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Monthly Archives: March 2011

I.C.Ts ALLEVIATING POVERTY IN ASIA/AFRICA:SUCCESFUL HEALTH IMPLEMENTATIONS

Health care is one of the most promising areas for poverty alleviation with ICTs, based largely as it is on information resources and knowledge. There are many ways in which ICTs can be applied to achieve desirable health outcomes. ICTs are being used in developing countries to facilitate remote consultation, diagnosis and treatment.

Physicians in remote locations can take advantage of the professional skills and experiences of colleagues and collaborating institutions . Health workers in developing countries are accessing relevant medical training through ICT-enabled delivery mechanisms. Several new malaria Internet sites for health professionals include innovative teach and test self-assessment modules.

Centralized data repositories connected to ICT networks enable remote healthcare professionals to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving stock of medical knowledge. When applied to disease prevention and epidemic response efforts, ICT can provide considerable benefits and capabilities. Public broadcast media such as radio and television have a long history of effectively facilitating the dissemination of public health messages and disease prevention techniques in developing countries. The Internet can also be utilized to improve disease prevention by enabling more effective monitoring and response mechanisms.

The World Health Organization and the world’s six biggest medical journal publishers are providing access to vital scientific information to close to 100 developing countries they otherwise could not afford. The arrangement allows almost 1,000 of the world’s leading medical and scientific journals to become available through the Internet to medical schools and research institutions in developing countries for free or at deeply reduced rates. Previously, biomedical journal subscriptions, both electronic and print, were priced uniformly for medical schools, research centres and similar institutions irrespective of geographical location. Annual subscription prices cost on average several hundred dollars per title. Many key titles cost more than US$1500 per year. This has made it all but impossible for the large majority of health and research institutions in the poorest countries to access critical scientific information.

Apollo Hospitals has set up a telemedicine centre at Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh, to offer medical advice to the rural population using ICTs. The centre links healthcare specialists with remote clinics, hospitals and primary care physicians to facilitate medical diagnosis and treatment. The rural telemedicine centre caters to the 50,000 people living in Aragonda and the surrounding six villages. As part of the project the group has constructed a 50 bed multi-speciality hospital at the village with CT scan, X-ray, eight bed intensive care unit and a blood bank. It also has equipment to scan, convert and send data images to the tele-consultant stations at Chennai and Hyderabad. The centre provides free health screening camps for detection of a variety of diseases. There is a VSAT facility at Aragonda for connectivity to Hyderabad and Chennai. The scheme is available to all the families in the villages at a cost of Re 1 per day for a family of five.

In Ginnack, a remote island village on the Gambia River, nurses use a digital camera to take pictures of symptoms for examination by a doctor in a nearby town. The physician can send the pictures over the Internet to a medical institute in the UK for further evaluation. X-ray images can also be compressed and sent through existing ICT for daily cases of meningitis to monitor emerging epidemics. When threshold levels are reached, mass vaccination is required and the Internet is used to rapidly mobilize medical personnel and effectively coordinate laboratories and specialist services.

In Andhra Pradesh again, handheld computers are enabling auxiliary nurse midwives to eliminate redundant paperwork and data entry, freeing time to deliver health care to poor people. Midwives provide most health services in the state s vast rural areas, with each serving about 5,000 people, typically across multiple villages and hamlets. They administer immunizations, offer advice on family planning, educate people on motherchild health programs, and collect data on birth and immunization rates. Midwives usually spend 15 20 days a month collecting and registering data. But with handheld computers they can cut that time by up to 40 percent, increasing the impact and reach of limited resources .

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ALLEVIATING POVERTY:SUCCESFUL ENTERPRENUERAL START-UPS

ICTs have been claimed to potentially have an impact on the livelihood strategies of small-scale enterprises and local entrepreneurs in the following areas:
Natural Capital; opportunities for accessing national government policies.
Financial Capital; communication with lending organizations, e.g. for microcredit.
Human Capital; increased knowledge of new skills through distance learning and
processes required for certification.

