Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pictures from the 2nd half of my trip to China; the Teach for All conference in Tengchong; Tom Friedman's speech; my question; visit to a school

I got back on Friday afternoon from my fascinating 10-day trip to China. I spent the first 4½ days in Shanghai, China's most populous, modern, wealthy, capitalistic city (see my photos and comments at:

Then, on Monday, I flew to the Teach for All conference, which took place in Tengchong, in remote, rural, south-central China, bordering Burma. The town is popular among Chinese tourists for its clean air, scenery and hot springs – and was the site of bloody fighting in WW II as the Chinese forces (with tremendous assistance for 2½ years from the famed American Flying Tigers) fought and ultimately defeated the Japanese.

I was expecting Tengchong to be very poor and underdeveloped, with lots of dirt roads, etc., but I was totally wrong – thanks to tourism, the city is quite developed and prosperous. Even the surrounding area, which is among the 10% poorest parts of China, is doing pretty well. I knew the coastal regions of China were booming, so I wasn't surprised by what I saw in Shanghai (it's a lot like Hong Kong), but was quite surprised and impressed with how the Chinese government has shared the wealth with the poorest, most remote interior areas. Every road was paved, there's universal decent, basic healthcare, education, and housing, and (no surprise) there's lots of construction going on everywhere. I'm sure there's quite a bit of truth to the stories about Chinese government officials lining their pockets, but they're also competent: they might take their 10%, but the road gets built. There's a lot to be said for that compared to, say, Kenya (where my parents and sister live). There, the government official typically takes all of the money and the road doesn't get built.

Overall, the conference was tremendous (Tom Friedman wrote about in a NYT column last week). It was inspiring to see how the Teach for America idea is spreading (to 32 countries and counting) and meet the Wendy Kopps of China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nepal, UK, Germany, Bulgaria, Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, Israel, South Africa, etc.

(Random trivia: I first met Wendy Kopp 25 years ago this month in the fall of my senior at Harvard (and her senior year at Princeton), at a conference that brought together Fortune 500 CEOs and college student leaders from around the country, organized by a Princeton student group that Wendy ran; I joked with her that, 25 years from now, I'll no doubt still be going to one of her conferences!).

You might ask why a global conference would be in this remote area (requiring two flights from Shanghai). The answer: many of the Teach for China teachers are placed in this province, so everyone attending the conference spent nearly a full day on Wed. driving 90 minutes into the countryside to visit a typical school (see photos and my comments in the captions below). China is investing heavily in education and is doing a good job of providing a decent basic education to all of its citizens through 9th grade (and, increasingly, beyond this).

The other highlight of the conference was hearing Tom Friedman's speech on Tuesday night, which was entitled: Flat World 4.0: The Role of Education in a Hyper-Connected, Global World. You can watch the entire 44-minute speech here. Here's a summary:

October 22, 2013

Journalist Tom Friedman Delivers Keynote Address at 2013 Global Conference

Evan Kornbluh

Teach For All was thrilled to welcome New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman to give keynote remarks at today's opening dinner for the 2013 Global Conference in Yunnan, China. Mr. Friedman's observations on the economic impact of globalization and the information revolution bear enormous relevance to the work of Teach For All organizations to prepare under-served students around the world to compete and thrive in this transforming economy.
"In the last decade the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected and from interconnected to interdependent," Mr. Friedman began. The next phase in the information revolution—including the growth of mobile technology, cloud computing, and big data—has had tremendous implications for economies across the globe. Never before have individuals had more access to information on any topic from anywhere in the world, nor have they had the ability to collaborate and share work across vast geographical distances at rapid speeds.
These changes have fundamental implications for the types of employees that the twenty-first century economy will demand. More and more industries are finding that employee roles can be automated or outsourced. This is true not just of manufacturing jobs, but of many traditionally "white-collar" and service careers. "Any job that can be described by an algorithm" runs the risk of extinction, Mr. Friedman predicted.
This reality places tremendous additional burdens on the young job-seekers of the next generation. In an economy where the world's collective knowledge is instantly accessible online, an individual's expertise in a given field no longer guarantees their competiveness or employability. Instead, more and more industries will demand creativity and entrepreneurialism from all of their employees. "When I graduated from college, I had to 'find' a job. Instead, my daughters will have to 'invent' their own jobs" in order to stay competitive, Mr. Friedman shared.
Mr. Friedman argued that in the current shifting landscape it's more urgent than ever that educators support under-achieving students to close the opportunity gap with their high-achieving peers. With the demise of low- and semi-skill jobs, students who fail to perform well in school will have fewer opportunities than ever available to them. And in today's world educators have a responsibility to equip all students with the tools that will allow them to thrive in a transformed economy: creativity, critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate and work collaboratively.
While these challenges should be foremost on the minds of Teach For All network partners, Mr. Friedman shared that practitioners of the "Teach For All" model should feel more affirmed in their work than ever. "Even with more information and educational resources available digitally, a great teacher is one of those jobs which cannot be automated or made obsolete," he said. "A great teacher—there's still nothing like it."

