Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Handmade Banner Refugees Welcome - Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

The recent presidential debate reminded me of the importance of sharing the responsibilities across nations to help solve the refugee challenge. I talked with colleague and friend Daniel W. Rasmus at Serious Insights about innovative ways to approach the refugee crisis [see his post here].

I started with the work I did a few months ago with the U.S. State Department, where I learned about the plight of refugees inside of countries across Europe and elsewhere who find it hard to find work, or are denied work in their skilled profession based on local regulations around certification and licensing.

We started thinking about the Gig Economy which Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, called the secret weapon of the US economy in his last interview on The Street.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

Considering how technology enables more of that “gig” technology, we started discussing it as the solution to bringing much needed paying work to refugees, reducing the burden of acclimation by local governments and reducing the incidents of violence spurred by perceptions of refugees displacing native workers.

Samasource is helping with what they call “the bottom of the bottom,” by providing projects to people inside refugee camps that pay significantly more than equivalent hours of manual labor.

We kind of both started saying the same things. What if we flipped the model so that businesses around the world provided access to remote jobs for skilled workers around the world, who may be displaced by circumstance—but still highly qualified to deliver their expertise.

And at the core of this, those companies could increase the value of these workers by helping them learn English, which would reduce their costs by ensuring the understand work assignments, and that they deliver quality results.

While experiments like the Samasource and Crowdflower to GiveWork app attempted to bring together refugees with quality monitor in the U.S., no one has scaled a solution. What we need to do is take the flipping idea even further and help make the landed refugees citizens of the world first. I’m not suggesting that they abandon loyalty to the country in which they settled, but that in order to contribute locally they will need work, and it might well be that global work will be more accessible than local work. The faster we can make them citizens of the world, the better it is for them, for their employers, and for the local economies.

There is no magic formula that is going to help the millions of displaced workers tomorrow, but we believe that the world needs innovative ideas. The number of displaced grows daily and we have to find new engagement pathways—and encouraging global companies to take on not just citizenship efforts that pour money into third-party programs—but programs that bring refugees into organizations so they can contribute through global collaboration and communications systems.

I’m committing that in the next six months I’m going to find a way to hire a couple of recently settled refugees. I ask my fellow leaders to join me in finding an answer to the question: Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?

Innovative New School 42 Karine-42-2

Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?

For many of us in the Silicon Valley, we know well the shortage of programmers and coders. We also know that the shortage isn’t just about coding, but about innovative thinking among those who know how to code.

I was thinking about this as I drove to an event recently. After a beautiful drive over the Dumbarton Bridge from the Peninsula, I arrived in Fremont, at a large building—and I entered the brand new US-based school known simply as 42.

For those of you not familiar with Ecole, it is a new university model aimed at disrupting education by providing a FREE coding school, that is project-based and peer reviewed.  You read it right: No teachers, no lectures, no tuition.

The university model has operated in Paris for a while.  It is fully funded with a $100M philanthropic effort of a well known businessman, Xavier Niel, who already disrupted the telecom industry with mobile operator Iliad’s Free brand.

I have previously written about how investment in education has increased over the last several years. This is driven not only by the student loan crisis and the increasing focus on the ROI of educational institutions, but also by the new ways to monetize and deliver education enabled by the Internet.

Digitalization has impacted educational products, services and delivery. It has also expanded the set of players coming to the market. For example, LinkedIn acquired Lynda, creating new vertical strategy for technology market learning. In the digital world, learning on its own is not sufficient. These digital services exponentially increase the value for learners. Lynda’s, for instance, links to finding a job as an outcome, with its integration into recruitment services.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate a launch roundtable for the ‘piscine’ at 42. The “piscine,” or “pool” is an intensive entrance process that gives students a month at the school to understand learner motivation and skill.  I was impressed by the scale, the speed and the team driving this project.

There are many factors that make 42 unique and successful. Here are few of my thoughts about their approach:

  • A team with an incredible passion and ability to execute

Each person proudly wears their Ecole 42 staff tee-shirt. The style of communication is open and collaborative. Every staff member is either an alumni, shares a strong sense of purpose with the school, or is an avid defender of the model. They want to show how to provide access to critical skills for people who might not otherwise have access.

Just two months ago they announced they would come to the US and launch in the summer. And here they are, with new buildings, the first set of students, all while finalizing the campus.

  • The magic sauce: An end-to-end model with the student at the center

Not only is there a shared pedagogy, but the whole structure is centered on the individual.

The school does not include the idea of a standard “term,” recognizing that every individual progresses his or her own pace. Some may finish the school and get to level 21 in 2 years, while other learners may take as long as 5 years.

Brittany Bir, the COO of 42, explained that accounts will never close. This leaves the opportunity for students to come back if it becomes relevant to them.

While tuition is free, Kwame Yamgnane, the managing director of 42, asserts that free tuition is not sufficient. The ability to come back means tuition remains free for life.