Social capital; cultivating contacts beyond the immediate community.
Physical capital; lobbying for the provision of basic infrastructure.
Small-scale entrepreneurs in developing countries, especially women, have shown the ability to harness ICTs for developing their enterprises. A group of ladies in Kizhur village Pondicherry decided they wanted to start a small business enterprise
manufacturing incense sticks. They began as sub-contractors but their confidence and enterprise grew as a result of utilising the local telecentre. As a result of some searches by the telecentre operators, they were able to develop the necessary skills for packaging and marketing their own brand name incense. The ladies were quickly able to develop local outlets for their products and they are confidently using the telecentre to seek out more distant customers.

In Gujarat, computerized milk collection centres are helping ensure fair prices for small farmers who sell milk to dairy cooperatives. The fat content of milk used to be calculated hours after the milk was received; farmers were paid every 10 days and had to trust the manual calculations of milk quality and quantity made by the staff of cooperatives.
Farmers often claimed that the old system resulted in malfeasance and underpayments, but such charges were hard to prove. Computerized milk collection now increases transparency, expedites processing, and provides immediate payments to farmers .

ICT and e-commerce are attractive to women entrepreneurs (who in many developing countries account for the majority of small and medium-size enterprise owners), allowing them to save time and money while trying to reach out to new clients in domestic and foreign markets. Success stories in business-to-consumer (B2C) retailing or e-retailing are heard from all developing-country regions, demonstrating how women have used the Internet to expand their customer base in foreign markets while at the same time being able to combine family responsibilities with lucrative work. However, in spite of the publicity given to e-retailing, its scope and spread in the poorer parts of the world have
remained small, and especially women working in micro-enterprises and the informal sector are far from being in a position to access and make use of the new technologies.

India Shop is an Internet based virtual shopping mall selling Indian handicrafts,
established by the Foundation of Occupational Development (FOOD) in Chennai. The initiative involves e-marketers who promote the goods over the Internet, through chatrooms and mail lists. They work from a computer, either at home or in a cyber café, and draw commissions on the sales that they achieve. The e-marketers respond to sales enquiries and liase with the craftspeople, typically exchanging multiple e-mails with clients before sales are closed. There are more than 100 people marketers, earning between Rs2,000-Rs10,000 per month.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Secrets to Using Facebook to Market Your Business

Your business can’t afford to not have a Facebook presence. The social networking site now has more than half a billion users–despite users’ privacy concerns, and a recent survey suggesting that customer satisfaction is abysmal. Here are some tips to follow if you want your business to tap into that audience of half a billion potential customers.Build It

First, you need to set up a page. They were once known as Fan Pages, and those that wanted to follow had to elect to be a “fan”, but Facebook changed them to simply Pages, and members can now “like” the page rather than becoming a fan of it.

This was a good move because being a fan of a business or its products or services intimidated some users who felt it sounded like too much of a commitment. However, most members don’t have any qualms with sharing which products and services they like.

This is subject to change, but you can find Ads and Pages by clicking on the linked word “More” somewhere in the middle of the left pane when looking at your Facebook Home page. Once the left pane is expanded, click on “Ads and Pages”, then click on the “+ Create Page” button.

You can create a Facebook page for a company, or for a specific brand or product offered by the business. You can also set up a page for an artist, band, or public figure, or use a page to promote a cause.

Select the type of page you want to create, and assign it a name. Check the box indicating that you have the authority to represent the person, business, brand, or product you are setting a page up for, click on “Create Official Page”, and you’re in business.

Once the page is created, you need to configure and customize it. Add a logo or photo, and basic information about the business, product, or brand you want to promote. At that point, you need to get other Facebook users to “like” your page and start to build an audience.

The first thing Facebook suggests is that you invite all of your Facebook friends to “like” your new page. That may be fine, but understand that your friends are probably already familiar with your company, or its products and services, and that–at least as a marketing and customer relations tool–there is probably little value in having your friends see the page.

In fact, one of the primary advantages of the Facebook page is that you can interact with Facebook members without letting them connect with your inner-circle of friends. Try one or more of the Social Plugins widgets available from Facebook. You can use them on the company Web site, or blog to promote the existence of the Facebook page.