Here's what I sent to my three daughters afterward:

Hi girls,

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman was the speaker at the dinner I went to tonight (at the Teach for All annual confab in Tengchong, China), which was a real treat because he's one of the most insightful people I've ever encountered. He talked about how the world is flat – how the rise of high-speed internet, etc. means that you're not just competing against a few million other kids in the U.S., but hundreds of millions around the world. He concluded by saying that parents should be telling their kids these five things (so I'm passing his wisdom along to you!):

1) Think like an immigrant. Immigrants are paranoid optimists – optimists because they've come to a new country, but really paranoid. Stay hungry.
2) Think like an artisan. In the old days, every item was handmade – and the artisans brought so much extra that they carved their initials into the product when they were finished. Do all of your work as if you were going to carve your initials into it.
3) Think like up a start up in Silicon Valley. You're never finished. Act like you're always in beta mode (85% done) and that everything you do is a work in progress. You must always be re-engineering yourself.
4) PQ+CQ is always greater than IQ. Passion, persistence and curiosity are more important than raw smarts.
5) Always think like the waitress at my favorite restaurant in my hometown. If you order pancakes with fruit on the side, she always puts a little extra fruit on and tells you she did so – and gets a big tip as a result. She doesn't control much, but does the best with what she does control. Always do something extra. You have to be relentlessly entrepreneurial.



Unfortunately, the video doesn't include the Q&A, where I asked the following question:

Your point about "think like an immigrant" resonated with me. I've seen the Chinese immigrants in the U.S., and boy do they think and act like immigrants – they're really hustling. But what's incredible to me, having spent the last week in China, is seeing that the Chinese are acting like immigrants in their own country! I think the U.S. used to be this way, but fear that we're losing our hustle and drive. Do you agree and, if so, how to we get it back?

Friedman replied:

I don’t think we’ve lost it. If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head. Our country looks so much better from the bottom up, than from the top down. What you see if you look at the country from the bottom up is that it is full of people who just didn't get the word. They did not get the word that China is going to eat our lunch or that Germany is going to eat our breakfast and so they just go out and start stuff, and invent stuff and collaborate on stuff. If I were to draw a picture of America today it would be the Space Shuttle taking off. You've seen that picture -- all that thrust coming from below. That's all those people who didn't get the word. But in our case, our booster rocket -- Washington, DC -- is cracked and leaking energy. And the pilots in the cockpit are fighting over the flight plan. As a result, we cannot achieve escape velocity to get into the next orbit -- the next phase of the American Dream. We have all the attributes to succeed in the 21st century. If we could just fix the booster rocket and get the pilots to agree on a flight plan, we would just take off -- we would separate ourselves from the rest of the world.

Enjoy the photos and comments below!

The Tengchong airport

The conference was at a beautiful and modern hotel

The hotel lobby

View of Tengchong from the hotel

Another view of Tengchong

A memorial to the Chinese soldiers and U.S. Flying Tigers in WW II

You can see how many people came to the conference

I took a day trip to see the nearby village of Heshun, a large cluster of old mud-brick courtyard homes, many dating back to the Ming Dynasty

Heshun village sits above vast expanses of farmland and is surrounded by low mountains and four volcanoes

On Wednesday, we broke into groups of 15-20 and took busses far into the countryside to visit schools. Here's the school I visited – a few wooden buildings around a courtyard

Five of us stood in the back of this classroom for 15 minutes and when the class was over, went to the front and answered questions from the children (with a translator – they'd just started learning English)

It was very much rote learning – though the class had only 28 students

A view from the back of the school (there were basketball hoops everywhere in China)

The school served us a delicious lunch – the best meal I had on the entire trip!

After visiting the school, we went to visit the family of one of the students – as you can see from the beautiful house, this family is one of the most prosperous in town thanks to 100 walnut trees and farming tobacco

Nearly every house had lots of corn drying, which is ground up into food for the animals

This is the new school under construction less than a mile away – it will be open next year

This photo and the next few are from the drive to and from the school (90 minutes each way). I was expecting to see a lot of poverty, but didn't. All the roads are paved, nobody is biking, much less walking, and all the fields are carefully cultivated.

