Delhi’s Bad Air …

Air pollution is reaching peaks in Delhi and the city – citizens and government – have finally started to fight it actively. One major cause for the bad air is of course traffic. In the first two weeks of January 2016 the Delhi government was running “odd-even” –  meaning one day all “odd-mumbered vehicles” were allowed to drive in the city, the next day all “even-numbers”. The campaign achieved a lot of media attention and a website for commute partners was launched by the government.

After the two weeks the environmental impact of the campaign was discussed manifold … political games on all sides. It would be insane to expect a significant reduce of air pollution after two weeks but what the intervention proofed is that the citizens are ready to take action and that the overall traffic situation was extremely relaxed. Everyone I have spoken to said this. There was no one complaining of not having been able to take the car. And most of Delhi’s citizens would do it again … So there is hope on the horizon.

What also became obvious during odd-even is that there aren’t enough measurement points in the city to serve all citizens equally. Now there is some kind of pressure to install more units and also to push the citizens somehow to action. This can only be done when they are somehow actively involved. Knowing about bad air is one thing – doing something actively against it is something different. The streets in Delhi are packed again and odd-even is almost history in this sense.

I’ve wirtten earlier on this blog that I am involved in an environment open data project which actually would close exactly this gap. While I was in Delhi the last 10 days I took the chance and spoke with Mrutyunjay Mishra (M2), co-founder of Juxt Smartmandate, a data analytics company based in Delhi and Hyderabad, and driving force behind the India Open Data Association – a non for profit company which believes in the open hardware and software movement and is promoting “open” as the secret for success to tackle the massive environmental issues in  Delhi and the rest of India is facing.

With M2 I’ve talked about the status of Open Data in India in general, about potential open data business models and what it takes to make a real impact – meaning not only collecting data but also creating communities and drive action. The first 15 minutes are about India in general, the last 20 minutes we tackle the other issues!

(Just click the play button and the audio file will start)


Just this morning I was reading an article featuring a French woman residing in Gurgaon (South od Delhi) who has started going around town, taking photo portraits of common Delhiites, making them pose with masks and X-ray films of a pair of lungs. As a matter of fact the air pollution is heavily affecting people’s health. The numbers of patients with breathing problems and many other symptons of pollution are skyrocketing!


Here is the interview in an abbreviated form:

Ulrike Reinhard: You’ve started this initiative India Open Data Association (IODA). What is it all about ?

Mrutyunjay Mishra, IODA (MM): Our cycle is so to speak Data.Knowledge.Action. We collect data. We make it publicly available in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand way and – knowing what the data is all about – we trigger action to solve problems which are of public interest. Let me give you one example. Our environment project. We started it last year at Kumbha Mela. Back then we’ve tested our open hardware machines for collecting various environment data such as dust, …. . The results of this field test helped us to fine-tune our machines, make them more accurate and sustainable and we optimized our software – meaning sending the data to the server and make it available. The new prototypes were ready for the odd-even experiment in Delhi in the first half of January 2016. There we’ve had the chance to compare at specific locations the measurements of our machines with those cost-intensive machines of the government. And it turned out we were absolutely competitive – not as precise as the high-end machines which cost more than one cruore INR, but within an tolerable variance. Government officials told us this.

Our next step is to cover with at least 40 of our machines more locations in Delhi, send the data to our server and make it available on our website. We visualize the data so that it is easy to understand for the public and we provide it in cvs-format so that everyone who wants to play around with the data can use it. With more machines out there and with more location-based data coming in we can serve the public better and provide knowledge how good or bad the air in Delhi is. We assume once people know how horrible air quality at their own place is and how it affects their health – they will chance behavior. This is when our cycle Data.Knowledge.Action. is completed.

So the India Open Data Association functions as a platform …

MM: Yes, I’d like to call it a platform. Because its role is to connect ideators, makers, financiers and users. We’ll be able to very clearly show that Juxt SmartMandate, which is my existing business and one of the founders of IODA, led the role of the ideator in this environment project and also brought in some seed funding. We connected with makers in China, where we bought the open source hardware for the machines and we found makers in India who assembled the hardware and designed a handy box. A new start-up is selling these boxes out of Gujarat. Other makers were working on the software and developed a mobile app which users can download to receive real-time environment data of various locations. So this model is working. What we need to do now is to scale it. For this we need more money … but we believe we delivered a strong proof of concept.