Inviting your Facebook friends may defy the goal of setting up the page, but if your business has an established e-mail, newsletter, or blog following those are exactly the audience you want to connect with your Facebook page. Post or distribute an announcement with a link to the Facebook page and invite them to join the community.

You should also add a link to the Facebook page to your standard e-mail signature, and you can cross-link with Twitter–both to promote the existence of the Facebook page and to cross-post content so it appears on the Facebook page and on Twitter simultaneously.

If you have a budget, and want to pursue Facebook members more aggressively, you can purchase a Facebook ad to promote the existence of the page as well.

Engage Customers

There is little point in going to the effort of building a Facebook page and attracting an audience if you don’t follow through to engage customers. Now that you have built an audience for your Facebook page, you have to give the audience a compelling reason to visit the page.

The rules of the Facebook page are similar to the rules for effectively building an audience for a blog. Make sure you are adding content frequently–preferably at least daily. You want to provide a reason for the Facebook page audience to check in and see what’s new.

Equally important as the frequency of posting is the content of the posts. Customers want to be informed and engaged, not pitched and harassed. It’s OK to tie in your products and services where they’re relevant, but don’t simply use the Facebook page as a platform for marketing soundbites.

You can post news or stories related to your business and provide unique commentary or insight. You can also use the Facebook page to provide tips, tricks, or information content. Rather than just talking at the audience, though, try to incite comments and feedback from the members to foster a sense of community with the customers.

Facebook represents a huge opportunity to market your business and promote your products and services. Make sure you take advantage of the massive audience Facebook has to offer.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What is Social Medias’ Influence on the Youth in Africa

Social media has become a hanging place for African youth in Africa and in Diaspora. Unlike blogs, Social media you can have a more interractive discussion. The easy to use event tools and instant emails are doing wonders in mobilizing the youth. In Africa social media platforms have become the norm of communication and enabling resonance where people can chat and express their opinions without fear.
Social media will bridge the information gap of Africa and the rest of the world. These kids would “like” the Queens page, follow Obama’s page, know what writers like Ngugi wa Thiongo and Wole Soyinka are upto on a daily basis.
Social media will expose young Africa future generation with the latest happenings from the latest “Seal or John Legend’s Album” to Stories of African immigrants in Russia or China, to virtual tours in Disney world. They can change their facebook page to Afrikaan, Swahili, Arabic, or even Yiddish.

Social Media is changing African Newspapers, Business News, Stock exchanges, and politics. Yes Politics. Young people can now “like” politicians who stand for something. They can call upon their politicians to express their opinion directly on any given issue that they feel afflicts them or their peers including the governing of their respective governments by just “LIKE”.
To an extent i think the social media is doing a lot in shaping the politics and the trend of our youths’ insight on the future of Africa many young people have a chance to explicitly express easily their opinions on a number of issues, another thing the social media has brought to fore what youths could not express in other fora due to fear of repression hence enabling the youth to clearly express their view on any given issue.
When millions and millions of people interact in a high connectivity network like the internet, small causes may have great effects. When a topic or an event hits the value system of people in such a way that they tune in by active promotion, positive feedback loops occur and the hype kicks in. This effect of crossing the threshold to active involvement based on emotional impact is called ‘resonance’. A person can become world famous, a product can turn into a blockbuster, a brand can be ruined or a population can topple a hated regime – and all in only a few days. This becomes possible when cultural value systems enable resonance effects, and this is why it is so important to understand their dynamics today. For business leaders, entrepreneurs and politicians, access to the data which make these dynamics transparent is vital for coping with the challenges of a networked world. It’s not necessary to become a data freak , but reducing complexity by order formation is the number one skill needed by all leaders in the twenty-first century.
Many leaders in Africa now have through Social media embraced the new “avenue” to “connect” with their people who cannot access them directly through Social media channels like facebook,Twitter and other social media channels.
A premier example would be Nigerias’ Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria who posts and makes major announcements via his facebook page and directly addresses issues concerning joblessness among the youth.
In Kenya computer usage has increased two-fold with the advent of social media streams and currently over one million subscribers at connected on facebook and almost every leader at all levels has a social site page where he or she at some moments interact with the people. And with this interaction with their Leaders action in regard to some issues expressed via social media streams have been addressed or action taken.

