Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I am Running a Marathon and Raising Funds for HRDC

My friend Binod Bijukachhe is an orthopedic surgeon in Nepal. He works tirelessly to treat disabled children at the Hospital and Rehab Center for Disabled Children (HRDC) nearby Kathmandu. Simply put, Binod and his team are amazing -- in a poor country like Nepal, where so many children with physical disabilities cannot afford care, HRDC treats thousands of children suffering ailments like burn contractures, club foot disease, polio, and scoliosis, to name a few. In 2010 alone, HRDC handled close to 15,000 cases overall - which is remarkable.

Children under treatment at HRDC having some fun time
I have known Binod from high school back in Nepal. When I visited Nepal with my wife and kids last summer, Binod took us to HRDC. We were touched and humbled by the suffering the children have to endure, and equally amazed by how HRDC was able to provide care at such low costs. For instance, the hospital hires local cobblers to make prosthetic shoes for club foot disease -- at a fraction of cost of buying name-brand shoes.


Dr. Binod Bijukachhe, one of HRDC's talented surgeons

Yours truly prepping for the marathon


Earlier this year, I decided to train for my first marathon, and I just signed up to run the Santa Rosa Marathon on August 28th. The 26.2 miles are surely going to be tough, but nowhere even close to what the kids at HRDC have to face.

I want to dedicate this run to Binod, HRDC, and especially all the children being treated there -- and I ask you to join me in supporting HRDC by making a donation. I will even add a challenge - for every dollar donated up to $5,000, my solar company in Nepal, Gham Power, will make a matching contribution by installing a solar PV system of equal value at HRDC (which also suffers long electricity blackouts each day because of Nepal's ongoing energy crisis).


Please sponsor my marathon run by making a donation to HRDC. The good folks at American Himalayan Foundation (AHF, also a supporter of HRDC) will be happy to process your donation - here is how:

  1. Go to http://www.himalayan-foundation.org/donate
  2. Click on "Give Now"
  3. Click on "One Time Gift"
  4. Fill out the form with your name, address, email, and donation amount. For reference, an average surgery costs $150. A pair of locally made prosthetic shoes costs about $25. 
  5. VERY IMPORTANT: Under "About your Gift" - Make sure you check "Please Direct My Gift To.." and type in "HRDC" in the box immediately underneath. This is to make sure 100% of your donation goes to HRDC. In the Notes field at the bottom, type in "Sandeep"
Please spread the word around. If you are in Santa Rosa or nearby on August 28th, please come by to cheer me on (or help carry me on a stretcher). But mostly, please do whatever you can to help Binod's work at HRDC.

Please sponsor my marathon run by making a donation to HRDC.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tsunami of Sorrow

Tsunami of sorrow
Swept over Sendai
Shaken
Stunned
Slaughtered
Now suddently still
Million tiny prayers
Enough to rebuild?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Social Entrepreneurship Vs Foreign Aid - Kind of Like The Pig and The Chicken

There's been a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of foreign aid, INGO's and donations versus social entrepreneurship when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty, infrastructure development, etc., especially in developing countries -- and I can't help but think of the classic story about the chicken and the pig, which goes something like this:
A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” 

The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” 

The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” 

“I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”
Although we can't make blanket statements, but for the most part, it seems to me social entrepreneurs are committed, whereas foreign aid and donations are involved. You can't bring about sustainable change without having your skin in the game.

Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Count Beans when you don't have QuickBooks

I still recall the sense of relief when I mastered (well, sort-of) the art of start-up accounting during my first CEO gig. Our accountant (who visited us twice a month) gave me a crash course in QuickBooks, taught me how to read PNL, Balance Sheet, A/P, A/R - and also how to make entries for money coming and money going out. I have never been good at accounting, but I got QuickBooks - and pretty soon, I was dangerous enough to keep track of the business via these wonderful reports that QuickBooks could spit out on-demand.

But then came the two companies that I set up in Nepal, so far away from QuickBooks land. The first one is a software company, and we hired an accountant, an auditor (and also a lawyer to complete the triumvirate) -- and they were able to concoct something in Excel that let me get the reports I needed -- so far, so good. However, the second company we set up in Nepal last year - our solar energy company Gham Power -- now that totally threw me off.

