Friday, 29 January 2010

Grassroots Empowerment Network – An invitation to help make a difference

I am a trustee of GEN, the Grassroots Empowerment Network, which is a small UK based non governmental organisation that supports villagers, mostly from the Meo community in Rajasthan, in taking charge of their own lives and the development of their communities. GEN works with a local partner ngo in India called End Poverty . The GEN website tells you more about our work, our news and our activities:

The Meo people of India are an interesting group. Most live in the remoter corners of rural Haryana and Rajasthan, in villages that lack basic facilities such as clean water, power, access to good schools and health services. They have Rajput origins, and follow a form of Islam that until recently has incorporated many Hindu practices. Today external influences are pressing the Meos to pursue a more pure form of Islam.

I have been a trustee of the GEN since it started in 2003. I invited Sue Burke, the Chair of the GEN, and Moyna Aicken, another trustee, to come along to the Enterprisers networking session on 13th January at the University of Warwick. They braved the snow on a journey from London and talked to quite a few of you.

Getting involved with the GEN and End Poverty
All three of us were impressed at the level of interest shown by participating Enterprisers and have been thinking about ways in which we could build on that interest and engage with you more actively. Here are some ideas. Please let me have your thoughts and suggestions about them, or any other ideas you may have.

• Contribute to focus groups (London) to discuss and explore practical and sustainable ideas on rural development for the kind of villages where GEN and End Poverty work, bearing in mind the ‘empowerment’ philosophy we hold
• Come to a think tank session with trustees of GEN on creative ways of stepping up our fund raising capacity
• Help develop our project for an ‘Echoes of India ’ city walk (or walks) in London, Birmingham and elsewhere that will promote east – west understanding and publicise and raise funds for the GEN. We need help with creative research and investigations to generate the content, innovative ideas on different ways to take the idea forward, help with testing the concept in practice, help with getting others involved. It promises to be very interesting and potentially a lot of fun.
• Undertake a self funded but GEN- EP supported study visit to the villages supported by GEN and End Poverty on the Haryana / Rajasthan border and let us have your thoughts and feedback on the experience, particularly about overcoming the challenges the villagers face
• Take on a 1 – 3 month internship in the villages to assist End Poverty with its work with village development groups. Might include: – needs analysis, business development analysis, offering specific skill development possibilities to children, young people, women and girls. (You pay your fare, we cover your basic local expenses - food, accommodation, transport)
• Come to the GEN – EP stakeholder event in a rural area nearish to Delhi when we will meet villagers from the village development groups, visit the villages, hold joint planning sessions between GEN and EP on how to take our partnership forwards – 11th – 13th March. (Sorry it will have to be at your own expense)
• Help us – GEN, EP and another small Indian ngo, the Satya Jyoti Trust ( , that is based in our area – to work through ways in which we could build on a small SJT women’s project that has already contributed garments to the international Fair Trade Fashion Event in Paris (September 2009). Can you help us to develop a business plan on: – how to expand on the initiative, involve more community based women, increase production, bring items to UK etc? You would have to spend some time in the area to do this.

We would like your ideas, great and small, on what would really appeal to you, and how you think you could make the kind of contribution that would make best use of your skills and expertise. I will pass anything you send me to Sue and other GEN trustees who will then continue the dialogue.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Nobel Prize winning science –creates a biotech industry, Enterprise Tuesday 19th January 2010

Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) was founded in the dying days of 1989 to develop human therapeutic antibodies. The early stages were difficult; the underlying science was only half done, and the large pharmaceutical companies and most investors did not believe that antibodies were viable drugs, although now it is an industry with a turnover of more than $25 bn per annum. Sir Gregory Winter (a founder) and Dr Kevin Johnson (an early recruit) will piece together the founding, and the development of the science and business of CAT, including the early development of the blockbuster drug HumiraTM directed against rheumatoid arthritis."
The story behind CAT though is just as fascinating and as background here is my attempt to summarize.
The creation of the business and the biotech industry goes back to a major misunderstanding about intellectual property ownership and its exploitation.
One of the articles is about who is at the heart of the nobel prize (1984) winning science – Milstein or Kohler? ( We certainly hear about this issue from many graduates and others who are anxious about how much of their new ideas they feel they can share openly. Ownership of the idea that then leads to a discovery or to a business that succeeds is close to the heart of individuals. And how this ownership of the discovery is subsequently commercialised is also an important debate for Universities, individual researchers, the venture capitalists and management teams.
The other part of the controversy is whether or not it was smart to publish and “give away” cell lines and the mice to those who might be competitors. This is a more serious argument and some think that the patenting regime can be stifling and restrictive to the ultimate benefits of society.
There are probably three major themes to this debate. First – whether all new knowledge generated through public funding actually belongs to society anyway – in which case it should be published for wider dissemination and this includes any commercial exploitation. The second line of argument has been that the way patenting and licensing is done – starts to become increasingly defensive and is a broken system and therefore acts against the best interests of what it is actually supposed to encourage. The third is simply that unless one has a system that can be understood the capital and resources from organisations that have the capability to commercialise the science will just not do so.
I am not knowledgeable enough to fully comment on this third aspect – but it seems to me that if the opportunity is big enough and the deals are there to be done, is the commercial exploitation not more to do with management and markets than about ring fencing the ownership of IP? In some industries now (e.g. internet) there is a greater push for open source and open innovation and in most technology clusters there is increasing collaborative working.
For those of us – who need to understand how or why this science is significant there is a layman’s description of the impact of monoclonal antibodies.