The African youth in diaspora and at home have now gone a notch higher in expressing their cause either by creating sites that align to their causes or by taking the issues to to social media forums for open discussions.

The likes of facebook , twitter , myspace , and blogs have immensely changed the political landscape of the African continent . Thanks to technology ; Africa and her youth have a renewed sense of ownership as a pertains to their destiny which they can now shape. Even in the smallest and remote villages in Africa , town cyber-cafes play an effective role in enabling enlightment of youth unlike when communities would rely on Mainstream media for information albeit still young social media will in future cust herself in stone in rural areas as well.
The advent of cell phones and other medium of communication has rekindled a new awakening among the youth and created a surge of innovation that will definitely increase youth engagement proactivity.

Erick Adhola-Is a Business Development Director in an ICT firm based in Nairobi- Kenya

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Local opportunities to benefit from technology alternatives in Education Sector

Lest we not forget the times when using expensive proprietary hardware and software without exploring more open alternatives comes back around to bite us in the rear, I thought I’d highlight two issues currently being mentioned in the local press.

1) Accordning to the Nepad Initiative ICT for Africa report on technology in schools:

Technology coordinatorS has to the board that most schools either do not have any technology infrastucture or are operating with outdated technology, and in some cases, technology that is obsolete…School officials have asked the their respective adminstrators to consider asking for funding from government or Ngos for funding to pay for the upgrades with dollars/shillings available in a rainy day fund or the school ICT Funding Kit.

I support our schools having current technology so that students can be engaged with and knowledgeable about how to get the most out of these tools. In the past that may have inevitably meant running the latest version of Microsoft Windows on the latest desktops from Dell/HP (although there are plenty who would have said there were alternatives then too).

But in an age where many technology tools and services are online, and aren’t tied to a particular operating system or hardware vendor, it shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that a school has to spend large amounts of money on proprietary software licenses and cutting edge hardware, when low-cost or free software and older but perfectly usable hardware or resource sharing computing hardware solutions can do the same job. In a time where school budgets are being cut, it’s worth looking at other options before reinvesting in more hardware and software that may also become obsolete as quickly as what they are replacing.

I pointed this issue to the adminstrators and in response the adminstrators wrote up one particular technical approach that i advocated. There are others, too.

2) They include:
Maintenace of Hardware which was too costly

Software upgrades for the Machines-CPU

Acess to low power ICT solutions or Hardware.

Inregard to software there may not be any off-the-shelf open source offerings that will meet this need, but for crying out loud, don’t just sign up for the next Microsoft contract only to find yourselves back in the same position a few years from now. While they’re teaming up, I hope they explore what other communities are doing to get more value out of their emergency systems, whether it’s creating systems themselves that use more open standards, finding new uses for old equipment that include resource shared computing solutions, or even challenging the expensive requirements that might not be serving schools interests as much as they are guaranteeing income for influential vendors.

These two particular cases may be decided as they always tend to be. I hope that in general, local decision-makers will realize that there are other ways to go that save money and make better use of existing resources.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Survey: Top 10 Reasons for Failure of University Start-up Companies

We selected forty people to respond to a survey to assure representation from a cross section of individuals in the technology transfer industry. Thirty-six of the forty individuals responded. The cross-section of responding individuals are included at the close of this article.

We asked respondents to respond to one simple question, “What are the top 3 reasons for failure of university start-up companies?” There was no survey form. Respondents were encouraged to respond in their own individual style, and to provide comments where they believed that comments would be helpful. The definition of “university Start-up Company” was “a new company created to commercialize and take to market an innovation(s) arising from the university’s R&D.”

This “survey” was not proposed or promoted as a scientific survey in any manner. Rather, it was a “free-form” attempt to learn from experts their opinions – in a listing and in written statement – regarding the reasons for the failure of university start-up companies.