42 also offers lodging. Onsite dorms provide learners with a place to stay while they learn.

Initial success

I had the opportunity to talk with two students, Antoine Bungert and Henri Dumas. Antoine is currently a Level 10 student in Paris. He has participated in the annual 42/HEC partnership program. Henri, a Level 11, recently completed a partnership and an internship with thanks to his studies at 42.

Innovative New School 42 Karine-41-1Both students recognized an immediate connection of their studies to potential jobs. The moment the students shared their studies at 42 via LinkedIn companies started reaching out with job offers.

42 students help reach underserved populations. Eighteen-percent of the students are women,  five times that of institutional averages.

Not only does 42 attract job offers and teach great coding, but they help their students master 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication and team work, skills often not taught by other schools.

I bet the alumni network of this school will be strong. I look forward to seeing how their graduates flourish as entrepreneurs and innovators that start their own businesses and contribute within larger organizations!

Three more ways to learn continuously

Learn continuously

Learn continuously

Over the last several posts, I have explored continuous learning. Here are the last three topics for now. I look forward to creating a dialog around this topic. Please comment if you have other ideas or questions about continuous learning.

1. Say yes – keep space for spontaneity

Learn continuously

When people are asked to do things, a lot goes on in their mind. Do I have time? Can I afford it? What do I get out of it? Who is getting something out of this beside me? Is this aligned with my plans?

All very selfish thoughts. I find that one of the best ways to be selfish is to just say, yes. When you say yes you put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t be in if you had said no. Now I don’t mean dangerous situations, but business situations. Let’s say somebody asked you to be on a panel, to present at a conference, take on a new project or coach a new employee. If you say no, you will never meet the people on the panel, you will never learn new things as you prepare for the presentation, you will never gain experience through the wins and failings of the project, and you will never have the opportunity to get to know a really interesting new person at more than a passing level.

All of that happens because you say yes; break through the barrier of routine, and open yourself up to learning.

2. Hold your beliefs lightly

Learn continuouslyIf you think you know something, you may be reluctant to look into it any deeper. I have conversations all of the time about topics that I think I know something about, but when I get in a group, I find that some of what I know is only surface knowledge, and some of it is wrong. If I hold on to what I think I know about everything, I can’t learn new things. In some areas I might be considered a subject matter expert, but even in these areas, I am not the only source, or even the best source for all aspects of entrepreneurship, managing start-ups or social learning. I think a subject matter expert is someone who actively learns all of the time, someone who is passionate about their area, but not so trapped by their beliefs that they can see when disruptions happen, new insights occur or new technologies offer improvements. Be humble even about what you know because some new discovery may be very important to your future, and you need to be willing to embrace it, or it may just pass you by.

3. Negotiate learning into your objectives

Learn continuouslyThis is harder than it sounds because when most people write their objectives, they create them based on their manager’s objectives — which are derived from other, higher-level objectives. Even organizations that consider themselves “learning organizations” seldom flow down any meaningful learning objectives to individuals.

People can take classes, but they often feel like the classes take time away from work, and the success of that work drives personal assessments, and personal assessments drive bonuses. Contributing to lessons-learned systems and in-house communities often get left out of time measurements and success metrics. If you can’t integrate learning into your personal achievement equation, you will probably skip most learning opportunities. People don’t get paid for learning more on the job, really, do they?

I find it useful to not assume that this is the case. I have learned to take the time to talk with my manager about what I need to know to advance in my career, and then find ways to put that learning into my objectives. If it is important enough that I know something to better contribute to the organization, then it is important enough that the organization recognize my effort to learn it. Even for a CEO!

An interview with ifeelgoods CEO Michael Amar

An interview with ifeelgoods CEO Michael Amar

Michael Amar

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Amar, CEO Ifeelgoods, a digital rewards platform, that very literarily, competes against the idea of discounts. They favor providing rewards for a variety of actions and relationships, including CRM, advertising, loyalty programs and lead generation.

An interview with ifeelgoods CEO Michael Amar

[This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.]

Karine Allouche Salanon (KAS): Why is your company so different from other companies, how do you maintain that differentiation?

Michael Amar (MA): There are many companies that do few thousands of billions of dollars, who send out discounts. And when they’re going digital like a lot of older companies they just do a copy and paste? Instead of going to Safeway, people go to cards. But users are not going to right? They’re on Pinterest, they’re on Twitter, they’re on Facebook – they have their businesses setup on Slack, on Zendesk or Salesforce. So we’ve built a solution that allows us to distribute rewards where the young consumer might be.

KAS:     So I always forget my cards. I can use your rewards for anything that I would normally use reward card for.

MA:     And instantly, that is the big difference.

