1. Describe Greenstar.
Greenstar is founded on a simple idea: that people, no matter where they live, have the same basic needs: for food, shelter, caring for their children and families, building their future, leading a life of learning, creativity and dignity, living in harmony with the earth.
Where people in emerging nations don't enjoy the social and economic conditions to support these basic needs, they clearly need the tools to grow by themselves, some assistance and startup resources.
Then they need the freedom to build their own future.
We believe that international development can, in many cases, be made self-financing through ecommerce on the Internet -- providing this kind of empowerment.
Greenstar Development Worldwide, Inc. is building a profitable business based on these ideas. It will be profitable for people in emerging countries, for Greenstar's employees and shareholders. And ultimately beneficial to the earth, and to all its peoples.
Our primary goal is to increase wealth in the village. Too often in the past, well-meaning development efforts have had ended up taking wealth out of an already-poor village. Greenstar's grassroots ecommerce program will allow us to move beyond merely "sustainable" development to "self-replicating" development. See Question 16 below for more definition on this.
2. How does the Greenstar facility function?
3. What are Greenstar's components?
A Greenstar Solar Community Center can be installed into existing buildings, or delivered in a single tough enclosure -- a converted shipping container. Support is provided for an office/business center, a classroom and a health clinic. If existing buildings are used, the core functions may well be in seperate buildings. In the container configuration, a single room is used segmented into three for the core applications.A rooftop solar array provides power for the center, runs water purification equipment and charges batteries for night-time use. The system is modular and very flexible. It can easily be configured for each location as required.
Greenstar provides initial maintenance along with trained local partners, including solar specialists, electricians and mechanics. Community members are trained from the outset to do most of the maintenance and troubleshooting themselves.
5. Does Greenstar have both video conferencing and Internet capabilities?
Most Greenstar installations will have full Internet capabilities. Those sites where Greenstar can access bandwidth of 128Kbps or more will also have video conferencing capabilities. We start with 64Kbps bi-directionally, over satellite, enough to support a dozen computers or more with fast, responsive connections. With our partner's system, eSAT's Nexstream, we can reach data rates as high as 8 Mbps for downlink and 384 Kbps for uplink. We believe this will cover our expected needs very well. Coverage is dependent on market forces, and the presence of available satellite footprints.
For more information, please see http://www.e-greenstar.com/esat_alliance/
6. If something goes wrong with a Greenstar system, who will fix it?
Greenstar is designed for a 25-year life cycle. Problems will be addressed via remote access, locally trained partners on the ground, or by fully trained community members. We cooperate very carefully with our partnering organizations, be they NGOs, local governments, for-profit businesses, or non-profit institutions.
7. Does Greenstar have a backup system?
Some key components, which are the most vulnerable in terms of their life cycle, have local backups. Since the community itself has email, and all suppliers and maintainers must also be available by email, it will be relatively simple to quickly request service and on-site replacements from local sources.
8. Who installs a Greenstar facility?
Greenstar installs all of its solar-powered village systems. After installation, we typically visit a community every three to four months. We arrange for a local professional to visit once a month to do maintenance and training.
9. How much does a Greenstar facility cost?
Fully configured, shipped, delivered and installed, with operations for five years, a single Greenstar facility (with integrated container) costs about $115,000, including satellite Internet connectivity. Duties, taxes, import fees, and local delivery may cost extra, as theis estimate includes a minimal allowance for such items.
The initial capital investment by Greenstar in a single village is about $25,000, in equipment, installation, and creation of a digital culture program. This does not include the integrated container system; equipment is installed on and inside existing structures.
Organizations may purchase Greenstar Community Centers, and a commercial pricelist is available, with prices starting at about $40,000 for the integrated container and hardware. Costs decrease with larger quantities, and by selecting specific services; for example, a Community Center might be configured without telecommunications, or telemedicine, or water purification.
Monthly satellite connectivity costs in the range of $950, and monthly maintenance costs of about $750, depending on the specifics of location. The cost is driven by bandwidth requirements and satellite availability. Our plan is for profits from ecommerce to cover the monthly operating costs, plus return a profit to the community.
10. Will Greenstar fund Community Centers itself? What is the nature of Greenstar's business relationship with the community?