Much qualitative information was learned from this non-scientific methodology.

The responses shown below are presented in the order of the number of times a reason for failure was cited. All statements received associated with that reason or factor for failure are included beneath the ranked factor. In addition, several individuals chose to provide general (and noteworthy) statements, which are included at the end of this listing. All remarks are anonymous upon agreement with the respondents.

Reasons for failure ranked by the number of times cited by respondents, with comments

Management Failure (cited 22 times)

– Academics seek to be corporate managers (and stay in control far too long)

– Management does not have “start-up experience,” which is a different skill than individuals who have led more mature companies

– Management is not well connected to the university, the inventor, or the technology

– Management fails to assess accurately the company’s needs (capital, employees, product development and technical requirements, cash flow, etc.)

– Management fails to realize that “things take longer than expected”

– Management fails to identify the market opportunity, and therefore misses it

– “Not the right people managing the right company”

– Management does not have the aggressive and “driven ambition” to succeed: “Get the right, crazy, energetic person and he/she will tear the world apart to get the support, resources and technology needed. Without that individual, forget it.”

Failure to Raise Sufficient Capital (cited 15 times)

– Academic start-ups often begin with no capital (“zero stage minus one”), which often is impossible to overcome

– Follow-on investment rounds to the “seed stage round” do not materialize

(a) Company failed to resolve technical challenges

(b) Company failed to reach major business plan milestones

(c) Company was undercapitalized from the beginning

(d) Cash flow crisis occurred before the company had a chance

(e) The original Venture Capitalists (VCs) moved on to other projects

– “While a start-up may survive on government funding programs for a time, government money does not instill investor confidence.”

– “Start-ups typically just “run out of gas” before reaching the market.”

Innovation Does Not Meet a Commercial Need (cited 12 times)

– Laboratory-push versus market-pull

– Entry of the technology into the marketplace is too early or too late

– “$5.00 solution for $.25 problem”

– “Neat Science” – the company “falls in love” with its technology, and fails to identify any market need

– The new innovation simply cannot compete “head to head” with existing products

– The market does not want the new mousetrap. Many times “…the nuclear powered, recycling mouse trap is passed by for the old $1.25 bait and spring, low tech model.”

– The initiative and effort is a logical extension of a professor’s research, not a real market focused innovation

Geography (cited 7 times)

– “Small country start-ups must be successful in their home country before they can think about going international. This is especially difficult when there are no buyers in their home country.”

– “VCs want their portfolio companies nearby, which consequently may limit investment opportunities to in-country VCs.”

– “The market within geographical reach (limited by people, capital, supply chain, etc,) is too small to sustain the company before the cash runs out.”

– “How many multimillion dollar technologies are there? What is the probability of having a block buster invention emerge in a small country with a very limited market?”

– “There is a very limited entrepreneurship management pool in small countries, and even then, the good entrepreneurs are difficult to engage as they are looking for fast and significant returns.”

Cultural Factors (cited 6 times)

– The country’s culture devalues risk taking (“no young people with entrepreneurial spirit, no risk money supply, no vibrant IPO market, and no market willing to buy state of the art technological goods”)
– “There is a lack of in-country nurturing atmosphere and interconnected community pulling together. This is ephemeral but you know it when you encounter it.”
– “In many countries, failure of a company can damage reputations (professor, university, and managers), while in the U.S., it is a ‘badge of honor’ and has little if any negative impact upon careers.”
– “The dominant social structure impedes success. By that I mean risk aversion, envy of success and a traditional social system that accepts inherited wealth but resents earned or acquired wealth.”
– “In Europe, despite all the EU propaganda of a ‘single market,’ the reality is that linguistic barriers, geographical trading cultures and other country-defined factors place severe limitations on the ability of any company to grow beyond the level of a 50-employee company, maximum.”
– “Cultural and legal impediments based upon egalitarian ‘don’t stand out philosophy,’ business versus academic standing, the impact of bankruptcy laws… all of these create negative incentives.”