KAS:     Okay, good. So you’ve won the award, and we’re talking about a lot of success of startups. I was reading and highlighting some myths, one, specifically from France: ‘Oh it’s easy to hire and fire,’ which is not so easy in France. And also the my that in America, ‘it’s going to be so easy because so many people are successful.’ Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey? Did you find it easy?


MA:     It’s super difficult every day. We have the luck to be bi-cultural, we get the best of both worlds. That’s helping us a lot. But it’s extremely difficult. I came here, I was not that young (like 35 years old) and you know, I speak English – I’d already done business with the U.S. many times. I was, like, ‘Okay it’s not that difficult, not different, even if I didn’t know specifically people in the area.’ But then everything was different, right? If you do business in Japan, in your mind you know that it’s going to be completely different. You have no preconceived idea. You know everything will be different. In the U.S., you don’t think so. You think it’s going to be exactly the same or very similar because we think the culture is the same and the language is the same. But that’s actually a complete mistake.

So I learned the hard way. I think I made every mistake I could do, many times. But America does have culture of success. If you have kids, they listen to teachers, the way they describe success. The only thing I could say when I arrived was I sold my previous company. That actually helped me a lot. They didn’t ask me if I sold it for $10,000 or for more [Yes], so just mentioning creating a business and selling it, it actually opened a lot of doors and helped me kick off the full process.

The way VCs write the terms is very different. I found that everybody wanted to screw me. It was just the way it’s been done for 70 years, so everybody wants to screw me, right? But when you read it and they talk to you about vesting, and they say, no, it’s not your company, it’s going to be your company in four years. No, I said, it’s my company and I can give you some part of it, right?.

The aggreement langauge – the way you manage employees, partners, and clients is so different. So I think it’s actually very tough because everybody expects the best of the best? When I talk to people here they run ultra-marathons – Okay I can run 5k. But it is the same for everything, right? That makes it difficult for financing, for management, for doing the deals. The culture of success makes it so people don’t talk about the failures. Everybody, even if a guy is going to lose his company tomorrow, he will say ‘Great, everything is all right’.

KAS:     Yeah, I remember the founders from the Petit Pots, one of the other winners of French-American Business Awards — during his speech, you know, when he was there, he said ‘There is such a fine line in between failure and success. I just got my order from Whole Foods and I might get bankrupt because I just don’t have the funding to, you know, give it support’. You know that line is really a very fine.

MA:     I have exactly the same story. I closed my biggest deal in my career a few months ago. But half an hour before, my CTO, who was instrumental in executing the deal, left the company. The next day a VC with whom I have closed all the terms changed all the terms, so we couldn’t accept his terms. It was in 24 hours. You have those ups and downs. Actually with more experience and getting a little older I find I’m never super happy, but I’m also never super disappointed. I try to stay even. The reality is that if you have to eat sand every day, say it’s good and you want some more.

KAS:     Yes, it’s a good way to look at it. So what do you do to stay not too happy or not too unhappy? And eat the sand, smiling.

MA:     I think it’s the life lessons and progressing. But I like to compare with soccer. So when you come here, it’s like you played in Valenciennes and you played with Basa. It’s quite a different level. But also if you are not gifted – and I don’t have a special gift. I’m not good in tech, I’m not good in finance, so I didn’t have any specific skill. So you just have one thing – you know how to run and fight, and then you go running and fighting.

KAS:     As I was preparing, I was going to ask you about three characteristics that make you successful.  Humility looks like it woul dbe one. Just hearing you say, ‘Oh I’m not gifted, I’m not gifted’ But don’t people say ‘Come on’, you’ve achieved so much. Along with humility, determination or perseverance? Passion?  But not passion like ‘Yay, he’s excited and passionate’; it’s like passionate in what you do with others—caring about others. Do you think those are the things that make you eat the sand smiling and achieve what you’ve achieved so far?

MA:     Have you talked to my mother? (both laughing) Yeah, but I think it’s determination, yes, perseverance, it’s when you don’t have a choice, right? That’s…

KAS:     You could have the choice. You have the choice to…

MA:     of not creating companies, not being an entrepreneur, yeah. But once you’re in then…I don’t know what else to do, right? It’s my first company. It would actually be very difficult for me to comprehend not doing it and doing something else. It’s just a habit. Like, some people are comfortable in a corporate career and that is very good for them. I want to be an entrepreneur.

KAS:     It’s part of who you are. Good. So does it help to be French, or not?

MA:     That’s a good question. I thought not at all, right. Initially, but I was very surprised. I came here, got my first term sheet by a U.S. VC who could hardly understand my accent. And he came and said there were no preconceived ideas. That was pretty impressive. I came to HSBC the first time and they told me, ‘When you launch your business, just tell us. We might want to help.’ I was, like, ‘Come on’. With my previous company it was five years, you know, they wanted you to be profitable for five years before they would lend money, right? So it was very different. And there were no preconceived ideas. That’s one thing – there’s two angles to your question.

