Sunday, November 28, 2010

Barcamp Vientiane 2010: What a huge success

I am organizing Barcamps since three years now, and people always asking me, how to measure the success. I usually answer: "If anyone is happy, it's a success". An I mean it. It is not so much about the numbers of participants (Barcamp Bangkok and Yangon looking now for ways to actually reduce the number), or how many sessions.

Barcamp Vientiane 2010

I would call Barcamp Vientiane a huge success: First of all, we proved that this concept works in Laos. Even if it took a while when the participants started to write the topics on the agenda, finally we had around 36 session. Half of them were in Lao language. Then, from the member of the organizing teams point of view, it went incredible smooth. I can't say what went wrong. People helped cleaning up in the end, Internet connection was working (thanks to TIGO again for the backup line). The food was awesome (thanks to Nin and his family). What surprised me a lot was the enthusiasm and the engagement of our volunteers. They usually have a bad job sitting on the reception desk or pointing directions for newcomers and don't have so much time to listen to the sessions. A big applause and Kudo to the volunteers! It's by the way interesting to see that after Barcamp particpants started to connect each other on Facebook in a large scale. We also had people form Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Hongkong - that shows that we are now part of the SE Asia Barcamp community.

What about the quality of sessions?
First of all, I think quality isn't the right term. More important and correct is the learning and sharing level, and this was high. From Business development (thanks to Chris Brown) to Lao translation in Google, Iphone App development, How to setup Android Dev on MAC, win, LINUX , to IT for investment and Finance, BarcampVTE, how BarcampVTE begin?, "My hotel sucks! how to plan travel online THE right way", Mindmap (that's only some of the English sessions). Rooms were crowded and that means people were quite interested. The complete schedule on
We had some money left for a nice After-Barcamp-Dinner were we invited the organizers, the volunteers and our guests from the neighboring countries.
after Barcamp-Dinner

What's next?
Personally I think we will have a next Barcamp in 2011. People already talking about another Barcamp in Pakse and/or Luang Prabang. Why not?

For Vientiane I would like to establish a ICT-Community gathering, like the tweet ups in Vietnam or the Meeting at T&C-Coffee in Cambodia or Beercamp in Thailand. I think it is important to meet at the same place, something like a coffeeshop or restaurant, that is affordable for Lao people. Casablanca on Rue Asian could be such a place.

This gatherings should enable the community to stay connected in real life, not just through Facebook or Twitter. It is always better to meet face to face. A quick survey with our volunteers showed me that Saturday late afternoon (5pm) might be a good time. We should eye two hours, if someone want's to stay longer, no problem.

If your are interested in participating in these gathering, leave me a message in the comments or on my facebook page!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lao girl bringing offerings

We watched the procession yesterday in the afternoon at That Luang. People coming from all parts of the country and bringing offerings to the most famous Pagoda in Laos. It was quite interesting to see. Today we will go again for the candle light procession. We were told it might be crowded. Let's see.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I finally got my number plate and ownership card for my car

Yes, it took 3 months (common in Laos), but finally I got all the legal papers and the numberplate for my car. I just want to point out that it would not have been possible with the help of J&C Laos. These guys are awesome and did a real good job.

My car belonged to a teacher who had a so called No Tax number, which is usually given to NGS and teachers. But since I am neither this or that, I needed a Foreigner number. That was only possible, if the university where the teacher worked before signed a paper - what was the first problem.

At the end J&C solved all problems and I got what i want for a good price as well. Great Job Stefan, Cameron an staff!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garbage at That Lunag

It is just so sad. Everything is supposed cleaned up in town, but when you go to That Luang, where the 450 years Vientiane festival will take place soon, or at the riverside, where the new park will be opened, it is covered in trash. Plastic bags, cups, bottles, banana leafs, chicken bones, fish skin and so on. There are soldier with machine guns patrolling (for what?), but NOBODY explains Lao people that they should NOT throw away their garbage. and: No law enforcement of course. (When I tell the kids in my street to pick up that trash, their parents look at me like I am an alien).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doing business in Asia

Today I found this in my inbox. A brief description of someone wanted to do business in Asia. It doesn't even matter what country this is about:

I have applied for an investment license at the One Stop Unit in March
2009. I have still got no answer. The process is lengthy, complicated
and completely in-transparent. In reality, investors buy themselves to their licenses. I didn't pay, so I didn't get the license.

After all I have given up to make business here. If you are not
ruthless, you will only burn your fingers.

As someone who believe that business is driving development, this story shows the real problem of developing countries: It's not so much poverty or lack of education (though this is a huge problem, but not the cause). It is a lack of desire from governments. Desire in developing the country. Most governments in SE Asia are just fine with the situation, since their members already made enough money for themselves.

Let's see a developing country as a start-up business. The way they do it now is the way start up operated in the time of the first internet bubble. VC (in our example NGO and IMF and Worldbank) gave money, they burned it and asked for more money. Because there was a steady stream of new money coming in, there was no real reason to focus in the business model. That's the way developing countries operate: The infrastructure of the country is not financed by income from operations like taxes, but from donations and support from international institutions. The lack of taxes used to run the country is caused by a) lack of tax collecting processes and b) corruption.
So why aren't countries collecting taxes? Actually they do, but the system is far from transparent. First of all, foreign companies are due to tax, always. Local family businesses have to pay tax as well, but seldom do. The reason is: They won't get caught, and tax officers always think its too much work for them to collect the few dollars from small businesses. Then of course is a total lack of infrastructure and understandable tax laws. The reason is simply again the missing desire. If you want to get tax, you will establish a system.

The main reason why there is no system is corruption. This is all over Asia, and it's the biggest obstacle for the developing countries. Corruption kills competition and kills development of markets. Only the wealthy elite can afford to pay the bribes, so they run moist of the businesses and get a de facto monopoly. Without competition there is no incentive to grow and improve, so most businesses aren't developing much. Just look at state owned Hotels in Asia, or the quality of local run companies in general. Most use quite old equipment, producing same products since 10 years.

Why its important to have foreign companies?
Because they drive markets faster on a higher level. The know the process of competition and they know also they have to work harder then local companies (not only because of corruption, but also because cultural differences, lack of networks in the country a.s.o.) Successful foreign owned companies are a challenge for local companies, so the they have a quite good reason to improve and get the business.

But as long as the desire of the people in charge is their own bank account and not the countries wealth, there is no change at all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Incubator for start ups in Laos

In the last days I was talking to several people about start ups and SMEs in Laos. Its clearly not the first thing that comes into mind when you hear Laos. But first of all, there are small conanies trying to start something new. Like Sinouk coffee and Xaoban, a yoghurt maker. I haven't found much for IT, beside Digital Divide Laos, a company I have to talk to soon.
So the idea of a hackerspace combined with what a friend, Marion, suggested, an incubator, could create something cool. It needs to be a physical space aka building. While I think IT would be the easiest business to start with, other entrepreneurs can join as well.
What has to be done first is spread the news. I will have a talk on on November 27th about this topic. Let's see what we get out of that. Comment here or contact me on facebook or twitter (thomaswanhoff) for further discussions.