Connect with Korean Kids

Want to know how to connect with north korean kids in a meaningful way – even if you don’t speak the language?

How about a way to — in a very small way — diffuse some of the tension between North Korea and the west? A simple way to show them we’re not so far apart?

On my trip I found a simple thing was very interesting. As an obvious westerner in North Korea, I started handing out bags of chocolate to North Korean kids. It wasn’t easy, and about 50% of them were scared of me and wouldn’t accept it, while the others only tentatively did. But the later reaction of the kids who accepted the chocolate made it absolutely clear this was the right thing to do — they had HUGE smiles, and were waving and very friendly. The change only took a few minutes and was dramatic.

I went from being a scary western white guy to a provider of SUGAR!!

No, chocolate isn’t the most healthy thing to be giving out, but the kids love it, and will remember it for a long time. Starvation is an issue inside North Korea (in the late 90’s about 2,000,000 people starved to death), so some extra calories certainly won’t hurt even though the kids you’ll meet in Pyongyang are the best fed in the country. Luxuries like chocolate aren’t a common treat in a country where people have disposable income US$5 – US$10/month and luxuries like these are not available to the general population.

“Breaking The Ice”

By doing this, something incredibly powerful is happening — you’re showing the kids that westerners aren’t completely scary people.

Even if much of the anti-western sentiment in North Korea is towards the USA, and you’re not American – they still think YOU are american, as they consider anyone who is not Korean to be from the USA. Obviously if you are from the US, this will be even more impactful.

Big doors swing on small hinges

Suggestions for handing out chocolate:
– Give big bags of individually wrapped chocolate/sweets/candy so one child won’t eat it all by themselves. This way they’ll be more likely to share it with their friends and talk about what happened, this is a form of viral marketing!
– Don’t ask for anything in return (eg photos). Just give them the chocolate, smile, then walk away. It must be an unconditional gift.
– If the child bows after receiving the bag, make a big smile and a friendly wave back without bowing in return. I believe its better to reinforce that we are not Korean and not part of their culture, yet are still their friends and respect them and their ways.
– Approach the child with a smile and look friendly.
– Chocolate is very cheap, about US$1.50 for a huge bag in most local stores. You can buy lots of big bags everywhere. Hand out an entire bag to each kid.
– Get some shopping bags to carry around with you during the day as you go sightseeing. Try to keep lots with you at all times — sometimes kids will turn up when you least expect it.
– You may want to consider bringing higher quality western chocolate with you, however it may not be so easy to carry in and won’t be brands they are comfortable with. Chocolate is very easy to buy at hard currency stores inside the country.
– Give the chocolate to kids who aren’t somehow connected with the tourism industry as this will make the biggest impact. You’ll have plenty of opportunities as you walk around parks and go to shows.

Also remember you may be the first westerner they’ve ever met — North Korea is one of the most homgenous countries in the world.

I gave away $30 of chocolate on my trip to 15-20 kids, had I been properly prepared I would have given away at least $150 worth — it would definitely have been possible. Thus I’ve put up this page so future tourists to North Korea can consider the idea.

And by doing this, you’re helping plant the suggestion in a small way for North Koreans that people from the west aren’t all bad.

And even if none of that works, at a minimum you’re helping a little with the very real problem of starvation.

Thoughts from North Korea

North Korea is a fascinating place to visit.. Definitely one of the more memorable trips I’ve taken in my life.

The North Korean style is to be quite reserved and polite, avoiding any kind of conflict. Add on top of that when you have a language barrier and guides that are told by the state to only show the positive side of the country, and you don’t get much real engagement. When I’d ask more probing questions, they would either say they didn’t understand or get distracted with something else. After a few days of this it was quite obvious what they were doing and I was disappointed by it.

Photos were also a real problem, we were not allowed to photograph military who where everywhere, we couldn’t photograph signs of poverty or certain areas relating to the leadership of the country. Please keep this in mind when you see my photos, I’d estimate about 25% of the photos would be different had I been allowed to take more of them.

