IVLP India in Boston December 2015
Our second destination was Boston in Massachusetts. One of the oldest US city and home to the two most legendary educational universities “Harvard and MIT”. Our first day in Boston started with the visit to the campus of MIT Media Labs. This was one of the most important visit as it showcased how America has been able to attract innovations through this state of the art campus located in MIT university area. While here in India, we are always thinking about present problems, MIT really focusses on future technologies which you may not even see for next 5–7 years, but once they become mainstream, they start creating a larger impact. A few innovations from MIT include the famous “Legos” which I am sure we all have played and the Digital Ink technology used in Kindle readers. Lego is a big supporter of MIT, infact all major prototyping is done using Legos. Whatever MIT showcased just made us think on how effectively we can integrate our educational institutions with Government and Industry. If the three start complimenting each other, development is bound to happen. It was also fascinating to learn about MIT initiatives in India include some interesting research work done by them in Nashik Kumbh Mela to figure out the living comfort of saadhu’s and ventilation in tents, which can be in some ways used for any other emergency situations or rescue operations. MIT wants to see more local innovators and for that, we decided to partner with MIT to connect them with real changemakers and disruptors who have been working on innovations which have a potential of creating a significant impact around the world.
Our next few meetings showcased how competitions, incubators and coworking spaces play a big role in developing a city or a state. This included visit to Mass Challenge a popular incubator, attracting various kinds of entrepreneurs pitching ideas through competitions to solve various problems. Mass Challenge provides these startups some capital as well as coworking space through the support of its sponsors including various corporations and academic institutions. This again highlighted the strength of collaboration between different stakeholders in an ecosystem leading to a very high impact and innovative environment.
After experiencing and understanding this interesting collaborations in Boston, we made a day trip to Durham and Manchester in the state of New Hampshire. A few might know, Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire is a very important hub for the US Presidential elections as it is one of the first few cities to have primary election. For any President this is an important town, but interestingly it was very rural. A small town about 70 miles from Boston, Durham is a hub for some key technical innovations around internet. Our meeting was scheduled with University of New Hampshire’s Technical Department headed by Professor Yassini, who is known as the father of cable modems, remember those cranky noising device which we used to connect through our telephone line for internet access? He was the man behind it. Cable modems were developed in 80’s while they became mainstream in mid of 90’s and early 2000. Professor Yassini discussed about utilising Television White Space (TVWS) as a medium to carry data, interestingly those cable wires can also handle upto 10mbps of bandwidth, which is still a high speed for us back in India. Cable television surely did something disruptive for us, they have given us some network to bank on for supplying data to many unconnected parts. It might be a good opportunity for some of you to explore this technology and crack some solutions to serve internet. Besides that University of New Hampshire was responsible for for deploying fibre network in New Hampshire and have been leasing its fibre to service providers as well as managing the entire optical fibre network from their campus. Again an interesting collaboration between Government and University for use of knowledge for actual execution and management.
Our final day in Boston was again one of the most powerful day of the program. This day was dedicated to civic innovations and how various city governments have been adopting technology through Public Private Participation (PPP). I remember we have had so many ideas at Startup Weekends around car parking, reporting civic issues, fighting corruption, city public transport information, school admissions etc, but most of them die due to lack of access to the government. The government can be made efficient by private players only when government listens to them and that’s exactly what different government departments in US have been doing very efficiently. In Boston the Mayor’s office has started adopting all these startup ideas through its civic innovations department directly under the supervision of the City Mayor. Similarly in Somerville, the Mayors office has adopted technology for citizens service management, from regular license applications, to neighbourhood watch, everything is being done using Somerville’s website. We were even fortunate to meet the Mayor and spend some time with him, talking about his vision and team for executing these projects.
The last meeting in Boston was in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts with Justice Cordy. A visit to the court in USA was surprising, but those 90 minutes changed our perspective about the legal system. Justice Cordy, a humble and generous gentleman gave us a personal tour of the entire court and finally discussed about how camera’s and media trials were legalised in Massachusetts but at the same times proper media guidelines and ethics are maintained through a joint council comprising of Justice Cordy and a few members from the media industry including Editor in Chief of Boston Herald. This again highlighted something very important. While media has a big role to play in empowering people through right information and news, it is also important for them to represent their own country. Through a joint council media is able to put their points in front of the legal system, post which a law is created post which they all adhere to it. Maybe India needs to think about it considering how news is just written as a story and not as a news. Remember development can only happen when we learn from our mistakes, rectify them and move on, not learn about them, make a story and keep dragging it. This was an important lesson at least for me in Massachusetts.
The entire program showcase collaborations and the impact of collaboration on all. It was a win win situation for all and through this inclusive model everyone was able to contribute towards any development matters. From Parking Payment App, to school admissions, to development of website by a local web development company from managing the city operations by the local government’s office, it was all about collaborations. We have been promoting collaborations here in India as well, but mostly insecurities take over and all these collaborations fade away. I hope we are able to understand this and build a more collaborative environment. Our next destination were the two backward states of US, Kansas and Missouri. Stay tuned for another exciting story.