So being Frence didn’t impact me in a negative way.  But surprizingly, it also helped. We met with one of those innovation labs a few years ago. They said, ‘We want your tech. We’ll give you exclusivity and a fee, and they opened the office in France for us. The French office became most of our R&D office, and the two-thirds of our team is there. So that’s a very good angle to to the positive side of being French.

KAS:     Connections. I think that is a big value for the French American Chamber of Commerce. Is there anything you have you leveraged from the French American Chamber of Commerce that you would say helped in terms of the networking?

MA:     Yes, actually the visibility we got through the award was amazing. We got press and very good vibes that came back from the event. That’s amazing. And the activity in general. We have a special program that helps young professionals go to a foreign country, and you get a tax deduction. That actually been amazing for us. We’ve recruited people that do on to places like Facebook. I’m very proud of them—though I would like sometimes to keep them a little bit longer. Usually we hire them for a couple years until they finish their internship. But that’s amazing. You’ve got the best of the best, right? Being associated with the best business schools or engineering schools. And the format is just amazing, for them and for us.

KAS:     With so many entrepreneurs in the audience, let me ask, if you have one piece of advice to give an entrepreneur, what would it be?

MA:     So if it’s people who are new to the idea, the area, one thing that helped me a lot is actually I try to compensate by hiring a lot of advisors. I think I’ve even pushed the limit of it, ten advisors. Give them some equity and it’s one of the best decisions I took, because most of them are entrepreneurs. They helped me for hiring, they helped me for the terms for new acquisition and for funding, they helped me with strategy, they were my psychiatrists sometimes (chuckling). So that was really, really helpful, introductions in business and…So I would say if it’s so new, like it was for me, it’s very good to get, you know, people who already know the system and have already been successful.

KAS:     Now let’s open questions.

Q1:        How do you see B2C versus B2B – how was that played out for your strategy?

MA:     So we tried not to touch the B2C thing. I would love to one day to invest in B2C because the reason why, to be honest, my company, we’re only B2B, is that sometimes you want to tell the clowns to go elsewhere, and you can’t because they’re too big on your P&L, right? Or B2C if someone is not so happy that’s not death then, right? If it’s a single user among millions. So we try to help, we are very B2B, 2C actually. We sell to business who already sell to end consumers. Or sometimes there will be even more people in the chain. And we think that for the consumer if I give you a coupon, I give the same to Karine, I give the same to Etai, it’s a one size fits all, it’s over.  If I give you loyalty points, you need 50,000 miles to get a free flight to Vegas, that’s over. So we think that giving a tangible instant reward, personalized, will be much more relevant. So if you know, because you’ve liked the page, you know, Apple or Wall Street Journal on Facebook that you would like a free subscription to WSJ or free iTunes credits, then I’m sure it’s going to be a better reward than a free coffee machine. So we use the traction that consumers have for those digital rewards and try to provide the technical solutions, as well as the content. I don’t know if that was the question, but…

The ifeelgoods echo system.

The ifeelgoods echo system

Q2:      Could you tell us a little bit more about the company, the size of company, number of people, revenues, etc.

MA:     Sure. So a five-year-old company, 22 people, two-thirds stayed in France. We are mostly a product and tech company, with two business people, including me. We have live campaigns in 30 countries. Our main asset is the tech and being international. Actually, in the U.S., we’re not that strong. France and Japan are bigger than the U.S. for us, on the P&L. We do a few million dollars. We work hard to be on the next 20 million awards…[Plus] Yes. It’s going to take a couple years hopefully, no more. And we hope to be profitable by S1 next year. Yeah, we are pretty lucky to have good partnerships with Apple, Google and Amazon, and they’re helping us a lot, opening in new countries, and also they’re subcontracting some of their activities to us.

Q3:      How much money did you raise?

MA:     We raised $14M. Yeah, there’s two schools – everybody told me don’t raise too much. And at the same time, we had pivot, we had to pivot two years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do it if we hadn’t raised that much.

KAS:     If you don’t have enough money?

MA:     Yes, if you do not have enough money. On the other hand, we’ve been throwing money out of the window. We know at the beginning, even by not telling ourselves, “Listen use the money,” right? But you get so much pressure, even if you’re in your mind, I shouldn’t do this, it’s still, ‘Oh I’m going to hire the guy from Google, right? And we made a lot of mistakes. So another piece of advice would be, like, be cash focused. Cash is king, cash is really king, even if you have the money. Until you really find the market fit, then you can pull an extra line if you need it.