Government laws, bureaucracy and programes (cited 6 times)

– The low levels of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection available by national laws (such as constraints on protection for computer software and biotechnology in Europe)

– “Government funding programs (such as the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) in the United States) actually have a detrimental effect by causing start-ups to be logical extensions of technology-development, not market-pulled technology needs.”

– “Early stage companies started through government programmes tend to rely upon the programmes and not the market. They spend their time writing reports and preparing the next proposal for funding, but cannot find time to complete the product.”

– “Government programs cause start-ups to fail. If the start-up knows that it can stay in business for awhile on the government dole, then it has no incentive to learn how to translate the technology into terms that an investor can understand.”

– “Legislated inducers of entrepreneurship rarely work, as the government does not understand the complex technology commercialization process.”

– “Often a company gets ‘easy money’ in early stage from the government, which saps the entrepreneurial drive to succeed.”

– Poor investment climate nationally (high taxes, environmental restrictions, etc)

In-fighting among the start-up team (cited 6 times)

– There is no common objective between the players – inventor, university, management, investors, and government.

– “Universities, inventors, management and government all evaluate the performance of the start-up differently, which leads to conflict and failure.”

– “The university and/or the inventor fail to give control of spin-off to the management team.”

– “The greatest reason university start-ups fail is the “clash of cultures.” University start-ups focus upon technology because that is the culture of the university. Investors focus upon money because that is their culture.”

– “Management often fails to act cohesively and infighting causes the company to languish and be pulled in different directions.”

Problems in the Portfolio of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) (cited 6 times)

– Existing patents prevent “Freedom to Operate”

– The IPR is too weak for the foundation of a start-up company or to attract investors (the scope of the claims is too narrow or there is questionable validity)

– In many countries, lack of clarity of IPR ownership impedes investment

– “The IPR estate is too weak without issued patents. This is a significant challenge as universities cannot afford the expense to ‘prosecute to completion’ internationally, but investors do not want to invest without allowed claims, and start-up companies cannot wait that long without investment. It is a ‘lose-lose-lose’ situation.”

– Low levels of IP protection available by national laws (such as constraints on protection for computer software and biotechnology in Europe)

– Too much dependency on IPR – “IPR is a means to an end, not the end”

Poor Business Plan (cited 5 times)

– A poor business plan leads to inability to raise capital

– A business plan may have a misdirected focus upon the technology and the IPR, without seeing the market

– A business plan may fail to recognize the risks, and to think through the pitfalls and delays

– “Too many start-ups fail to consider the competition in their business plans, especially competition from market leaders, even when the competition’s product is not as good.”

– “By failing to focus upon a core business strategy, they get seduced by a new technology without having achieved success in their original plan.”

– “The business plan typically focuses upon broad and long term strategies, will address some mid-term goals, but will treat the short term myopically and ignore critical first steps that are the real keys to survival.”

Expectations of start-ups are too high (cited 4 times)

– “Often, when dissatisfaction sets in, the company is doomed for failure as the university tries to intervene in bureaucratic fashion.”

– “The probability of having a blockbuster invention is so low that the chance that any start-up company in America, much less in smaller countries of the world, will be significant is very remote. The risk and failure rate is too high to warrant a significant number of investments.”

Other Reasons for Failure Cited

– Failure of the start-up to network internationally

– Risk capital today is too conservative

– Failure of the start-up to make strategic partnerships

– No support (supply line chains) from the large companies in the country available to the start-ups

– Time – “first-to-market” is more important than a “perfect” product

– Unexpected technical failures – inability to achieve a product for the market

– “One Product Companies” – “Who wants to risk an investment in a company that has all its eggs in one basket? No serious investor. Yet, since we focus many times on one invention coming from one university, that is precisely what we get.”

General Remarks Provided by Respondents as they Desired

– “The way the financial markets react to and evaluate knowledge and skill-based enterprises is still archaic and unenlightened in most places of the world. As an existing business is not motivated by what’s best for the country but what guarantees its bottom line, a fast growing new SME is not a welcome arrival but a potential threat, even if it hasn’t yet invaded that company’s own market. Even financial institutions may resent the growth of a new SME because of the level of their commitment to existing companies that could be threatened by the competition.”

