Ubuntu at Work: Skill-building and Self-help Community Organization


Ubuntu at Work is a social enterprise that helps women micro entrepreneurs around the world.  Many of the women micro entrepreneurs that they collaborate with have no craft skills or other marketable skills before they join the Ubuntu at Work community.  With the assistance of field staff and volunteers around the world, the Ubuntu team works with women to gain new capabilities, collaboratively develop green products and assist in marketing these products around the world.  These products include organic fiber bags, organic produce, embroidered fabric items and screen printed items.

A unique aspect of Ubuntu at Work is that a significant portion of their products are sold through high volume orders through retailers.  They are known for producing bags for duty-free shops at several Indian aiports including the Bengaluru airport.



About Ubuntu at Work:  http://ubuntuatwork.org/about.php

Ubuntu At Work’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/ubuntuatwork



1.  Stronger platform for community engagement:  Ubuntu at Work is constantly striving to connect to more volunteers and interested members of the community.  They want blog posts to spark conversations.  To facilitate engagement, they have online volunteering activities that can be done via computer.  They are also looking to increase college student group engagement with the organization and develop systems to connect women micro entrepreneurs with mentors in a manner that is easy for all users.

Ubuntu At Work would like an app for their organization centered around community building.  At this time, the Ubuntu website is set up to enable interested parties to sign up and participate in “point-earning” tasks.  The final app does not have to use the point system to spark development.  However, it will ultimately facilitate the following objectives and allow for more people to engage with Ubuntu at Work and its network of women micro entrepreneurs.

Community Building Challenges:

  • Engage more people in online volunteering tasks

  • Encourage people to participate in blog post driven dialogues

  • Attract student groups to develop volunteer projects with Ubuntu at Work

  • Develop a platform for engage returned volunteers (e.g. Peace Corps, Americorps, Indicorps, WorldTeach) to develop long-term online-based mentoring relationships with women micro entrepreneurs.


Current Online Volunteering Activities:  http://ubuntuatwork.org/volunteer_jobs.php

Ubuntu At Work Blog:  http://ubuntuatwork.org/blog.php

Ubuntu At Work Volunteering and Points System:  http://ubuntuatwork.org/volunteer.php


2.  Design e-store interface:  Although the majority of Ubuntu at Work’s orders are large-volume wholesale orders, Ubuntu is looking to increase sales in two manners:

  • Increase online retail sales during the holiday season

  • Find new ways of engaging with corporate customers

Although there is already an online retail platform, can you think of a new design scheme to meet the above goals? How can the Ubuntu at Work women best showcase their work online?


Education: The Aakash Tablet


1. Aakash – What’s the content?

One of the motives to make Aakash available for students was to have the NPTEL courses accessible on them. Now, with the launch of the Sakshat Portal,  can you think of ways to improve the standards of suitable educational content, and how they can be delivered directly to these tablets? Availability of MOOCs – similar to the availability of Coursera courses on the iPad, might be a first step. Is there another model?
Feel free to create Native apps/web apps/mock apps that can run easily on an Android platform (Ice cream sandwich) that proves to be student friendly.

Debate Question: Is it time to rethink how we deliver content on these tablets?



  • Understandable
  • Colorful and engaging
  • Ability for the best teachers to really get across to students

Issues and solutions

How to deliver video content to millions of tablets?

In house streaming is difficult since most places do not have high enough bandwidth to provide uninterrupted video to many students (3G coverage is very low, and GPRS is too slow).

So another option is to distribute videos via physical USB connection or wifi connection at schools. This might work better, since now the students will also have an incentive to go to school. A physical connection is also needed for another reason described later. We can compare these options now. We are assuming that there is a dire shortage of teachers and hence everybody has to get video for all subjects, and most of the learning happens through videos. Teachers are there just to resolve doubts as in the inverted classroom model.


