About Talia Whyte

Posts by Talia Whyte:

Power Africa Initiative: One Year On

NASA satellite photo of Europe and Africa at night.

NASA satellite photo of Europe, Africa and the Middle East at night to contrast electricity access.

Last year President Obama launched the Power Africa Initiative, an ambitious plan to bring electricity to rural areas that lack access.  The initial projection was to provide US$7 billion over five years in on-grid, mini-grid and off-grid solutions to 20 million households and businesses.  Last month the Obama administration increased the financial commitment to US$20 billion to serve 60 million households and businesses.  The power solutions will eventually develop geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy.

More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity access, and more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access.  Most people without power use candles and even cow dung, which can be very dangerous.  Currently, for those who can afford it use diesel generators.  The lack of electricity is quite possible the greatest barrier to development on the continent.  Electricity is something those of us in industrialized countries take for granted.  Better access to it will help the continent move forward both socially and economically.

Food security is impacted because better power access leads to better technological solutions to processing and distributing food.  Electricity access also supports better international security.  Poverty fuels extremist behavior worldwide.  Power access provides more job creation, which in turn creates better economic opportunities for all.  Many of these new jobs will be in the STEM fields, and will help Africa compete better on the global market, as well as improve ICT capacity in general.

I found this interesting VOA program that gets into what Power Africa has accomplished over the last year, and most importantly, what Africans think of the Initiative:

According to USAID, Power Africa has accomplished the following:

  • Transactions brought to financial close will generate 2,792 MW
  • 25% of total goal reached in first year
  • Over 5,000 MW in process
  • Nearly 3:1 leveraging of funds — $7 billion USG investment to more than $18 billion private sector financing
  • First year results represent projects with a potential to power more than 5 million connections to African homes, businesses, schools, and clinics

Read the Power Africa annual report.

Mobile STEM Truck Closes Education Gap

Projected STEM Job Growth

As you already know, America’s standing as a leader in the global economy is endangered by the lack of American students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

STEM fields are seeing the highest rates in job growth, yet not many students are going in this direction. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school students are proficient in math and have interest in pursuing a STEM career. “The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations.”  AP computer science is only taught in five percent of American high schools.

One of the main problems here is the lack of resources in public schools, such as trained STEM teachers and equipment like computers to instruct students.  Also, 63 percent of K-12 schools still lack adequate Internet connectivity and infrastructure.

I happened upon this story about this innovative idea that might be a partial solution to the STEM education gap.  Aditya Kumarakrishnan, a physics and math major at Queens College, was awarded $10,000 from an incubator contest to assist him with launching his idea for Tesla Truck, a hands-on, mobile STEM lab and mobile maker space that will bring courses like robot-building, flight design, 3D printing and vocational training to schools and local communities.

He came up with the idea for his business last year while he was mentoring a group of students from the Bronx on robotics when he realized they didn’t have any resources.  Kumarakrishnan had to buy his own tools to use for his instruction.  He believes the Truck will be useful and cost efficient for schools that lack the resources to teach such classes.  Kumarakrishnan plans to use the money to purchase his first truck.

This is a great idea, and I would love to see where Kumarakrishnan goes with his truck both in physical distance and in creativity in the near future!

Here’s a short commercial for Tesla Truck:

Design Highlight: Global Exchange Reality Tours

Reality Tours

I had the opportunity to be the web and graphic designer on an educational project with a team to build an e-commerce website from scratch. We decided to redesign the Reality Tours part of the Global Exchange website because we really liked the mission of the organization and thought they were deserving of an updated website that showcased their values.

Global Exchange is an international human rights organization based in San Francisco. One of their initiatives is called Reality Tours, a educational travel program that supports progressive values and people to people connections.  I traveled to Jamaica and South Africa with them years ago, and learned a lot about myself and the people I met in those countries.  The Jamaica trip focused on how free trade has negatively impacted the island’s economy, while the South Africa trip addressed race relations, HIV/AIDS and human rights in general in the post apartheid era.

