October 25, 2002 - Geo Info Systems : Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles creates international spatial business

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 10 October 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: October 25, 2002 - Geo Info Systems : Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles creates international spatial business

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, October 25, 2002 - 11:30 am: Edit Post

Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles creates international spatial business

Read and comment on this excerpt from a story from Geo Info Systems Magazine on Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles who used emerging technologies in the exchange of spatial information to create a GIS inventory of rural roads in Bangladesh.

Drew Sayles considers himself a social entrepreneur, and thinks his adventures in the Third World will serve him well. Having built an international spatial business, Sayles is bringing Third World skills and a strong work ethic home to the United States.

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Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles creates international spatial business*

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Nepal RPCV Drew Sayles creates international spatial business

Drew Sayles, who considers himself a social entrepreneur, also thinks his adventures in the Third World will serve him well. Having built an international spatial business, Sayles is bringing Third World skills and a strong work ethic home to the United States. He spent fifteen years in Asia, starting as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and later as a civil engineer on CARE (www.care.org)-, UNICEF (www.unicef. org)-, and USAID (www.usaid.gov)-funded projects in Bangladesh. The goal of one such project was to improve rural roads in approximately 450 Bangladeshi towns and thereby reduce farm-to- market transportation costs.

To optimize the use of funds, the project required an inventory of Bangladesh's rural roads which, at the time, did not exist in any format. In collaboration with the government of Bangladesh's Local Government Engineering Department, Sayles joined the ambitious effort of creating not just any inventory, but a GIS inventory of rural roads.

As is typical of any large project, people take on a variety of roles. In this case, many local, but also some expatriate personnel, developed database schemas, designed the data management system, and trained other staff in its use. But how (I wondered) did a country as technically primitive as Bangladesh equip 450 rural towns with the computer hardware and network connections to enable spatial data exchange to a central planning point? Silly question; there was only one GIS, centrally located. The 450 towns each took responsibility for their own local data capture in the form of hand-annotated paper maps of rural roads, checked for accuracy by local people - the true experts.

The finished paper maps eventually made their way to the central office where trained staff digitized and loaded them into the GIS.

International handshake. Though he didn't know it at the time, Sayles was also training himself in the formation of an international business partnership. Before leaving Bangladesh in early 1996, he made a handshake agreement with a Bangladeshi consulting engineering firm which was eager to take on international projects. Once back in the United States, Sayles implemented a business plan with the dual objective of creating sustainable job opportunities for Third World technicians and also earning a living. As president of his company, Compu-Links, Inc. (www.compulinks.com), he now closely collaborates with a partner company in Bangladesh.

Sayles drums up First World work for which the Bangladesh company charges Third World prices. Although the projects are often labor intensive - such as registering, digitizing, and attributing data - the quality of the Bangladeshi output is consistently high thanks to the workers' patience and pride in their work.

A view of the canopy from the tropical forest floor in Colombia. Areas such as this are study sites for Jarvis.

Sayles reports that "last year was very successful" for Compu- Links, but that he "underestimated the challenge" of achieving the success he now enjoys. In the first year of operation, most of the work was CAD-- related. Over the past four years, the scope has widened to include GIS projects such as cadastral digitization and attribution, developing DEMs from topographic maps, snapping vector data to orthophotography, and gas or electrical infrastructure paper- - to-vector data conversion. Although the personnel in Bangladesh had a variety of CAD capabilities and experience, Sayles discovered that, to get good projects, he had to expand his company's offerings to also include GIS-related software development.

Gradually, Sayles established relationships with U.S. utilities, consulting firms, and municipalities willing to take the risk of working with a new company and its offshore facility.

Compared with this initial challenge of breaking into the U.S. GIS market, he finds the process of managing an office that is 13,000 miles away quite feasible - thanks to a variety of Internet technologies. In addition to reviewing e-mail and uploading and downloading files, Sayles spends hours each day discussing the status of projects and addressing technical specifications with the Bangladeshi firm through the use of Microsoft's (www.microsoft. com) Net Meeting, which supports audio and video conferencing and sharing applications on another conferee's desktop. One thing he can't change, however, is the 11-hour time difference!

In search of a spatial niche

Jarvis' work is itself aimed at improving life on Earth whereas Sayles' work, regardless of the content, provides sustainable job opportunities for Third World workers in need. Both men derive great satisfaction from their efforts despite, or maybe because of, unusual and exotic circumstances in the mix. Both have overcome initial uncertainty to establish themselves in their current jobs, relying on flexible yet determined attitudes toward change and people. To tell the truth, their enthusiasm and character, more so than their adventuresome tales of faraway lands, were the most stimulating aspects of interviewing Jarvis and Sayles.

As unusual and exotic as their jobs may be, their attitudes are familiar to anyone who has worked in the geospatial industry, which remains rich in inspiring people in any kind of economy.

Compu-Links' partner company in Bangladesh currently staffs two dozen trained GIS specialists.


CARE: Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc.

CIAT: International Center for Tropical Agriculture

DEM: Digital elevation model

UNICEF: United Nations Children's Fund

USAID: United States Agency for International Development

When the spatial analysis predicted high biodiversity in an area of the jungle safely accessible only with formal permission from a local drug czar, for instance, Jarvis simply requested an audience.

Jarvis' work is itself aimed at improving life on Earth whereas Sayles' work, regardless of the content, provides sustainable job opportunities for Third World workers in need.

Net Results columnist Jonathan W. Lowe is the owner of Local Knowledge Consulting (Berkeley,

California), where he designs and implements spatial Web sites. Lowe can be contacted at info@giswebsite.com.

Andy Jarvis can be reached at a.jarvis@cgiar.org. Drew Sayles can be reached at dsayles@compu-links.com

Copyright Advanstar Communications, Inc. Oct 2002

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; What RPCVs are doing; Special Interests - Business; COS - Nepal



By pushpa man shrestha ( on Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - 4:50 am: Edit Post

hello, peacecropsonline
this is pushpa man shrestha. i am graduates in the computer application and i want to explore in the field of GIS. so, what process should i have to fallow. would u please guide me a right direction.
thanking you,
pushpa man shrestha.

By himlalshrestha (proxy5.wlink.com.np - on Sunday, February 22, 2004 - 12:28 am: Edit Post

I am having M.Sc. Geoinformatics degree. I am interested to work in several developing countries as a expert of GIS, GPS, Remote Sensing on Forestry and its management. Any organizations are intereseted to digest me please contact at hlshrestha@hotmail.com. Thanking you.

Him Lal Shrestha
P. O. Box: 11430, DT-106, Kalanki Chowk
Kathmandu Nepal.

By pramod ( on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - 11:31 am: Edit Post

I am GIS and cartography expert.I am interested to work with reputed organization.Beside that I have completed my undergraduation on computer engineering.Please feel free to contact me mail{prmishra361@hotmail.com}

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