Demotech – design for self-reliance

Rope pump intake.*
Rope pump

I've spent the past week visiting Demotech in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Reinder van Tijen is the driving force behind Demotech, often working with his colleague Bram, and with interns. I'll be posting an interview with Reinder shortly, but first I want to introduce some of his work:

  • Rope pumps have been Reinder's main work - a tool for providing water with minimal materials and local construction and maintenance. And I can vouch that they're amazingly easy to operate. Where else but ropepumps.org?
  • DemoUnit carried home after a rally. Reinder at far right.*
    DemoUnit - light and portable
  • Need to display a sign? Mount posters or banners? DemoUnits put democratic free expression into appropriate technology: DemoUnits.net. These frames are not only a boon for activists, but can be used wherever you need a sturdy, lightweight frame. I've slept in a large one which was covered and used to create a bedroom within Demotech's warehouse space.
  • A hand-wash station for environments with limited water - improves hygiene without wasting water:  HY2U.org
  • One of Demotech's latest projects is a kind of appropriate technology hanging garden: Green4Equity.net. (I was confused by the name until I realized it's equity as in equality, not equity the finance term. D'oh.)
  • Want to delve deeper? At Demotech.org there are a range of designs, plus publications showing the thinking behind Demotech's work.

* Image credits: Rope pump intake via Crossroads. Image of DemoUnit taken by me (Chris Watkins), shared under CC-by-sa 3.0.

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Searching the green dev wikisphere

There is an ecosystem of wiki websites on sustainability, design and development issues.

Appropedia is a large and broad site; others include small but active communities and NGOs doing good, focused work (e.g. Greenlivingpedia and Akvopedia), wikis run by multilateral organizations (e.g. the UNDP's WaterWiki and the OECD's Wikiprogress and Wikigender), and (sadly) wikis where nothing has happened for years, and the community appears to have scattered.The ecosystem isn't exactly thriving - even when we're friendly (and we usually are) we don't talk and we don't share as much as we'd like.

As communities we want to collaborate and encourage each other, but as individuals we're busy - and I'm as guilty as anyone. What can help is just being aware of what is on other wiki sites - knowing of good wiki pages out there in the green wikisphere, to learn from, borrow from and link from our own pages. That can even lead to the odd bit of drive-by editing on another wiki - all the better.

To that end, here's a tool I've made: a search engine for green and development wikis.

It's a Google custom search of over 40 wiki sites. Apologies to the good wikis I haven't named in this blog post, but I hope you'll check that your site shows up in the search results.

If you want to who's writing about something on which wiki, this can help. The results are a little quirky, so allow a few seconds to scan the list to find what you want, and maybe try different search terms. Give it a try, and let me know.

May it add a little more unity to our wiki ecosystem.

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Wikiprogress

Introducing a series of guest posts from knowledge sharing projects aiming to build a better world.

Our first post is from Philippa Lysaght from Wikiprogress - looking at progress as more than just increasing GDP.


Wikiprogress logo

When Wikiprogress launched at the 2009 OECD World Forum, there was a lot of excitement and nervousness as to how the wiki platform would develop and foster the progress community. Almost two years on and Wikiprogress has grown to play a central role in the progress movement, with many lessons learnt on the challenges and opportunities wiki platforms present. We have gathered a few of the highlights from this experience so far, along with a little background info what Wikiprogress is and what it aims to achieve.

What is Wikiprogress?

Wikiprogress is an online platform centralizing data, information, initiatives, publications, events and networks that are part of the international movement to look beyond GDP in measuring the progress of societies.

In recent years, the shift from measuring economic production to wellbeing has gained a lot of support from organisations and governments around the world. National statistics offices, intergovernmental organisations, research networks, non-government organisations and interested individuals are working to develop new and existing measures of social, environmental and economic progress.

Wikiprogress aims to provide a platform for all parts of the progress community, citizens and policy makers alike, to develop information on measures of progress by creating a robust wiki of related research and statistics. In doing so, Wikiprogress aims to foster a web community around the vision of measuring progress and provide a platform for collaborative participation.

Why wiki?

In fostering the development of progress indicators, it is important to develop a conversation with all levels of society on what dimensions of progress are important to each community.

Joseph Stiglitz, a world-renowned economist and pioneer of the progress movement, has called for a ‘global dialogue’ on measuring progress: ‘part of the objective of rethinking our measurement systems is to generate a national and global dialogue on what we care about.’ (From Measuring Production to Measuring Well-being, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Presentation to the Productivity Commission, Melbourne, July 29, 2010)

The wiki platform ensures that all voices are heard in developing progress indicators, and more importantly, fosters a multidisciplinary community to work together.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Appropedia: Service learning in sustainable development

An academic paper in the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development reports on service learning with Appropedia as a platform.

