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Monday, June 16, 2014
Intelligent Communities Find the Upside of Immigration

If you are an American and have not read “The Immigrant Advantage” by Anand Giridharadas, do yourself a favor. This editorial in The New York Times will take you four minutes to read and it may help you make sense of your own country.


The editorial concerns Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, who was shot by Mark Stroman, a self-proclaimed 9/11 avenger, in the convenience store where Mr. Bhuiyan worked. It is a sad story of ignorance and rage playing out on an innocent victim – but one with a surprise ending. Mr. Byuiyan, who lost the sight in one eye in the attack, was moved to learn more about his attacker’s life. What he learned changed his view of himself.

Mr. Bhuiyan realized that he was among the lucky Americans. Even after the attack, he was able to pick up and remake himself, climbing from that convenience store to waiting tables at an Olive Garden to six-figure IT jobs. But Mr. Bhuiyan also saw the America that created Mr. Stroman, in which a battered working class was suffering from a dearth of work, community and hope, with many people failing to form strong bonds and filling the void with escapist chemicals, looping endlessly between prison and freedom. Eventually, Mr. Bhuiyan petitioned a Texas court to spare his attacker’s life because he lacked his victim’s advantages: a loving and sober family, pressure to strive and virtuous habits.

The story of two nations in one is not just American. Wherever you live, as the broadband revolution reshapes our economy, those with the skills and virtuous habits to compete live in one version of your nation, while those without live in another. And in every nation, the immigrants are there to point up the distinction.

In our new book, Brain Gain, we note how strange it is that most of us believe immigration is a bad thing. A 2013 international found that 64% percent of Britons think immigration makes their country a worse place to live, followed by 60% in Spain, 57% in Italy, 49% in the US and 44% in Germany.

That is truly impressive – because by every objective measure, immigrants make tremendous economic contributions to their new homelands. They create more jobs and wealth, have greater educational attainment, commit fewer crimes and use fewer social services than the native-born. But down in our unreasoning souls, we know that these objective facts are wrong. We know that immigrants are criminals or “welfare tourists” shopping for a new homeland offering the best deal on public assistance. We know they try to force their foreign ways onto us in the form of signs in shop windows, new kinds of foods in the grocery store and new ways to worship. It is the oldest of human impulses to fear and distrust the stranger and we are still at it today.

And yet, there are Intelligent Communities that have made the attraction and integration of immigrants the foundation of their success. Toronto, our 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year, is one. Columbus in the US state of Ohio is another. So are the Eindhoven region of the Netherlands and the cities of Hsinchu and New Taipei City in Taiwan.

In all of their nations, these cities are beacons of hope, places where the “facts” that our unreasoning souls know are proven false. By working hard to open themselves to the world, they ensure that their people, native and immigrant, reap the benefits of a global economy.

Friday, June 6, 2014
Reclaiming their Oxygen & Letting Emotions Show


I saw something that I have never, ever seen during an ICF awards announcement: I saw people from a new Intelligent Community of the Year crying on the stage. Congratulations to Toronto, Ontario, Canada on its success Thursday night, as well as for its successes on the 364 days and nights before then. Toronto has become our new standard bearer and articulates what is possible in our cities and towns. I can tell from your emotional outbursts, Toronto, that this really means something to you. All of your citizens should be happy today, and I am sure most are.

I sensed what was going on emotionally the moment after Mayor Rob van Gijzel of Eindhoven and I announced Toronto as the successor to Taichung. The Toronto table at Guastavino’s erupted, and there were shrieks and roars. There was a large delegation from many sectors of the city, as well as fans of Toronto living in New York, who were cheering.

To be fair, most communities have that reaction when I call out their name. Taichung did last June. Eindhoven did in 2011. And in 2012 Riverside, California – the epitome of West Coast USA-laid-back-cool – jogged to the stage and began tweeting! But as one of Toronto’s bright lights, City Councillor Michael Thompson, began reading his acceptance remarks, which he had typed in advance (“How’s that for confidence?” I whispered to Taichung’s representative on the stage), I looked around me and saw people (I will not name names) crying or trying to hold back the tears.

What I sensed were tears of joy and relief. Toronto was celebrating what it has been for the past year, which is a city that is using broadband effectively to move its economy forward, and its creative and academic capacity to give knowledge workers and start-ups the tools to build the city’s future. It is a place that has been on a roll of accomplishments and economic expansion, but has been getting attention for the wrong reasons. Most people know what this is, but I am betting that Mayor Ford, who is struggling and who I hope overcomes his own personal suffering, is also celebrating and honoring the fine work for which his community has been recognized by the universal body of communities and jurors.