Greenstar invests in each installation itself, or with partners, in return for the right to manage the community's online activities. Such a license provides for a percentage of ecommerce revenues to be retained by Greenstar, in order to cover the cost of capital, provide marketing, logistics and distribution services, and to fund further Greenstar installations worldwide. This license is be set up to recoup Greenstar's investment plus a fair profit over time, after which the community will own the equipment outright and the royalty paid to Greenstar is reduced. It is important to note that a Greenstar installation will never put a community into debt, or require fixed payments. Our goal is to create new economic activity in the community, not to take money out. We believe that digital culture can fund these activities, and our business model takes into account this risk.
For more on this subject, see http://www.e-greenstar.com/business.htm
11. Who will run the Greenstar facility? Is there a training component?
Yes, there is a training component; its goal is to train the people of the community to operate the facility themselves. For example, the villagers of Al-Kaabneh are already doing an excellent job running their Greenstar systems. We send in a professional once a month for check-ups and training. Local volunteers, for instance computer clubs from cities in the region, will also be recruited to help with support, local language packages, installation of software, and training.
12. How will Greenstar's ecommerce work? Who owns the products?
Original digital culture products (such as music) are created by the village; Greenstar registers US, EU and international copyrights on behalf of the village. Ownership of all key assets is retained by the village, and Greenstar assists in defining the economic value of those assets and returning the value to the village.
13. What about international finance law, banking, and accepting of payments on the Web by the village?
Greenstar conducts all business transactions on the Web on behalf of the community through a secure US-based server, using a commercial real-time credit-card processor. Our accounting systems transfer a portion of each dollar of revenue directly from Greenstar's holding account into a local bank account for the village, using a Visa-denominated transfer that includes conversion into local currency at the best possible exchange rate each day. These funds can then be accessed by authorized representatives of the village by check, cash withdrawal, or by credit-card-supported debit card, where available.
14. What business entity do you work with in a community?
In most cases, Greenstar's business agreements will be with a Village Council or equivalent, based in the local village. The head of the Council, who has the trust of the village, will control access to and use of the funds. It is not Greenstar's job to create, prescribe or control local economic development or political structures; we will, however, provide information and ideas to the people on how to use income responsibly.
15. What will developing communities do with the money?
A Village Council is in the best position to determine its own local needs, and to decide how they should be fulfilled. It is customary for Greenstar to define work with the Council to define where it intends to spend new ecommerce income, and to let the people of the village participate in these plans.
For example, in Al-Kaabneh we have defined several projects which will be financed by the village's new income: a water pump and its connection with a water purifier and cistern; the digging of a well to access deep groundwater; expansion of the central solar power array and addition of smaller modules throughout the village; acquisition of new computer hardware, LAN and printer support, and new educational computer software; provision of additional battery-charging capability; installation of an intercom in the school; purchase of new medical testing equipment and first-aid supplies, and many more items.
Respect for people's ability to make correct decisions about their lives is central to Greenstar's approach. Attempts to prescribe outcomes can be perceived as neo-colonialism in disguise, and will ultimately be resented. This has too often between the developed and developing worlds -- no one wins.
16. Will individuals also profit from Greenstar's activity, with personal income?
Yes, in several ways. Artisans in the village will be paid by the Council to make their tapestries, musical instruments, pottery, etc. Musicians and artists will receive an initial advance payment from Greenstar for the art they create, and will receive a portion of the income generated, direct from Greenstar, on an ongoing basis.
Some leading people in each village will be selected and trained by Greenstar to establish new centers in their local area, or in their region, where their in-depth personal knowledge of the Greenstar equipment and process, and their knowledge of local social and language factors, can achieve powerful leverage. This what we mean by development which is "self-replicating". It is the only way to scale the solution to the size of the challenge created by the two billion people who currently live off the grid, in over 600,000 villages around the world.
17. What percentage of ecommerce income does Greenstar retain?
The percentage Greenstar retains varies depending on the product, risk and the future opportunity. With digital culture products delivered entirely automatically over the Web, a 40% commission is typical, up to a certain dollar amount ($50,000, on average) or for a fixed period (typically five years), whichever comes first. After the initial investment is recouped by Greenstar, the commission rate drops, to between 15% and 25%. At no time is the village placed in debt to Greenstar or anyone else.
18. What about graft and corruption?
Misuse of foreign aid is a well-documented problem. Greenstar is not providing foreign aid; there is no transfer of money to individuals, business or village groups. There is a direct investment in people, products and services, with documented rights for everyone. Greenstar deals directly with a local community, usually 5000 people or less, where everyone knows everyone else. We do not form business relationships that are mediated or controlled by national or regional governments, though we work closely with these authorities to help define objectives, co-ordinate programs, understand local needs, make introductions to local communities, streamline regulations, etc.