We were taken on a fairly standard tour of major sites in the country and the two groups who were always present were North Korean military and school children. At one point, in the military museum where we were seeing captured vehicles from the Korean War, there was a scary moment.. I was surrounded by 300 military I was just alone with my guide — in general military have extremely unfriendly expressions on their faces towards us, but this time it was worse. I didn’t understand why, until I realised later that this was the musuem where learning about all the bad things that happened to them during the Korean war!! And there I was, the representative of all the bad stuff!!!

I wasn’t a fan of the food – it was extremely low fat and little meat. As I’m returning to China I am really looking forward to eating some pizza, hamburgers and a nice steak with baked potatoes!

But, the beer was outstanding in the Yanggakdo hotel bar – they have a microbrew which is from a UK brewery that was acquired by the North Koreans and the entire brewery was moved to Pyongyang. It was a world class microbrew which would be well received in any major city around the world.

The population appears to be strongly aligned with the leadership of the country. We visited the international friendship hall, which is a collection of gifts given by foreign leaders to the North Korean government. The size and scale of it was astonishing, they literally have 100,000+ gifts laid out museum style across several buildings. For information starved North Koreans it clearly gives the impression that the entire world is supporting North Korea and its systems. But the most unexpected part was when we went to a special room containing a beeswax statue of the “dear leader” (as he is always referred to by our guides). We were made to smarten up our clothes (zip up coats, etc), be extremely quiet and one guy who was in a wheelchair had to stand up and walk in to the room. We went in, saw the statue in a room with soft background music, perfect lighting, and even a fake breeze fluttering through the leaves on a tree in the background. We lined up in front of the great leader and all made a bow, before then exiting. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life.

Visiting the DMZ (demilitarized zone) was the highlight of the trip. I’d seen photos before of the shared area between the UN and North Korea, but it was something of a shock to see US military on the other side. I felt a lump in my throat like I was in a place I really didn’t belong.

All in all, the trip to North Korea was a fascinating experience. I hope they open up more and engage more with the west. Hopefully over time as technology becomes more advanced this will happen.

If you’re interested in a simple way to help improve things with North Korea, I’d encourage you to visit this page:

The Incredible Cost of Updates

I just got back from a 2 month trip of travelling. When I arrived back, my primary computer wouldn’t work anymore. Nor would my network. Even my music setup had problems.

It ended up taking a full day to update most of it and get everything working again — the way it was working before I left for my trip. And today I finished updating the final piece, my music system called Sonos. The network went down as one of the components was updating, and it now looks like that box has been corrupted and will need to be sent back.

If i have to send this box back, it will cost me $50 in outbound postage, and another $70 to receive the replacement. The box itself cost $400.

And what did I get for all these updates?


Absolutely nothing at all! It was just the things required to get my systems functioning.

The worst software I’ve found so far is Jing, a screencapture software for the mac. I use it every 2-3 weeks. Each time I run it, it won’t work because a “critical update” is needed. So I have to stop my workflow and update it so it works again. Every single time!?

I think the software companies are abusing easy updates online. They are concerned about the bad PR they’ll get for security vulnerabilities. So they push us to keep updating everything.

Its time this stopped! We don’t need so many updates. Schedule a date every year to be update day, say June 1. Update all your latest versions then at the same time and we’ll handle it all together. Make the security patches available to those who are compromised meanwhile. The human time cost for managing all these updates is just getting too high.

How to Make Tea

In the last few months I’ve started learning about, and tasting lots of different international teas. I was inspired by Kevin Rose, from who has been talking about tea a lot online.

Tea is pretty awesome – it has no calories, doesn’t contain much caffeine, is cheap, tastes good and when you’re ready for something to perk you up it only takes a few minutes to make. I also love the fact that there’s so many different types of tea out there you can really try a lot of different types.

I barely used to drink tea. Generally I just drank very infrequent packaged teas. Once I switched to loose leaf tea I couldn’t believe the difference. I was making my tea the wrong way (generally putting the teabag in for far too long). With good loose leaf teas you don’t even need sugar or milk. Its all about having the water temperature exactly right and steeping the tea for the right amount of time (steeping = the length of time you leave the tea in the hot water).