… and IODA is setup as a membership model, a non–for–profit company. Why have you chosen this structure? Why would a for profit company join?

MM: The organizational structure allows us to have maximum 200 members – these can be individuals and these can be organizations who are really interested in the open data ecosystem in India. To become a member you pay an annual fee and the one-time joining fee which is very nominal – I think it’s 5000 INR one time and 10.000 INR annual. So it is affordable for many. And because the legal structure only allows 200 members we’ve created one additional layer called “associate members” which allows us to include more if needed. Members have one voting right. So the structure is a more democratic one. We’ll see how it evolves. Initially we are looking for academics who are working in this field. We are looking for organizations and open data enthusiasts who have been doing groundbreaking work. We are looking for mentors, people who can guide us in this whole initiative. So there is a set of initial 15-20 members coming in. Hopefully also some financiers who provide a small fund to initiate projects. That is the answers to the first part of your question.

The second part – why would a for profit company join? We truly believe in the power of networks and in the power of many. The problems which we are planning to address and hopefully solve – as I said earlier – are problems which are relevant for the public. For all us. These are BIG problems like air pollution, waste, network-coverage – problems which can’t be solved by a single company, a single maker or even a single government. They can only be solved when we collaborate and co-create in a transparent manner – the ideaters, makers, users and financiers. And this is why we’ve chosen exactly this structure – it’s for us the best existing legal structure to achieve all this. That’s our basis. So now suppose you are the ideator of an open data project – and “open” is the premise – and you run your own private for profit company. Just like my company Juxt SmartMandate does in the open environment project. You define the skill set needed to make this project possible. The goal is that within IODA you’ll find the makers who are interested in your idea, you’ll find scientist who evaluate your data and so on. If the idea is good enough it will be translated into a product and/or service and we’ll find funding – meaning all the people will get paid. Everyone is working for profit. So the people who are making this project happen are all for profit. But the frame set in which all of this happening is a non-for-profit entity – it provides the basic management and the platform. So it’s a fairly good structure that way.

Where are the potential revenue streams for a company?

MM: For us at Juxt SmartMandate we see various revenue streams. Our core business is data analytics – so for us it’s business to analyze big data streams, to reduce complex data and translate the emerging patterns into easy to understand graphics and visualizations (meaning not losing any information while reducing the complexity), we structure data and provide downloadable data-packages and we might even develop desktop or mobile applications for the end-user. The person who developed the environment monitoring kit for our first project started meanwhile his own business and sells these boxes. So there are plenty of revenue streams … I am sure.

You were also saying that everyone can use the data – meaning also people/organizations who are not member of IODA?

MM: Yes, that’s true. We’ll provide all the data we are collecting on our internet platform in cvs-format. Everyone can download the data packages and play around with it and explore and build. All the data collected in any of the IODA-projects will be published under the a Non Commercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license, which allows the data to be shared and adapted as long as the appropriate credit is given to the creator and all the changes made are clearly mentioned. Commercial usage remains with those who initiated, collaborated and funded the project.

What is the current status of IODA?

MM: Regarding IODA as an organization I can say, that it is registered under Indian law and ready to practice. The bank account is opened and we can now invite the first members to join. We’ve already spoken to a few organizations and people and we are happy to announce our first members soon. Our website with the basic information is ready for launch.

Juxt SmartMandate will bring in the environment project I was talking about earlier. The status is that 40 boxes including the software are ready to be rolled out all over Delhi. The project website is ready for launch and the mobile app can be downloaded. For a successful start it’s crucial to increase the number of users.

What other projects can you envision ?

MM: I can only speak for my own company. We are planning to bring in at least two more projects once the environment project is up and running. One is the crowdsourcing of network coverage problems and analyzing the main reasons why in India the network is so fragile in order to achieve a more stabled infrastructure. Another one is the mapping of crimes let say in the city of Chennai. The data is publicly available but it is provided in a way that it is basically of no use. We are planning to visualize it in a way that let’s say women can see on a map which areas in Chennai are known for which kind of crime at a certain time of a day. So they simply can avoid going there. This doesn’t mean that they can’t become victim in a crime – but it can certainly increase the chances NOT to become a victim. I am sure other people / companies have many more ideas … I am really curious to see IODA taking off.