Four or five fair quality videos of 1 hours each can be ~ 2GB. Assuming these tablets are pretty low end, and can only get a 5 MB/s transfer speed, this transfer will take 400s = 6 minutes, which is not too bad. If we assume all the transfers will be done within a timeframe of 4 hour, and there are ~ 400 students, we will need ~ 10 usb outlets, which might not be too difficult to provide. We can share one usb port from a computer via usb hubs.


Assume our low end tablet can again get wifi speeds up to 1 MB/s (802.11b is 11Mbps, which is similar). The videos now download in 40 minutes, which is reasonable enough. But, too many students downloading will definitely reduce the overall bandwidth to each student. Assume we have to provide the videos within a timeframe of 4 hours to all the students. Now, there needs to be at least 75 wifi outlets which will be much more difficult from a cost perspective.

Battery consumption

Videos consume lots of battery unless we have specialized video IP blocks within our processor. Even then, a low end tablet will not have more than 4 hours of battery life, which means our student will have to recharge in < 2 days if he is watching 2 hours of video everyday. Considering the poor penetration of electricity, probably providing usb outlets for charging at schools will be better. Assuming a tablet takes 1 hour to charge, this will require ~ 50 outlets per school (again assuming we have a 4 hour window in which anybody can charge their tablets).

Thus it seems video distribution needs a USB hub at every school containing ~ 20-50 outlets. One option to lower this is to provide one tablet every 4 or 5 student group, which will then lower the necessity for these outlets. Such groups will also spur group interaction, which can be a good side-effect. If USB is the way to go, it makes sense to build in more storage capacity so that students can refer to older material, which is a big advantage of online education. A 32GB model still can hold only last month’s videos.

Audio + ebook


  • Easier to distribute
  • Consumes less battery, thus overcoming the larger hurdles of video distribution
  • Can have fair amount of interactivity, if we include a pdf reader with each device, in audio questions can be done in the pdf.
  • Low storage requirements. Assuming audio is 1/10 of size of equivalent video, we are looking at a full year’s audio + pdfs all in one 32GB device.

Issues and solutions:

  • Not interactive, difficult to show logical steps than video, but better than books, and can be nicely complemented by a book or pdf with pictures.

  • Fairly cheap devices can still have interactive text and audio which can again be downloaded via USB. Cheaper devices will also mean the government has to foot a lower bill.

  • It seems better for each student to have one such cheap device. This can be based on e-ink technology like kindles, which will then cost much less and last much longer.

  • Fairly sophisticated or specialized material can also be distributed via this method to interested students.

  • This model is fairly non-interactive within different schools. In order to remedy this, we can encourage students to participate in question answer communities through their common tablets. Maybe we can also provide an SMS-based interface to asking/answering questions through the kindle-like devices.


Build a cheap and efficient device for reading pdf’s and listening to audio lectures by using an e-ink display. One can use reused displays from kindles available from ebay for ~ 25-30$. A resistive touchscreen can cost ~ 10-20$. After having a proof of concept on a board such as raspberry pi, one can look into building a more self-contained device. Intuitive alternatives to a touchscreen (joystick/arrow buttons) can also be investigated, since alternative keyboards in various indian languages can be difficult to mass produce.

2. Aakash – Time for an update

With several no-name manufacturers in Asia churning out tablets for less than $60 and with big companies like HP, Samsung and Intel working towards bringing high quality tablets for less than $100 this holiday season, how do you think the Aakash be improved in its hardware aspects and at the same time remain in its cost category?

We have a detailed list of specs that interested participants can go through to hammer out the best possible configuration, given the cost constraints.
P.S. – People are more than welcome to bring their own Raspberry Pis or Arduinos to test out stuff and show their work.

Link: Detailed draft spec sheet

3. Aakash – What’s the price?

The Aakash is also commercially available in the stores for a cheap price. Make a detailed price point comparison between the UbiSlate 7C+ and other consumer tablets and provide an abstract business model that can help Aakash boost revenue.

4. Networking of Campuses in India

Under the National Mission on Education through Info and Communication tech (NMEICT), each university and college is touted to get a broadband internet connection and standalone network-based solutions are being thought about for very low cost connectivity to student’s home. What are the ways to implement this (topology, cable type, server hosting capabilities, etc)? Can we extend this to schools, to build the primary internet access backbone for students?

