mLab Southern Africa, a new regional incubator for mobile technology innovators and entrepreneurs, opens at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria on 15 September – and developers and entrepreneurs with a start-up business, organisation or mobile concept can already apply to become members. SAinfo reporterWould you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material “Support services will either be delivered directly by mLab SA, or through external providers to which members will be pointed, for example the Bandwidth Barn’s business mentoring programme.” “While the head office will be in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices will be established throughout the region. A Cape Town satellite office is in the process of being established,” mLab SA said in a statement this week. “But while there exists an enormous mobile opportunity in the region, there are still challenges to creating a sustainable business or organisation in mobile,” says mLab SA. “Competition is stiff; the mobile landscape is highly uneven across different technologies, user groups and countries; and mobile developers are scarce and expensive.” Three types of membership “The mLab SA will also assist members in accessing finance, whether it be in the form of grants, seed capital, angel investors or venture capitalists.” Applications can be submitted via www.mlab.co.za, where further information on membership can also be found. mLab Southern Africa (mLab SA) will be hosted by a consortium of four organisations: CSIR Meraka Institute, the Innovation Hub, InnovationLab and Ungana-Afrika. Wide-ranging support offered Members benefit from the shared services offered at mLab SA, such as reception, internet and test bays, because this allows entrepreneurs to lower their burn rate – how quickly they spend their start-up capital – and so extend the survivability of their ideas. mLab SA, and the recently opened mLab East Africa, in Nairobi, are the first of a number of mLabs to be launched around the world, with support from infoDev (World Bank), Finland’s ministry of foreign affairs, and Nokia. In South Africa, mobile penetration is around 100%, and 39% of urban South Africans are now browsing the internet on their phones. Added to that, a startup business or organisation is very vulnerable – it needs business, technical and financial support, and can benefit greatly from acceleration and incubation. Southern Africa was chosen as a region to locate a mLab because of the enormous potential of mobile technologies for supporting business development, social development and job creation in the region. Mobile phones touch almost every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the potential for improving areas such as healthcare and education has already been successfully demonstrated. mLab SA offers three types of membership: Community, which is free and which anyone can join, and Silver and Gold, for which interviews are necessary. Potential of mobile technologies 29 July 2011 mLab SA will provide support, including: subsidised office space with meeting rooms; training and accreditation on mobile technologies and entrepreneurship; business mentoring and coaching; business intelligence, such as privileged access to market research information and knowledge repositories; testing of mobile apps and services in dedicated test bays; and regular events for networking and knowledge sharing. mLab SA is also supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology. Silver and Gold members pay a fee to access the core services of the mLab SA at the facility in the Innovation Hub, and receive more structured support from the mLab SA team and its partners.
In the era of big-bang reforms and privatisation, a section of Indian bureaucracy continues to exist quietly, without making any valuable contribution to the country or its economy.Directorates, inspectorates, controllers, research stations and several other government entities, which are relics of the British and licence-permit Raj, are still in operation despite having outlived their utility. Mail Today, in the first part of its investigation series, blows the lid off these government offices feeding on the tax-payers’ money.A survey of central government ministries dealing with sectors such as agriculture, health, environment, water resources, commerce and food supplies shows that tax payers’ money continues to be spent on government offices which have no meaningful role to play anymore. Such offices are in addition to the public sector units which have become useless, as exposed by Mail Today recently.Of no consequenceThe list of redundant offices includes directorates for various crops and commodities (sugar, cotton, jute, cement, rice, tobacco, oilseeds, pulses, vanaspati etc.), National Test House, National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development Board, Indian Plywood Industry Research and Training Institute, National Institute of Water Sports and Hindustan Vegetable Oil Corporation, among others.The NTH laboratory in Ghaziabad.Most of these offices handle minor regulatory roles or are just standard setting bodies or testing centres – functions which are already being carried out by fullfledged regulatory authorities. Some others produce training manuals, conduct training programmes or simply generate inconsequential reports. Most of these offices, however, occupy prime real estate and have hundreds of employees on their rolls. “Such bodies have no business to exist after they have outlived their role, purpose and utility. In the past, many committees of the government have made clear recommendations on what needs to be done with such organisations,” said former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian.advertisement’Rehabilitate staff’Some former officers are of the opinion that the cases of such offices should be taken up one by one. Former power secretary EAS Sarma said: “The fate of each institution should be decided by examining if it has become dysfunctional because it is no longer needed or because there are vested interests against its functioning.”The existence of such offices, however, is frustrating for other departments which are short of staff and loaded with pending work. “They have frozen appointments in central government offices at a time when many departments are facing a short-age of staff. Why can’t useless organisations be wound up and the staff used elsewhere,” said a senior government official.The irrelevance of some of these offices can be gauged from the fact that almost all their functions have been moved to new departments. For instance, the directorate of vanaspati, vegetable oils and fats – a wing of the department of food and public distribution – continues to exist despite all its regulatory functions being taken care of by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, set up in 2006.National Test House (NTH), set up a century ago in Kolkata as a wing of the Indian Railways for testing of products manufactured locally, is involved in functions similar to those of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). In 2002, the government decided to bring NTH under BIS, but nothing has been done till now. NTH has regional labs in Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Ghaziabad, Guwahati and Jaipur. Its Ghaziabad complex is spread over 19 acres.The expenditure reforms commission had recommended in 2000 that seven crop directorates (rice, wheat, millet, sugarcane, cotton, jute and tobacco) be wound up because all they were doing was forwarding reports from states producing these commodities to the crop division in the agriculture ministry. It suggested that two other directorates – oilseeds and pulses – be merged with the agriculture ministry. The commission also saw no justification for the existence of National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development Board and National Coconut Development Board. But all these boards and directorates are still functional in 2012.The Directorate of Cotton Development in Mumbai.Click here to EnlargeThe directorate of tobacco keeps promoting the industry, unmindful of the existence of a separate tobacco board to do so. The significance of government machinery to promote tobacco may also be questioned as another wing of the government, the health ministry, spends crores of rupees on the anti-tobacco campaign.The National Sugar Institute, which was set up as Imperial Institute of Sugar Technology in 1936 in Kanpur, lingers on despite sugar technology development being the mandate of at least half-a-dozen research institutes in the country. Another remnant of the ‘control and command’ economy is the development council for sugar industry.advertisement”The only option is to take a knife and start exorcising,” said Subramanian. There are many new areas where employees can be redeployed as there is shortage of staff there, he added. Sarma, though, felt if the institutions are no longer needed, the government should explore ways to rehabilitate the personnel by trying to look at the vacancies in other organisations. Otherwise, the only option is to offer voluntary retirement, he added.The ministry of water resources has multiple agencies doing peripheral work. The central soil and materials research station in the Capital is basically a soil testing outfit and is being run despite at least six other institutes handling different aspects of soil health in the country. There is no rationale behind running a water quality assessment authority when the subject is being looked into by separate pollution and groundwater boards at central and state levels. Another outfit of the ministry – national water development agency – too has a nebulous profile.”Some directorates and research stations surely need to be shut down, along with state farm corporations. If they have to do what the private sector is doing, why do we need them?” asked agriculture policy expert Devinder Sharma.