The last couple of days I thought a lot about storytelling and how to create a message best. It’s a story what people remember … no matter when you talk about yourself, your product or your company. Here are two sources which I found very helpful … Maybe they will help you as well.

One is a presentation by Gary Vaynerchuk

… the other one is an interview with Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba. Almost each of his answers included a story …

Both of them are excellent story tellers.

Girls Session at Janwahr Castle

I haven’t had enough time to write a more detailed story about our we_school skatepark – hopefully this will happen soon – but I am very happy to say that the park is in full swing;-)

Older blogpost about what this is all about you find here and here.

For now, please enjoy this short video, a random selection of fotos, showing the girls of Janwahr skateboarding. These kids didn’t know a few weeks ago what skateboarding is.

China: From copy cat to innovation

China has come a long way – in a very short time. And they are moving on as if nothing can stop them. From being the mecca for copying brand name products and pushing them into the markets, they have established their own brands in any price range in the field of electronics (Lenovo, Huawei, Xiome – just to name a few) and now they are ready for the next step: innovating. And the magic word around it is MAKERS.


What David Li (native Taiwanese) and two others started 2010 in Shanghai is almost history: China’s first hacker/maker space XinCheJian. On their website they define a hackerspace as “community-operated physical places all around the world, where people can meet and have fun on their projects. XinCheJian, the first of many Hackerspaces in China, is one of the many hundreds Hackerspaces all around the world. Each Hackerspace is an autonomous entity, but they all share the same philosophy of having fun building things. An hackerspace is an environment where people can learn and tinker with technology, work in teams, participate in international competitions where many new opportunities can be found and created for all.”

I remember the difficulties David was facing in the beginning. For many Chinese – the government included – these kind of working spaces were rather suspicious. Today they are seen as THE nest for innovation. Very officially and with a big bang Li Keqiang, the Chinese Premier, announced in Shenzen, the heart of Made in China, that the Chinese government will implemet the Maker philosophy on a huge scale. Li Keqiang himself visited the Chaihuo Hackerspace in Shenzen which is also the cell and first office of Seeed Studio.


Seeed has everything what is needed for the innovation process: from the perfect environment of generating ideas to prototyping to getting the products ready to market. Seeed is a hardware innovation platform for makers – no matter if the makers are self-employed or employers of companies – no matter how big or small they are. For the makers Seeed provides access to technologies, supply chain knowledge and literally the ability to produce prototypes. In an iterative process pieces from 1-1000 can be easily and quickly produced. The manufacturing is manged by an agile manufacture team of Seeed. And the manufacturing conditions are good! I visited the manufacturing floor, short video will follow soon). Seeed also teams up with incubators, the Chinese tech ecosystem and investors and distributors to broaden the maker’s market. All the products which come out of Seeed are open source!

Seeed started in 2008 as a two men show. Eric Pan, whom I met yesterday, was one of them. Meanwhile he has grown Seeed into a profitable company with more than 200 employers. Seeed is also the host of the ShenzenMakerFaire which was promoted at the NasDaq screen at Times Square, New York.


The Maker Faire will take place in the third week of June 2015 and they aim for the first time for international outreach. By the number of foreign visitors in the electronic markets of Huaqiangbei I have no doubt that they will succeed.

These days Eric and David are both heavily frequented by government officials. From all government levels (local, regional, central) officers come and inspect and learn about the maker culture. They seek the maker’s advice to scale the innovation movement. The decision is made. Makers are riding on a huge wage – the remaining question is will they stay on top of the wave or will they be overrun?

The idea of implementing what they call maker libraries – accessible for everybody – all over China and to encourage companies to do the same inside is something the Chinese are very good at. But where do all the makers come from? What David and Marc are practicing in their environment is a completely different working culture and cannot be simply multiplied. It has to grow. It’s an open process – and if the Chinese government gets this right, then I am sure we will soon see a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs reaching out to international markets with products innovated AND made in China.