I was given the task of redesigning the website with a more up-to-date, polished look. The current website uses many dark colors with tribal motifs. In the redesigned prototype, I chose to use a minimalist theme with black text on white background and simple, clean code so there would be more emphasis on the images representing the many tours offered worldwide. The website uses responsive design.  Due to the controversial nature of some of the tours and the goal of Reality Tours to give an alternative view of these countries, I made sure to pick images that reflected the different perspectives. I chose the brand identity “Where do you want to learn today” to help users think about what it would mean to travel on these tours.

The design for the logo was also clean and straightforward, as we wanted to emphasize the global reach of Reality Tours with simple black and white. Social media and email sign up share the top space with the logo to make it easier for users to share content online. The responsive navigation is the color red because we wanted users to be able to “travel” through the website with ease. Redesigning the website was a wonderful experience of bringing communication and social justice together.

Check out the website prototype here:


Why Women Entrepreneurs Are Lagging Behind

On My Mind...

A new Congressional report reveals that while women entrepreneurs now make up to 30 percent of small business owners in the United States and collectively earn $3 trillion every year, we are still lagging in gaining access to capital, federal government contracting and small business training and counseling.

Here are some key findings:

1. Women entrepreneurs still face challenges getting fair access to capital.

The report says that women entrepreneurs only receive four percent of small business loans and seven percent of venture funding.  The number of women venture capitalists has also decreased.

2. Women entrepreneurs still face challenges getting equal access to federal contracts.

The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program was created by Congress 20 years ago to increase contracting opportunities for women at a time when only two percent of them received contracts.  It set a goal to reach five percent.  In 2012, the rate only went up to four percent.  Women entrepreneurs are potentially missing out on $4 billion in federal contracts annually.

3. Women entrepreneurs still face challenges getting relevant business training and counseling.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has made efforts to establish Women’s Business Centers all over the country, but they are not being utilized well.  Because they have not been re-authorized since the 1990s, these centers are lacking funding to modernize.

Here are my thoughts:

I have been an entrepreneur for a long time and I will tell you that I have had trouble in all three areas. I think poor advertising is a big problem.  As far as capital is concerned, access to it is still very much a part of the old boys network.  You have to already know the right people to get money.  Since these networks are traditionally male dominated, women are left out.

Federal contracting is difficult to come by for both male and female entrepreneurs.  When I first started bidding on U.S. government contracts five years ago, I found it to be a very tedious affair. Doing any business with the federal government involves a lot of bureaucracy and red tape.  The website, https://www.fbo.gov/, is very difficult to navigate and find the right opportunities.  And then when you do find an opportunity you qualify for, the process for applying for it is also agonizing.  There are plenty of opportunities that are tagged specifically for women and minority entrepreneurs on that website, but finding them is like a needle in a haystack.

Training and counseling through women’s centers and the local SCORE office has been hit and miss for me. The real problem is that these programs lack modernity. I remember going to SCORE once and wanted to speak to a mentor about setting up a business structure and getting help with marketing.  I was set up with this older gentleman who was a retired executive.  He was a nice man, but he seemed to lack the necessary skillsets to be helpful to me.  I would ask him where I could learn more about government contracts online that were specific to what my business sells, he said he didn’t know.  “I don’t even do email, so I certainly can’t help you with that,” he said.

Here are my suggestions:

Better marketing to capital and contracting opportunities to women, minorities and low income entrepreneurs is vital.  This is can done with a better online strategy and modern websites that are easier to navigate.  It looks like the federal government is taking steps to do just that.  Also, the contract application process needs to be made easier.  The government is possibly missing out on hiring from a more diverse pool of contractors because applicants have to jump through too many hoops. It would also be helpful to get counseling from entrepreneurs who can teach you how to apply for capital, contracting and how business is done in 2014.  It would be more useful to get counseling from experienced male and female entrepreneurs who are still working and can give relevant advice.

Luckily for me, I was able to find the right mentors who helped me out with finding capital, contracting and counseling.  However, not everyone has that same luck, so that is why I point out this report.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to help out women and other diverse entrepreneurs.