How to get started:

1. Get a teastick:
This is what you use to steep the tea in the hot water

2. Get a package of teas to try. I’ve found I like Rishi teas a lot, and their oolong teas are great. This is a great sampler pack to start with:

Once you’re more serious:

1. You should get a variable tea kettle. This is pretty important. Different teas should be made at different temperatures.

This kettle is pretty expensive for just a hot water kettle, but it rocks. It lets you set the temperature exactly right for the style of tea you are drinking.

2. Get a timer. Each tea should be steeped for the right amount of time. So you take the hot water from the kettle and put it with the tea for a specific length of time – the timer makes this easy to do. This one should work fine:

3. Get a bigger infuser. The teastick is ideal for making tea for yourself while you’re working during the day – but if you have a few people to make tea for, you need a way to prepare tea for everyone at once. This prepares tea for 2 people; I often make 3 small cups with it:

This is similar but bigger:

The great thing about an infuser is you can watch the colors from the tea swirl through the water while its steeping. Sounds silly perhaps, but its pretty cool!

4. Pick up a bunch more of the rishi sampler packs, so you can find out which teas you like the most. Here’s some good ones to get:

Once you’ve tried a bunch of teas you will find out which ones you like. Many do taste quite similar. But some are very different. These are my favourites, in order of most preferred:

I order these in 1 pound bags now, which last forever. You can put those into smaller tea containers like these:

I have about 30 different tea varieties and its been a great thing to do.

If you’re interested in other tech guys and how they are into tea, you may want to read this article:

Samovar is a tea house right near Moscone in San Francisco; there’s a lot of conferences in the area such as adtech. Their website is: They do charge $8-$10 per cup of tea, but its a pretty awesome place. We saw Tim Ferriss there when we were having tea.

If you get really serious about tea, there’s a tea conference you can go to:

And its worth following Kevin Rose’s tea twitter account:

This is a pretty concise blog post with a lot of links; it represents 4 months of research (and misteps) about tea and is pretty much everything I know. 🙂 If you follow these steps you’ll be on the right track. I drink 2-4 cups of tea every day and love it – its even great in hot climates like the Caribbean!

Domincan GPS

Ok, I admit it. I have zero sense of direction.. I’ve no idea how it happened, I even competed in orienteering when I was younger (competitive map based running through the bush in Australia). Anyways, today I’m an expert in getting lost.

Since I recently moved to Santo Domingo, I don’t know my way around. In addition, people drive like its their last day on the planet, so the traffic can be a challenge and its easy to get lost. I love driving in the US – I just install my GPS and I can find my way anywhere.

For years I’ve wanted GPS maps of the Dominican Republic. But no go. I’ve searched all over the net for commercial maps, I’ve checked out open source community maps, nothing. I was even going to pay someone to make them, but that turned out to be more complicated than we expected.

On the Dominican message boards, DR1, they mentioned the other day that someone had made maps for Santo Domingo, released just a week ago for Santo Domingo! Wow! So I dug out my Garmin GPS I use for trips in the US and went over there (in taxi naturally, since I couldn’t find it on my own!).

I was concerned my US maps wouldn’t fit with my dominican maps, but it turned out that wasn’t an issue. Once I got there, I was sent upstairs and there was a guy installing the GPS units. He was very friendly and just connected my unit via the USB cable and copied over the data. It took about 10 minutes. Then I paid him RD$1400 ($40US) and off I went.

So firstly, they’re not complete maps, its nothing like GPS service in the US. You can’t look up a street address like you can in the USA. All you get are maps of the city, working on your GPS. If you want to go to a specific address, you have to find that location on the GPS map, pinpointmark the position on the GPS and then it will take you there. It has a limited selection of restaurants and locations built in which you can preselect, but its nothing like a mapping unit in the USA which has virtually complete business data for the entire city.

On my first trip it took me about 25 minutes to figure out how to get it to work. But once I’d programmed in the place I was going to (which I had to find on the paper map first ironically), getting there was a breeze. And, once I was there, I marked the position as a favourite in the GPS, so I will be able to find out how to get back there again.