Makers and Open Source in China

In the process of setting up the right software and hardware for our learning environment in Panna which we build right next to our skatepark I of course looked into open source and the maker scene. In India the maker’s movement isn’t very strong and it’s just in its beginnings. Same holds true for open data. In both cases China is much more advanced. This is why I turn to China in this case – I will go “shopping” for my kids in the village of Janwahr in Shenzen, the heart of the maker scene in China. And I am very happy to have David at my side …

Four years ago I’ve met David Li in Shanghai. It was then when I conducted the interview at the end of this blogpost. David was among the first in China to promote hacker/maker culture and open source hardware. He co-founded XinCheJian the first Chinese hackerspace just for this reason. He has been contributing to open source since 1990. Over the past 20 years, David has started several open source software projects and contributed to many others. He also developed Ardublock, the most popular visual programming environment for Arduino. We worked with Arduino a year ago in a rural village south of Delhi. In the past two years, he has become interested in urban farming and is an enthusiastic proponent of aquaponics, which brings the spirit of open source to farming and gardening.

The following short interview with David and the included links will give you an introdution into China’s maker scene.

Please give us a short overview how the maker scene in china started and how it evolved.

XinCheJian was the first “maker space” in China. We started in 2010. This marked somehow the beginning of the maker movement in China, at least we’ve had an “institution” where we could point at! However, the main growth of maker spaces in China started from 2012 onwards, after the publishing of Chris Anderson’s book “Makers: New Industrial Revolution.”

Currently there are 76 makerspaces in China covering major cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen,r cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Chengdu and others. Here are a few articles which cover them more or less intensively …

xinchejian hackerspace shanghai
Wall Street Journal
The Economist

It can be argued that the “makers” never ever have stopped in China. Clay Shirky has recently wrote a good article on that “There is no Maker Movement in China”.

We (Silvia Lindtner, Anna Greespan and I) have also been working on this about Makers and China under the Hacked Matter think tank we co-founded in 2011.

See also a good read in The Atlantic.

If we would have to define the makers movement globally as the catalyst of a collaborative and open ecosystem, China already has it and its name is Shanzhai.

What kind of people are involved … ?

The maker movement symbolized by XinCheJian usually is all about white collars working in the cities curious to build stuff.

What kind of products are the makers/hackers working on and do these products have any significant market shares?

Makers are all about niche and long tails products globally. But the niche can have a strong impact on an industry. Just look at how Shanzhai has disrupted the mobile phone industries and caused the downfall of Nokia and Motorola.

Shanghai and disruptive innovation
Shanzhai an open platform for innovation
Conference paper

Shenzhen somehow seems to be a “headquarter” – what is Shenzhen about, a city which 20 years ago didn’t exist? Is it the home of make or made in China?

Shenzhen is the manufacture hub in China and now responsible for majority of global electronics productions.
Read more in The Economist about it. Very interesting read!

Recently the Chinese government embraced the maker scene – any implications on the makers work?

See here to articles of the Chinese government ….
article 1
article 2

The support by the highest level of Chinese government came as a big surprise. Not the fact that it happened but how fast it happened! The Premier’s surprise visit to Chaihuo Makerspace on Jan 4th and the State Council announcement on Jan 28 to support “Mass Makerspace” and to encourage startups was a huge step.

What is your take on the European/US maker culture/scene?

The makers movement there was driven by the fast growing availability of affordable embedded electronics such as Arduino at $50 and the nostalgia of “making goods” of the past. Clay Shirky has a good take on this.

Do the maker products intend to solve any societal problems such as environment, pollution?

Makers represent a grassroot innovation force that might lead one day to real solution for environment and pollution issues. Currently those social problems are tackled by large corporations and nation-state actors.

Is there any link between making and sustainability?

Currently, not. Sustainability is a very hot marketing word for paddling expensive products rather then real intention.

We are going to make a major push for this link! The current electronics (PCB) are closed source and can’t be reused easily. The standard process is either the crude extraction of the chips – high economic value but very toxic, just see these picts (pict 1, pict 2, pict 3) or the melting of the products to gain some precious metals like gold. This process is less toxic, but economically it’s of very low value. Watch this video to understand.

We will propose open hardware as a third alternative. Our idea is to make the circuit information available and hackable so that the whole PCB can be recycled and repurposed. As Internet of Things will grow significantly in the next few years, the PCB recycle problem becomes very real!

Do we need global player in this market or will it be a complete decentralised market?

There will be a mix of global players and local players with a new ecosystem of large manufacturers and small brands.