Janwar Castle needs a Bamboo House

The children in Janwar Castle have never seen a skateboarding instructor – nevertheless they’ve made it within five month to skateboarding champions. Just look at the pictures.

Now we want to move on and add a bamboo house for further actvities to our learning environment – and we need it before winter sets in. Therefore we decided to run this foto campaign. Vicky Roy, whom I know for many years now, is a well-known and established Indian photographer. The pictures he takes of children always reflect a very special atmosphere and ambiente … same holds true for his pics from Janwar, the village where our skatepark is located. He connects with the rural and he connects with the kids. I am very happy that Vicky Roy is supporting us and gives us these pictures for free for this specific campaign.

Thank you Vicky Roy!

His work has traveled around the world and his photographs are meanwhile a good investment.

We only fixed a minimum price for each picture which covers printing and shipping – otherwise the price is really up to you! Please help us to make this bamboo house become reality!

On the Road

For the past three and a half years I’ve been exploring the roads, the highways and byways, of India on my motorbike. I’ve probably traveled more than 50,000 km all over the country – the only area I haven’t been to is the north east. I usually go on longer trips, 4 weeks or more, and I try to avoid the sterile and boring to ride highways and look for the lonesome roads, the country tracks. To put it mildly, these are not always in tip-top condition – but most of the time it’s well worth investing that extra time and effort. Simply because it’s here that you can dig deeper into the country and get a real feeling for it. I believe it’s on roads like this that India shows its true face: beautiful but sometimes very unforgiving. The landscape can be stunning but all too often it’s scattered with litter and scarred with garbage dumps. The people you meet are among the most innocent and curious that you’ll find but they’re horribly left behind. All these are pictures that we don’t usually find in Western media which pushes the image of an emerging, rapidly growing economic power.

I started to ride a motorbike a few months after arriving in India. Before that I had 20 years devotion to the humble motor scooter and my longest trip on the 50 ccm two wheeler was from Berlin to Heidelberg – a grand total of 650 km! It took me three days and what a great way it was to explore the country roads of my home land away from the straight and narrow of the Autobahn. But motorbiking in India is a different story. Upgrading from a scooter to a motorbike wasn’t so much of a challenge – the real challenge was how to cope with the sheer unpredictability of any kind of Indian traffic situation. Whether on a four lane highway where on-coming traffic shouldn’t be so surprising, not even on the fast track, or arriving in an urbanized area where the density of everything suddenly and dramatically increases. In less than a minute you move from the free breeze in your face to jostling crowds of people, an exploded zoo of animals, swarms of children and jostling competitive traffic: anything from bicycles and auto rickshaws, to oxcarts, pick-up trucks and motorbikes. And the noise is simply ear-splitting. There seem to be simply no rules – it’s freestyle, self-organized traffic where each driver seems to take his life in his hands and act like there were no tomorrow.

My first long tour was on a Honda Hero Impulse 125 ccm – a dirt bike – from Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh all the way up to Manali in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Climbing up to Manali

On my way back I went through Rajasthan and Gujarat. The same bike took me to the south of India. Climbing up the Western Ghats was one of my most memorable experiences – it was like driving through the lands of the Avatar movie. Spectacular landscape, fascinating light and lush nature. And plenty of tea plantations.

Western Ghats in the early morning

After a year on this very dashing bike I bought a new one that was a bit faster when I decided to go on a four month trip to Kashmir and Ladakh. Now the 200 ccm KTM is a very speedy bike, but for me – who had to endure it on long rides – it was simply too small and too tightly upholstered which made for a very ass-numbing experience at the end of a long day.


And then, last year in Diwali I had this Eureka moment. I was on a tour with a friend going from Bombay to Goa (again on the KTM) when he offered me to ride his “Bullet”. So I got my first taste of how it feels to ride a right Royal Enfield – the supreme incarnation of the motorbike in India that’s been in continuous production now for 75 years. Only my first taste was disappointing. I felt it was way too heavy for me and that I couldn’t handle it properly. So I gratefully hopped back on my KTM. But two days later temptation overcame me and I tried again, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship. I’ve bitten the Bullet ever since. It’s like a luxurious sofa on wheels … and once it starts rolling, believe me, it really does roll.