One night when I was coming home late, I got lost for almost 2 hours.. There are often limited sign markings in the DR and late at night there may be nobody around to ask directions.. With my GPS that won’t happen again. 🙂

One cool thing was that my GPS is running in english, but giving all the street names in Spanish. So it tells me to turn left in english. For a lazy spanish speaker like myself, I like it. 🙂

Without the ability to search for streets and towns, its not perfect, its about 60% of a US GPS map system. But its a great start and hopefully will be improved.

The only issue I found out is that my cigarette lighter electricity had been disconnected, presumably when my ipod system was installed.. So the GPS ran out of power.. Ah, DR mechanics.. but we’ll get that fixed. 🙂

Here’s the unit:

Thanks Ola, and good job!

Moving, Dominican Style

To read this week’s interview on how a small company can leverage the legal power of the US Government to compete, go here:


I’ve always moved around a lot. The longest I’ve stayed in one country since 1990 until now has been 3 years. Now I’m moving from a city I’ve lived in for the past 7 years, Santiago, Dominican Republic, to Santo Domingo, the capital (Santiago is the second largest city).

I’m moving for a couple of reasons.. people think i’m crazy but i’ve developed a real phobia about earthquakes. iIf you haven’t lived through a major one you may not understand. We had a big one here in 2003; everyone in the city thought we were done for, and it was only a 6.4.

Santiago is right on a major fault, similar to the san francisco bay area. The difference is that in the Domincian Republic there isn’t earthquake resistant construction. In fact, my current building is designed with a car park UNDER the building, so if a major quake comes, the entire building will collapse on to the car park. (this information comes from some caribbean earthquake geologists from the US). But my earthquake phobia doesn’t come from the initial quake – its the 2 months of aftershocks. As far as I know they’ve not had that recently in the bay area.

In Santiago, the entire city was on edge in 2003 because we never knew when the next quake would come. It was extremely scary – you’d be sitting eating lunch and a 5.5 would just randomly happen.. I’ve read about this kind of trauma on the news in countries like Turkey and China when they’ve had a lot of aftershocks. If you haven’t been through it, its hard to relate to.

Santiago was actually already destroyed in the 1500’s by an earthquake.

A piece of the wall from old Santiago which was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 1500’s.

The tension has built up dramatically and there is a now major tragedy waiting to happen. I lived in Pereira, Colombia for a while and just after I left, a major quake took out Armenia, a nearby city. It was a real tragedy.

I prefer to be in Santo Domingo which while close to Santiago, is not on a major caribbean fault line. I noticed the earthquake affected almost everyone in the city at the time, we were all tramautized by so many aftershocks and the original quake.

I also just want to live in a bigger city with more services. My next move will likely be back to the US to join or start a startup, probably in 18 months. although I’m game to go anywhere for the right opportunity. I don’t need a job – i want to build a billion dollar company either as a founder or part of a founding team. Meanwhile I will stay in the Dominican Republic, using leverage working with other teams and not working with anyone locally.

As part of this move i have done my biggest ever life cleanup. I’ve gone through every single thing i own and tried to dispose of as much of it as possible, a little “tim ferris” style (although I think I was doing Tim Ferris type stuff before Tim Ferris was!). I’m moving to a furnished apartment so this meant I could really dispose of a lot of stuff. like to delegate as much work as possible, however this was something i couldn’t delegate and had to do myself. I now see why i never did it before ;-).

As I went through my filing cabinet it was shocking to see how many different projects and ideas i’ve worked on over the years. I’ve really tried a LOT of different ideas to try to find what would work. Most things didn’t and failed miserably. But a couple did. Its been a lot of trial and error trying to figure out what works for me and my strengths. Ihave a lot of respect for successful entrepreneurs, they aren’t just overnight successes. there’s a lot of interim steps to get it right.

