Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Entrepreneurs in Appalachia

Darden offers a very cool second year course called “Markets in Human Hope,” where students “build on such innovations that use business and markets as viable tools in transforming societies.” http://faculty.darden.virginia.edu/warnockf/mhh.htm

The premise is that capitalism is more sustainable than donation and that empowerment of humans through creation of markets and businesses will lead to outcomes that can significantly improve and change their lives. Microfinancing in India is an example of that line of thought. It’s a year-long class and the goal is to actually create something; not just study, but to build something sustainable that can be passed to the next year’s class for continuation.

I’ve always been interested in Appalachia (ever since a service trip there in high school) and would like to focus on a county in western Virginia. While huge improvements have been made in health and education infrastructure, there are still several counties in which education remains a challenge and high school remains a ceiling for many students.  During one of the several conversations I’ve recently had with people experienced in the area, the idea of enabling student entrepreneurs came up. Providing small loans to entrepreneurial-minded students would enable job creation (hopefully different from the low-paying, high-turnover jobs that many people depend on) and build local markets. It’s an interesting idea and one I’d like to explore.

If you have any experience with micro-financing / entrepreneurial lending / Appalachia, let me know – I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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What’s an LOL worth?

Clay Shirky gave his great talk about cognitive surplus on TED Talks recently. His definition of “cognitive surplus” is shared online work that people do with “spare” brain cycles. Things like editing Wikipedia- things that build a better world, using the collaboration of many to improve things. (Very generally) Shirky says we are driven to “engagement” (editing a Wikipedia page) rather than “consumption” (watching TV) because of intrinsic motivation.

In seemingly unrelated news, Improv Everywhere, the undercover comedy agents who “cause scenes of chaos and joy in public places,” released a new video yesterday- a reenactment of a scene between Darth Vader and Princess Leia…but on a New York City subway car.

I love Improv Everywhere. I love them because they put something magical and unexpected in front of an audience that only expects the mundane…and they change the rest of the day for those people. They take what is normal and they transform it- they mix and match things and places we know with things and places that don’t belong there. And it is 100% positive and affirming humor. There is only joy in their performance- a performance that depends upon the reaction of the audience as validation that they are part of something special that is happening, right now.

And right now their performances are important, because I think we all have a great deal of in-person emotional surplus. The cognitive surplus that Shirky talks about is important- it’s people generously giving their time and effort to help build something that makes the world better. And we feel rewarded. But at the same time, I think the reward we feel from those interactions is less rewarding than the reward of in-person generosity and engagement. We are becoming more accustomed to online stimuli as a means of emotional fuel but like a drug, the high is less and less each time and more and more online stimuli is needed. The reason is that online tribes can’t replace in-person ones.

This isn’t a ding on the internet! Obviously, I’m a heavy user, and the positives associated with the online communities we’ve built are incredible. But I think dependence on these interactions have left us craving personal interactions. Our cognitive surplus can leave an emotional gap if we’re not careful. People want to react positively to something real. We want to laugh with a stranger. We want to connect on a subway. Humans used to have a tribe of 150 people that we saw everyday, that we laughed with everday. We now have much larger tribes- but how many of those people do we laugh with in-person on a daily basis? What’s an LOL worth?

So maybe we crave these personal interactions. And isn’t THIS a great way to have them?

Education Needs More Chinese Resturants

Charles Leadbeater’s TED presentation “Education Innovation in the Slums” blew me away; I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it a week ago.

The man spent years researching innovation in education (and the need for it) and his speech is drawn from the innovation and change he saw happen in places as challenging as Rio and Kibera slums. What was most striking to me is how important innovation and change in education is for not only the developing world, but for first world countries as well. From his presentation:

  • Motivation: The challenge, as Leadbeater points out, is that education in the developing world can’t afford the luxury of time in motivating students- “Education in these settings works by pull, not push.” Curriculum and compulsory education won’t motivate students to learn, because they offer rewards that don’t apply in the developing world.
    • In the developed world, info was pushed on us and we tried to learn it well so we could move on. We did so because the motivations fit (or we thought they did).
      • Extrinsically there was a payoff 10 years down the road (do well now, get into good college, get high-paying job later).
      • Intrinsically there was a payoff- our self worth (and the value we see others put on us) was linked to performance.
    • In the slums of Rio and Kibera, though, that doesn’t work! Payoff for education 10 years down the road doesn’t apply when you have no food or both your parents have died of AIDS.
      • Motivation must therefore be different- education must contain information that is necessary and useful now, in this moment, and it must be engaging. Education that succeeds in the slums begins with the premise that you must engage students before they will learn.
  • Chinese Restaurants: To accomplish this on a worldwide scale, a “Chinese-restaurant” model of education is necessary. Schools shouldn’t follow the McDonalds franchise model (exactly the same, precise and dependable everywhere) but rather the Chinese-restaurant model of growth.
    • Leadbeater talks about Madhav Chavan, who helped found Pratham, and how he came up with this model. Typically you don’t see Chinese chains, but you see restaurants everywhere. And yet, despite that they are not chains, everyone knows what to expect inside, although there will be subtle differences. Schools will feature new and different ways of learning that will catch on and spread across to other cultures, in slightly different ways.
    • He points out we spend a lot of money on sustaining the model of education we have in places like the U.S. (trying to improve it by sinking billions of dollars into it.) What we need is innovation in how we do it.
    • “We need a global wave of social entrepreneurship to create highly motivating, low cost ways to scale in the developing world.”

I thought this was an amazing speech and it is frightening in how it applies even to countries like the U.S. I won’t go into details to argue about for education in the U.S. and how it’s failing- suffice it to say that I think most of us can agree it needs to change. Not only does it need to change because it’s not working, but it needs to change because the world that students are entering is vastly different as well. Extrinsic motivation in the United States must change to mirror our circumstances. Seth Godin writes in his excellent and inspiring new book “Linchpin” that we have been indoctrinated in a system that has failed us. We went to school believing that if we did well, we would find good jobs. If we found good jobs, those companies would take care of us. We would rise through the company, be rewarded and have a pension.

None of that is true anymore. You don’t get paid for showing up, you aren’t sure of a promotion, and your company won’t take care of you in the future. The world has changed; if it weren’t already dead, this recession killed it. And if that extrinsic motivation no longer exists, then why should we learn?

Just as the developing countries need to change their method of teaching, so do we. Seth Godin thinks we need to teach two things: (1) solve interesting problems (2) lead. I think it may be a few more (Cameron Herold gives an interesting TED talk about teaching kids to be entrepreneurs) but regardless of what it is, it has to change.

The world is no longer the same- why do we continue to reward educational achievements that don’t connect to reality? Shouldn’t these things align? Don’t we need them to?

MBA Mondays (from Fred Wilson)

Fred Wilson is a very well known VC and blogger. A few weeks ago he started a blog series called MBA Mondays, during which he explains a topic he learned in business school- and does so in a simple way that allows anyone to quickly catch-on. It’s a great series (I actually use it to supplement the MBA Finance class I’m currently taking!) and he’s covered some important subjects. Links to his first three Monday posts below:

  1. Net Present Value (NPV): A way of evaluating future money (say, future money you earn) according to the value that future money has now. So if someone said “sell me the next 10 years of your salary,” what would that money be worth now? It’s linked to the second topic.
  2. Time Value of Money: Fred admits he should have blogged about this before NPV, but better late then never. As he puts it, time value of money is the idea that “money today is generally worth more than money tomorrow.” Determining that time value of money allows the determination of the NPV.
  3. Compounding Interest: a form of interest that (simply put), adds the interest being earned to the principal, so that it compounds as it earns. He explains all this much better….

It’s a very cool series- check it out every Monday and enjoy!

Seth