To end with here is the interview I conducted with David 4 years ago – when no one was talking about a maker scene in China.

Kumbhathon – Where Tradition and Technology meet!

The Kumbha Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. It happens every three years – either in Nashik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar. This year the Hindus will gather in August in Nashik – more than 30 million people are expected.

Nashik ist 180 km north east of Bombay. It has two million inhabitants and is the 16th fatest growing city in the world! The Indian Sula wine comes right from there;-)

Right here the Sadus will dip into the river during Kunbha Mela

The Kumbhathon is an iniative of the MIT Media Lab in Boston which started out almost 2 years ago at inktalks in Bombay, when Ramesh Raskar, born in Nashik and currently professor at the MIT, announced it. It’s a year-round initiative to identify and address the challenges of cities in developing countries. Kumbha Mela in Nashik will give innovators, change makers, entrepreneurs and corporations, the opportunity to learn, develop and test solutions to “pop-up city” problems at scale, instantly, so they can be mapped to large gatherings and emerging cities worldwide. So the MIT Media Lab takes the Kumbha Mela as an opportunity to set the frame for Indian students and young entrepreneurs that they can exactly do this: innovate, drive change, learn, develop and test. Here you can read more about it – Ramesh has written an interesting blogpost on it.

For the Kumbhathon 150 Indian students and young were selected – they’ve been meeting so far I think for the fourth ve been meeting so far I think for the fourth time. In the last week of January a week long event was scheduled in Nashik. The Media Lab brought in all selected students and entrepreneurs, as well as the Nashik officials and a stellar line up of India’s tech companies. And a few “externals” were invited (I was lucky to be one of them) to mentor the students and young entrepreneurs on their way forward.

What an intense week it was. The “youngsters” were challenging and demanding – in a very nice way though. I really enjoyed the interaction with them – and no matter where: either at the venue, or during quick outbreaks or in the evenings in the hotel.


We’ve had 30 projects to deal with – from food to water, from health to payment, from transport to housing and civic issues – a broad range with astonishing solutions. Some of them were pure tech products (apps, online platforms), others were engineering products (clean water), there were on-/offline mix products (housing) and construction products (temporary houses). I am sure not all of them will become “real” products and solve a Kumbha Mela problem at the end – but this doesn’t matter. If only a few succeed – and they definitely will – this entire Kumbhathon is a success. It’s the process which is important. To learn how to solve a very specific problem in a team – almost in an incubator environment – this is what will remain and last with the participants, even if they don’t finish with a product ready to use.

What the KUMBHATHON has proven (again) is that all it needs to solve a problem – is a whatsoever environment with good vibes where failure is not an issue, a bunch of people which are open minded and the possibility to build and prototype. It can happen anywhere … and you can start immediately. As we did in a small village in UP or the KUMBHTHON people did in Nashik.

In Nashik I was amazed and frankly speaking very much surprised about the committment the students and young entrepreneurs had – they were eager to solve LOCAL SOCIAL problems, they were eager to take their problems in their own ends – and not one of them dreamt about leaving the country and conquer Silicon Valley! (maybe there were a few … but definitely a minority!) This is outstanding! What you usually see in the good colleges and universities in India – such as the IIT’s or ISB in Hyderabad – are students coming from wealthy families, students which are very narrow minded, trained and educated with the mindset to achieve a well paid job as an engineer abroad or a secure government position.

Here – this was a different crowd!

Three of the students will actually come and join me next week in Panna where I currently work and build a new learning environment. They will set up computers and tablets for the kids in a village where most of the people cannot read and write. They will come and work with the kids for a couple of days … none of them gets paid … they even pay for their travels … they do it because they believe these kids in this small rural village can make it as well!

I am sure their physical presence in the village will encourage the locals a lot!

I’d like to end with an interview I did with Nilay Kulkarni, a local guy from Nashik who joined the KUMBHATHON a year ago when he was 14 years old … Just listen and enjoy!

Iran – How to deal with Khamenei’s open letter to the youth in the West?

On January 21, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei wrote an open letter addressing the youth in the Western world. He invited them to read the Koran and to go to the sources to achieve a better understanding of what Islam is all about. The letter – I think – has a perfect tone and language.