It notes that contributing to sustainable development can be a way of improving students' academic skills - but this is expensive when it involves international travel, and as a result, few students have this experience.

The article describes two learning experiments with service learning programs based at and around the university, These experiments provided...

...solutions to sustainable development problems using Appropedia.org, the site for collaborative solutions in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development. The course successfully used Appropedia (1) as a forum for students who were geographically dispersed, (2) for a whole-class writing collaboration, (3) to coordinate a sustainability-focused outreach campaign to retrofit stop lights in communities throughout Pennsylvania and (4) to review class material with application to technologies for sustainable development.*

*Quoting from the abstract of Appropedia as a Tool for Service Learning in Sustainable Development by Prof Joshua Pearce of Queen's University.

More info about our learning programs:

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Will the World Bank go all “Wikipedia”?

The World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa, Shantayanan Devarajan, writes about using mobile phones for monitoring and transparency. It's good to see the World Bank looking seriously at the principles of open development.

He continues:

Each year, the World Bank produces a World Development Report. While there is an extensive consultation process with the draft, the Report is essentially written by a core team of Bank staff. Why not produce the report like Wikipedia, and invite the whole world to write it? As one of my colleagues put it, “Then it will be the World’s Development Report.”

And a fitting symbol of Development 3.0.

via Development 3.0 | End Poverty.

That would be exciting to see. The World Bank has recently opened its data to public use, but Devarajan's idea is several steps beyond that.

Here's a submission for the next step, that might take us a bit closer to Wiki World Development Reports: Open licenses on all World Bank content, scrapping the current restrictions on all past and future World Bank publications. Those restrictions may seem mild (no commercial use and no mention of permissions for derivatives) but they are not compatible with open licenses, meaning they do not support wider collaborative work, and have no place in Development 3.0. It's time to open up.

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Design for the Other Ninety Percent: A Revolution in Design

Paul Polak is a psychiatrist, social entrepreneur, advocate for the poor, and an advocate for doing business with the poor.

He has established businesses, including IDE (International Development Enterprises), to develop practical solutions to poverty by harnessing the power of markets.

By Paul Polak

Ninety percent of the world’s designers spend all their time working on solutions to the problems of the richest 10 percent of the world’s customers. A revolution in design is needed to reverse this silly ratio and reach the other 90 percent. In my book, Out of Poverty, I talk about how this can be done. I pull stories from some of the 17 million people I’ve help lift from poverty with the organization I founded 25 years ago, International Development Enterprises. More recently, we have incorporated an organization called D-Rev: Design for the Other Ninety Percent, whose mission is to create the design revolution.

Transport engineers work to create elegant shapes for modern cars while most of the people in the world dream of being able to buy a used bicycle. As designers make products more stylish, efficient, and durable, prices go up, but people with money are able and willing to pay. In contrast, the poor in developing countries—who outnumber their rich, urban counterparts by twenty to one—have only pennies to spend on hundreds of critical necessities. They are ready to make any reasonable compromise in quality for the sake of affordability, but nothing is available in the marketplace to meet their needs.

The fact that the work of modern designers has almost no impact on most of the people in the world is not lost on those entering the design field. Bernard Amadei, an engineering professor at University of Colorado in Boulder, tells me that engineering students all over the United States and Canada are flocking to take advantage of opportunities made available by organizations such as Engineers Without Borders to work on problems such as designing and building affordable rural water-supply systems in poor countries.

If students can make meaningful contributions to design for poor customers, why does this area continue to be ignored? Is it because it is much more difficult than designing for the rich? I don’t think so.

When I started IDE twenty-five years ago, poverty workers saw multinational corporations as evil oppressors of the poor, and business as the enemy. Now many see them as white knights ready to slay the poverty dragon. But a multinational corporation is inherently neither one of these. It is an organizational structure for doing business. If most multinationals continue to operate the way they do now, the belief that big business will end poverty will remain nothing more than a tantalizing myth. However, if they immerse themselves in the design revolution, viewing poor people as customers will become a profitable reality.

You don’t need a degree in engineering, architecture or business to learn how to talk with and listen to poor people as customers. I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years. The things they need are so simple and so obvious that it is relatively easy to come up with new, income-generating products for which they are happy to pay. But these products have to be cheap enough to be affordable to the poor.