ICF’s fifth criteria for assessing candidate communities is “Advocacy.” This means the degree to which a community markets itself publicly to the world for the purposes of attracting inward investment, joint venture partners and media coverage. It also means the degree to which it communicates internally to its citizens and its youth with regard to its plans for the future, its strengths and its weaknesses.

In 2014, the oxygen needed from the media and Internet to get the story out was often unavailable, and the Intelligent Community leadership in Toronto had to do what my mom and dad said I needed to do if I was ever going to be recognized for doing anything worthy with my life: work hard and trust that in a free and fair society, merit ultimately tips the scale in your favor. Toronto proved to an international jury and an evaluation company in India that with our six factors weighed in the balance, the degree of difficulty for the Advocacy criteria was high and yet was overcome by performance.

That is the simple story of Toronto being named the first Canadian Intelligent Community of the Year since 2007. To some degree, I suppose, Toronto was seeking its redemption and wanted, finally, for the story that they have been struggling to get out to the world for the past two years to be told. It was. And we now know who leads Toronto into the future: a collaborative body of political leaders, a rich academic and entrepreneurial community, as well as folks such as the leaders of Regent Park, the Daniels Spectrum and Waterfront Toronto. Anecdotally, what made Toronto appealing to the majority of ICF’s jurors (the majority of whom are from outside North America) was the intensity of its collaboration and its absolute commitment to achieving an economically and socially diverse and fair place for all to live.

Shortly before Toronto was called to the stage, our 2014 Visionary of the Year, Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of Datawind, received a standing ovation for his simple, straightforward claim that he had built the world’s cheapest computer not because he was a “visionary,” but because it was simply and “obviously” the right thing to do.

In the razor-thin margin that raised Toronto to the top of the group of seven true champions, it is obvious that oxygen is returning. Well done and congratulations.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A World That Works Better is a Great Start (But Donít Stop There!)


How many times have you been elated when the lights of a busy boulevard were actually in sync, guiding you from one side of the city to the other in record time? Or how about the first time you were able to enter your home from the outdoor heat and humidity and it was refreshingly cool, just as you set it from your office on your smartphone before heading home? As a municipal asset manager, your analytics of the utility system saved the city millions of dollars and the use of solar and wind turbines have put you on the road to a sustainable future. Simply put, as a smart city, things work better. Smart cities create efficiencies, but also confidence and reputational capital as a city that delivers. That is great news for the city’s economic development chief. He is taking his city’s competitive advantages on the road and promoting his city as unique and differentiated from other competitors.

And why not? Investors are looking for safe havens for their investments; and if these places can also demonstrate that they are efficient and productive communities, being effective with its limited resources and managing its assets in the best ways possible, it will be attractive to them. Talented individuals are also looking at investing themselves into cities that are effective. But beware, they are not only focused on infrastructure; investors and talent are both looking for cities that have an innovation ecosystem, good governance and links to universities. Attracting them is one thing. Retaining them is quite another. That is where the notion of “things to do” comes into play. Providing opportunities to express one’s creativity; sharing in diverse cultures and celebrating the sense of place are things that will help to retain them. After family influences and the opportunity for meaningful employment, cultural pursuits are the key component in the attraction and retention of investors and talent in any community.

Over the last few months, ICF’s co-founders have traveled to the Top7 Intelligent Communities: namely to Arlington, Virginia (USA); Columbus, Ohio (USA); Kingston, Ontario (Canada); Hsinchu (Taiwan); New Taipei City (Taiwan); Toronto, Ontario (Canada); and Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada). In each of these visits, ICF’s co-founders reviewed the communities from the perspective of evaluating them in relation to ICF’s Intelligent Community criteria as well as validating each city’s claims in their applications. Every year, ICF includes a new theme – this year on the topic of culture. Community as Canvas, ICF’s theme for 2014, speaks to the culture of the community from three perspectives: culture as art; culture as heritage and culture as attitude. I had the privilege of visiting Columbus and Winnipeg. In both cases, these communities are well endowed with high speed broadband and have undertaken traffic and environmental monitoring as well as demonstrated municipal asset management capabilities that would suggest they are clearly “smart cities”. But the visit focused less on the infrastructure aspects of these communities; rather we focused on quality of life matters – education, digital inclusion, innovation, governance and the creation of sustainable and innovative ecosystems. My hosts also aimed to demonstrate their capacities and capabilities in the area of culture. This is where it gets interesting. Many of the communities in this year’s Top 7 will be sending examples of their cultural uniqueness to the ICF Summit (June 3-5, 2014) in New York City. For example, Hsinchu’s Mayor, Hsu Ming-Tsai, will demonstrate his skills in the traditional art of Chinese calligraphy. New Taipei City will demonstrate the art of sky lanterns, a major part of the cultural fabric of Taiwan and named one of the 52 things to do in 2013 by CNN Travel and one of the 14 must-attend festivals in the world by Fodor’s Travel.