Exploring India by road has given me a pretty good sense of how just huge, wild and diverse this country is. Distance has taken on a new meaning here where I can drive 500 km but when I look at the map I’ve hardly moved from my starting point. Using Google maps in India – which is what I do while traveling – can turn out to be tricky once in a while because, as I’ve found to my cost, Google maps don’t scale right. Very often distances on the map might look the same but in fact can vary from between 50 km to 150 km which really screws up your day’s travel schedule. And Google won’t show you how winding the roads are either which is another important factor when you’re calculating travel time.

Usually with the Bullet I do 350 km a day, and rarely stretch myself to cover a grandiose 600 km. If I have to, it means I’m KO in the evening – because 12 or more hours on the bike on bumpy roads is definitely too much. It only happens when I want to reach a certain place or when I’m forced to continue because I can’t find a decent place to stay for the night. There are no hotels or homestays in the villages and small cities. There might be places where you can sleep – but seriously after a day on the bike I do need running water (preferably hot water which is a challenge in itself) and I do need a toilet. My face is a mask of dust and dirt, my clothes are ready for laundry and my hair – even though most of the time I’m wearing a helmet – is so stiff with filth it can hardly be brushed. So sometimes the only option is to move on. Over time I’ve developed a routine where I check out various places online for my next destination – but this doesn’t always work out.

When I finally reach my destination it’s always an adventure finding the place where I plan to stay. Hardly anyone in the streets speaks English and, on top of that, hardly anyone can read – so my Hindi written papers are no help either. It’s pretty much trial and error until I find someone who understands what I want. In the bigger cities it’s slightly easier to find someone who speaks English and I’ve discovered that auto rickshaw drivers have some very basic understanding and at least some sense of direction. So very often I let an auto rickshaw driver be my guide. Sometimes I ask the policemen standing along the road and to my surprise three times a police guy jumped on his motorbike and showed me the way. Probably a special gallant service for lone western women on motorbikes!

The wildness and diversity of India is a continual source of fascination and inspiration. But sometimes it also frustrates me and makes me angry. I see the wildness in the ways the trees grow and the forests and lawns are “not maintained”. I see it in the way the waters flow and fall and how the mountains are shaped.

Doodhpuri, Kashmir

The co-existence of nature and humans – sometimes brutal, sometimes harmonious – adds its part to the picture. The endless bright colors of the saris with the brownish and greenish shades of the landscape in their background are stored in my memory for ever. The eyes of the children, sometimes empty, very often curious and astonished to see “something like me”. The huge number of wild animals roaming around: tigers, leopards, hyenas, jungle cats, snakes, elephants, camels, donkeys, monkeys, goats, buffalos, pigs, cows, insects and endless number of birds, the infinite variety of sounds you hear – all this expresses India’s abundance and messiness and its beauty. The women working in the fields, taking care of their children and carrying home water and other goods on their heads have become a very familiar scene in my life. But what frustrates me and makes me aggressive is the way that men are absolutely dominant in the rural parts of the country – and by “men” I mean bunches of mostly uneducated, unemployed guys hanging around acting macho like little lords of creation but not moving a muscle to make a more decent life for their villages. On the contrary they make things much worse. In the early hours of the evening they start drinking their local wine and rum, and when they’re pissed out of their tiny minds they’re in a fit state to go home and beat and abuse their wives and very often their kids too. It’s disgusting, abominable but unfortunately way too often just part of the fabric of daily life. Women count for less than nothing in these rural areas.

I don’t know how many of India’s 700,000 rural villages I’ve passed through on my travels. This is where most of India’s population is living, probably some 800 million people. And this is where India is the most exploited. These villagers live without any water supply and electricity. They’ve hardly any health coverage and no kind of sanitation. Malnutrition is chronic and just part of life – they have too much to die but too little to prosper. Yes, government schools have arrived in some parts, but often enough teachers don’t show up or children don’t attend because they have to work in the fields. There’s no TV and if a village has a phone it’s simply one very basic cell phone for receiving in-coming calls with no chance of making an out-going one. The homes are mostly just one room with no furniture where three generations of the same family plus an odd goat or two sleep on the ground. They carry cans of water to wash themselves after they’ve emptied their bowels somewhere else. Sometimes they’ll follow the call of nature right next to the road, sometimes along the railway tracks, sometimes in the fields, and very often kids will squat down on heaps of uncollected garbage where pavements should be. Right next to the chickens, pigs, donkeys, goats and cows looking for something to eat. This mixture of rotting garbage and excrement sends out an acrid nauseous smell which hangs in the air and sticks in your throat. When they set fire to it, which they very often do, it becomes truly excruciating.