After speaking with poor people, discoveries of critical, affordable products and services that D-Rev: Design for the Other 90%, IDE and a few other organizations are developing. Here are some examples:

  • A global franchise business providing clean water for poor families. Recent development of a simple process creating water-purifying chlorine compounds by running a small electric current through salt water provides an opportunity to generate 5,000 liters of potable water a day, with a retail value in the range of $250, at a franchised kiosk requiring a capital investment in the range of $500, and a daily electricity cost in the range of 30 cents.
  • LED lights to replace kerosene lamps and candles. There are more than a billion people in the world who will never connect to the electric-power grid who would be interested in buying a ten-dollar solar lantern, made possible by advances in light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
  • Motorized rope-and-washer pumps for irrigation. Rope-and-washer pumps provide affordable water-lifting. Because it is difficult to use human power alone to lift the volumes of water required for irrigation, rope-and-washer pumps combined with microdiesel engines have potential to irrigate high-value crops from deeper water sources.
  • Lower-cost wind and solar pumping systems. Photovoltaics and wind energy have been too expensive for small farms, but ways of concentrating solar energy and making more-affordable windmills hold promise for small-acreage farmers.
  • Larger low-cost drip systems with pre-installed emitters. The dramatic drop in price for drip irrigation has made it profitable for small-acreage farmers to use drip systems on lower-value crops such as cotton and sugar cane, and some of them are even irrigating alfalfa for their milk buffaloes. I believe that low-cost drip systems like those developed by IDE will, over the next ten years, take over the majority of the world market for drip irrigation.

There is an even longer list for a range of consumer goods that poor people are eager to buy when they increase their income, and people who earn two to six dollars a day are ready to buy now. This includes the billion or so people who would be customers for two-dollar eyeglasses if somebody would design an effective global distribution and marketing system for them.

Designing products that are attractive to poor customers requires a revolution in the design process. My dream is to implement four initiatives at the same time:

  1. Transform the way design is taught in developed countries, to embrace design for the other 90 percent of the world’s population.
  2. Transform the way design is taught in developing countries, to embrace design for the other 90 percent of the world’s people.
  3. Establish a platform for ten thousand or more of the world’s best designers to develop practical solutions to the real-life problems of poor people.
  4. Give birth to international for-profit companies that profitably mass-market to poor customers critical technologies such as two-dollar eyeglasses.

Thinking of poor people as customers instead of as recipients of charity radically changes the design process. Poor persons won’t invest in a product or service unless the designer knows enough about the preferences of poor people to create something they value. The process of affordable design starts by learning everything there is to learn about poor people as customers, along with what they are able and willing to pay for something that meets their needs.

I keep asking why 90 percent of the world’s designers work exclusively on products for the richest 10 percent of the world’s customers. Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, was once asked why he robbed banks.

“Because that’s where the money is,” he said.

I suspect my question about the world’s designers has exactly the same answer.

I have no problem with people who make money by designing products for the rich. My friend Mike Keiser, with no more professional training than his love of golf and nature, designed a golf course and resort—Bandon Dunes, on a spectacular section of Oregon coastline—that quickly became the number-two golf destination in America. Such entrepreneurial brilliance deserves to be rewarded.

What astonishes me is that the huge, unexploited market that includes billions of poor customers continues to be ignored by designers and the companies for which they work. In this, however, they are following a well-established tradition.

Think about this. If 100 million small-acreage farmers around the world each bought a quarter-acre drip system for 50 dollars—a total investment on their part of over 5 billion dollars—it would amount to more than ten times the current annual global sales of drip-irrigation equipment. These 100 million small-plot farmers could put 10 million additional hectares under drip irrigation and increase current global acreage under drip irrigation by a factor of five.

It’s laudable that a small but growing group of designers is beginning to develop affordable products because they want to improve the lives of the world’s poor. But I think that the best and most sustainable engine for driving the process of designing cheap is this:

Because that’s where the money will be.