Photo by Hsinchu
Municipal Government

  Photo by Taiwantimes   Photo by Voitek Pendak





Kingston’s cultural experiment will bring together culture and technology through social media at the Summit. Toronto will demonstrate its vibrant multi-culturalism through a special jazz concert collaboration by the Sultans of String and an electric sitar artist, famous for his involvement in the Oscar-winning film, The Life of Pi. Together, they represent the multicultural richness of life in Canada’s biggest metropolis, where over 140 languages and dialects are spoken and more than 50% of the population was born outside Canada. And Columbus will demonstrate its “makerspace” capabilities through a presentation at the Summit by the CEO of the Columbus Idea Foundry (pictured right). Even the Keynote by Ryan Holladay, will explore location-based music compositions using smartphones for which WIRED dubbed him and his brother "pioneers." These cultural applications are a reflection of the quality of life that civic efficiencies alone will never substitute. Together, these communities create environments where people live better. Smart cities demonstrate how to make communities more efficient; Intelligent Communities go further to demonstrate an overall better quality of life.

Monday, May 19, 2014
The Middle of Nowhere is No More


By now you have met or heard about our 2014 Visionary of the Year, Suneet Singh Tuli.  You may have heard about him before from sources such as Forbes Magazine, or the dozens of other awards and media coverage of him and his company, Datawind.  Suneet has not been shy about promoting his vision to bring “the other three billion” across the digital divide.  The world has not been shy about embracing him.  We are going to be like the world on June 5, as he addresses our Awards Dinner.  

Suneet is our Visionary of the Year because like those before him his work is ensuring that “The Middle of Nowhere,” as people sadly and too often call their hometown or region, becomes Somewhere.  And Somewhere Big and Somewhere in a Hurry.   Suneet’s Aakash II/UbiSlat tablet, the world’s cheapest computer currently in mass production, is designed to make real the promise of eliminating The Middle of Nowhere.  To do it, though, Intelligent Communities must continue to rise up.

clientuploads/Images/Suneet-Singh-Tuli-and-his-Ashtak-Tablet.pngSuneet has been working to justify three simple claims that I make everywhere that I go.  The first is that the potential to live anywhere you wish, no matter where that place is, has finally become within the realm of the possible.  Once there, and with the right level of connectivity, you can then participate in the global economy.  This is the “Broadband Economy” that we often speak about.  These two possibilities are the real game-changers for the rural sectors, small towns and cities which struggle to enter the new century.  

Certainly for the parts of India where Suneet is having his first wave of success, the claim is not only a “game-changer,” but a life-saver.  It is a matter of survival because the real key to survival for the three billion people for whom he has devised the killer device is education.  And right now, education in India, with the exception of the over-hyped tech meccas like New Delhi, is literally a joke.  If you don’t believe me Google, “India Teacher Funny” and cry your heart out.  

Like national governments, the global educational infrastructure is dysfunctional at best.  IT is the Middle of Nowhere.  And most national governments seem clueless mainly because they look for a single solution when a billion solutions must be tried.  Evidence this by looking at Ireland, where the political demand for austerity resulted in an E85 million propping-up of its sour banks, while communities were forced to undergo humiliating cuts to healthcare and education.  As you would expect, educated, talented Irish people, like their peers in India, said simply, “Government funny,” and moved away.  Does it suggest that national governments are unable to solve the very complex problems that local leaders and entrepreneurs like Suneet Singh seem able and keen to tackle?  As they do, they enable the third claim I make, which is that the size of a community no longer matters.  The size of their ideas, the new source of economic energy however, counts plenty.

As Suneet so poignantly noted in his address at the ICF Institute in October, his device immediately localizes education by bringing the world to the browsers.  His strategy for India (and anywhere else) is simple: “To end mediocrity in education by accessing the Internet.”  If you watch the video from his address, you will see a slide that will pummel you if you live far from a city.  It reinforces what you may already believe, which is that the further away you are, the greater the deterioration in the quality of your education and in the quality of your teacher.  This is the sad case in India.  It has little to do with parental aspiration or the reliably disappointing lack of performance by national leaders.  It has everything to do with lack of access, lousy roads and crime which makes it intolerable for a good teacher who wants to stay home to teach, to do so.  

clientuploads/Images/largeandsmall.jpg“No one wants this kind of education.  But that’s what they have to accept,” Suneet said.  Yet he is optimistic because he has seen the light and it is as simple as a hole in the wall.  Professor Sugata Mitra’s famous Hole in the Wall Experiments in India demonstrated that children taking a standard math test in New Delhi would score on average 68%.  The further he tested students who lived furthest from the city, however, the worse the performance.  The quality of education deteriorated in direct proportion from its distance to the city.  At 250 kilometers outside of New Delhi, the same test generated results in the low teens.  70% of the people of India live in places where there are no paved roads, which means the government has paved its own way to ignorance.  