And, I went through all the wiring i’ve had installed everywhere throughout my apartment. i hadn’t realised just how many different things i’ve attempted to get a good system for playing audio and video. finally i have it here:

As i discarded everything, we put it all in to the living room. then my maid got to work and started selling everything. Keep in mind these were things which have very little value for me; I just want to be rid of as much as possible. Well, i put her on a 20% commission for sales she made. I had no idea that my maid with an 8th grade education would turn into such a dynamo. It turns out that as of Sunday she’s made US$3000 in sales! This from all the stuff in the US that you’d normally just send to Goodwill. Dominicans LOVE buying used stuff. It was funny reading about black friday sales in the US and seeing just the same happening in my living room.

Its amazing getting rid of everything. I’m switched to mac, so all my PC stuff is now gone. i’ve switched to iphone so all my old cellphones are being sold. I had 5 cellphones and 3 laptops just sitting around which i’d never had time to get rid of. It feels good.

So now starts a major new phase in my life.. new place to live, running on mac, living in santo domingo, completely organized life, ready to work on exciting upcoming projects. i’ve delayed a lot of things to make this move happen and am really looking forward to getting going again.

A Breakthrough – Airport Express Music Throughout My House

I’ve noticed that 2-3 times a year I get an absolutely major breakthrough and it has a huge benefit to my life somehow. I’ve just hit one of those and want to share it with you.

Imagine if you had your perfect audio management system – one which would let you control it from every room in the house, take music directly from the internet, be wireless, and relatively cheap to roll out. Read on and I’ll tell you how to do it.

When I was about 12 years old I made a special audio system in my bedroom. I connected wires to lots of different speakers I pulled out of old radios and tape recorders. I probably had 7-8 different speakers just in my own bedroom. I had a music system that was REALLY surround sound. Back in 1984 for a 12 year old that was amazing!

I’ve always loved listening to music but have been frustrated in the past few years as to how to implement a good audio system in my house. The changeover from CD to mp3 is obviously happening – but how to implement it? I won’t bore you with the different things I’ve tried, you can just trust me that I’ve wasted thousands of dollars over the years on different things that don’t work very well.

My requirements are:
– 100% of my music should be digital, downloaded from the internet
– I should be able to listen to it in every room of my house
– when a new song is downloaded, it should be accessible from everywhere virtually immediately
– I should have one remote control which easily searches the entire music catalog
– I should be able to take my music collection with me on the road with me, to the gym and traveling or in my car
– It should be reasonably good quality. I’m not an audiophile, but I like good sound.

Finally I have this working! And its turned out to be trivially simple!

The key has been switching from PC to mac. I resisted this for a long time but finally decided to switch both my machines at once. Since switching, I’ve acquired some more apple components to my network such as a wifi network and and iphone. While itunes is ok on the PC, I’ve noticed on the mac that it just works better (I note that while itunes is slow on the PC, Microsoft Office is extremely slow to load on the mac. Coincidence? I don’t think so). Itunes on the PC felt a little like an install of AOL – it takes over your machine. It doesn’t have this impact on the mac, it just nicely fits in with everything else. What has been particularly impressive on the mac is that each new piece of hardware I buy seems to add additional, unexpected value to all the other pieces. I’m not mac fanboi yet, as my switch has been rather painful. But this has been an unexpected benefit with massive payoffs.

Anyways, on with how to set up this audio system which has worked so well for me:
1. Buy an Apple airport extreme for your network. This is apple’s long range wifi network device. Its just a white box which enables a wifi network in your house from your internet connection. ($150)
2. Hook up a couple of Apple’s airport express units to audio players around your house. The airport express is a smaller wifi receiver (relayer) unit. It provides 3.5” line out to audio devices. ($85/each)
3. Install itunes on your computer. It should work on PC and Mac (free)
4. Get an iphone or an ipod touch. This is a critical element – you need this as the remote control. ($200-$400)
5. Get some audio devices. I use the Harman Kardon Go+Play units – they cost around $350/each which isn’t cheap, but the audio quality is amazing. ($350/each or use what you have already)
6. Download apple’s “remote” software from the appstore and install it on your iphone or ipod touch. (free)

Now, you have a wifi lan in your house, which for starters is pretty handy if you don’t already have one. It runs very fast, since its 802.11N, so even if you have a wifi lan this may be faster. The Airport express devices act as repeaters as well as providing audio, so you end up with a very strong network signal through your whole house.. But, you can also stream audio through it using the computer, streaming out to the two airport express units. If you have a really small place or very thin walls you may be able to do it without the airport extreme, but its probably a good idea to get it (I have 2 so I can extend the signal further).

