Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Un-Truth(s)

Some of you may have already picked this.

In an embarrassingly timed judgement (just a day before he won the Nobel Prize), Mr Justice Burton (UK) “identified nine significant errors” in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and reportedly said that “the “apocalyptic vision” presented in the film was politically partisan and not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change.”

The Judge ruled that the film can be shown in UK classrooms but only if teachers added a disclaimed saying the film’s facts are disputed.

The Times identified the “nine mistakes” as below:

The first mistake made by Mr Gore, said Mr Justice Burton in his written judgment, was in talking about the potential devastation wrought by a rise in sea levels caused by the melting of ice caps.

The claim that sea levels could rise by 20ft “in the near future” was dismissed as “distinctly alarmist”. Such a rise would take place “only after, and over, millennia”.

Mr Justice Burton added: “The ar-mageddon scenario he predicts, inso-far as it suggests that sea level rises of seven metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus.”

A claim that atolls in the Pacific had already been evacuated was supported by “no evidence”, while to suggest that two graphs showing carbon dioxide levels and temperatures over the last 650,000 years were an “exact fit” overstated the case.

Mr Gore’s suggestion that the Gulf Stream, that warms up the Atlantic ocean, would shut down was contradicted by the International Panel on Climate Change’s assessment that it was “very unlikely” to happen.

The drying of Lake Chad, the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro’s snows and Hurricane Katrina were all blamed by Mr Gore on climate change but the judge said the scientific community had been unable to find evidence to prove there was a direct link.

The drying of Lake Chad, the judge said, was “far more likely to result from other factors, such as population increase and overgrazing, and regional climate variability”. The melting of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro was “mainly attributable to human-induced climate change”.

The judge also said there was no proof to support a claim that polar bears were drowning while searching for icy habitats melted by global warming. The only drowned polar bears the court was aware of were four that died following a storm.

Similarly, the judge took issue with the former Vice-President of the United States for attributing coral bleaching to climate change. Separating the direct impacts of climate change and other factors was difficult, the judgment concluded.

Related Post: Help, I’m feeling cold… 

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October 12th, 2007 Posted by | Development Issues, Energy and Environment | one comment

What counts as innovation?

A few days ago I met Matthew Scott for lunch.  Matthew told me the story of “Mighty Light“.

MightyLight aims to bring “light” (literally) into the lives of millions who live in remote parts of the world and don’t stand a chance to get grid connectivity. It aims to do so by a clever product that is solar-charged and uses energy efficient white LED for lighting.

It got me thinking on how innovation in distribution channels is probably as critical as innovative product design in the context of domestic consumers in emerging markets (and particularly so in the case of BOP consumers…)

Now, if you are a purist – this may not count as true innovation.

Distribution channels (or even innovation in distribution channels) is not something that you can patent…and yet there is no doubt that products like these are capable of transforming the lives of millions through clever combination of technology and distribution which hitherto was not possible. 

In other words, they fit the criteria of high-impact and definition of a “breakthrough product” – and possibly innovation.

What do you think?

On a related note, I also spoke with Alok Singh, CEO of Novatium a few days ago – they too are doing something that is fairly unusual and exploting a business model around services that has not been tried in the PC industry before . Will it work? We dont know yet.

Is it an innovative approach? I certainly think it is.

Related Post: Has the $100 PC finally arrived?

October 1st, 2007 Posted by | Development Issues, Entrepreneurship, India, Tech & Innovation in Asia, Technology & Innovation | 6 comments

Finding hidden gems…

Nandini Lakshman has written a nice article in BusinessWeek on how VCs in India are broadening their scope and looking at non-obvious opportunities: “India Rides the VC Wave

Some excerpts:

“The fishermen from the Indian village of Chidambaram live a hard life. They sleep most of the day, then spend the night out on the water. For light during those dark hours, they have long depended on wobbly kerosene lamps that were easily blown out or, worse, toppled by the wind, risking deadly fires on their boats.

But these days, the kerosene lamps have been replaced with MightyLights, $50 solar-powered fixtures. “I save 100 rupees [$2.50] a month on kerosene alone,” says K Kanimuri, a fisherman’s wife, who also uses the MightyLight in her makeshift kitchen. With her savings, she now makes and sells candles…

MightyLight is the brainchild of New Delhi-based Cosmos Ignite Innovations, a Stanford University-incubated startup by Matthew Scott and Amit Chugh that aims to provide simple products for the world’s poorest people. And Cosmos got its start with backing from Vinod Khosla, a veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Now Cosmos is in talks with other groups, including London-based 3i Group (TIGRF) and eBay (EBAY) founder Pierre Omidyar, for a second round of funding. “For us, it’s not just the light, but using a sustainable model to affect social change,” says Scott, chief executive of Cosmos.

…”The base of the pyramid is often ignored, but offers a tremendous opportunity,” says Katie Hill, the India representative of Acumen Fund, an $8 million fund backed by the Cisco Systems (CSCO) Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Acumen has put $1.5 million into Ziqitza, a Mumbai-based ambulance company that offers deep discounts on its service for residents of the city’s vast slums. Shafi Matther, the founder of Ziqitza, says the funds will be used to stretch the company’s ambulance fleet of two dozen vehicles to 70 in the next two years, and roll out service across India. It is already operational in the south Indian state of Kerala.