A few hours after the letter was published I’ve received an invitation from my friends in Iran, whom I travelled and worked with last April during our Peace Pilgrimage to Syria (via Iran), to answer a few questions regarding this very letter. Mmmmhhh, what to do? I was somehow in a double windmill – I love the country, it’s beautiful and the Iranian people are warm, welcoming and very well educated. I always sense a kind of education in the humanities and classic traditions we in the West have almost lost. And for all of this I love this country. I also have to say I like the way Iran and its leaders act in the current Middle East conflict zone – in comparison to the U.S and the West they do have a strategy and position – whether one like it or not. Iran took its stand and is acting wisely. But there are also things I really don’t like about Iran – high among them the way they treat women (women need permission from a male if tehy want to travel!!!), the way they “force” foreign women to wear the hijab, the way they practice freedom of expression and the way they censor (there seem to be a decline in censorship these days as well) and especially the way they treat people who do exactly what Khamenei is asking the Westerners to do. Double-dealing?

So I didn’t want to offend them but I also thought one should support this initiative to reach out and understand each other better …

To make a long story short; I didn’t answer but I decided to publish a letter Amir Maasoumi wrote to one of our delegation members of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – Amir was asked if and how one should reply to this letter … below is his answer. I’ve chosen to publih it because it’s reflection the same tensions I felt … So please take Amir’s take instead of mine!

Amir is born in Iran. He is now living with his family in Montreal. He is a peace activist and intellectual.

Thanks Amir for having giving permission to re-print this.

Khamenei addressing Iranians

Very dear …

Thank you for your kind e-mail.

I have read your exchanges with …

I’m not at all surprised by this reach-out of Khamenei and the efforts and initiatives being made to gain support for it – especially support from well-known international peace and social justice activists; the prominent Western celebraties. I also know that they’ve contacted other friends and colleagues. A clear-cut answer to your question is “Do you think it would be helpful if I wrote something on this development?” is not easy to give!

I’ve read the letter of Ayatollah Khameneii the moment it was published. It’s a very good letter with a truly surprising invitation, thesis and approach. But the important question in this context is not related to any good words or wishful thinking. Unfortunately the experience has taught us that beautiful words and ideas do not go very far in the real life of the Iranians. There is a “double discourse”; soft speaking and harsh acting are the very nature and deeply rooted in the identity of the Iranian pragmatic politicians.

We – you and I – are the people who celebrate peace and dialogue. And we live up to it. Therefore any occasion to establish the contact between them and us will reduce the tensions, will build the bridge and encourage the dialogue towards durable peace. It is the most welcome for all of us. But a real and genuine dialogue, a dialogue based on respect for one another is something different. A dialogue with clear objectives and not a dialogue which is exploited for political means while in reality life as usual continues, it sometimes even gets worst. Or did Israel’s continuous talk about dialogue, negotiation and peace with Palestinians change anything in the daily lives of millions of Palestinians? No, their horrifying tragedy, the occupation, massacres, apartheid and ethnic cleansing are going on – in fact it’s getting worse. And everybody knows it, sees it – but nothing stops it. Or do the same warmongering attitudes of all other US, EU and NATO’s ‘’human rights and peace lover’’ leaders make any sense?

Please allow me to be more clear.

You know that I’m working in this field since more than 3 decades. In the aftermath of 9/11 early 2000 when President Khatemi (a “reformist” who is actually almost banned in public, muzzled and practically in danger in Iran) made the “dialogue among the cultures and civilizations” the central axe of his foreign policies, it was then when I asked him in an open letter: “Why do not we start at home, in Iran, the inera-Islamic dialogue with our Sunni minorities, the Sufis (the mystical dervishes) … and the inter-religious dialogue with others such as Bahaiis, different Christians denominations etc … ? I do not mention here the cultural dialogues, the relations with cultural and linguistic minorities within the country … Why do not we start this dialogue at home?” For instance more than two million Sunnis in the mega city Tehran do not have one Mosque and are not allowed to build one. They are Muslims as well. And they are by far the largest minority in this country. At that time the supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameneii and his powerful institutional and individual supporters were totally against Khatemi’s policies. Against any kind of dialogue! And now – at least officially – they take the same stand.