The audio quality is GREAT! I was concerned it would not be good.. but I am very happy with it, and I am quite picky. I have read that the airport express units actually provide digital out signal, which is bit for bit the same as the source audio, so if you have digital receivers you may want to consider this. I am using analog and it sounds great.

I’ve talked with some friends about this and apparently the iphone remote control software was initially not very good. As of now, as an overall setup this is basically perfect. When you have it working you can walk around your house, selecting music in each room, selecting the song and controlling the volume. It does basically everything you’d expect a remote to do – but its your CELLPHONE! And you have no music to move around – as soon as its on your computer its live in your kitchen, bedroom, etc, etc. If you want to take it with you, it syncs with your iphone or ipod touch, and then you plug it into your car using an adapter.

It also controls Apple TV, which I will be testing out next.

The only thing we need is for Itunes to become a service where we rent music per month, rather than needing to rip and/or download our own music collection. I’ll happily pay $20/month to access all the music that is out there. That should also include streaming audio so we can listen to the radio and streaming audio off the net such as Pandora. Sonos offers this today, but has an expensive setup cost ($350+ per room compared to $85 for the apple airport express units).

The great thing is I can add as many rooms as I want, just by buying more audio systems ($350) and airport express units ($85), or around $430 per room. There are also $100 audio systems which would bring your cost per room down significantly. I plan to add another 3 rooms shortly.

Go try it out and let me know how it works for you!

How to Learn Project Management

A few years ago I began studying project management. It was one of the things which has most helped me out in working online. It turns out there are huge similarities between how we work online and what professional project management teaches. But most people who work online do it in an unorganized, unstructured manner and aren’t very effective as a result. Some time spent studying project management will give you some insights into both little and big things which make a big difference towards your effectiveness online.

This stuff works – I was the guy who told Rich Schefren about it after I began learning it. He was initially quite skeptical. Then a few months later he began teaching it in his training programs. As of lately it appears that the theory of constraints has become a core part of his business – and theory of constraints is directly from Project Management. Rich – tell me if I’m wrong, but I think this has had a big impact on your business?

The core training for project management is called the PMP, or Project Management Professional. They have a book called the PMBOK, which is updated every year. In actual practice the PMBOK is not very useful; its written like a guide for rocket scientists, not people who want to learn how to manage projects. In addition, IMHO, the PMP goes a litlte further than it needs to as well. But its a great foundation to learn reasonable well.

So my approach was to study for the PMP exam as if I would take it, but not bother to actually do it (I don’t care if anyone thinks I am a PMP certified guy, I just wanted the results!).

Here’s how I would suggest you do it:

1. Get a coach from You can find amazing people for $25/hr who want to learn to work online and want some extra income. One guy I had was a PMP certified guy from HP’s printer division. The other I had was finishing his doctorate from GWU and was a full time project manager for a software company. Between the two of them I got differing opinions on how things should be done. Both taught me a huge amount and it was tremendously helpful. And while i didn’t pay a lot of money, the guy from GWU learned from what I was doing and now runs his own internet project managemnt business from Bolivia. 🙂

2. Get these two books:
a) PMP: Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide by Kim Heldman
b) PMP Exam Prep, Fifth Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam (Paperback) by Rita Mulcahy

You use Rita’s book as the exam text – you need to be able to answer all the questions from her book. And use the study guide to learn how to answer them. It may be useful to have the PMBOK as well to learn from, but its not critical. It may be useful to pick up a couple of other books as well just to round out your knowledge.

One thing I did which turned out not to be useful – I tried learning how to use MS project; my idea was to become an expert at MS Project and then I would be able to manage projects. I didn’t listen to the people who told me that MS project didn’t matter and it was all about the fundamentals. It turns out they were right. Now, several years later, I don’t use MS Project because its too complex. I use programs which are more lightweight.