Bophal, MP

But still these people laugh. They are very friendly. They are happy – much more happy than many of the people I see in the streets of Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi. Or back home.

Why is this?

This is a question that puzzles me and that I often mull over while crossing India on my motorbike. So far I haven’t found an answer. But I think it has something to do with NOT having access to the Western or the so-called developed world. These people accept their lives for what they are and enjoy what they have. For “us” it seems like nothing – for them it might be a hard life but it’s a happy one. There is an innocence and a curiosity about them which urban culture has lost.

Riding my bike is a form of mediation for me – my mind becomes free. Many of my best ideas were born on these trips. There’s no tension. No phone-calls. No e-mails. Nothing to worry about. The roads and nature are wide open. All you need to do is to go. And you can go endlessly. I become one with the bike and the road and the surroundings. I don’t count the kilometers I am riding, I simply enjoy the NOW.

I feel the country.
The sun. The dust. The rain. The dirt. The air. The noise. The smell. The density. The wildness.

(Thank you my dear Paul Morland for adding some “Shakespearean Art” to my text)

Open Environment Data

These sensors pick up bits of information that cameras and microphones never could: they smell the air, they taste moisture, and they feel the sting of pollution. Though a camera can give you a general sense of how a place looks, these sensors can tell you very precisely about all the complex networks — from weather to social groups — that make a place what it is.

Six weeks from idea to prototype – now we are waiting for Kumbha Mela to start in order to collect for the first time ever environmental data in realtime from a pop-up city in India.

First time when the data came in from our sensor box

Here is how the entire story started.

Six weeks ago I’ve sent the link of data canvas to a friend in Delhi who is running a data analytics company, a brief note attached: “Do this in Delhi” and the PR will be yours!”. The idea of the data canvas in short: Install sensors all over the city and measure in real time the city’s environmental data (air quality, noise, light, temperature, CO2 ….) and visualize it. It was laid out as an art project. And it was sponsored by Seeed in Shenzen, a company I had just visited. This was actually what caught my attention. Seeed provided the Arduino boards and the sensors for the project.

My friend, M2 and his business partner, immediately got the idea and jumped on it.
And then the story evolved.

I connected M2 with Seeed, they figured out what kind of sensors would be the best for getting an overall idea about the quality of the enironment in a city like Delhi, I went to Shenzen MakerFaire two weeks later and ordered the sensors while I was there. Another week later M2 and Srinivas Kodali (an open data expert) applied for the MIT Kumbhathon, they got accepted and they went. I was there as a mentor.

M2 and Srinivas introduced the idea and immediately four hardware students from Pune joined the team.

With MIT Kumbhathon the focus had changed a bit – we were much more practical and focussed now because all of a sudden we had an ideal test market – the Kumbha Mela – right in front of us. During this huge religious gathering more than 20 million people will come Nashik. This would give us the chance to measure environment data under “regular” circumstances, but also when the city suddenly pops up to 10 or 20 times its size. What would change? Are there any changes at all? How ould environmental data correlate with health data?

For the very first time we will be able to measure this kind of data (we have 9 different sensors) in real time. This will enable authorities and government official to achieve alerts when an alert case occurs and it will provide the baseline for predictions for any future pop-up situation in any Indian city.

During the MIT Khumbathon the newly founded team of volunteers finished the first 6 prototype boxes, we got the datastream running and the very first sensor box is already sending data. There are a few bugs which need to be fixed, but the system is up and running. The website and an app will provide realtime visualization within the next 2 weeks. In mid August the team is planning to return to Nashik and to implement and install another 45 sensor boxes.

Our first prototype from the inside

During the MIT Kumbhathon we also defined our open data strategy and outlined how we are planning to move forward:

Our goals

  • To achieve a better understanding of how environmental paramenters change during pop-up situations.
  • To gather a sandbox full of data which make pop-up cities more predictable.
  • And – since data is publicly available – to make citizens and its authorities smarter. Smart citizens for a smart city.

Our business modell

  • All data will be published in a well structured format under a creative commons non-commercial share alike licence.
  • Commercial use and specific analysis and visualization will be chargeable.