Q4:      From what I’ve read, it seems that signing deals in Japan was big milestone for the company? I just want to know, how did that relation get growth”

MA:     We work Itochu, a very large Japanese conglomerate. I think they do over $140B in revenue. They own 500 or 600 companies. They also own businesses in France. It’s very typical for the Asian market. They own a large company called FamilyMart, which is like 7-11. They were already doing billions of dollars by selling physical gift cards a couple of years ago. But they also had B2B activities and they said, ‘Oh, the market is really booming. We need to do this in B2B’. So we got one of our advisors – hence why it’s good to have advisors – who connected with them. And Google was also a big supporter. So our trip was very strange. It was my first time in Asia, it was a year ago, and I’d never went anywhere there. I went with no translator. It was like a movie. I was completely lost. It took us seven months to close a three-year contract, and it’s a contract where they actually re-sell our platform. They have two people full time who are selling our technology to the Japanese market. What’s great for us, they sell it to all the verticals that we cover. So it’s distribution, partnership, they pay us a minimum guaranteed fee, and we have a revenue share. And they have very high expectations for their roles. It’s very good for us. We need more like them.

MC:      Good. If no one has any more questions, thank you very much to you both.



Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Creating Opportunities for Refugee Education and Work

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Refugee Education and Work
Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey

As the daughter of a Muslin father and Jewish mother raised catholic, bridging cultures is part of my inner-self. I personally experienced all kinds of misunderstandings — fell through the cultural gaps – but I also loved and learned how living together, finding a way to create harmony and understanding, that helped move us toward a compelling future together. This is vitally important to the world we live in today. I am not saying we should blur all differences, but we should appreciate the differences, learn from each other, and even celebrate the differences. Globalization has created a very large melting pot. America over the last century certainty, and in many other parts of the world where many cultures found themselves together,  were experiments in the transformative power of different cultures blending, learning and enjoying life together.

But some do not appreciate this diversity, nor do they have tolerance for those different than themselves. We saw this on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Since I was raised in France and lived in its capital for over 10 years, that attack was very personal.  While I did not know anyone who was directly impacted by this tragedy, we are all affected, and we will be for a long time to come.  The Paris attack s are yet another reset point in the continuing effect to establish peace and stability throughout the world.

Two years ago I made the decision to leave Microsoft, a company that I consider more or less the place where I I grew up, the company that created great learning experiences, including those that exposed me to the global technology market. As much as Microsoft contributed and participated in a number of philanthropic endeavors, I wanted to continue my personal journey at a company that created social impact at the core of the business, including its technology and its business model.

I joined Pearson English Business Solutions with a mission I could personally relate to. The impact of this division has been beyond my expectations. We’ve changed millions of lives and continue to help create a viable middle class in countries like Mexico and India.

Now, two years later, what amazes me the most is that this company continues to fight every day to keep innovation moving forward, to maintain its competitive advantage, to create a sustainable for-profit business, because it wants to be even more impactful tomorrow than it is today. Little did I know this was the beginning of finding a path that would align my heart, my soul and my brain.

I have a voice in my head telling me I have a role to play in bridging the cultures that are at the essence of my being. I want to bring my passion for seeking solutions to the global need for understanding and peace in a sustainable way. I see this as a core part of my personal mission.

When we understand our passion, and define our mission, we see opportunities in new ways.

On November 16, 2015, I was invited to the U.S. State Department to connect with other key policy makers, NGO leaders, donors and other private sector executives to seek about innovative ways to bridge the educational gap for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

This is critical because about a million Syrian refugee children lack primary and secondary education. Many refugee children have already lost five years of education, creating irreparable gaps. Many of these children are working because their parents cannot find work, nor obtain permits required to work. Young adults face a future with no educational paths – this creates short to midterm social pain and risks not only for the victims, but for the stability of the region. Many women face accelerated, forced marriages, while men often return to their home countries to fight or get radicalized, or both. If they stay in the countries to which they migrate, they often face underemployment, if not unemployment.

In order to address these issues, we need Innovation. I have outlined four areas of focus that we discussed during this visit:

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Four Areas of Innovation

  1. Improved access to formal education
    • Privately fundtechnology-oriented schools.
    • Track achievement and attendance.
    • Fund educational program advisors.
    • Adopt a common communication/collaboration platform.
  2. Informal education
    • Vocational training and integration of Syrian refugee into the workforce.
    • Specialized classes: Catch up classes, hybrid digital supplements (literacy, numeracy, Turkish) and accelerated learning classes – Psychological, ESL, life skills, learning tools for parents.
    • Bridge-building after-school activities, exchanges between Turkish and Syrian children.
    • Content availability and access: Library without borders – Portable media center.
  3. Language learning
    • Provide access to Turkish and English – both general and professional.
    • Teach Turkish educators
    • Deploy digital tools: Online English learning tools; Bi-lingual online learning tool for children.
    • Bring communities together to dialogue: Language exchange programming to connect Turkish and Syrian children together – Global online community to connect people and resources.
    • Increase access to mentors and coaches from outside of the country by leveraging International resources such as the U.S retirees in Chicago who help Brazilian children master English online via Skype (see the Chicago Tribune article, Chicago-area seniors teach English to Brazilians, for more information).
  4. Vocational learning
    • Develop learning hubs for career-focused content.
    • Hire skilled Syrians or older siblings to be mentors in skills they have mastered.
    • Connect with local private sector to understand needs, and create a placement paths to jobs.
    • Test and certify skills so people can work in areas like education, health care, and engineering, along with skilled vocations like electrical repair and plumbing.
    • Engage with foreign outsourcing, in-house hiring, and freelancing platform companies such as Samasource, Andela and Upwork to provide work opportunities.
    • We are at the risk of losing many of those immigrating from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to Turkey, throughout Europe and other locations. We risk losing them to radicalization, and perhaps to death. We risk losing their innovative insights by not finding ways to inspire them, by not giving them opportunities to transform ideas into products and services. We risk losing the knowledge and expertise of educators and doctors, nurses and engineers who don’t align with national standards or hold the right certificates. For all of us, some part of our humanity is at risk if we don’t find a way to help avert these other risks. Now is the time.