At the same period, I received an invitation from the U.S Senate Foreign Policy Comity as well as the General Consulate of the U.S in Montreal to help to build the relations and create “dialogue groups” with Muslim communities in the U.S and Canada. My answer was simple and clear: “A genuine dialogue is based on mutual respect amongst equal partners. It starts by and materializes in concrete actions. Dialogue is much more than sitting around a table and chatting. And it is definitely not possible when at the same time one side is persistently looting and burning Iranian homes, killing Iranian families and destroying our countriy…!” I also remember, at the very same period, G. W. Bush manoeuvring repeatedly with the same rhetoric of “dialogue with Islam and Muslims” in his speeches and declarations … Well, in order to address all these recuperations, these empty discourses “on dialogue” aiming particularly to thwart a real desire among the peoples for a genuine “dialogue in action” and as the alternative to permanent confrontation, to the “global wars” based on lies and manipulations. I published several papers and gave numerous lectures on the minimal requirements of a reel dialogue. Unfortunately they are all in French. Please see an example here.

As to me, I do not have any problem to inter in dialogue even with my “enemies”. But I do not want to be manipulated. I do not want to “serve” and become the instrument of the agenda of others which has nothing to do with “dialogue and rapprochement”. In contrary it very often goes in opposite direction. Thus, before saying “yes” to their invitation I would like to ask several simple questions why these notorious and persistent “opponents of dialogue” became so suddenly the new apostles of it – but only with the foreigners.

How come the regime expresses its wishes, its warm and irresistible desire for a constructive dialogue with the Western youth but it refuses to do so with its own? In Persian, we have a very good expression. It says: The lantern which is needed at home is not even allowed to be given to a Mosque!

How come, they invite and ask the Western youth to read the Koran and discover the true meanings of Islam without any intermediary, without interferences and influences of the negative propaganda or violent readings and practices of some groups … , but when the Iranian youth or Muslim intellectuals do the same thing, they go to jail, to exile, or they will be tortured or executed?

You know why?

Because they are not honest! Because for them, the only “authority” who has the right to talk about Islam is the clerical establishment, and the only authorized readings of Islam are their readings. Not even the readings of all other clergies out of th einner circle of power, even the most prominent once like late Ayatollah Montazeri; the designated successor of the “leader of the revolution” Ayatollah Khomeini, was discarded from power and died in house arrest. This is a very disgusting hypocrisy. The last young intellectual has been executed only four months ego, simply for his innocent interpretation of a very anecdotal Koranic verse, without any social or political implication, was Mohsen Amir-Aslani. He is one among the almost five hundreds executions since the new president Rouhani (so called moderate) has been elected – more executions than hardliner Ahmadi-Nejad had in the same period of time.

Well, if some Muslims among these “young Westerners”, after their own quest for the true meanings of Islam, reach the conclusion that Islam it not a convenient spiritual path for them and as the result they decide to convert to another religion or simply become atheist, what will be their sentence? Are they considered as “apostate” or “abjurer” as the case may be, with “capital punishment” applicable to them as demanded by Iranian so called “Islamic” based laws? If not why do not they abolish these inhuman and archaic “sacralised” jurist-opinions-of-another century and release all “new-Christians” and other conscious and faith based prisoners from Iranian jails? Why is the “freedom of conscious” only reserved for others? Why do they continue to apply these inhuman punishments to the Iranians?

Most of these young Westerners are very joyful and happy! They love to listen to music. They love to dance. Will they be questioned and eventually punished for doing what they love? If not, why are these simple activities judged as a crime when Iranians do it? Why must the Iranian youth pay such a high price for doing the same things? Being happy, dancing in private, film it and eventually share it on YouTube?

From a “theological” point of view the Ayatollah’s proposition, as I said before, is even more interesting. It has high significance and implications if it’s real and not only for short term political marketing operations or cosmetic purposes. Recognizing the legitimacy of everybody’s right to go directly to the “sources of Islam” and having his/her own understanding of the sacred texts – which is a basic principal of Islam. A principal that Iran is insincerely denying in the name of Islam since centuries, implies de facto that the entire clerical establishment (especially the Shiite branch of Islam) is nothing more than a guardian of the traditions without any “divine” power, without any specific authority to guide or control forcefully the lives of other believers. It implies that they don’t have any monopoly of the Islamic discourse or privilege access to the “unique and true sense of Islam and its texts” as they always pretended to have. In this case, the position of the “Supreme guide”, justified by the theological assumption that he has direct link and “connection” to the “last hidden Imam” and ‘’ his representative on the earth, with all his divine authorities, doesn’t have any base nor any raison to be. Therefore and in order to be coherent, at a very first step, these people must amend the Iranian Constitution and simply abolish the “Supreme guide’s” position with all its disproportionate and despotic powers. Even further, they must rewrite and reform the theological and ideological corpus of the theory of the “Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists” – the very core of the regime and the system.