Rice paddies (you can see all of the rice tied up neatly on the left)

In a small town we drove through, we saw pigs being loaded onto this truck (China is home to half of the world's pigs)

A typical tractor/truck we saw, with an open engine and long steering column

These adorable kids sang a traditional song at the dinner on Wed. night

Julie Jackson, Managing Director of Uncommon Newark/New York City Elementary Schools, spoke eloquently

Andreas Schleicher, Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme (INES), shared his latest research

Tom Friedman

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pictures from Shanghai

Greetings from Shanghai! I'm here with my cousin Alex Tilson, who recently sold his medical device company and is between start-ups. We both arrived on Wednesday night (him from San Francisco, me 15 hours nonstop from JFK) and Alex's HBS classmate picked us up and we went out to dinner. (See photos of everything below.)

On Thursday, we had back-to-back-to-back meetings with a number of people who friends of mine introduced me to, plus visited a private school.

On Friday, Alex's friend took us to see a tiny business he's invested in that makes cutting edge LED lights – really amazing technology – and then to an enormous nanotech industrial park – a $1+ billion project, 80+ buildings, 14+ million square feet. It just opened this year and is only ¼ complete. Just the kind of project China is famous for – that will either drive China's growth in coming decades or be a wasteful white elephant (I'm not sure which). Then I had dinner with four folks from YPO Shanghai while Alex had dinner at his friend's house.

On Saturday, we borrowed bikes and rode all over the city for eight hours, seeing a classic open-air food market, the Bund, the Jewish museum, and other major sights. Then we had dinner with some more YPO folks at one of their homes.

The reason I came to China was to attend the Teach for All annual summit (the founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp, is now running Teach for All, which is helping social entrepreneurs in 32 countries (and counting) start Teach for China, Teach for India, etc.). The summit started over the weekend in Shanghai, then 200+ of us flew to Tengchong, a remote rural area in Yunnan province near the Burmese border in southwest China, which is one of four areas where Teach for China teachers are teaching, where the summit continues this week. For pictures of that part of the trip, see:

See captions beneath the photos for more details.

We're sharing a room at this decent hotel for $80/night.

Shanghai has a bike share program, but we've never seen anyone use it. And of the thousands of people we've seen riding bikes and motorcycles, we have yet to see ANYONE wearing a helmet (and the streets here are really dangerous)!

The school we visited

On Friday morning, we drove more than an hour outside the city to this dingy industrial park where we visited a company Alex's friend has invested in.

The entrepreneur who founded the business is originally from China but taught for many years at an American university and is now an American citizen. He's doing pioneering work with LED lighting at his skunkworks we visited.

The LED bulbs he's developed – ranging from small household ones to large industrial ones like the one Alex is holding – last more than 10x longer than incandescent bulbs.

Testing lights

A closeup of the household bulbs he's designed

Manually assembling the bulbs

The LED chips that make up a bulb

Everywhere we went, there were enormous construction projects underway

Third world China was everywhere amidst modern China

A promotional sign at the nano industrial park

This is what it will eventually look like – only the left corner has been built. It only opened earlier this year and is mostly empty right now.

The buildings are massive

The view from Steve's office in the Pudong district of Shanghai

Lena lent us two old-school bikes and we rode around the city yesterday

There are a surprising number of basketball hoops in the city. Man, did I want to stop and play 3-on-3 with these guys!

We walked through a traditional open-air market

This guy is selling live, squirming eels

An open-air dentist – seriously!

On the Bund – Shanghai's historical financial and trading district and the most popular tourist area of the city

The view of the new financial district across the river from the Bund – reminds me a little of Hong Kong

In front of the statue of Mao

We took a tram under the river to the Pudong side – it had wild psychedelic lighting

We went to the insect museum, which had lots of noninsects as well

The iconic building on the Shanghai skyline

Alex buying some melon from a street vendor

The Jewish museum. The Chinese consul in Vienna, Ho Feng Shan, disobeyed orders and issued thousands of travel visas to Jews from 1938-40 to travel to Shanghai to escape the Nazis (click here for more details). 23,000-30,000 lived in Shanghai during WW II and almost all survived (the Germans tried to persuade the Japanese to murder all of them, but they didn't).

An incredible story of a Jewish family escaping Germany to Shanghai

There was a very well done and moving exhibit about Auschwitz

A 1:1,500 model of the city at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

Dinner Sunday night at the M Restaurant overlooking the Bund, with the Pudong skyline in the background

The Pudong skyline at night

The Bund

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