Multinational corporations can make dramatic contributions to the end of poverty and, at the same time, to their own bottom-line profits, but that too will take a revolution in how they define, price, and deliver their products. In spite of the fact that Johnson and Johnson, a company in the international pharmaceuticals business, has presence and manufacturing capability in India, the company has not introduced Tylenol, a major profit-maker in developed markets, to India. Why not? Because they don’t think they can make an attractive profit doing so. But implementing a price structure and a marketing-and-distribution strategy that compete in the Indian marketplace would be likely to produce attractive profits from higher volume even with lower-margin sales. It would also allow J and J to manufacture Tylenol at a lower price in India and export it to other countries

To expand rapidly and scale the products mentioned earlier into a flood of wealth-creating business opportunities, a new movement is needed to harness the energy of successful business leaders motivated to make a difference in the world, and of corporations familiar with the demands of high-end markets and the ways to gain access to them. We need nothing less than a new generation of successful enterprises linking the low-cost labor of the residents of slums to the high-end markets of the world where they can sell their products and services at a reasonable profit. Only then, will we see the revolution.
-Paul Polak

Excerpt with permission from an article in the Philadelphia Enquirer 2008
the full article is available here. More about Paul Polak and his work, including, by request of his followers, recent blog entries expanding on his theories: www.paulpolak.com

Licensing note: By agreement with Paul Polak, this post is also licensed under this blog's standard CC-BY-SA license.

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Do you think it’s time to support a humanitarian wiki?

It's funny how a contentious question for one person seems like a no-brainer for another. It doesn't tell you who's right or wrong (it's rarely black and white) but it can reveal the different assumptions we operate by.

When Paul Currion asked Do you think it's time for a humanitarian wiki? my own thought was "What do you think we've been doing?"

Appropedia has been a humanitarian wiki since 2006, covering mainly the technical aspects of development and relief work (particularly appropriate technology). Increasingly this collaboratively built knowledge base has been covering the essential social and cultural questions as well - culture and community, and principles of development.

So the real question is "Do you think it's time to support this work?" Relief workers with your personal checklists and guidelines that are your tools of the trade - what's stopping you from sharing these, and helping others be more effective aid workers? How about asking your organization to adopt an open license policy, even a policy of actively sharing their knowledge resources through Appropedia?

Your mission is to save lives and relieve suffering. Effective knowledge sharing, using an acknowledged, accessible platform,  is an essential part of that.

Do you think it's time?

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Gender in development – part 1

The Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa has a "Brothers for Life" campaign -  using 'real men' as models to start a conversation about men helping to be responsible for their partners' and children's health.

As workers and activists in the world of gender sometimes emphasize: 'gender' being not just about women.

Having lived in a heavily patriarchal society, and seen patriarchs wield power over the women in their households, I believe that having an unjust society with power imbalances makes life miserable for everyone. Women generally get a far, far worse deal - but finding ways to put these things behind us is a win for society, not just for one part of it.

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A future for conferences

Mark Charmer of Akvo, the innovative water knowledge organization, gives a scathing assessment of big conferences attended by important people.

Mark recalls watching a member of royalty

tell an audience of several thousand water experts, under the watchful eye of the media, that access to clean water was vital to everyone, rich and poor. The air of resonance chamber was overwhelming – two hours x 2,000 people is 4,000 hours of expert time wasted on a series of statements that everyone in the room already knew.

Mark then gives a generous interpretation of this, and a cynical one.

He goes on to talk about the near-complete lack of innovation at these events:

In a session on innovation, I was asked for my impressions. I was scathing. As intimidating as it was impersonal, apart from the presence of mobile phones, I didn’t see anything happening around me that couldn’t have happened here in 1969. Where was the innovation? ... Worse was what I didn’t see – there were not many people demonstrating new, low cost technologies, one of the things we care most about at Akvo.

Of course, there are better, more open ways of doing things, including the BarCamp approach to conferences, and Mark gives some specific ideas in his post. Read the whole post on the Akvo blog.

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Solar hot water in the developing world – why so rare?

There’s a big need for low cost, effective solar hot water designs. This is not just a matter of saving money (and of course all the other benefits of saving energy, like saving the planet). Many people around the world do not have hot water on tap, and would benefit from easier washing of clothes and dishes, not to mention that it's just much more pleasant with hot water (why should rich people have all the luxuries?)

We have some work detailed on Appropedia, which were built in Parras, Mexico. But we need much more, and we need super-simple how-tos. These are largely sunny places - even a black pipe lying in the sun will create hot water. But what is the most hot water, and the most straightforward, reliable product that someone can get for the money they spend?

One challenge that faces such countries is that they often have fossil fuel subsidies, especially those countries that are traditional oil-producers. Solar loses much of its economic advantage when dirty fuel gets a perverse subsidy. Changing someone’s thinking to save a very small amount of money is hard. But with other angles to complement the economic incentives, there is hope. Get kids involved - get the ideas taught in the schools. Emphasize the green side of things, the benefits for their children, and make the designs freely available in people’s own language. None of these are enough on their own, but add “and you save a little money” - and maybe it will all add up.

These thoughts triggered by:Why Isn’t Solar Energy being used in Egypt! by solarkent

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