On the other hand, how come that the famous Iranian philosopher and theologian Abdol-Karim Soroush (we can see him also in some episode of the “Salam Iran a Persian letter’”, a film based on my life) who suggested exactly the same ideas more than fifteenth years ago – has to live in exile? I’m neither talking about “radical pluralistic anti-clergy theologians and thinkers” nor about the human rights activists, leftist students, lawyers, dissident intellectuals – no. I’m talking about Soroush, a semi-liberal Muslim thinker who was for longtime amongst the “collaborators” and official intellectuals of the Iranian regime. Well, if the Iranian regime is really ready to accept this simple point or at least having a serious dialogue about it, then why they do not start this dialogue with people like Soroush? With Shirin Ebadi and many many others?

How many Christians, Baha’is, Sunnites, Dervishes even Shiites and among them the Ayatollahs with deviant readings of Islam and Koran have we in Iranian jails? Is it not better to start first or at least at the same time the respectful and constructive dialogue with them as well?

The two Candidates of the 2009 presidential elections: Mir Hossien Moussavie (with his wife), the “beloved” PM of Khomeini in the eighties and Mehdi Karroubi, a clergy and ex-president of the Parliament, also very close to Khomeini are currently under house arrest. Since 5 years, without any charges or leave alone a trial. Each one backed by millions of voters and supporters, especially by the youth and women. So, why not release them and start a dialogue with them and by doing so addressing the Iranian youths who massively voted for them?

I could go on and on and on …

Dear …, as I wrote to you and Shirin Ebadi in last April, after our second humanitarian and peace missions to Syria via Iran: “(…) This schizophrenic duality, this institutionalized hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, generally progressive and defendable in foreign policies but very repressive, reactionary, autocratic and violent within its own boundaries, this unimaginable inhuman and paternalistic contempt towards its own people must stop! Iran can’t continue to pretend to be a part of the “axis of resistance” against U.S imperialism and Zionism on the one hand while on the other hand doing the same things, acting with the same logic against their own people. Exactly the same way their “opponents” in the opposite axis are doing to other peoples and nations. …

… the respect of human dignity and human rights in general and the rights of women and minorities in particular lacks dramatically in Iran. Millions of men, women, especially the young generation, have paid with their lives to achieve the minimum of respect, dignity and freedom. And the sacrifices are going on. As I told you before, in this country apparently the freedom of expression and choice exist but the freedom of “after” expression and choice, does not! And this is not a funny rhetoric game. It’s an unbearable reality of daily life in Iran! One must live in this country to understand it. One has to feel it!(…)”

I firmly believe that these guys are manipulators – very clever and skillful manipulators (The Persian Vizier!). And we have to be very careful in dealing with them. I think the idea of a respectful letter to the Supreme guide in support of “his initiative” is a good thing but in my humble opinion this letter must include at least the crucial and basic questions mentioned above. And it should include as well the issues of the fundamental rights, discrimination and apartheid against women, minority rights, politically controlled and arbitrary judiciary system, executions, torture, freedom of expression and “after-expression” – among many other issues. Otherwise, we are an instrument of the propaganda and manipulation of the regime who will not hesitate to use the gained credibility it has gained to accentuate the repression against its people.

With my best wishes.


Start-up Scene in India: A Promising Outlook!

Silicon Valley insider Vivek Wadhwa tells us how India’s entrepreneurs will change the world. As we enter the most innovative period in history, Wadhwa sees an impending internet boom and millions of internet businesses coming up in India, and predicts that within a decade China’s manufacturing industry and India’s call centre industry will be toast.

And here is a brief interview in addition to Vivek’s talk!

Slowly – in the last few years a bit more rapidly – the start-up scene in India is growing. What are the key drivers for growth and how will the scene develop?