– “Europeans rely upon Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) for SME ‘growth’ rather than upon internal growth as in the USA. Consequently, the SMEs are just ‘gobbled up’ by larger companies.”

– “Entrepreneurs around the world complain that their biggest problem is the lack of capital – equity and debt. This shows up in empirical studies surveying entrepreneurs and those who work with them. But I ask, is it really a lack of capital or the lack of a compelling opportunity and/or management team? Good venture concepts pursued by a good well-balanced team will find capital in most OECD countries today. Realize that venture capitalists lament the lack of good deal flow.”

– “Universities unconsciously discriminate against entrepreneurs, perhaps for pragmatic reasons. They would prefer to work with the big companies with ‘deep pockets’ for reasons beyond technology transfer (research support, hiring of students, faculty consultancies, etc.) Alternatively, they are more tolerant of their own scientists and engineers commercializing the technology. However, the problem with this approach is that the university scientists and engineers are not perceived by venture capitalists as being entrepreneurial. Universities should not “throw out the baby with the bath water.”

– “There is an assumption that being a SME and not being acquired or having an IPO or other stock exchange is bad. A case could and should be made that a national economy composed of a few large multinational corporations (local and foreign), state enterprise, and local SMEs is stable. Furthermore, the backbone of that stable economy may in fact be the SMEs, not the large corporations. The IPO or acquisition is a wonderful goal but in reality a tiny fraction of firms ever achieves the goal. What is wrong with a dynamic SME-based economy? Nothing. It is probably more flexible and adaptable than a national economy composed of large companies. So, this question is as much about perspective as it is the specific case of a university spin-off.”

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Evolution of Love

How did we evolve the most loving brain on the planet?

Humans are the most sociable species on earth – for better and for worse.

On the one hand, we have the greatest capacities for empathy, communication, friendship, romance, complex social structures, and altruism. On the other, we have the greatest capacities for shaming, emotional cruelty, sadism, envy, jealousy, discrimination and other forms of dehumanization, and wholesale slaughter of our fellow humans.

In other words, to paraphrase a Native American teaching, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate live in the heart of every person.

Many factors shape each of these two wolves, including biological evolution, culture, economics, and personal history. Here, I’d like to comment on key elements of the neural substrate of bonding and love; in next week’s blog, I’ll write about the evolution of aggression and hate; then, in the next several posts, we’ll explore the crucial skill of empathy, perhaps the premier way to feed the wolf of love.

These are complex subjects, so I hope you’ll forgive some simplifications. Here we go.

Evolution

The growing length of childhood coevolved with the enlarging of the brain – which has tripled in size over the last 2.5 million years, since the time of the first tool-making hominids – and with the development of complex bonding, which includes friendship, romantic love, parent-child attachment, and loyalty to a group.

As the brain grew bigger, childhood needed to be longer since there was so much to learn. To keep a vulnerable child alive for many years, we evolved strong bonds between parents and children, between mates, within extended family groups, and within bands as a whole – all in order to sustain “the village it takes to raise a child.” Bands with better teamwork outcompeted other bands for scarce resources; since breeding occurred primarily within bands, genes for bonding, cooperation, and altruism proliferated within the human genome.

Numerous physical, social, and psychological factors promote bonding. Let’s focus on physical factors, and then drill down further to examine two chemicals inside your brain: dopamine and oxytocin. Both are neurotransmitters, and oxytocin also functions as a hormone when it acts outside the nervous system.

(By the way, dopamine and oxytocin, like many other biochemical factors, are present in other mammals, too, but as with most things human, their effects are much more nuanced and elaborated with us.)

Dopamine

It’s an error to reduce love to chemicals, since so many other factors are at work in the brain and mind as well, so let’s hold this material in perspective.

That said, it appears that when people are in love, among other neurological activities, two parts of their brain really get activated. They are called the caudate nucleus and the tegmentum. The caudate is a reward center of the brain, and the tegmentum is a region of the brain stem that sends dopamine to it; dopamine tracks how rewarding something is.