Healing Fields Foundation


The Situation

Healing Fields Foundation (HFF) is a not for profit organization and has provided a one year
health education training program to over a thousand local village women and given them tools
to impact the health behaviors of their families and their communities. Plans are to scale this to
about 5000 in the next 5 years. With help from HFF, many of these Community Health
Facilitators (CHFs) use their new knowledge and skills to educate the community on health
issues, sanitation, hygiene, government programs in Health and also to create livelihoods in the
healthcare sector providing goods and services. What results is a network of women making an
impact on the ground level and at the same time earning a living doing it.

The Problem

CHFs provide the last mile connectivity to the communities in which they live. Through these
women HFF gets a firsthand understanding of what the health status of their villages. We
collect data from them during the program via surveys and receive constant feedback through
our field staff. This is a labor intensive process and it takes a while before information gets back
to HFF’s main office where it can be together and made sense of in bigger picture. Of particular
interest is the need for CHFs to report spikes in the number and frequency of a particular
disease. They don’t have a quick and reliable means of getting that information to people who
can help address the issue before it becomes a serious community problem.
Additionally, CHFs can use support in the field. When people come to them with symptoms,
sometimes CHFs could use help figuring out what is wrong and refer them to the relevant health
providers which could save time and money and at times even save lives.

The Challenge

CHFs have access to mobile phones. These are basic phones that have voice and SMS, but not
data capabilities. The challenge is to create a system that uses these phones to connect CHFs to
HFF so that they can provide information on their communities and get health decision-making
support. The system needs to be fully automated or semi-automated. It must be kept in mind
that CHFs are functionally literate but not used to technical or complicated processes. The
program must be designed in a manner that it is simple to use, work in areas where there is
limited access to data networks and at the same time can be translated into multiple

Contact Information


Cottage Industries in India


The term “cottage industry” is used when products are manufactured on a small scale. India is well known for its large number of traditional cottage industries. But with the advent of industrialization, cottage industries witnessed a sharp decline. Cotton weaving, carpet making, leather industry, etching, basket making, texile making, pottery, etc are some examples of cottage industry products.

A cottage industry is often characterized by its enormous potential for employment generation and the person getting employed is basically regarded as a self-employed one. It has been empirically found out that cottage industry has given economic independence to the women in the developing as well as developed countries. The income of the manufacturers is harmed by middlemen who offer low prices to them but take heavy chunks of money from the buyers. These workers have given their whole life to stitching and knitting. The skill that they possess is just unmatchable. But still they are at the same place where they had started years ago.

Well-known organizations like Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) is working towards the development and endorsement of cottage industries in India. Other premier organizations are Central Silk Board, Coir Board, All India Handloom Board and All India Handicrafts Board, and organizations like Forest Corporations and National Small Industries Corporation are also playing an active role in the meaningful expansion of cottage industries in India.

What can we do to help Cottage Industries, avoid middlemen from taking away large chunks of profits, and help streamline resources and funds to these unmatchable skilled labor all over our country?

Etsy for India

Can we develop a common platform where a seller of retail cottage industry goods (for example, decorative pots, pretty etchings, hand woven clothes and carpets, etc) is able to directly sell his or her product to consumers without any middlemen? The seller can make much higher profits. Instead of building the brand name of a company, the sellers would brand themselves through the system. Based upon the quality and creativity of their product they would receive reviews from customers and get higher visibility.

The biggest challenge here is that these artists don’t have access to internet. So there needs to be a good amount of groundwork to get their products online and sellable. There should be an organization that aggregates goods from cottage industry artists and directly supplies them to the consumers, making the artists visible on the internet, and taking a small cut for process costs.

Can we possibly link the cottage industries to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR of Medium and Large Scale Industries ? One idea is to supply hand made paper and cloth bags to big grocery stores like Reliance Fresh in India, and including this as part of Reliance’s CSR to directly help the individual cottage entrepreneurs.