India has many advantages when it comes to entrepreneurship. It is already in the DNA of its people—have always thrived in commerce and trade. Now with the millions who have been trained in IT Services, are well educated and well off, and tired of working for the same big companies, we are likely to see an explosion in the numbers of startups.

Where do you see the main fields of development ? (agriculture, health, education, water, pollution, infrastructure … )

All of these. Entrepreneurs will learn the problems and build the solutions.

Do you see any chance how these developments can bridge the gap between rural and urban India?

Some of the best entrepreneurs are already looking to solve the problems of rural India. As rural India becomes connected via smartphones which have Internet access, they will also be connected to urban India—and the world—like never before.

Having this very promising outlook, where do you think the man power will come from? Many companies in India today complain that their is a huge lack of available talent …

India has no shortage of people. It is a matter of providing the hundreds of millions who are left out of the innovation economy with the education, training, and tools. Technology will soon make all of this possible as I discussed in my INK talk.

Modi’s initiative “Make in India” aiming to bring international companies and money into India to invest, do you think it will work? If so what is the frame set which might need to change and what might be the implications for India’s start-up scene?

It will work to some extent for sure. Advancing technologies will accelerate the process because we will soon be 3D printing our physical goods.

Here are the slides of Vivek’s presentation at Inhtalks:

The first skatepark in rural India

Wow, what a ride so far!

Eight month ago we decided to build a skatepark with learning facilities in rural India. To be more precise: in Panna, a small buzzling town in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Central India. Even though Panna is close to Khajuraho with its world famous temples and the Panna National Park (currently 23 tigers), in the town you never ever see a tourist. Actually I’ve never seen a white person there in the last three years. It will be the first skatepark in a rural area in India. For us it’s another important milestone in implementing our ideas of the we_school-concept. It is going to be a place where children can come and skateboard and learn – in a computer lab, library and a buildathon, a room in which they can build stuff.

On Dec. 3 we will start building.

To finance this entire endevour we did an auction where we auctioned ARTBOARD – skateboards which were designed by artists all over the world. We will do another one this month – it will start November 15 and end Nov. 22 at 2 pm GMT-1!

If you don’t want to participate in our auction but still want to donate please use this bank account: we partner with skate-aid – they forward 100% of all the donations coming in and you will get a tax deductable receipt!

skate-aid e.V München
bank: Sparkasse Münsterland Ost
IBAN   DE57 400 501 50 0000 55 17 39

Thanks for your support!

People are often surprised when they hear this story and ask me why a skatepark and why Panna. We’ve chosen Panna because of four major reasons:

  • we are well connected there and it was easy to create a great team of highly committed people
  • land was available with connection to water and electricity
  • social infrastructure is good, meaning there are schools and children around and
  • as in almost any rural area besides cricket there are no other sports facilities.

And here again a small chapter why we think to combine learning and skateboarding is a good thing to do (by Nicola Claire):

The idea of combining fun with learning is not new, indeed, it is fundamentally the way children learn. We are taking this concept and constructing an environment which intrinsically combines an activity that is fun, but at the same time requires acquired skill, knowledge and practise, with a learning environment which provides that skill and knowledge. The young people will also have the opportunity to develop and extend their learning at a we-school hub on the same site. The young people who come to the skate-park will find everything that they need, from building their skateboard to becoming proficient users. Through the process they will learn English and maths. They will gain an understanding of force, balance and weight. They will experiment with art, colours, styles and design. They will discover body and muscle control, healthy eating and life-style choices. Above all, they will find ways to take what they have learnt back to their families and communities to support and enhance the quality of daily living.

The central figures in the local team are Shyamendra Singh aka Vini and Sanjay Tiwari aka Mantu, a local business man and the first one in Panna holding a press card. Mantu is providing the land for the skatepark and he will run its operations. Vini is a truly respected person in the area. He owns several lodges in the National Park and is highly committed to eco-friendly tourism and organic farming. For all his lodges the food is growing in the neighbouring fields – providing the local farmers a small but steady income. All food is organic – they only serve what nature has to offer. Most of his employees are locals. Many of them have been with him for many years and it’s very nice to see them “grow”.