…Or take IT-rural, set up by a group of software engineers from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A clutch of U.S.-based VCs are circling the startup technology venture, which develops solutions for rural India. The company doesn’t just provide a bunch of computers and conduct basic-training classes, but has a Web site to educate farmers, giving them information about crop patterns, nature of soil, crop diseases, and remedies. IT-rural also has established backward and forward linkages, from buying the seeds to branding and retailing products.”

I am hoping to meet some of these guys during one of my future visits.

July 4th, 2007 Posted by | Development Issues, Emerging Markets, India | 2 comments

Imagine…a cleaner, more connected world

Here’s how to get a cleaner, more connected world:

From a recent report in thechilli

“…Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular, Ericsson and the GSM Association’s development fund today announced…four mobile base stations powered by locally produced biofuels
…All four locations in the state of Maharashtra are greenfield sites that have not previously had access to a mobile network and are located in areas with unreliable power supply”

As the report mentions, biodiesel is not only more environmentally friendly than conventional diesel but because it is produced locally, generates employment and reduces “the need for transportation”. Biodiesel generators are also easier to maintain and have lower opex in the long run.

So not only are these generators helping extend telecommunications coverage to rural, hard to access communities, they are also helping generate local employment and minimising the environmental impact of development.

Looks like a win-win for everyone….isnt it amazing?

July 2nd, 2007 Posted by | Development Issues, India | no comments

Help, I’m feeling cold…

Even as “a group of eminent scientists” warned last week that “The Earth today stands in imminent peril …and nothing short of a planetary rescue will save it from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change”  it appears thatThere IS a problem with global warming… it stopped in 1998″ !!  (- I somehow missed this article when it appeared last year).

Meanwhile, “Researchers at Duke University” have suggested that while “there is a discernible warming of the Earth’s temperature over the last century, some of which may be due to man-made CO2 emissions, but the effect is not all that clear and the data doesn’t support some of the more exaggerated estimates of global temperature increases.”

Dean has summed it up well on his blog:

“My own take is still the same as it’s been for some time: it’s pretty clear that there’s a probable warming trend, but it’s not clear that it’s catastrophic, and it’s even less clear that it should be our top priority in terms of environmental concerns. Clean water, clean air, forest preservation, and so on should be at the top of the agenda, not this. Although I’ve also long said I’ll compromise with the Greens: I’ll happily support curbing CO2 emissions if part of the deal is that they stop demonizing nuclear power and support the building of new nuclear plants throughout America. Barring that, I’ll continue my firm opposition to the Kyoto protocol and similar programs.”

I feel close to his position.

The more worrying thing though is that “Global-warming alarmists” are apparently trying to “intimidate dissenting scientists into silence“. 

See also “An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change

To add to the confusion…and on a lighter note, read Global Warming – Part 1 and Part 2 on


Related Posts:

Why do I feel a chill when people talk of global warming? and

Is the sky really going to fall tomorrow?.

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mea culpa: This post has been written hurriedly and I have only cursorily gone through the various links posted here…I will have a more thorough look over the weekend but I don’t expect to find major deviations from what I have written here – perhaps some qualifications to the various statements but thats about it.

June 24th, 2007 Posted by | Development Issues | 2 comments

What might stall the “Great Chinese Growth Engine”?

chatham-house-logo.jpg        A few weeks ago, I attended a fascinating talk at Chatham House by Professor Wing Thye Woo who teaches Economics at the University of California on “The Real Challenges to China’s Continued High Growth”

He identified three important factors which might lead to the “crash of a speeding car” aka the “Great Chinese Growth Engine”:

  • Hardware failure: “right tire burst” = collapse of a crucial economic mechanism
  • Software failure: “fight within car” = social disorder
  • Power supply failure: “no petrol” = limits from ecological barrier or external sanctions

He also cited several interesting statistics in his presentation of which the two below particularly stood out for me:

  1. “Social Disorder”: 1994 had 10,000 mass incidents involving 730,000 persons? in 2004 the number had gone up to 74,000 mass incidents involving 3.7 million people.
  2. China’s GINI coefficient has almost doubled from .24 in ’78 to .47 in 2005

The China Policy Institute, which made it all happen, wrote its own report on the talk which can be accessed here.  The report nicely summarised the key points. I would recommend it and the slides to everyone who is watching China and its impact on the global economy.

A few excerpts:

“…China had enjoyed the highest sustained economic growth rate of any country in recorded history, he said, and it was probable that this high growth model would succeed.

But it was important to examine the factors most likely to disrupt the high growth rate from continuing…

…Professor Woo said that perhaps the greatest challenge to China’s continued high growth in China would be future global disputes over resources and the environment, following what he called the unravelling of the global consensus for free trade in the United States, which was making the atmosphere ripe for protectionism.

As China and India moved up the value chain in manufacturing complexity, he said, Western countries were being forced to make painful adjustments as more and more jobs were lost. At the same time they would be faced with demands to help pay for the environmental improvements needed in countries like China and India to curb carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

…The best way to reduce CO2 emissions was to ensure that the new power generation capacity installed in China and India made use of modern, clean coal technology, he said, but this would mean that the richer countries would have to offer to pay for this in order to enjoy the benefits.

This made the atmosphere also ripe for what he called a coming global clash over the “Global Commons” not just air but also water as well. Asia, he said, faced a looming water crisis as China made plans to divert the flow of water to rivers such as the Bramaputra and the Mekong that flowed into India and Southeast Asia…”

June 24th, 2007 Posted by | China, Development Issues, Economics, Emerging Markets, Globalization | 3 comments

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