The professor than proved Suneet’s proposition.  His office was near a slum.  Just outside his office was a wall that separated it from his air-conditioned office. Mitra put a high-speed computer in the wall, connected it to the Internet, and watched to see who might use it. To his delight, curious children were immediately attracted to the new device. When they asked if they could touch it, Mitra said, "It is on your side of the wall.  The rules say whatever is on your side, you can touch.”  And touch it they did.

Within minutes, children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they were browsing. The children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy.

One boy, Rajinder is a much better student as a result.  Said his teacher, “He has become bold and expressive. I've got great hopes for this child." When asked to define the Internet, the kid replied, “It is that with which you can do anything."

You might even become Suneet Singh, and produce a device that takes that hole in the wall and multiplies by millions.  Our Visionary of the Year has the cred.  He has taken companies public on the NASDAQ Exchange and has fought the predictable battles with bankers, who play by rules as ruthlessly unmerciful to someone with a mission for social good as any you can imagine.  He has no government fiat in his fists but he has the knowledge, the money, the energy and the organization to take our fourth criteria (Digital Inclusion) and to make it more than aspirational.  It needs to be more than aspirational in places like India, where only one in three women can read.  You can several of your own rural communities to this list as well, I bet.

So for taking a big step toward making “The Middle of Nowhere” No More, we welcome Suneet to our family of Intelligent Community Visionaries.  I hope that you are able to come to hear him speak on the night of June 5th in New York.

For more information on the ICF Summit, visit www.icfsummit.com.

Monday, May 5, 2014
How One Man Set Out to Build a Creative Economy Ė and Did

Twenty years ago, the Walla Walla High School hired a consultant named Dennis DeBroeck to install computers and a network in the school.  They wound up hiring him full-time – not to manage IT but to teach it in vocational education classes for students who were not expected to go to university.


When he started his first class, there were no computers for the students to work with.  But Dennis had built his own small businesses, so he did not wait for the bureaucracy to deliver but borrowed, built and scrounged to provide.  He started with a course in basic computer science but soon grew dissatisfied with teaching theory to young people who needed and wanted to get elbow deep into something they could care about.    

Computer science soon evolved into hands-on digital media: modeling of objects, animals and people in three dimensions, texturizing the models to make them realistic, animating them and building simulations and games around them.  He negotiated cheap licensing deals with the major providers of digital animation and game software and kept expanding his offerings.   He built his own network, because the school’s could not possibly support his students’ needs, and assembled terabytes of server storage.  

clientuploads/Images/Dennis DeBroeck Walla Walla HS Apr 2014.jpgToday, Mr. DeBroeck teaches an exhausting schedule of one-hour classes for a total of 148 students.  His technology budget - $500 last year – has shrunk to zero.  But he has the air of a happy man.  His students work hard, with more experienced students helping others over the hurdles.   You can raise your hand to ask Mr. DeBroeck a question, but his standard answer is to tell you to check the online manuals and figure it out.  Some kids struggle more than others, but they all learn the lesson most fundamental to success: in the end, you are your own best teacher.  

His method appears to work.  His past graduates work in senior positions through the entertainment industry, and his more recent grads are leaving town for media arts programs at prestigious universities, arriving there with many times the hard-core production experience of most incoming freshmen.  

Walla Walla, a 2014 Smart21 Community of 30,000 people in the southeast corner of Washington State, is now trying to figure out how to forge a creative economy that can generate local opportunities for all this talent.  ICF is helping with strategy and capacity-building through our Community Accelerator program.  A development economist named Chris Mefford is creating a business plan for an incubator to help young people from DeBroeck’s program and the city’s award-winning community college to start and grow their own businesses.  Broadband providers are collaborating on strengthening the digital infrastructure of the town.  The Chamber of Commerce is working to interest a digital entertainment company to locate a studio in the city, where an outstanding quality of life is a major benefit.  

It is still early days – but they are doing all the things it takes to build a digital economy on top of their successful agricultural one.  I believe in patterns.  The patterns I see in Walla Walla are those of an Intelligent Community getting ready for take-off.  

They also have one more thing going for them.  They have Mr. DeBroeck.

clientuploads/Images/DeBroeck Card Apr 2014.jpgHe teaches technology, sure.  Many of his students are the kids that nobody expects to finish high school.  Whatever their talents and potential, they learn something far more important from him than digital media.  It is printed right on a sticker that he hands out to every new student.  “Do right,” it says.  “do your best” and “show people you care.” 

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