Our organizational structure

  • Currently we are a loose structure of volunteers committing our time to this project.
  • Midterm ideally the organizational structure is transfered in some kind of trust or society where individuals and companies can become members.
  • We want an advisory board with a diverse range of people (data & environment scientist, MIT Media Lab, authorities, ….)

Our partners

  • Other MIT Kumbhaton projects (cloud steering and epidemic tracker)
  • Nashik officialsand authorities as well as government
  • Outside MIT Kumbhathon: Seeed, juxt smart mandate, Janwar Castle

The plan with “my” Janwar Castle is to assemble the 45 boxes with the kids in Janwar and teach them slowly how to do this. It will be th ebeginning of the first maker space in rural India, right next to the first skateboarding park in rural India;-)  The bamboo house which will be the home of the young makers will be ready by the end of August … another milestone in Janwar. I believe a good way to link urban development with rural India – for the benefit of all!

The entire project is set up as a sandbox – meaning we are providing the data pool, we structure the data and provide it in an easy to use way – all this for free as long as feeds into a non commercial use-case. We lay the ground and open up to the collective intelligence of all how to make sense and use out of this data.

After the Kumbh we will think how to move forward.

The learnings will help us a lot – I am sure.


These are the parameters we measure:

Carbon Dioxide
Air Quality
Dust (PPM)
Multi Gas (Ammonia, NO2, CO)



We are on – Kumbhathon 5 (#K5)

Last week we were on for the 5th time over the last 18 month. Kumbhathon 5 or #K5. I was there in late January 2015 and it felt like coming back to a huge family. Read my blogpost from #K4 here.

It’s only a few weeks to go and the Kumbha Mela will start. It’s the biggest religious gathering on this planet – and here is where the pilgrims will take their dip into the holy water at three specific days in August and September: Ramkund, Nasik. Hard to imagine that millions will do so! It will be a very very crowded place then, no doubt.


The Kumbhathon is an iniative of the MIT Media Lab which started out almost 2 years ago at inktalks, when Ramesh Raskar, born in India and currently professor at the MIT, announced it. It’s a year-round initiative to identify and address the challenges of a pop-up city like Nashik when it will grow from its “normal” 2 million inhabitants to 15 million a day during the celebrations. Kumbha Mela 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.

I was very keen to see what happened between #K4 and #K5 – what would be the status of the projects? Would new projects have been added? How would the students and young entrepreneurs have been developed and moved forward? With some of the participants I kept interacting after #K4 and three of them even came to visit me at Janwar Castle. At #K5 again there were 150+ participants there – students, innovators from all over India. Most of them with an IT or engineering background. There is / was a lack of management, administrative and creative people  … I would assume diversity would drive this initiative even further.

The first three days I was counseling and mentoring the various projects under the lead of innovation strategist Beth Zonis who was hired by the MIT Media Lab to guide the students and innovators through this crucial process of really getting things done and getting things ready for Kumbha Mela. From 10 am to 6 pm we listened to all the groups and advised them in the following key issues:

  • to get their project explained in a few compelling words.
  • to describe its benefits for Khumbha Mela.
  • to identify a business model.
  • to schedule and prioritize the process and streamline it.
  • and to share it with others in order to find synergies and identify common challenges.

Once we broke the ice and they accepted us not as “Yes, Madam” or “Yes, Sir” the presentations of the groups became much more like conversations. It took us a while to make them understand that it is them to make the decision and it’s us ONLY to give advice. Our advice should been taken into consideration but it shouldn’t be accepted as a task to follow up with. To achieve this understanding among the students was a tough job.

For some of them it was also hard to understand the 3 layers – the bigger picture – of the Kumbhathon:

  • having personal goals and reasons.
  • dedicating time and resources to a very specific project.

And on top of these two things

  • understanding what it means to be part of an open platform like Kumbhathon where you first put in before you can pull out.

Some of the projects evolved and developed since #K1 and those were the ones which were very much advanced and ready – so to speak. Actually at the last day of the Khumbhathon one group founded a company;-) During our hearings and conversations it became pretty clear that not all projects will make it. A few were still in a kind of “dreaming status” where one would think that Khumbha Mela will happen next year. There was no urgency and no will to get things done – and it was kind of hard to tell this to the students and innovators. I believe if more management and administrative people would have been in the groups they would have sensed this urgency and they would have understood how to get things done. The lack of design people also became obvious … no really compelling designs and presentations were seen. But these are all things which can be added easily.

