Going beyond – ‘teach a man to fish’

(Disclosure; I’m working with a Heliotrope, on their new product, Prelude, that we think addresses some of the challenges that Akhtar discussed relating to building individual, group and community understanding.)

I was up in London on Monday evening at the SMARTLab at an invited talk by Dr Akhtar Badshah – Senior Director, Global Community Affairs, Microsoft Corporation. Prof Lizbeth Goodman and her team have completed a review of the Boys & Girls Club of America programme ClubTech (funded out of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential programme). There wasn’t a whole lot on that (except that it was generally found to have been a good thing). There was a short video summary (3 min YouTube link) but that was very high level and a bit marketing orientated.

Akhtar talked freeform, no slides but they were video’ing so hopefully there will be a video up shortly. It was quite a wide ranging talk, starting with the premise that if you teach a man to fish he’ll survive, but if you stop there, he’ll only eat fish – how to do you get to economic growth (take the fish to market, etc)? And how can ICT support this?

Akhtar was really interested in the intersection between the bottom of the middle of the economic pyramid and the top of the bottom. That was where he (and by extension Microsoft) saw scope for economic development and corporate philanthropy.

The very bottom of the pyramid is the domain of the NGOs, and health is greatest limit on bottom of the pyramid sustainable growth. If there was a theme to Akhtar’s discussion it would be building economic engines for growth in that intersection between the middle and bottom parts of the pyramid. Unlimited Potential is about developing relevant, affordable, accessible products.

Akhtar recognised that everyone that wanted to use Vista in the developing world probably was, and was using a pirated version. So there was no point donating licenses since it was already ‘free’, Microsoft was having to justify other value added propositions to give people the economic engine that would then provide the justification for paying something to Microsoft. As an example Akhtar pointed to the Cell phone business models – pay as you use for Vista (Flex Go). He’d didn’t go into details so it was hard to see quite where the value-add was.
It was a very wide ranging talks with examples from across the globe where Microsoft are working.

Somebody else asked the question about building community and understanding through ICT. Akhtar didn’t really answer but hinted at a lack of models on how to use technology to facilitate building understanding and sense of community (other than wikis and blogs about which he was largely dismissive for lack of quality). I didn’t jump straight in as others had questions but did approach Akhtar straight afterwards to discuss Heliotrope, we’ll see where that leads.