For example, in the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Energy Authority (PEA) has been active and informed at every stage about the progress in Al-Kaabneh. They have visited the village with us many times, helped move equipment into the country, advised on system configuration, provided introductions to other PA ministries and helped us identify other potential implementation sites. With the US Department of Energy, they plan to request support for more Greenstar centers. But they have no part in the ecommerce and business deals in the village, they have provided no funds and receive no income from the venture, and have given total local control over its new solar assets to the village.
There is no airtight insurance against misappropriation of funds and resources. We work directly with the people who have basic needs for electricity, communication and wealth creation, in small groups with a strong emphasis on building trust. This is the best way we know to deliver honest, sustained benefits.
19. How does a Greenstar program advance women's rights in developing countries?
Providing the means to achieve independence for women is an undeniable good; it is a primary goal in the transformation of any community. The question is...how to achieve this goal in developing countries?
The obvious answers are not always the best. The quickest fixes, the kind we often seek to apply in Western culture, could even slow down the process in other cultures. We need to be smart, and patient. We need to listen, with more than our ears. Our hearts need to be in the loop, too.
For more discussion of this issue, see: http://www.e-greenstar.com/womens-issues/
20. What if a village wants to do a digital culture project only?
The concept of digital culture is outlined here: http://www.greenstar.org/digital-culture/
Its concrete expression, in our first full-fledged project (along with a free digital music MP3 download), can be seen at:
It is possible for Greenstar to develop a similar program with a qualified community, to market digital products and produce an immediate income stream. To do this, Greenstar may invest about $15,000 in production, packaging and website development.
Such a solo project can work as a jump-start to a later, more full-fledged Community Center implementation, providing revenue to fund it and leverage to acquire matching funds from granting agencies. It can also provide Greenstar with valuable experience in the community, to assess whether a larger investment is justified, building trust between Greenstar and its partners in the village.
21.What is a simple way to get engaged and benefit from an association with Greenstar today?
We have developed a program called Premium Partners. This program allows a qualified organization to start earning income immediately, and it supports Greenstar's work around the world.
A Premium Partner promotes the Greenstar website to its members, with up to 8% of each transaction paid back to the Partner.
This program, and how to apply, is fully described at http://www.e-greenstar.com/premium-partner/
For individuals wishing to work with Greenstar, we have developed the Greenstar Explorers program, which allows people to carry out assignments helpful to Greenstar and its people around the world, right from their own home computers and Internet connections.
This program, and how to apply, is fully described at http://www.e-greenstar.com/Explorers/
22. What if ecommerce fails for a given site?
For those sites where Greenstar is making its own investment, it will assume the business risk of marketing products. If the products do not sell, the community will not be indebted to Greenstar in any way. This risk profile is factored into Greenstar's calculation of the commissions it generates from online activity.
23. Why use such a high-tech approach for remote, Third-World locations?
Greenstar is not blindly focused on technology. We are focused first on renewable energy, environment, clean water, distance learning, community health care, telemedicine -- the fundamental building blocks of a healthy community. Our approach is that providing a start on these basic human needs (using appropriate technology to assist, where possible) is a pre-condition to providing a connection the Web, to providing a solid, long-term justification for funding of ecommerce.
There's no point in being able to send email if children are dying because of a polluted water supply.
24. How are local and long-distance telecommunications interconnect rules established with national providers, and how is interconnection carried out technically?
We plan to use satellite connections to go straight to the Internet, and in general not to engage in provision of voice telephone service. Therefore, local interconnect through conventional phone company switches is not needed. We are not in the telephony business and have no wish to compete in any way with the local PTT (the phone company). In fact, in many cases a close co-operation with the PTT will be needed to achieve our goals. Greenstar will consider cooperating with a local PTT that wishes to use our satellite bandwidth and solar electricity to provide telephony and postal services to remote areas.
25. Have spectrum allocation issues been addressed?
This will not be an issue with respect to space-based access to the Internet, since the terrestrial spectrum is not being used. In some cases we may need to use cellular telephones or spread-spectrum digital radio as temporary solutions to reach the Internet.
26. Has Greenstar considered the amount of discretionary income available for the services? Has there been an evaluation to determine what services local people really want?
We do not require any discretionary income to pay for the services. The economic model allows ecommerce to pay for all services for the community, plus bringing in hard currency to increase the wealth of our local partners in the village.
We work very closely over many months with the community, its leaders and school teachers. We do not impose our plan upon them. We work with them as peers. We start with what they really want and need: electricity and communications.