This might sound a bit negative – but I wanted to point to some critical points which open the space for improvement. I want to see this process growing bigger … and this is why I am participating and hopefully adding value. The best things which happened over these 2 years are that the MIT Kumbhathon has really established a PLATFORM, a SANDBOX where many stakeholders have bought into: authorities of Nashik, government, universities and colleges, international, national and local companies, citizens and young students, innovators and entrepreneurs. And this is a very precious thing …. the platform / the network is set-up out of which more things will evolve. A lot of friends have been made and even more like-minded people found each other. It’s almost as like a movement has started, a movement for

  • spotting problems,
  • finding and prototyping solutions,
  • and then translate these solutions into valuable products.

A movement to think and act like innovators and the realization that this can only be achieved when as many people as possible collaborate. It can’t be achieved by one company or one institution alone.

And if only a few of the existing solutions will succeed during Khumbha Mela the system is proven right. And I am sure a few projects will succeed and help to understand situations in which cities suddenly grow at large scale much better – high among them the Kumbha Mela app, the epidemic tracker, the media tracker, the crowd steering project and maybe one of the housing projects.

I am tempted to return to Nashik during the Khumbh – not sure though if I really want to face that huge crowd;-)

Thanks to Ramesh Raskar and John Werner for letting me be part of this!

A sandbox.

I am currently involved in a couple of projects which I’d consider being sandbox projects. Not sandbox in a way that these projects aren’t mature or professional. No. When I say sandbox I mean it in it’s very original way.

You set-up a wooden frame, put sand in it – and make it accessible.
You don’t define any outcome, it’s an open process.
No projects are pre-defined.
You just provide and facilitate the set-up.
And let the things which are going to happen emerge.
Maybe you adjust a bit here and here.
Some little nudges at the frameset … But that’s it.


Maybe an expression which comes close to it is Tim o’Reilly’s usage of the word platform. When Tim speaks about government as a platform he is e.g. talking about open data provided by the government – free of use for anyone. Citizen, companies, institutions – everyone can use the data the way they want it and the way they need it – within a clearly defined frame (legal, technical, economical, social). This way government doesn’t have to think about all the thousands and thousands of possibilities the data could be used – it simply will be used when there is a problem for which it provides a solution. This way government fosters innovation and participation. It enables others to built on government’s work and by doing so its impact is multiplied. Things emerge. Just like inside a sandbox.

Besides the sandbox that I’ve created by my own – Janwar Castle, the first learning camp with a skateboarding park in its core in rural India – I am working on three completely different sandbox projects. One is an open data project in Delhi, aiming to set-up an open data platform which provides realiable data about the air quality in India’s capital. It’s said that it is among the worst in the world, if not the worst. It’s planned as a joint venture of citizenery, companies (Indian and Chinese – and this before Modi went there;-) and government. The data will be provided for free and anyone is invited to make the best out of it – whether it is to build applications, to change habits or whether it is to pass appropriate laws.

The second one is Mindkiss – a different way to present and deal with art. I’ve just written about it here. It’s basically a new modell for art and culture – an open process during which certain projects evolve.

And the third one is the sandbox Kumbhathon – one of my favourites;-) I’ve been following this endevour since its beginning at inkTALKS in Kochin two and a half years ago and I participated actively in the last workshop held in Nashik in January 2015. I was mentoring the students. For me this is a very interesting platform for many reasons:

  • It aims to find solutions for a real world problem: How to handle a city and deal with the issue that 30 million people come in.
  • It brings together various stakeholders: city officilas, companies (local and multi-nationals), external institutions, citizens and students from all over India.
  • It’s an open process within a given frame.
  • The MIT Media Lab brings in new methods to innovate and to co-create solutions.

In this sense the Kumbhathon is truly a sandbox out of which many things will emerge. We’ve already seen new applications and products solving Kumha Mela problems (housing, mapping, infrastructure); I am sure we will see more. The people involved are embracing this new way of solution finding – so it will last and stay in Nashik. Meaning there is an impact on this level as well. And – for me the most important thing – the locals and more than anyone else the local youth has understood, that they themselves can deal and handle the upcoming problems and provide adequate solutions. The process so far was all about enabling, encouraging and co-creating for Kumbha Mela.

