Life Update Before Graduation

I am about to graduate from my master’s program but before I can do so, I have to write about 70 pages worth of papers.  25 for international negotiation (Iran), 20 for comparative democratization (Iraq), 15 for policies for poverty reduction (Ecuador’s conditional cash transfer program), and another 5-10 pages for a negotiation simulation after-action review and for a business operations in emerging markets strategy plan.

Fun!

I’ve been distracted from schoolwork and blog reading lately.  Georgetown benefits from both a Spring Break and an Easter Break, which breaks up the rhythm of the semester.

I spent Spring Break studying for my final orals exam, which I passed although I don’t think I performed very well.  I got a comment from one of the panelists, “suspect hidden knowledge not articulated”.  But I got through it which is all that matters.

For Easter Break I went to Jamaica with some classmates and with my buddy MonkeyPope.  Videos are at Flickr, photos are forthcoming.

Last weekend I went down to Charlottesville with a couple classmates and stayed a night with my grandmother and my cousin at our family house.  Early on Saturday, we ran in the Charlottesville Marathon, my first.  We all did really well and finished in 4:22.  Very long race, but I haven’t felt that bad afterwards — no pain or much soreness!  I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I ran 26.2 miles…

Afterwards, we went down to Salem and Roanoke to see where our classmate spent some of his time — downtown Roanoke in particular is very nice.

My desktop finally died — I suspect a motherboard issue.  But without a lot of time spent, I don’t think I’d be able to figure out what was wrong with it for sure.  So I ordered a new computer from ibuypower.com:

  • Case (  Nzxt Lexa Blackline Gaming Tower Case w/420W Power Supply Black )
  • Power Supply ( 800 Watt — Power Supply Quad SLI Ready )
  • Processor ( [=== Quad Core ===] Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q9550 (4x 2.83GHz/12MB L2 Cache/1333FSB) )
  • Processor Cooling ( Thermaltake MaxOrb CPU Cooling Fan System Kit Silent & Overclocking Proof = Maximum cooling efficiency for quietness and performance )
  • Motherboard ( [SLI] eVGA Nvidia nForce 780i SLI Chipset w/7.1 Sound, Gb LAN, S-ATA Raid, USB 2.0, 3-Way PCI-E MB 3-Way SLI )
  • Memory ( 8 GB [2 GB X4] DDR2-800 PC6400 Memory Module Corsair-Value or Major Brand )
  • Video Card ( NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 1GB w/DVI + TV Out Video )
  • Hard Drive ( 320 GB HARD DRIVE [Serial-ATA-II, 3Gb, 7200 RPM, 16M Cache] )
  • CD/DVD Drive ( 16x DVD-ROM Drive Black )
  • CD-RW/DVD-RW Drive ( LG 20X Dual Format/Double Layer DVD±R/±RW + CD-R/RW Drive Black )
  • Operating System ( Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium ) 64-Bit )

ibuypower.com is pretty cool.  Very customizable through the web site, doesn’t tack on much of a premium for building your system and burning it in.  The case has a transparent window with blue and red LED lights on the fans.  I’m very happy with it, and I’m happy to have upgraded just before finals so I can have a nice big platform (dual monitors) to write my research papers on.  Doing a lot of work on a MacBook is just a pain.

The most interesting thing is that it took me very little time at all to reconnect to all my data.  Using Microsoft Live Mesh and Gmail, I was able to relink to all my cloud data and important files.  I also have an external hard drive as further backup.  This is a significant change from how things used to be, and how things still are for many people:  you can now back up your data in multiple places online and offline.

Many of my friends’ hard drives on their laptops have died and they’ve lost almost all their data.  It’s a shame that they’re still not backing up their data on the cloud (which is not 100% perfect but still a lot better).

Moving forward, I am looking for a permanent job after graduation, so that will consume much of my time.  I’m still trying to get Galapag.us off the ground as well, but that seems like it will be a lifelong project.

Spring Semester, 2009

Here are my classes for my final semester at Georgetown:

Comparative Democratization (GOVT-549)

This course will serve as an introduction to the vast literature on democratization in comparative politics. Democratization is studied here from the perspective of the transition and consolidation processes of the late 20th century. The principal goal of the course is to understand the social, economic, cultural, institutional and political conditions, both domestic and international, that help explain democratic development and, in particular, the multifaceted problems of transition and consolidation of democracy.  We shall also consider the reasons for the more recent resurgence of various forms of authoritarianism.

Policies for Poverty Reduction (MSFS-517)

How do governments, donors, and international organizations make decisions about development policies? Why does “slippage” often occur during implementation? How are policy reform initiatives introduced, expanded, and sustained (“scaled up”)? This course analyzes major policy and programmatic efforts that have been used reduce poverty in developing and transitional countries, including transfers, credit and land-based programs, and market development. It emphasizes ways that institutional and political analysis can improve policy analysis, particularly regarding decision making, implementation, and the management of reformist initiatives. It assesses how historical conditions, state capacity, stakeholder relationships, and bureaucratic influences shape policy decision making and the allocation of public resources. Assignments focus on the analysis of reforms as well as antipoverty programs selected by students and the strategic management of political conflicts related to policy change.

International Negotiation (MSFS-623)

The objectives of this course are to explore and discuss the various theories of and approaches to negotiation analysis; develop an understanding of the many factors that influence the international negotiation process (including power, domestic politics, culture); and integrate theory and reality by analyzing case studies. Students also will participate in a negotiation simulation over two class periods. The ultimate goal of the course is to enhance our ability to understand the factors that affect the process and outcome of international negotiations, and thereby enhance our ability to identify conflicts that are ripe for negotiation as well as assess the dynamics of on-going negotiations. A better understanding of the negotiation process and the factors that determine may even make us more effective negotiators.

Business Operations in Emerging Markets (MSFS-561)

The purpose of this course is to help the student transition from the consideration of high-level global business strategies to a focus on more “on-the-ground” implementation of these strategies in emerging markets, defined by the local conditions faced by the operating “subsidiary” of the global firm. It will commence with a presentation of concepts, in which we will look at the operational, marketing, strategic and investment challenges of subsidiaries of multinational corporations, as well as some large-scale local companies, confronting local market and non-market conditions. The next phase will use case studies of multinational corporations and some local corporations operating in the Middle East, China, India, Africa, Russia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Latin America, to assist in an understanding of the challenges of operating businesses in developing countries. The course’s last phase will involve a simulation exercise in which students will develop an operational strategy for a business unit operating in a developing market. Students will build the business skill-sets necessary for conducting situational analyses, making business recommendations, and developing an operation plan for firms doing business in developing country environments.

I’m also sitting in on two classes with people I met last semester:

Social Media in Business, Government, and Development
[Taught by Gaurav Mishra; class blog online]

The proposed course cuts across the International Business and International Development concentrations.

Social media technologies are disrupting power equations between consumers and businesses on one hand and citizens and governments on the other hand, especially in the context of developing countries. Therefore, it is essential that thinkers and practitioners in the areas of business, development and policy understand the use and impact of social media technologies.

The proposed course will first introduce students to the promise of social media technologies and the challenges in using them in the context of developing countries because of issues related to access, social dynamics and language. It will then analyze how social media technologies are changing power equations between individuals and institutions in developing countries, especially in the areas of civic engagement and consumer advocacy. Finally, it will delve deep into how mobile technology is multiplying the power of social media technologies in developing countries.

At the end of the course, the students will have a deep understanding of —
1. The value system embedded in social media technologies (collaboration, community and user generated content).
2. The impact of social media technologies in consumer advocacy and civic engagement in the context of developing countries.
3. The challenges in using social media technologies in developing countries.

CCTP-673 Creating a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is much more than just invention. It requires much more than just a good idea. It requires finding new ways to combine existing ideas, products, and services into something that customers (or citizens) will want. Organizations that foster innovation foster collaboration between employees with different backgrounds, skills, and viewpoints. They provide the information infrastructure and tools needed to “harness the wisdom of crowds” and tap into the knowledge scattered throughout the organization. They motivate employees, encourage life-long learning, and encourage them to take risks inherent in trying new things.

A number of writers are concerned that America may be losing its edge and that its “innovation engine” is sputtering. (Cf. The Gathering Storm from the National Research Council and Closing the Innovation Gap by Judith Estrin). What can be done to address these problems? What can organizations do to foster collaboration and innovative thinking? How can countries adopt policies that will provide the building blocks of innovation? What can individuals do to promote innovation among their co-workers and colleagues?

Fall Semester, 2008

The fall semester was pretty grueling.

My classes weren’t hard in the same way that International Trade and Development Orthodoxies were for me.  That is, there wasn’t a ton of practicum to get tripped up on.  But there were a lot of moving parts.  I was doing research for the Yahoo!/ISD fellowship and was also doing a consultancy project for the workshop class, on how innovation processes have been implemented into companies and organizations.

So I felt constantly under pressure to be reading and researching for semester-long projects.  Glad to get that stuff out of the way. =)

Small-Medium Enterprise class was extremely informative and we had lots of guest speakers.  I definitely learned a lot about what’s being done to build value chains, provide business development services, and empower entrepreneurs, for development projects.

My workshop I found incredibly helpful although I’m not sure everyone in the class felt the same way.  We got an overview of how to actually implement a project from project design and pre-planning to winning contracts to budgeting and scheduling.

I really hated my African Development class because the professor pretty much let the students (who varied widely in knowledge of African issues) talk all the time.  What’s the point of that?  Also we had no common reading materials to discuss, really.  And the grades were based on questions unanswered in class, so basically I could’ve done the research papers on my own without wasting 3 credits.

My internet class was excellent.  Our professor is well-connected and has been in the game for a while, so he presented us with case studies on the important issues affecting the internet, from the obvious like net neutrality and IPv6 to the lesser-knowns like open document formats and Facebook Beacon.  One of my favorite classes to be sure.

I also sat in on Mike Scheuer‘s Al-Qaeda class.  This class had some great readings, and Scheuer’s lectures were fantastic and quite different than what you normally hear.  Bottom line:  the counter-terrorism levers are foreign policy fixes, particularly with the US, Israel, and corrupt Arab governments.

This semester was a wonderful one overall.  I’d been anticipating participating in the presidential election while living in DC and going to Georgetown in the premier politics program.  It was everything I’d hoped for and more, and I will always remember the euphoria and readiness to work that braced DC on election night and still continues now.  Next semester will be the inauguration, which should be a wild time.  I hope to be in the thick of it.

I made a lot of contacts and learned things I never thought I’d have learned during my time here.  Obviously I’m very happy with where I am.

One semester to go…I will post info about the classes once I figure out what they’ll be. =)

And to conclude, here are my grades from the fall semester:

A- … Small-Medium Enterprise

A … Workshop:  Managing Development

B+ … African Development

A … What’s Shaping the Internet?

Idea for a Georgetown MSFS Start-Up Fund

Hi.  I am currently a second-year student in the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University.  The program is housed within the School of Foreign Service, one of the best international affairs programs and international development programs in the world.  A list of alumni is at Wikipedia.

I am considering an idea to develop a start-up fund or foundation or some other type of organization within the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown that picks people, not ideas.

Start-Up Competitions

I have a problem with the way start-up competitions are run right now.  Currently, the model is that the best ideas are supposed to win.

But what often ends up happening is that the most previously successful or most monetizable “ideas” win.

That is, some competitions choose a beauty contest format, in which those who make the best business plan win.  This model is flawed, because business plans for early-stage ideas are usually full of made-up vapor numbers, and plans for later-stage companies are usually already financially successful or well on their way.  So of course the latter ideas make it while the earlier ones do not.  Sometimes having the best business plan just means the founder took a class in how to write a sexy, cosmetically-appealing one.  Hence, “beauty pageant”.

What can also happen is that the “ideas” selected in a contest just aren’t that compelling.  This comes from the obvious fact that if an idea was so brilliant, no one else would have thought of it before and probably wouldn’t understand the impact of the idea itself until it was proven.  Renting movies by mail?  A free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit?  A street-level Indian organization that lets streetkids dial in with their problems?  These things aren’t sustainable, monetizable, or realistic, right?

Wrong.  Netflix, Wikipedia, Childline.

Many final-round selectees are incremental improvements on marginally interesting/useful products that were already successful.  So funding these grinder ideas is not really selecting a “great idea” at all.  The biggest ideas can sometimes be “ah hah, that’s so easy!” ideas, but I think more often than not, the ideas that really change things do not make sense to people until much later.

And in fact I would go a step further and say that these paradigm-shift ideas do not occur in a vacuum.  They are the products of great minds.  Much is made of the professor at Stanford who passed not only on Yahoo! but on Google as well.  They weren’t obvious winners initially, but Brin and Page and Yang and Filo went on to do great things like Google.org.  Omidyar at eBay took an idea that people thought would fail against Amazon and has gone on to do philanthropy work.

People still don’t understand Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook but he has the potential to completely control the online social world.

So it is these people who envision what the future is going to look like…  It is not that they happened on an idea by luck and never innovated again.

So why do start-up competitions vote on ideas and not people?

Start-Up Competitions Judged by Start-Ups

I felt as though TechCrunch 50 was a pretty successful start-up contest.  It achieved success through collaboration and openness.  If I recall correctly, the top 50 ideas were voted in by the TechCrunch reader base.  This introduces some serious problems such as bandwagoning and successful block voting campaigns, but it might help to reduce the chaff.  It also doesn’t get rid of the “understanding bias”; a truly large idea may be misconstrued or misunderstood, or a bad idea may hide a truly gifted entrepreneur.

The top 50 ideas pitched their products live at a conference to a panel of serial entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, and people really knowledgeable in the start-up/web space.  All of this was beamed over the web, and the ideas had web pages put up with reviews of their products.  The feedback was given to them by the panels and through online comments.

Start-Up Literature

What’s funny is a lot of the start-up literature out there spends a lot of time talking about how good the founders of an idea are.  Are those people the type that it takes to be a start-up leader?  Do they have good breadth of knowledge?  Inventiveness?  Adaptability?  Charisma?  The desire to work one’s ass off for a few years before ramping their business up?

In some cases, the literature says that angels and VCs and whatnot will often fund something on the basis solely of its founder and on the idea secondarily if at all.  They know that a good founder will make just about anything work.

So why does it come back to ideas and not the people behind them?

Georgetown MSFS’s Role in the Ecosystem

I think Georgetown MSFS has a unique position; it is placed in DC (a massive swirl of politicians, interns, NGO do-gooders, lobbyists, start-ups, consultants, activists, city dwellers, culture-lovers), is built into a fantastic school with an undergraduate base, has a powerful Jesuit tradition of erudition and moral value system that values diversity, and pumps out graduates who end up doing some of the craziest, most innovative, bizarre, important things you’ve never imagined.

In terms of its competition, MSFS doesn’t have many peers in terms of having fascinating people doing politics.  Johns Hopkins SAIS is closer to downtown but seems to be more applied economics.  Where do SAIS grads show up?  I don’t know…I don’t read about them often except that Tim Geithner just got nominated for Treasury.  George Washington, American, and George Mason are also fine schools but don’t dominate politics quite the same way Georgetown does.  As a caveat I should add that I’m amazed that the calibre of people who move out of these schools — DC truly is a place where anyone you meet on the street ends up being just the most fascinating person.

Schools outside DC (Columbia, Harvard, Yale, etc.) are also extremely good — don’t think I’m taking anything away from them — but they’re not as positioned for what I propose.

A Start-Up Fund for People

So Georgetown, which has a long tradition of truly singular models of virtue, ingenuity, and innovation, could build into its School of Foreign Service an organization that identifies the future possible leaders and issues them a challenge:  start up a company or organization that has the potential to help lots of people.  Instead of funding an idea, you fund a person.  The scope could be limited to social entrepreneurship, and/or to a “social business” model which does not pay out to shareholders but instead reinvests profits into helping more people.  This may be optional; while ideas shouldn’t be limited, you don’t want some SNAFU like this one guy I listened to on a panel once who, in response to “What do you want to do with your life?” answered “I want to create a new financial derivative.”  That was back in 2007 before the financial crisis began.

The fund would support the person enough to live for a certain duration of time, with further money allotted for a company space and, depending, money to hire outside help (like a programmer or two) if it can’t be crowdcoded.

The person could of course recruit other people from the campus or partner with other people chosen by the fund.  People wouldn’t have to apply to be selected — they could be nominated by others.  Any barriers to entry such as long admission applications would be minimal, so that those who are discouraged by doing yet more stupid paperwork for something they may not even have a chance for won’t be discouraged.

Heck, encourage an online standardization:  use LinkedIn for online résumé collection.

A Commons

A further addition to this is providing these people with a commons, as I described in an “Internet Commons Business Idea” post on my reputation research blog.

This would be a common area with laptops, large meeting tables, whiteboards, projectors, office supplies, everyone you need to bring a team together and brainstorm and code and do business, fit with phones, business address, full facilities and services.  Any empty office space can be rented for this purpose.  It doesn’t have to be much — just a place where a founding team can work together in an open area…and even collaborate with other teams.

The Final Piece:  Leveraging Politics

In the same way that Stanford seems to be the nexus for new web start-ups and Harvard/MIT seem to be the braintrusts for a lot of new start-ups and academic projects and research, Georgetown could become the hotspot for political start-ups.  There’s been much talk of Government 2.0, or bringing the US government into the Web 2.0 world of online collaboration.  There’s no greater concentration of activists, lobbyists, NGOs, NFPs, etc. than DC (Geneva?).  Not only is there a massive network of inspired minds here in DC, but they are also somewhat idealistic, risk averse, and willing to do something bold in order to effect change.

Sounds like the perfect place for start-up culture to me.  Combine this with a vibrant Georgetown political life — not the cocktail-drinking elite as John McCain thumbed his nose down upon — but hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial Georgetown figures and personalities.  You have tons of personalities to choose from to help found this new start-up fund.

What Do We Get?

The end result is a closer approximation to how great ideas actually are made successful.  Choose great people:  you know from your circles of people which ones are always thinking of solutions to problems.  They may be the kinds who just have the energy and risk adversity to go out and start a new company.  They may just be really efficient at small projects.  At any rate, I don’t think these people are that secret.  Some people are start-up people, others aren’t.  Give them time to develop a project and maybe they will come up with a better idea than pure beauty-contest-business-plan start-up competitions can.

Certainly other organizations do something similar to this:  Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, Omidyar.  But an MSFS fund could focus on its core strengths:

  • Utilizing the Georgetown campus, network, and Washington, DC political social sphere
  • Building a core around awesomely diverse, eccentric, and productive students, alumni, and faculty
  • Funding key people, not necessarily ideas
  • Focusing on solving social problems in keeping with Georgetown/Jesuit tradition
  • Incorporating Georgetown’s unparalleled insight into international affairs, policy issues, international development, and interdisciplinary research.

Who else can compete with us there?

I don’t know.  I just think this way makes a lot more sense to how humans innovate.  And I think Georgetown’s atmosphere is one of the few places where that energy could really be supported flourish as part of the community.

[Extra reading:  entrepreneur hotels]

Michael Porter on US Competitiveness

Michael Porter, the go-to-guy for studying firms’ competitiveness, wrote an article for Business Week about the need for a strategic economic policy in the US to maintain its competitiveness.

I’m not going to write too much on this but I thought for a few reasons that this article was important enough to blog about because:

1) I’m sick and tired of people who cling to the “free markets above all” argument.  It’s simplistic, naive, and incomplete.  Successful economies require rule of law, good government policy, and competitive markets.  Take daytraders for example.  I have a feeling most are older, fiercely Republican, and grew up in the days of Reagan when Reaganomics was backed up by Cold War victory, stock market rallies, and unprecedented American prosperity.

Read More »

Why I Chose Development

When I tell people I’m studying development at grad school, their eyes glaze over.  What does this mean?

Are they confused as to whether I mean business development as in getting new clients?  Or as in employee training?  Do they only understand what I mean if I say “international development” instead?

Do they know what the field is, but assume that it’s just for pot-smoking Peace Corps losers who want to go help the dark-skinned starving people who have AIDS?

Or do they REALLY know what the field is, and associate development with World Bank and IMF policies which were attacked for being neo-colonialist and usurious toward developing nations?

Those are the broad generalizations and stereotypes.

And what of me?  I just got out of the Army.  I went from trying to kill some people to learning how to help others.

To be honest, I applied to the Georgetown Masters of Science in Foreign Service program intending to study foreign policy and try to start a career in national security policy.  I figured I could continue doing what I was doing before, but at a higher policy level.

But all the classes I wanted to take were in development.  Why?  Because that’s where a lot of cool stuff is going on.

Here’s what international development is to me:  billions of people around the world still aren’t healthy, educated, and online.  They have no voice.  They have few rights.

Meanwhile, technologies in health, science, telecommunications and economics fields that study behavior, developing markets, microfinance, etc. are all converging.

Lift people out of poverty and you connect more people together.  You get new ideas, new influences, new businesses, new economic models, new politics.  You get substantially more new opportunities for business and sharing and progress.  You get more representation from around the world.

Have you heard of USAID?  DFID?  UNDP?  Probably not, but these organizations are using a lot of money to fund programs that are geared towards certain aspects of development, including human capacity, governance, gender equality, food and nutrition, etc.

In the past, funding and programs had disastrous results.  Economic theory has been most pushed by areas such as development theory, which has failed time and time again to deliver success to third world nations.  Models have been hyped up and then discarded as they’ve led to countless failures.  But all that work has enabled us to figure out the different elements of what goes into human organization:  politics, individual rational and irrational decision-making, economics, biological nutritional and health and hygiene needs, etc.

Also strongly influencing helping poor people has been foreign policy (why Afghan development and not Darfur?), economic ideology (Keynes vs. Friedman), and misinformation about what has succeeded and what hasn’t (AIDS awareness programs).

And how do you measure the success of programs and donor money?  This requires a study of basic accounting and balance sheets for microenterprise and microfinance, developing proper metrics to properly assess impact of projects (does counting the number of graduates in a country tell you improvement in overall education?), and understanding of how to win a development contract and then plan it through 5 years to completion with a fluctuating budget.

Do you know what that is, all that project design and evaluation stuff?  It’s basically the same thing as learning how to found and run your own startup.

That’s where I’m going with all this.  I want to start new companies.  If all the stuff above didn’t excite you, then I’m not sure what will, because all of what goes into development involves all aspects of the human condition and learning how people make decisions and what people need to be successful.  It involves all the fields where breakout technologies are currently coming from.  It involves being able to meet and interact with and do business with vastly more people.

Development rides a lot off social change, but also technological and economic change.  The implicit understanding, in my opinion, is that development is disruptive.  Sometimes this can be very bad, but hopefully it will be even better.  I seek the new, profitable ideas.

Even the coldest entrepreneur-oriented MBA, who writes development off as poor-paying jobs in bad countries, needs to understand where the market gaps are in order to found a new company and make a lot of money.  One would need to understand social needs, social trends, and the limits of said change within policy and economic environment contexts.  Learning straight-up MBA tools can help you only if it builds upon the potential you have to create your own ideas — that is, business training only helps you monetize pre-existing ideas — it doesn’t actually create new ideas.

That’s enough of my rant on that.  Probably a bit unfair, anyway.  I want to keep this pretty positive and insightful so I guess I’ll close by saying that I have been deeply suspicious of policy and aid but upon learning more about it, I’ve found that there’s just so much meat in the study of it that I’m loving every bit of it.

The Digital Africa Surprise

For my African Development class, I was required to write a 15-page paper on some aspect of African economic development. I chose to write about converging factors, such as the east coast Africa backbone coming online, the cloud, and cheap online tools, contributing to a surprising boom in African digital connectedness to occur in the next decade. Will people be paying attention?

Read my INAF-450 Paper 1:  “The Digital Africa Surprise”.

[I’ve also converted the paper to Google Docs if you’d like to read it. (and here’s the .doc format).]

Female-Dominated Environment

One more thing for tonight.

I’m studying international development, and for my class, this concentration has been dominated by females. There are maybe four other guys studying it.

I’ve had a lot of female bosses in various disciplines (web design, the Army, USAID), so I’m used to it. It has benefits and drawbacks. Usually women tend to be more engaged in tasks than men do. Women are more studious and more detail-oriented. Men tend to get bored easily and drift about. That’s really all I should say on that topic.

I have a class on small-medium enterprise which has a few guys in it but is still female-dominated.

Last year I went on a ski trip with all women, except for my friend’s dad. Very bizarre — I think we just ceded our opinions to the girls on that one.

I go to yoga with my friend and I’m typically the only guy there except for a few random guys who are mostly gay. So I’m in all black and have tattoos and a beard.

I have a workshop on managing development in which I’m the only guy out of maybe 15 people. Our professor is a female. Her guest speakers have been all females so far. The other week we had a class on gender roles in project design. I told the class I was going to keep my mouth shut.

This has been nothing but a continuous source of amusement for my classmates.

To be honest I think a development strategy, as Muhammad Yunus and Grameen have been doing, focused on developing plans around the women in society is sound. Women have innate responsibility and control in communities, even in Muslim ones, so they tend to be more reliable even if legally or culturally speaking they are not empowered.

Anyway I guess I’m pointing this out because I think it’s interesting to note the changes going on in my life experiences. I spent five years in the Army which was extremely male-dominated and now I’m on the other side.

The good part is that I’ve succeeded in both environments. Bottom line is to make a lot of money as a result of helping people. Hopefully this process will help me get there, no matter who I have to work with. As all startup literature says, the most important thing is to have the smartest team you can find.

Back to School

I sat in on a class dealing with technology and society, and the professor showed us this video.  It’s done by a cultural anthropologist who focuses on digital ethnographies.  It shows the problems today’s students deal with when getting an education.  Welcome back to school:

Stereotyping Grad Programs

In my “What’s Shaping the Internet?” class last week, we were talking about universal communication access briefly when the only MBA student in the class commented that he thought it was all a waste of money and that he believed “the free market should handle it”.

I am so freaking tired of hearing that phrase.  It’s a red flag phrase that is hammered into the heads of MBA students everywhere.  They parrot it constantly.

Really?  The free market will just do everything?  Ask an MBA you know to explain the rumored Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac back-stopping this weekend.  I bet his head will spin trying to rationalize keeping the financial system afloat while at the same time advocating free-market creative destruction.

It’s offensive that MBAs and free-market advocates are taught singularly this way of thinking, even though they paid tens of thousands of dollars to go to schools which should be teaching that the lines are not so clear, that government policies, free-market finance and trade, societal and cultural norms, and a multitude of other factors all work together to promote success.

Most of my classes deal with policy at some level and that’s a lot of what differentiates my program (foreign service/international affairs) from other programs at our university, even those within the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.  The closest program to ours is the public policy program.

Let me explain that.

The MBA students are taught that business is the way the world really works, and this has been reinforced by the latter half of the 20th century in their minds.  They are not so wise on policy issues or how business climates are developed in the first place.  Apparently, a market emerges out of a vacuum.  And as far as marketing goes, you can sell something to anyone regardless of whether he wants it or not.  And debt financing and business operations are hindered by government oversight, which is without exception always corrupt.

Business people tend to blank out whenever the conversation doesn’t involve “i-banking”, structured finance, bond rates, “adding value”, or case studies.  They’re akin to the daytraders I used to listen to on IRC — vague business knowledge but no real insight into what actually works and what doesn’t.  No ideas.

Then we have our security studies students, most males of whom are total tools.  Few actually served in the military but happily suckle from the teat of the government through the DoD, DHS, or…as they love to say during their personal introductions in class…as a consultant for a large government agency.  Give me a fucking break.  Wow, you have a clearance and you peddle bullshit intelligence analysis that none of your politically-appointed bosses will ever read.  That’s so cool.  Better keep that on the downlow lest Osama be sitting behind you in class.

You can spot security studies guys usually because they exude some degree of shallowness and insecurity in their starched blue shirts, red ties, and cheesy jackets.  Sometimes with a lanyard tied to an ID card in their breast pocket for cool-guy effect.  The girls are usually pretty cool — I think you’d have to be in such a male-dominated world.  The guys who are worth talking to are usually pretty humble and down-to-earth and don’t identify with the rest.

If you see an Arab, chances are he’s in the Arab Studies program or my program.  Security studies is notoriously conservative and more than a few people I’ve met are vaguely racist towards Arabs.

As for my program, we’re networkers and generalists and are interested in a lot of subjects.  It’s the broadest of the programs.  People hype up a rivalry between us and Johns Hopkins SAIS but it doesn’t really exist — many people share friends across schools, including up the road at Harvard and Fletcher.  At our house party last night, I heard a couple people say people had told them our program is a bit elitist…  But I’ve never heard that around town — usually there’s a healthy respect across campuses and within employers.

So get back to this guy in my class…  I had to make sure I spoke up and commented on his free-market bs.  He’s literally saying this in a class taught by a policy advisor who helped Al Gore to bankroll a nexus between government, academia, and business for a climate that gave birth to the internet.  That’s either really firm on a position, or plainly ignorant.  I’m voting on the latter.

That stuff really sets me off.  How is it that in today’s day and age, we still have to argue that companies, NGOs, government, universities, and individuals have to all work together pretty tightly in order to progress?  How is that happening in discussions at a grad student level?

To be fair, most people in our programs are incredibly open-minded and always seeking to find or refine questions for today’s problems.  But it can be very worrying to see guaranteed future leaders of this country proposing junk ideas.