also points out the social advantages of living in a place where there’s so much creativity and entrepreneurial spirit in the air. Indeed, that seems to be the part people outside the Valley miss. Because it’s one of those things you need to be around to understand. It is the norm to want to build something here– that’s incredibly powerful to entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who are used to feeling like outcasts or silly dreamers.

I’m thinking about this a lot today (while everyone else still seems to be obsessing about Micro-hoo!), as I finish up a column on Isreali entrepreneurs for BusinessWeek. I talked about this a lot over there: Whether all Israeli startups have to move their HQ to the Valley or not, so check out my column this week for more. Israel has benefitted greatly from this symbiotic relationship, but the question is whether it holds them back from being a true technology hub. One interesting note: the people who tend to argue you don’t have to move usually aren’t in the process of building a company. They have either already made their money (frequently, by relocating to the Valley) or are investors, attorneys or other members of the startup ecosystem in markets outside the Valley. In other words, there’s a logical argument that boosters of Atlanta, Austin, London or Tel Aviv can make, but when it’s actually your business and you’re the one trying to mitigate risk of failure, it’s another matter.

There’s something about it that’s like looking at a baseball team’s lineup in April. It could look like a killer team on paper, but somehow on the field they just don’t gel. A city could have every natural resource a startup needs, and somehow lack that cultural glue, support system or whatever you want to call it that is really the intangible reason people don’t leave the Valley once they are here. A lot about this in my book, and I’d love to hear thoughts from any readers once it’s out and I (hopefully!) have readers.

And with that hackneyed analogy, I am off to a Sunday baseball game! Any Israelis: send me some final thoughts before I file!

Why Israel is an Innovation Leader?Yet Tough Times Ahead

by on April 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Gil Schwed had an intriguing answer: Israel began as an experiment in Jewish history. Innovation was built into the Israeli experience from the beginning.

Also technology development has always been a strategic component of the Israeli military advantage. That knowledge gets transfered to commercial applications better in Israel than anywhere else outside of the US.

Combine these factors with the influx of Russian engineers and scientists over the past fifteen years and Israel integration into the global innovation economy?Voila! You have the ingredients for successful innovation. Israel is considered to be the foremost region (after Silicon Valley) for technology R&D ?lots of venture capital, successful start-ups, attractive to many multi-national corporations.

However, there are clearly major problems Israel faces to sustain and benefit from these advantages:

  • The wealth is more highly concentrated among a few, while poverty and despair increases for many. The digital divide is a wide chasm in Israel.
  • The education system is deteriorating and the continuance of a skilled workforce for technology?essential for sustained economic development in attracting global business?may be seriously limited.
  • The Israeli confidence in themselves is lower. I spoke with a wide spectrum of Israelis from religious to secular, family, friends, and new acquaintances. Collectively they signaled to me they are not pleased with what is happening both within Israel and from without. To put some perspective on this, recently 81% of the American public thinks our country is going in the wrong direction; however, they are mostly happy themselves and have more positive confidence in their institutions than the Israelis seem to do. Many Israelis do not have trust in their government, Arab and Iranian hostile intentions, and believe the quality of life in Israeli society is declining.

While Israeli innovation is a bright spot, Israeli mood seems to be in a slump.

Passover is a season of moving to hope from despair, to freedom from slavery, and to strength from weakness. Perhaps we can also see innovation as a driving force for improvement with positive intent from Israelis collectively for themselves.

Cisco Israel Uses Tech to Build Tolerance

by on April 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Can geographically dispersed teens in Israel and the Mediterranean countries create a web based community to increase their own improvement in school, their self-image (believing in themselves and wanting to change), English proficiency, and more their openness to others? Cisco Israel (a branch of the Global Internet company based in the SF Bay Area) is piloting a program that could be scaled to thousands to find out.

Zika Abzuk-Darnell is Cisco Israel Manager of Public Benefit Investment Europe and Emerging Markets.

She manages the social responsibility team. These are large projects that use technology for economic opportunity. Cisco is investing in youth. Web 2.0 technology is a mirror of Western society: the individual is the one who ventures and connects. In the Middle Eastern and African cultures it is difficult to do a program strictly for individuals. They view themselves as part of family and community.

Zika talked about an intriguing pilot program MYTEC ( Mediterranean Youth Technology club).

MYTEC shows how technology can be used for positive social change?web 2.0 with guidance. This enables students to learn about each other and participate. The teens (14-15 year olds) are recruited from Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Greek Cyprus and Portugal. Religion and ethnic identity play an important role in each country. The challenge is: How to foster the interpersonal skills to create business leaders in a global economy that transcends religion and ethnicity.

Cisco selected young leaders (20-30 year olds) in each country to be the instructors for the teen participants. The company brought 20 of these leaders to Marrakesh to teach them English over a two week intensive training program. They also taught them team building and tolerance of others skills. Together they created and built an Internet platform to relate to the kids. One of the instructors was an Israeli Arab. The Arabs who live outside Israel did not know there were Israeli Arabs. They became a team; the social curriculum they developed for kids they experienced themselves. For example, each instructor brought a game from his country and taught it to the group to play together.

Instructors created a virtual development team. The knowledge of the platform is now In seven out of eight countries. Students are in classrooms twice a week in a community knowledge center equipped with computers to learn English, technology skills, and guided activities to learn about each others? culture. The Moroccan kids created a video of how to cook a Tagine. The Turkish kids tried to cook the dish together. They teach each other songs from their home countries. Using video conference software, they have guided conversations and they can post photos.

However, as with any community site trying to bridge differences during national conflict, there can be problems. For example, one of the Moroccan kids posted a message after 140 people were killed in Gaza that Israelis are slayers. Here is when Instructors showed ownership of the program. They took this example and turned it into a lesson on ethics of how to communicate on the Web. First, the instructors enabled a student debate on rules for posting opinions. Eventually, the students agreed on a protocol for confrontational messages in their web community. They discussed the caricature of Mohammed, what is allowed and freedom of speech; Israeli kids spoke of what they thought should be allowed. The kids in each country had their own debate; they developed ground rules of how to communicate. The kids have become ambassadors of change within communities. They learn technology and volunteer what they learn and open the community center and invite parents.

MYTEC is a good example of how Web 2.0 interactivity can be used for positive social change.

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