Here are two actions to consider this holiday season. First, engage with agencies already on the ground in Turkey by volunteering to contributing. Two groups that already working hard on this problem are Unicef and Save the Children. Second, if you are working in a group, or in a company, seeking to solve any of the issues listed above, reach out to me through the comments so we can connect.

If you want to read more on the refugee issues in Turkey, here are additional resources to consider.

Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference Sets Goals for Collaboration


White House Technology in English Conference

Getting to know people at the White House Technology in English Conference. All images source: Flickr via Exchanges Photos

Attending the Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference

I was recently invited to the Inaugural meeting of the White House Technology in English Conference. It was an honor to be a member of a small group of twenty four attendees, consisting of academics, policy makers, and private and public executives, all gathered to discuss opportunities for more collaboration with each other around a common goal: helping more people communicate in English.

20824332343_deb0480451_oWhen looking at an industry, such as technology, many historical breakthroughs occurred because an ecosystem was built: Apple and its app store, or Microsoft with its deep developer programs. If this group can drive collaboration and joint initiatives we can be much stronger tackling the global challenge of English communication.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

We share common challenges. One of the things that struck me was how many great technology, product and service initiatives exist around English language learning. The problem is they are all separate, un-connected, and most of them don’t scale. Many of these solutions were very local, adhering only to local standards and local cultural expectations—and unfortunately, most were ephemeral.

The first agreement among participants, an early commitment, was to collaborate more, and invest in development projects that can be replicated and scaled.

  • Venture capitalists and private sector members who were present said they could provide their grille de lecture — key for understanding — to NGO and government representatives in order to assess project scalability when they look at funding opportunities.
  • Global private solution providers will share how they create sustainable products and solutions.
    At Pearson English Business Solutions (PEBS), we will share learning and expertise about how to build and maintain a global platform which provides outcomes for learners across the 4 continents and in over 34 countries. We will also continue to partner with government entities.
  • Public or NGO representatives committed to drive more due diligence when they execute on a project in order to leverage existing commercial investments and platforms, avoiding wheel reinvention and the waste of limited resources.

Three ways to leverage technology

After many hours of discussion, the attendees converge on three key ways we can cooperate to better leverage technology. These ideas can also be brought back to our organizations to help us remain aware that our platforms and services are a part of a large ecosystem of solutions.

Create new ways of making learning more relevant

21453934211_b576c6cf08_oAutomate the creation of learning materials using semantic technologies, and leverage free access to multi-sensory online assets.  Voxy is a great example of an app that creates reading and vocabulary exercises from existing content.  Load an online article and the service does the rest. Voxy identifies key words and creates the relevant exercises in a matter of seconds. It would take about two hours for a teacher to do this same work.

Not only does Voxy create content faster, its speed provides for an increase in the variety of exercises that align to the learner’s interest. And rather than using stale content like a textbook might, it uses articles relevant to the learner to create fresh content, increasing the motivation of a learner by leveraging his or her interests.

The speed required to develop a new learning experience is moving toward a tipping point. As I shared in a previous blog, a rhyming exercise by a Project Literacy Makethon team created its app in just four hours, using a YouTube API.

Usage data captured in the digital world can help tailor and prioritize investments. LinkedIn’s economic graph is very relevant here. Millions of resumes and associated skills inventories are searchable by city, country, continent and industry—while millions of job posts capture which roles and skills are In demand. By better understanding this demand context and its relationship to existing skills, the English language learning community can better direct funding so we deliver relevant learning experiences aligned with needs, and capable of filling gaps.

Digitalize learning to capture data within the learning experience in order to drive better outcomes

21434468302_81bd27826e_oHow many times have you heard someone say that 50% of what they learned was not relevant.
Today at Pearson English, we use data we capture to identify patterns, and we use those patterns to inform personalized learning experience. First, we guide learners along the most relevant paths. Second, we use data to help identify those most likely to prematurely exit a learning experience, so that we can help them achieve their learning objectives.