Besides the locals we are very lucky to have Titus Dittmanns skate-aid e.V. on board – they bring in the entire expertise how to build a park. With their help we are able to raise our funds tax free and they connected us with the architect of the park (see plan and model below) and the head of construction Baumi.

Baumi, who has build several skateparks before, will lead the team of experienced skateboarders from Germany and Dehli and Bangalore in India plus local workers. I can’t wait to have all of them here early in December.

Below is a video of Shake whom I met last year in Bangalore and who also will come to help building our park! He provides some insights what is driving him to set-up skateparks

I have to say that everybody involved so far VOLUNTEERED. These guys come down here and work for 8 weeks for free!!! I only provide food and accomodation ! I think this is outstanding!

THANK YOU for that!

Here is the plan of the park:

Grundlage Pana

And here is the 3D-model:

Toilets in India

IMG_8478At the banks of Indus river in Nimmu, Ladakh

This morning I saw this tweet by Bill Gates which triggered my immediate response (and started a discussion) …


… and remembered me about this text I wrote as an introduction for a longer story “Why urban and rural India should meet”:

This is almost my third year in India now. Most of my time I’ve spent in rural areas. Sometimes at first light I drive out on my motorbike across the country. Madhya Pradesh, where I live, is crisscrossed with a web of narrow, unpaved, dusty roads on which huge potholes create small mosquito-infested lakes during the monsoon season. They take me through vast forests of teak trees to small villages where it seems like time has been standing still for decades. It’s then that I see the hidden part of India. The sprawling network of lonesome roads, which only appear as thin hairlines on any map, connect some 700,000 villages throughout the whole of India many of which are not even marked on Google maps.

Just before sunrise the men, women and children emerge from their huts and houses – homes which are mostly just one room with no furniture, no electricity and no sanitation in which the three generations of the same family plus a goat or two sleep on the ground. They carry cans of water to wash themselves after they’ve emptied their bowels somewhere. Sometimes they’ll shit right next to the road, sometimes along the railway tracks, sometimes in the fields, and very often the kids shit on the heaps of uncollected garbage where pavements should be. Right next to the chickens, pigs, donkeys, goats and cows strolling through the garbage looking for something to eat. This mixture of rotting garbage and excrement emits an acrid nauseous smell which hangs in the air like a pall. It becomes truly excruciating when they set fire to it, which they very often do.

Sordid as this is, it’s daily reality for more than half a billion people – almost the total number of people living in the U.S. and Europe. India accounts for around 36 per cent of the world’s poor. Just recently (May 2014) the United Nations published a report stating that 600 million people in India are now living below the poverty line of $ 1.25 a day.

Bill Gates started to work on toilets six years ago, a huge competiton started to re-invent the toilet. A good thing. No doubt. And necessary. But the outcome – a nightmare! Even the New York Times – who usually acts as a Gates promoter – was astonished by the lack of “rural knowledge” this entire project bared. And this is just one example of so many toilet challenges … The question seems so obvious where isn’t there a solution yet?

Technology doesn’t seem to provide anything helpful. Too expensive to roll out in masses, too far away from the “client’s” habits, environment unfriendly and and and … Why not look at rural areas in India where it’s clean and people are aware of hygiene and cleanliness and learn from them. There are examples …

– Asia’s cleanest village is in north eastern India (Mawlynnong)
– tribals in Thudukky, Agaly, Palghat, Kerala (as I just learnt now via twitter)
– Ladakh (see photo on top) is very clean

What do they do?

It starts basically with collecting the waste. There are various ways of doing it. Collecting in bamboo or wooden dust bins directed to pits and use it as manure. Collection in big holes, and again use it as manure. Keep the natural waters clean. The shit goes separately – but is used in the same way. And washing afterwards is essential. But this is what most of the people are aware of. At least this is what I see (see my description above). They find a way by themselves … going along with their habits.

Crucial seems to be that in all these areas mentioned above the literacy rate is way above average! So it goes along with education … which once again is key.

I truly believe and this is why invest the little money I have in education that with education many of the problems can be solved. We need a kind of education which suits the people’s environments and needs, not one (Western) system for the entire world. The meaning of education has very local faces and these local colors need to be addressed. A situational approach of learning is needed which aims much more towards the collective (the villages in the cases above) than towards the individual.