For starters, there's more retail activity compared to software business - lots of client transactions, inventory to track,  VAT calculations, import tax, custom clearance, supplier credit lines, etc. etc., and I was very afraid. So I asked our team to get a decent accounting system in place - "it must be computerized, and we need to have up-to-date data each day", I said. 

Taking a cue from my startup experience in the US, I first suggested QuickBooks, but our accoutants found the interface too weird - "this is made for people who don't know accounting, we are accountants and we do direct ledger entries, dammit!". Well, you have to pick you battles, so I let them figure out the right course.

First - they brought in a software called Tally, I think with a trial license (the actual license cost was about USD $1,000 plus yearly support fee - yikes! higher than my beloved QuickBooks). Then they took about a month to set it up, and then told us it still wasn't right, and probably will not be right until we bought the actual license AND got a consultant to set it up.  Phew!

Meanwhile, I needed our numbers, so there was a parallel system in place using good old Excel, which takes 2 full-time staff to maintain - one to record each financial transction on paper and compile paperwork, the other to make entries in Excel. Needless to say, it is far off from where it needs to be, but sort of gets the job done.

Now I'm at a point where I'd rather just have someone scan all the financial paperwork and send it to a QuickBooks consultant who'll at least get me what I need. But one would think there's gotta be a better way - right?

I'd love to hear from fellow startup entrepreneurs in this part of the world (Nepal, India, China, etc.) on this. What has worked for you? Anyone use QuickBooks, or found a QuickBooks for this part of the world? Is Tally our only option as far as software goes? 

Until then, we keep counting beans using Excel, while dreaming of QuickBooks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Fall from Grace to Watch TV Online

Over the years, I've been trying my best to recover from TV addiction, and by the end of 2009, it's been limited to watching Lost, Supernatural (my wife's colleague turned us on to this by lending us first 4 seasons on DVD, to which we happily traded whatever sleeping hours we had left on any given night), Tivo (Craig Ferguson and Charlie Rose mostly), then the occasional sports (NFL and NBA), then the occasional Netflix "watch instantly" movies.

While that may sound like a grand accomplishment (at least to me), you have to understand that I haven't fully recovered from my addiction.

This was made painfully clear earlier this month when during the same week that I left for Nepal, both Lost and Supernatural started airing new episodes, and I would miss Super Bowl as well. Still, I figured since we have "broadband" (ahem, 512kbps) in Nepal, I'd be able to catch a lot of it on the web. So, my first weekend in Nepal, I go to NBC site to watch Lost - and I get this warning - "You appear to be accessing from outside of United States, f&#( off!". Same with Supernatural. (Superbowl I didn't even attempt to because it was 5 am in the morning in Nepal when the game started, and when I talked to my kids on Skype later that morning, my 6-year son very happily let me know who'd won)

I then tried hulu - it basically told me to buzz off for the same reasons when I looked for Lost or Supernatural. Tried Netflix to see if I can watch instantly - they don't allow access from outside the US either. Hence came my fall from grace - I searched for bittorrent feeds for the shows, and whoala, I had all 3 episodes of Lost and Supernatural downloaded overnight, and the next night around 10 pm, I was all content to start my marathon session of watching all missed Lost episodes, and Supernatural the next night, and I became complete again.

Anyone know if there's a way to access my Tivo'd shows online? I installed the Tivo Desktop thing (even the paid version), but haven't found any easy obvious way to access my transferred shows over the web.

Friday, February 19, 2010

'Water' by Steven Solomon: A View From the Melting Himalayan Glaciers

Pulitzer Prize winning author Kai Bird who lives in Nepal writes in The Huffington Post about Steven Solomon's book "Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization" and how water problems add to Nepal's current energy crisis. It is interesting to note that Kai is dealing with the loadshedding problem with diesel generator and inverter-batteries. Also, he doesn't mention his views about solar or any other renewable energy in his writeup, because we feel that renewable energy is crucial to addressing this issue. So, I wrote this response to Kai's article:


Kai - thanks for pointing out this critical issue in Nepal

I'm curious why you haven't explored solar PV as an alternative (full disclosure: I work for a solar PV company in Nepal) beacause using diesel and "inverter-batteries" actually add to the water crisis.