Also when you can capture multi-sensory digital assets from voice, text, and video, you can better assess progress, and ultimately if the learner reached the goal they set for themselves. It also enables personalization and improved measurement of the learning experience.

Offer more opportunities to practice English

One of the key barriers to reach our mission to have more people communicating in English is the limited opportunities for learners to apply the language. Technology breaks down geographical and communication barriers by connecting people more easily, by providing a platform to communicate and collaborate. Learning experiences need to be designed to so people can practice and apply their English skills.

At PEBS, our coaches and trainers work through Skype or other communication tools to deliver virtual classes, or one-on-one coaching sessions. This technology helps eliminate the barriers of finding quality teachers by locally sourcing across borders. We not only train the learners, but also help educate local teachers.


However, in today’s world, the application of English does not stop at learning environments. Practice can be found in activities which provide social and economic empowerment.

A few examples came up during the meeting, most notably gaming, working in the global supply chain and transaction-based e-commerce: all global experiences or processes often developed and delivered in English. The continuing adoption of Facebook or other social collaboration platforms across borders can also offer practice, and perhaps peer social motivation.

Perhaps most important, facilitating trade in English is a key driver which will motivate many adults to practice their English.

Project Literacy Makethon: Technology, Literacy and How A Diverse Group Can Deliver Real Solutions

Project Literacy helps children read

I had the chance to participate in the Project Literacy Makethon in partnership with Mashable on September 12, 2015 in San Francisco, CA. Project Literacy, a major new campaign convened by Pearson, seeks to make significant and sustainable advances in literacy over the next five years, so that all children, no matter their geography, language, race, class, or gender—can grow up to be literate adults. This event focused on building new tools, web apps, websites and data visualizations designed to make learning to read more accessible, fun and effective.

As a judge on the panel, it is always amazing to discover what a newly formed team, generally strangers prior to the event, are able to create in just six hours.

I used criteria very similar to those I apply when deciding on which social ventures will receive angel funding (see My Five Criteria for Evaluating an Investment), including:

  • Gut reaction—What was my overall first impression of this app?
  • Impact—Is the app is solving a real problem in an innovative way?
  • Innovative concept—Is the app’s concept creative, forward thinking, innovative and resourceful?
  • Usability—Is it easy to learn? Can the content be quickly navigated? Does the learner receive value early?
  • Ability to scale—Is the project the start of something bigger?
  • Execution—What was the team able to deliver in just a few hours? How well did the team work together?

All in all I was impressed by each team and how they used technology to create new possibilities.

Every team included members with very diverse professional and cultural backgrounds, and a few other common themes emerged, including:

  • Leveraging an array of multi-sensory assets in the form of video, voice or text to build part of their solution.
  • Utilizing open APIs published by leading technology companies.
  • Employing rapid prototyping skills to deliver working apps.

Here are a few examples of solutions:

  • In just under six hours the second place team, YouRhyme, had a working demo using YouTube’s API for a reading learning app that employed rhyming as an education method.
  • The Winning team, Read-Write, and the third place team, GOCabulary, both turned to Google translation APIs to deliver multi-lingual context, such as those found in India with its many local dialects, and English in the US, with its many Spanish speakers.
  • Two of the three projects designed-in the ability to map images to text to help mobile learners obtain a translation of a sign they could not read.

The big difference maker between all these great projects came from the Read-Write team who made accessibility a key project feature.

While most of the projects needed access to the Internet, through either a browser or a smart phone, the Read-Write team focused on a low-cost, low-power device that could deliver as much value as the smartphone.

Something else was special about that team as well:  they had members who were close to the target audience they were trying to help. In addition, unlike many participants at this event, they combined a rich knowledge of hardware with their software engineering expertise that enabled them to design an end-to-end solution. Team diversity, and having members who understand the target population well can be a golden bullet for success.

The event was a great reminder about the need for rapid prototyping. Teams really do not need months to get a prototype working. If they concentrate on creating a prototype early, it is so much easier to sell an idea or build a case about a proposed solution. Start-ups should always include prototyping capabilities in every product team so they can more rapidly evolve their solutions from concept to value delivery.

Project Literacy logo

Read more about Project Literary here.

Read the Mashable announcement here: Join Mashable and Project Literacy for a ‘makeathon’ to tackle illiteracy

My Takeaways from EdTech Europe

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News.  (C) The PIE News 2015.

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News. (C) The PIE News 2015.

On June 17, 2015 I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at EdTech Europe in London. As you can see by all of the great coverage already posted on my blog, there was a lot of interest in what these great leaders in education had to say, including my co-panelists John Martin of Sanoma Learning, Rob Grimshaw of TES Global and John Harber of EDGE EdTech.

I had six takeaways from these sessions that I think are important for anyone looking to transform education.