27. How does this model compete with or complement existing government or private sector efforts? What will be the relationship(s) if overlap exists, or if this is taken as competition?
We cooperate with pre-existing projects whenever possible. We know of no programs that are as comprehensive as Greenstar, but as they emerge we will seek to collaborate and not compete. The need, and the opportunity, are far too big for any one organization to embrace. We want to inspire others to try similar enterprises; this will expand the opportunity pool for everyone, especially the people in local villages around the world.
28. How do people in developing countries ship and guarantee delivery of items? What happens if something arrives broken, or not at all?
Products are shipped in bulk to Greenstar warehouses in the USA, as advance inventory. We have two automated high-technology shipping facilities, one outside Washington DC and the other in San Diego; these facilities provide online verification of shipping and tracking information to each individual Greenstar customer, and manage returns.
We are also emphasizing all-digital products, which weigh nothing, cost nothing to manufacture once the original exists, and ship instantly, 24 hours a day.
29. How can you introduce such technologies without disturbing indigenous culture?
We fully understand that the introduction of anything new will lead to change. We believe our project is less intrusive than most other development activities, such as factories, extractive industries, migration, etc. Surely, there is no valid or ethical argument that two billion people should be denied electricity, communications, healthcare, education and prosperity on the grounds that these assets might cause cultural change.
We provide a potent set of tools for transforming the social and economic life of largely forgotten small communities in developing countries. We try to respect, preserve and disseminate the local culture and traditions of these communities.
30. How is Greenstar financed?
Several of our founding Directors have provided startup financing as personal investments in Greenstar (see http://www.greenstar.org/people.htm). Additional financing is being arranged through private individuals and interested investment firms.
31. How did you decide on a Palestinian village for your first installation?
In late 1998, after the Wye River Agreements about the Middle East peace process, a call went out from the Clinton Administration for projects that would demonstrate the basis for peace through co-operation and economic development.
Greenstar heard and heeded this call, with the encouragement of the US Department of Energy, and installed the first stage of its pilot system in Al-Kaabneh in six weeks. A previous study of rural electrification in the West Bank had identified 200 communities that were potential sites for village-based solar power because they're "off-the-grid." The Palestinian Energy Authority and the US National Renewable Energy Lab suggested Al-Kaabneh to us.
32. What about Israel?
One of the reasons for our intense commitment to the project in the Palestinian Authority was Greenstar's interest in supporting the security of Israel, and in supporting the natural right of the Palestinian people to an independent future. We believe that these goals are not only compatible, but that they must be pursued together, and are mutually reinforcing.
Leading Israeli and US authorities believe that the best insurance for Israel's security is the building of prosperity for the Palestinian people, and their engagement in the responsible task of building a new economy. This process proceeds ahead in fits and starts, but it proceeds, despite the enormous historical and religious problems of the region. It is motivated as much by enlightened self-interest on both sides as it is by good-will. It is encouraged by the efforts of the United States, the European Community, the Arab world and others. The Middle-East peace process is one of the most important cornerstones of an enduring world peace.
Greenstar seeks to encourage that process by demonstrating how an isolated Palestinian community, exactly the kind that creates security concerns for Israelis, can build a new, independent, peaceful economy for themselves.
Greenstar's project in Al-Kaabneh, south of Hebron, does not have official sanction from the Israeli administration, from the Palestinian Authority, from the United Nations or the United States, though all four of these vital entities are fully aware of what we are doing and there has been productive personal contact on all sides. Greenstar simply offered its services, did not ask for funding, and proceeded deliberately and carefully, step by step, with full respect for the concerns of all the parties.
The project in Al-Kaabneh is an exchange among people, not a government-approved mandate. Perhaps this low-key approach has helped it to succeed. It is based on this simple, practical principle:
When men and women work productively and creatively to feed and shelter themselves, to care for and educate their children and to build an independent future for their community, their religion, language, traditions and their culture -- then peace has a chance.
33. What problems is Greenstar solving?
34. How are you solving these problems?
35. What specific procedures does Greenstar follow for creating a community-centered planning and decision-making process?
In conjunction with Larry Seaquist, one of Greenstar's Ambassadors and his international communications organization, The Strategy Group, Greenstar has developed a systematic process called "Future Building."
This community-ceneterd process is best described in our outline on the subject, at http://www.greenstar.org/future-building.htm
Thank you to all those who have asked great questions...you've challenged us, and enriched Greenstar.
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