Diesel genset spews out pollutants that cause environmental damage, which then accelerates the melting of Himalayan glaciers, which as you've pointed out is the direct cause of Nepal's hydropower plants generating less electricity.

"Inverter-batteries" also make matter worse because they don't actually add any new energy. Instead, they inefficiently store Nepali utility company's already scarce electricity into batteries to use later as backup during "load-shedding", but with 70% loss-factor. That's why Nepali government is considering a ban on inverters (see http://ghampower.com/?p=426)

Now I'm biased on solar. I left my job in San Francisco to come back to my native Nepal and make solar PV systems available at diesel-generator prices, because decreasing costs of PV are now at a point where developing countries can consider it as an alternative to diesel.

I'd love to welcome you to visit http://www.ghampower.com and our offices in Kathmandu. We are confident solar can help produce a good part of your current energy needs, at costs comparable to your diesel generator and inverter-batteries, but minus the damage to water and the environment.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cost of Doing Business in Nepal

When I came back to Nepal to launch our solar venture Gham Power, I had no illusions in my mind that the process was going to be smooth. After all, I was born and raised here, finished high school from here, and have been visiting frequently enough to know that the way business is done in Nepal is very different from what one would expect say in the US.

However, it’s the little things that surprise you, and also drive this point home.

Last week, our staff found out that there was no straightforward way to connect the solar panels to the rest of the wiring. This, of course, was very concerning, since the solar panels *are* the source of electricity, and if you can’t connect them to the rest of the system, there is no power whatsoever.

This problem was because the cables coming out of the panels needed a special type of connector, which is commonly available probably everywhere else in the world, but alas, not in Nepal. We talked to several other solar installer in Kathmandu, and everyone complained about the same thing – “yeah, those *&#%ing cables, can’t find them here, so we just cut them to bare wire and connect it from there”

Little did they know (or maybe pretended not to) that if you cut the cables on the panel, the solar panel warranty becomes void.

So, I did some research, and found a company in China who sells this type of cable. After a couple of emails back and forth, their rep says - “our entire staff is on leave for 8 days for Chinese New Year’s, so order by Thursday, or else you will have to wait for 8 days.” The total order came to be about $170, so instead of doing something elaborate like a TT (Tele Transfer, or “wire”), LC (Letter of Credit), or Bank Draft, I asked the rep if they took a credit card. Answer came back saying – “we don’t have a POS machine, so can’t do credit card, you must send a TT.”

This is Wednesday afternoon. These guys go on leave on Friday.

So, to prepare the TT, I had the rep email me an invoice with all the details spelled out. Our bank only accepts printed invoice, and their office is all the way across the town (30-minute drive) so we had to print the invoice and get to them. That was the end of Wednesday. Our bank says this will get done in the “first hour” Thursday.

Thursday we go to bank. We need someone with signing authority as well as the company seal that needs to be stamped on several papers that get signed to prepare the TT. By the time everything is said and done, it is only late Thursday when I can send a scanned copy of the TT document to the rep in China. Fortunately he hasn’t left for vacation, so he ends up sending the shipment first thing Friday morning.

I thought that was the happy ending, but we had one more crazy act remaining.

Normally when something gets sent via UPS, Fedex, or DHL, I’m used to expecting a package shipped to my door. I expected the same in this case as well – but express shipping in Nepal means the carrier brings your shipment to the airport and then calls you to clear customs.

Now, in midst of running a business, I really don’t have the time to go to the airport to custom clear a $170 shipment of $%&*ing cables, so we send our shipper instead. He spent the entire day (“the customs’ computer system was down, that’s why it took long”), but came to our office in the evening with a few boxes of cable.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really glad we finally have our cables and that we can hook our solar panels without voiding their warranty. But can’t there be an easier way to get this transaction done?

I understand Nepal has all these protective measures to control the flow of foreign currency going out of the country, but maybe there’s a way to set a dollar-limit per transaction and then a limit for the quarter or the year on how much stuff a firm can order without having to go through all these shenanigans. One can only hope.