Q: What is Knowledge Well’s mission statement?
A: We try to do something like Doctors Without Borders but with other professionals. We draw expertise from different parts of the world and we deliver it to under-resourced parts of the world.
Q: Where is Knowledge Well based?
A: Our "base" – or where we answer the phone – is actually here on Guam because it’s our first global market and the hub of communications in Micronesia though we don’t have an office. Our business plan calls for [a base on Guam] because it’s full of challenges but it’s also English speaking. Most of the people – even Russians we have had come to different events – speak English. We wanted something English-friendly so the U.S. experts would be able to come visa-free spend U.S. dollars and so forth. We basically want our experts to experience as few barriers as possible.
Q: How did Knowledge Well begin?
A: 2005 was when we did the first ‘pilot’. Actually we did it here; and also at that time I began speaking with national leaders in the [Pacific] area and getting feedback on what they need. I remember the two things we heard most: that a degreed professional wasn’t as important as best practices; and questions on how to solve workforce shortage issues.
Q: How do you acquire volunteers?
A: We usually first hear from someone expressing a need asking for help and we take it from there. We have to scale things to a point where we know we can be successful. If we’re going to invest a year in a process we want it to have the most impact. We ask what is the most important thing in that area in our opinion and then we try to match up volunteers. It’s interesting the network seems to build up on itself.
Because they are volunteers their expertise doesn’t have an agenda. It’s really pure for whoever is receiving it. When the professional comes they get an experience unavailable to them in the place they are from or where they work. We try to reduce the barriers so that the professional wins the recipients of the expertise win and so forth.
Q: How does Knowledge Well funding work?
A: Last year our first full year in operation we won two grants from the U.S. Department of Interior. Since it is truly an all-volunteer organization we don’t have that many costs. We have the larger projects which the DOI grants have covered at this point and as for the other [projects] we just ask corporations to sponsor the volunteers.
Q: What has Knowledge Well been up to on Guam?
A: We’re really excited about this. In May we were in Kosrae with one of the world’s top infrastructure technology experts. We were really fortunate to get him twice; he just happened to be in this part of the world and agreed to volunteer. What we did in Kosrae is we worked with land management on the Historical preservation side. We wanted an infrastructure piece that also included cultural historic considerations. So we had the expert come in Pete Kelsey from Autodesk and the end of the story is that he created the first ever three-dimensional model of Kosrae. So for any infrastructure change that goes forward from this point this model can be used – which is actually ahead of many cities in America.
We also wanted the historic perspective as well; we want to keep all these things in balance. We asked Paul Santos from the Department of Land Management here and Director [Teresa R.] Mortero was kind enough to work with us as well. As we know Guam is one of the busiest infrastructure locations on the planet right now and for Mortero to give Santos up for the necessary amount of time to come to Kosrae – combined with Continental’s willingness to get him out to Kosrae – was the perfect one-two punch. He came in and assisted with the preservation of the location of the WWII Japanese radio station which is famous in history. It’s a great part of Kosrae’s history. We tied all of that together in this infrastructure related project.
We took that data and brought it here a couple of weeks ago [for a presentation at the Hilton]. Pete [Kelsey] agreed to come back and do his part on the 3-D modeling. Paul [Santos] came and spoke about not only this project but also some other things happening on Guam and shared his expertise. The event at the Hilton was based on the data from Kosrae. We had local infrastructure leaders all three branches of the military were represented and we showed the value of this asset and the whole process.
Q: Is the 3-D model in the works for Guam as well?
A: We hope so. I’m hoping to follow up with the governor at some point and lay out some of the opportunities that Guam has before it’s too late especially with the big highway project. If the model is built right – and Guam mandates this – the whole process can be improved streamlined and shortened.
For example it used to be that professionals made their calculations to end up with a piece of paper. Now we are rethinking everything. The paper is only a representation of the true data. With technology available and if the government of Guam mandates this there will be the three dimensional model. When the engineers finish with the design of the road the heavy construction folks with the bulldozers can plug the dimensions directly into the bulldozer and the blade knows exactly where it’s supposed to be. It improves safety and efficiency and it’s just incredible.
Sometimes the contractor at the end of the project owns all the data while the government owns all the maps. Our advice as Knowledge Well consultants was to make sure that at the end of the day the people of Guam own the data. That’s our message: own the data mandate the data and later when maintenance is needed down the road Guam owns that model. In this scenario they already have half of the equation to be able to get what they want done on repairs and scheduled maintenance. It’s all there in this data.
Q: How has the announcement of the military buildup affected your goals?
A: Today I’m learning like everyone else exactly what the military’s plans are. We want to be as much of an asset or value to them as we can as well as the government of Guam. The same ideas work. In addition to the land infrastructure issues a new thing called BIM is basically the modeling of buildings on a vertical scale. We could have all of that together. Hopefully our role would be to advise or help with policy questions and things related to data and data lifecycle management. It’s a question that comes up. As these engineering firms win these contracts and they do all this design work and outsource to who knows where they’re sending [the data] to all these places. Will the military own the data? Will it be integrated into one model? If so things like facilities maintenance and all that down the road become easy.
Q: When you speak about Guam you seem to have a sense of urgency why is that?
A: I think with this whole military/local government thing there’s an opportunity right now to do it right. These things we are recommending are not hard. They can be done today – and ten 20 50 years down he road people will look back and say "I’m glad the government of Guam did this". I think the urgency is and we’re all guilty of this when something’s out there we know it’s coming.
I think there’s going to be a concerted effort to protect Guamanian and Chamorro interests. That’s important to us because that’s part of the sustainability. I am happy to hear that the cultural assets are being valued as well as the tangible assets which is very encouraging.
Q. What other Micronesian/Pacific projects are underway?
A: One project we’re working on now in Pohnpei is their landfill. It’s at max capacity right now and they need to create a new one. What we did is we asked a volunteer and we asked the state government in Pohnpei to provide local transportation and local housing. And sometimes Continental will donate the ticket to get them out there.
In Palau we have a wastewater specialist who took a huge pay cut for a two-year contract in the Republic of Palau. Again we’re a volunteer group; we’re very limited in our capacity. We found that Palau is losing a large amount of water through the day. We saw wastewater as the most important issue in Palau; we spent the last year interviewing candidates for them and let them choose.
We also connected Palau with equipment procurement contacts which is also something we do. Our primary focus however is like the doctors without borders idea – we move the professionals where the need is.
Q: What areas other than the Pacific is Knowledge Well working in?
A: The next step is maybe something a little more challenging. We have something in Moscow and something going on in Libya. Pertaining to Libya – back in the 70’s during the oil exploration time they found that alongside oil there were oceans of fresh water. Libya mainly the department of commerce is supporting an infrastructure project to pull that water up out of the desert. It is a $30 billion manmade river project. It’s just a beginning; we aren’t sending anyone or anything yet.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: At the end of the day in five years time we’d like to have different levels of challenges for professionals to be able to jot down in their life experience. This isn’t like a traditional charity or philanthropic situation where expertise is just given to places in need. We want it to be a win-win equation. The expert gets a once-in-a-lifetime experience and learns something and the recipient gains the expertise. We want to see the value going back and forth. It should be a complete exchange.
I would like to acknowledge some people who helped us out as well. Of course Continental which has paid straight out [for airline tickets]; Duenas and Associates; the Guam Department of Land Management; and Autodesk which funded Pete Kelsey to come out here. MBJ