As a long term outcome I expect this process to become a role model for an innovation center with multiple  stakeholders committed to solve social problems. So it’s not so much about running very specific projects; it is much more about how to drive innovation and how to find solutions for existing problems in a collaborative way.

And it makes me very happy and shows a lot of respect for our work in Panna that Ramesh Raskar, one of the initiators of the Kumbhathon and professor at the MIT Media Lab asked me to set-up a “little Panna-Park” (a small Janwar Castle) during Kumbha Mela.

So there are many reasons to look forward to the next Kumbhathon gathering in late June/ early July in Nashik!

The Janwaar Castle Summer Camp

From June 1-30, 2015 we will run our first summer camp at Janwahr Castle.

Janwaar Castle is a project of we_school and can briefly be described as a learning environment with a skateboarding park in its core. It’s located in Janwaar near Panna, a small buzzling town in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. In the village there are about 250 – 300 kids.

The summer camp is the first activity of its kind in Janwaar. Three of us – Yogesh, a local scholar from Khajuraho who speaks good English, Vivek, a Teach for India fellow, and me. We will run daily early morning sessions (until 10 am) with the kids and late afternoon sessions (6 – 7.30 pm).

The main goal of the camp is to teach the kids English – so the camp language will be English! The kids of course can answer and talk in Hindi or their local dialect.

And we’ll have guests joining us:

Laura, a friend from Bombay who is native Scottish and an excellent violinist. She will conduct music sessions and hopefully give a concert in front of the Khajuraho Temples.
Mamaji (a local tour guide, actually the best you can find in Khajuraho) will join us for Indian mythology and history sessions.
Children from Kunderpura – an Adivasi village close by – will visit us.
The Maharaj of Panna will come and tell stories of the past.

The kids will learn English in face-to-face session with Vivek, we have tablets with English learning programs, we have dictionaries, English books and we hopefully will have one or two whiteboards. Besides English learning we organize nature walks, we will build dustbins for the skatepark and pillars for two swings, we paint, play and dance and we will take the kids to Panna National Tiger Park which is close by but the kids never had a chance to go there. And of course there will be lots of skateboarding ! 

The entire endeavor is calculated with 2,30.000 INR or 3000 Euros and I do need your help !

Here is a list (things_we_need_mit) where you can see what we need and how we will spent the mn see what we need and how we will spent the money – it includes very precise donation packages such as:

– 5 English books for either 1000 INR or 1500 INR or
– 3 dictionaries for 3000 INR or
– paint and brushes (1000 – 2000 INR)
– paper (2000 INR)
– a jeep for the Tiger Safari (6500 INR) or
– costs for skateboarding teachers (5000 INR) or
– snacks, milk and fruits (from 1000 – 2800 INR) or
– transportation

1000 INR are app. 14 Euros, maybe a little less.

Just let us know what you like most to support!
100% of the money will be used for the case you mention.

Please make transfers payable to:

Account name: Ulrike Reinhard
nature: we_school summer camp / case you’d like to support
IBAN: DE63700222000071631281

If you are not donating from Germany and want to avoid unnecessary banking fees please use transferwise.

Thank you!

A few weeks ago we started our first activities with the kids from Janwaar and – as you can see – the kids really enjoy it!

Excursion to the Khajuraho Temples, at Mamaji’s organic farm

IMG_1425 (1)
Skateboarding sessions at Janwaar Castle, our skatepark


And if you want to know more about our activities please visit our website or read below or send an email to

we (at) we-magazine (dot) net

Goals of Janwaar Castle

– to improve the children’s and the women’s health 
– and their standing in the community
– to bring hope and show possibilities for all the villagers and 
– to enable and guide them to solve their problems by themselves and even
– make a decent living out of it.

for the kids

– we provide many things they don’t have at school
– things they don’t even know of (like skateboarding)
– a space where all are the same (no caste and gender issues)
– we make them capable of communicating with “outsiders” (virtually and real)
– this is why learning english is so important ….

Its Impact

on an individual level

– physical fitness because of skateboarding and other sport activities (volleyball)
– exposure – learning YES, I can >>> self esteem
– health >>> extra food (fruits) on 2 days in the week
– learning new things / skills which broaden the horizon
– learning to “imagine”
– connect with foreigners 

on the village and community level

– connect the village with the outside world
– establish small businesses
– create a community culture
– clean(er) village

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.