In effect, being in love rewards the pleasure centers in your brain, which then crave whatever it was that was so rewarding – in other words, your beloved. Those reward centers are the same ones that light up when people win the lottery. Or use cocaine.

And being rejected in love activates a part of the brain called the insula, which is the same region that lights up when we are in physical pain.

So we are doubly motivated to hold fast to the object of our love: feel the pleasure, and avoid the pain.

Interestingly, when people are in lust, rather than in love, different systems of the brain get activated, notably the hypothalamus and the amygdala.

The hypothalamus regulates drives like hunger and thirst. Interestingly, the word in the early records of the teachings of the Buddha that is translated in English as the “desire” or “attachment” or “clinging” that is the root of suffering has the fundamental meaning of “thirst,” so it’s pretty likely that the hypothalamus is involved in much of the clinging that leads to suffering.

The amygdala handles emotional reactivity, and both it and the hypothalamus are involved in arousal of the organism and readiness for action. (While these systems are centrally involved in fight-or-flight responses to stress, they also get engaged in energizing activities that feel emotionally positive like cheering on your favorite team – or fantasizing about your sweetheart.)

These neural components may shed some light on the subjective experience of being in love, which commonly feels softer, more “Aaaaahh, how sweet!” rather than the “Rawwrh, gotta have it!” intensity of lust.

That said, dopamine – increased in love – triggers testosterone production, which is a major factor in the sex drive of both men and women.

So, in short, we fall in love, and among other neural circuits and psychological complexities, the same reward chemicals involved in drug addiction lead us to crave our beloved and want sex with him or her. Sorry to be mechanistic here, but you get the idea.

The intended result, in the evolutionary playbook, is, of course, babies.

Then what?!

Oxytocin

Oxytocin promotes bonding between mothers and children, and between mates, so they work together to keep those kids alive.

For example, in women, oxytocin triggers the let-down reflex in nursing, and is involved in that blissful, oceanic feeling of peace and comfort and love experienced by many women while breastfeeding.

It also seems to be part of the female response to stress (more than in men – since women have much more oxytocin than men do), in part by encouraging what Shelley Taylor at UCLA has termed “tend-and-befriend” behaviors in women when they are stressed.

(Of course, men, too, will often reach out to others and be friendly during tough times, whether it’s crunch quarter at the office, or somewhere in a dusty war – another example of how there are many pathways in the brain to important functional results.)

The experiential qualities of oxytocin are pleasurable feelings of relaxation and rightness, so it is an internal reward for all bonding behaviors – not just with mates.

Oxytocin encourages sociability; for example, when oxytocin capabilities are knocked out in laboratory mice, their relationships with other mice are very disturbed.

And oxytocin dampens the stress response of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis – besides having functional benefits, this is another pathway for rewarding, and thus encouraging, bonding behaviors.

What triggers this warm and fuzzy and let’s-get-together-now chemical?

Oxytocin is released in both women and men:

• When nipples are stimulated (such as through nursing)

• During orgasm, promoting the afterglow of warm affection (and a tendency, sometimes annoying in a partner, to fall asleep!)

• During extended, physical, especially “skin-to-skin” contact (e.g., cuddling children, long hugs with friends, teens forming packs on the couch, lovers caressing after sex)

• When moving together harmoniously, like dancing

• When there are warm feelings of rapport or love; a strong sense of compassion and kindness probably entails releases of oxytocin, though I haven’t seen a study on that specific subject (a great Ph.D. dissertation for someone).

• Probably during devotional experiences, such as in prayer, or while with certain kinds of spiritual teachers

Probably, oxytocin can also be released just by imagining – the more vividly, the better – the activities just mentioned, particularly when combined with warm feelings.

* * *

Of course, dopamine and oxytocin are just two of the many factors at work in our relationships. For example, philosophical values or ideals of universal compassion, such as in the major religions of the world, can also influence a person’s behavior greatly, with or without any measurable surges of dopamine or oxytocin.

Nonetheless, appreciating the biochemical factors at work on Valentine’s Day, or at any time we experience bonding or love, can help a person not get quite so swept away by the ups and downs of relationships.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized