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Showing posts from May, 2008

Literacy for a billion: PlanetRead

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One of the most exciting literacy social enterprises that I've run into is PlanetRead. Founded by Indian Institute of Management professor Brij Kothari, the first concept was same language subtitling. When Brij heard I was going to South India, he insisted I visit his team in Pondicherry.

Planet Read added subtitles to Bollywood music videos. Hundreds of millions of people now see these videos, eager to learn the words of their favorite videos and becoming literate along the way. They have also done extensive measurements of their impact and see real progress on advancing literacy. Another example of scale, South Asian style!

The team I met were working on multimedia literacy content as part of Bookbox, and were busy using Adobe products to deliver cool ways to learn to read.
They first created original visual story content, and then added different languages. In addition to a print book, they have multimedia content that animates the characters and adds audio narration.

Worth Trust, Part II

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After visiting the Chennai operation of Worth Trust, Viji and I journeyed to Katpadi, the town where Worth Trust is headquartered. Around the town are quite a number of Worth Trust enterprises.

One of the enterprises we stopped by made the hand-tricycles I saw all over the region.

For a person without high functioning legs, a wheelchair is not that practical in the community. Instead, there were a lot of tricycles with the crank mounted where it can be turned by hand.

Worth Trust makes and sells these accessible tricycles.

Another part of the operations turns out to be the assembly arm of the famous Perkins Brailler: a manual Braille typewriter still in wide use. Viji stopped to chat with one of the women on the assembly line.


Most of the employees of Worth Trust are people with disabilities. We met many of the employees, including deaf workers, blind workers and workers with physical disabilities. The guy pictured above is a blind machinist.

I also got to try out a powered wheel…

Worth Trust: Scanning in Tamil Nadu

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My first social enterprise visit in Chennai was to one of the offices of Worth Trust, our social enterprise partner in Tamil Nadu.
Thanks to funding from the Lavelle Fund, we've been able to set up a scanning facility to produce books there. Worth Trust is a social enterprise with the goal of employing people with disabilities. It has a great symmetry: people with non-print disabilities are scanning in books for people with visual disabilities. The Times of India covered the story during my visit, Disabled in city help blind in US.


The scanning setup is quite similar to ours in Palo Alto, of course. I'm always amazed at how small high-speed scanners are these days. You chop the book binding off and an entire book scan be scanned in five or ten minutes. We've been shipping books to Chennai, but that turns out to be hard. We'll expect to be sending some digital images of books from the U.S. for proofreading in the future. Plus, as we get more permissions from Indi…

The Seminar in Chennai

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The main reason for my visit to South India was the National Seminar on Print Access For All, which was organized by the dynamic Mr. Krishnaswamy.

He has taken on delivering print access as his personal project after his retirement from a senior police force role. He also has learned how to build electronics and program in assembly language, as well as being the sort of person who manages to convince anybody who's anybody to join his effort to bring equity to access to print. He's really helped us move forward with our India projects, thanks to our India project manager, Viji Dilip, who joined me there and who has made all of these great Chennai connections for us.

There was a great article on the seminar in the major paper based in Chennai,The Hindu, entitled: Publishers urged to reach out to print-disabled population.

I enjoyed giving my 20 minute talk on Bookshare.org and building a global library. The turnout for the seminar was great: I was able to meet key people f…

Tamil Nadu Temples

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Virginia and Kate, my wife and daughter, volunteered to come along with me on my one-week trip to South India. So, I extended it to two weeks and added a trip to Madurai as part of that. After visiting Aravind Eye Hospital and Aurolab, we started on our vacation time.

South India is famous for its temples. People are quite religious, and have a great deal of pride in their religious heritage and temples. We especially appreciated getting the run-down on major deities and the great stories: it helped us understand what we were seeing as we toured the area.
One of the largest and most famous temples is in Madurai: the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It has numerous spectacular towers. When we arrived, all but one of the largest towers were covered: they need regular painting. We watched as men passed wooden poles up the last tower, as they built scaffolding lashed together (picture above). After the frame is up, they cover the frame with what looks like thatching: so you have this gian…

Aurolab

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Part of the systematic Aravind Hospital approach is manufacturing its own supplied through its Aurolab social enterprise affiliate.

I was able to visit the new manufacturing facility just outside Madurai. David Green calls the approach forensic accounting: if you truly want to serve as many people as possible, analyze the most expensive item involved and then figure out how much it really costs to make. Start making it more affordably. Repeat.

I've heard that Aurolab is the second largest maker of intraocular lenses (IOLs)in the world by unit volume (not by revenues). They also make the microsutures that have been traditionally used in cataract operations (although my understanding is that the new foldable IOLs make microsutures obsolete for most operations today). They also make dozens of pharmaceuticals: if it goes into your eye as eyedrops, they probably make it.



My wife and daughter, Virginia and Kate, were along for the tour. We had to dress up in clean room garb. Auro…