  1. Digitization is not the final end game. The end game is the value you deliver to the learner. While technology can provide great new experiences, those experiences are only as good as the learning they impart and the engagement they drive. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we learn in many ways, and aligning our businesses with only one approach to learning will not realize the potential for learners or the business.
  2. Learning is the overall experience. If digitization is just part of the experience, so too is content. We must think about all of the elements of the learning experience in order to provide the most impact to our learners.
  3. Don’t think of online just as a video or a course: focus on the whole learning experience, including the teacher. Flipped classrooms have taught us not that teachers are less relevant once they lecture, but that their most critical value comes when helping students integrate basic facts and ideas. We need to be cautious about thinking that broadcasting is the best answer in delivering education over networks. We also need to make sure that teachers have an opportunity to engage students, to answer their questions — and to continue their own learning.
  4. The power of digitally enabled human interaction in digital engagement. Learning is a collaborative experience, and we need to design our digital learning experiences so that they not only have the capabilities common to classrooms, but unique capabilities that can only be delivered in digital environments. Flying through space, examining a famous painting up close, or connecting with a native speaker in realtime when learning a language are examples of experiences that enhance learning and are really only available through digital technology.
  5. The importance of peer-to-peer engagement in online learning. If MOOCs have taught us anything, they have taught us that it is difficult to engage students in largely passive ways. I have already talked about the importance integrating teaching and teachers into the digital model, but we also have to create really wonderful ways for students to engage with each other. Thinking about learning as part of a community of learners fundamentally changes the way we learn and can greatly enhance the motivation to keep learning.
  6. Private equity investment is a “critical player” for education technology. As governments around the world struggle with budgets and the delivery of basic human services, education often becomes a key target in discretionary spending cuts. If we want to continue to see innovation in learning, we need to recognize that education is a business, and that investments of private equity will be crucial to transforming rhetoric about education into reality.

To this last point Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet of IBIS Capital, a large investment group specializing in EdTech pointed out that only 3% of funding is going to the education industry today. Of that 35% is going to digital components. He can see this increasing 12 times, but it might take as much at 5 times to realize a return on investments. Education is a slower technology than something like social media or digital photography. It has a slower adoption curve and a lower return rate, but there is nothing wrong with, as Vedrenne-Cloquet points out, “attracting patient capital.”

But despite the relatively slow adoption of education technology, we have to realize that the markets into which students graduate are changing at a very rapid pace.

The skill gaps we see today will not be the same skill gaps in five years. It is important that we create technologies that can help adapt learning experiences to new needs, both in terms of content, and in terms of learners. Non-traditional students are perhaps the biggest growth segment of learners: single parents, those over the age of 25 and people with day jobs.

If we want our economies to thrive, we must meet the needs of these students because we are going to see their ranks growing. They are already contributing as workers in the economy, and are now also learners looking to find ways to make sure they can continue to contribute. Those of us in the education industry must find ways to meet those needs. That is our real value to society and the economy.

EdTech Europe provided a great platform for discussion. I look forward to continuing the dialog here on my blog, and in other conferences.

The original image and its associated article at The PIE News can be found here: Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO, Pearson English Business Solutions.

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

The number of places covering the EdTech Europe is really amazing. PIE, which covers News and business analysis for Professionals in International Education, posted What works offline doesn’t work online: edtech stakeholders, late last week.

Here are my quotes from the article

Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions, also underlined the need to prioritise the student experience.

“Human interaction is so important,” she told The PIE News, after advising MOOC providers to take an active approach to facilitating peer-to-peer engagement, rather than relying on video lectures alone.

Allouche Salanon was drawing on her own experience from curating online career development training at Pearson.

Since becoming CEO in 2013, she has taken the division from negative to double digit growth and the division saw its course completion rates soar from 11% to 76%, after it introduced a digital counsellor to help students on its online programmes.

“We only had the online, self-study learning product when I came in, and we introduced much more blended [learning] in every single thing we do,” she said.

You can read the entire post here:  What works offline doesn’t work online: edtech stakeholders.

For additional coverage in EdTech Europe, see this post: EdTech Europe Coverage – “digitalisation is not the final end game”

Businesses no longer exist in a vacuum – My Comments at Hot Topics


From my Interview with Hot Topics

I had an opportunity to talk with Hot Topics. I’m really encouraged by all of the interest in learning innovations. They also shot a nice video. Enjoy!

“I think that if you are just looking at English when you are talking about a corporation- you need to look much wider to really realize your ecosystem of competition.”

“If you see the acquisition of Lynda by LinkedIn, this is a recruitment organization getting into content, so that they can actually plug in with a learning equipment service value chain…I’m looking at the overall ecosystem and I could almost say that LinkedIn and Lynda…could be competitors, knowing that their English offering is not as strong as what we propose right now. But there could be disruption in the future.”

Read the entire post, How is English language learning within corporates being disrupted?, at Hot Topics.