I spent several months on this fairly intensively and its paid off bigtime. You gain massive leverage over everything you’re doing because you can get your work done faster and more efficiently.

3rd World Business Incubator?

From my interviews at, one of the interesting patterns from talking with highly successful entrepreneurs I’ve learned is that business incubators do work – in a certain way. Generally big incubators like idealab haven’t worked well, because all the separate companies end up being run by generally unmotivated employees.

Where incubators do seem to work is when lots of ideas are tested at once, and after a time, the losing ideas/businesses are all dropped. This enables the stars of the team to completely focus on the winning ideas. Tagged, Myspace and Zappos are companies that have roots in this idea.

And generally when a new business is going to work, you can see it pretty quickly.

So why not apply this to testing social business ideas in the 3rd world? From living in the Dominican Republic since 2001, I know that sometimes there isn’t the ability or risk capital to test new ideas. Muhammed Yunus has received a Nobel prize for coming up with the Grameen Bank, which does microlending to poor families, enabling them to get out of poverty. This has been successful as a business and has seen massive social improvements as a result.

But why didn’t someone try microlending before? This could have been done 100 years ago.

So why not set up a 3rd world business incubator? Prototype 10 ideas at once. Document all the results publicly and when scalable, sustainable business models are found, they can be published worldwide for local entrepreneurs to implement across all the countries which can support them. The risk capital for this could be raised from donors in wealthy countries like the US. US$1M would easily fund a lot of idea testing.

But we need to make it more interesting. Having worked in a non profit in the past, I’m less than impressed by the quality of many people working in the non profit world. I think many of them are there because they are not able to be successful in the business world.

So in addition to the $1M in risk capital, we put up a significant prize – say $1M – for the team which comes up with an idea meeting certain criterion (scalability/social value/profitability, etc). This will ensure that true, ambitious entrepreneurs will pay attention and get involved. It means there will be a form of economic payoff just like there can be for starting a business.

If breakthrough ideas like the grameen bank could be prototyped, tested and successfully implemented and then documented for use worldwide, this could be an amazing breakthrough. Local people in third world countries WANT to make money and given working systems (a little like a franchise, except the locals will fully own it) they will certainly do it. We can leverage the capital and business ideas from the 1st world to help implement better systems in the third world.

Here’s an example of an idea which may merit testing:

Here in the Dominican Republic, there is a huge number of single mothers. Abortion is rare here and people don’t use contraception as much as they should. If a girl gets pregnant, the guy usually vanishes.

This is an economic death sentence for the mother. She usually has to stay home to take care of the child, dropping out of school and not advancing further. She may end up with more kids and now she’s a stay at home mom with nobody to support her – she ends up being supported by the extended family. Its a difficult life.

Why not test a system where single mothers can pay a small amount of money, say US$80/month to put their kids in childcare. If a childcare business took 100 kids, and put 4 people to take care of 25 kids each, the salaries for these 4 people would only need to be around US$300/month. If we include a security guard for an additional US$300/month, adding in someone to do cleaning, and rent, we can overestimate costs to be around US$3000/month. 100 kids paying $80/month each for childcare would bring in US$6000/month, leaving a US$3000/month profit.

If this worked, it would enable new single mothers to stay in school, get a real job and become economically independent. And it would allow creation of new businesses, helping grow local economies.

I have no idea if this idea would work or not. I have no kids and know nothing about childcare. I do know the numbers above are quite accurate for the Dominican Republic. There are plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t work. But there is the small possibility it COULD work and for the really good ideas the only way to know if it will work is to try it.

If we took risk capital from the US, and tested ideas directly in the third world, we just might be able to come up with some new breakthrough ideas like the Grameen bank. We’d help solve social problems, create business growth and help lift people out of poverty.

If we ask today – would it be worth $2M to come up with an idea like the Grameen bank, I think the obvious answer is that it would be a bargain. So maybe its time to start testing and prototyping other new ideas as well.