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Leaving a Lasting Impact

Ever since watching Kevin Starr who is the director of the Mulago Foundation, and his explanation on how not to save the world (see the video below).  It has really changed my perception on how I view these miracle technologies that promise to help improve the lives of people in the poorest countries. 

There are a lot of great ideas but are just not practical for the people, culture, or environment that they're targeted at.  They're either too expensive, too complex or don't meet all the needs of the group that they're meant to help.

The Mulago Foundation believes all projects need to answer four questions: Is it needed? Does it work? Will it get to those who need it? Will they use it correctly when they get it?  Too many bad ideas are using up limited available resources.

Designing for the Other 90%

If we want to change the lives of people in the poorest countries and leave a lasting impact to improve their lives. We need to find technologies that actually fix a major problem, that are inexpensive to produce, and easy to maintain.  This involves designing products for the other 90% of the world population that doesn't live in a affluent economy.

If they don't fix a major problem then there is no market for it.  If its too expensive, the billions of people that live on a dollar or two per day can't afford it.  If there are no resources to maintain a technology, then as soon it breaks it can become useless (unless its inexpensive to replace). 

Ideally you want to create a product that creates a support industry (manufacturing, sales and repair) for the people who use it.  This way you're creating jobs, changing lives, and creating the ability to maintain that product that people buy.

The cell phone is a good example of a technology that is used all over the world and changes lives.  In the U.S. we treat these devices as being disposable, and many people get rid of their old phones after a few years or after their contract runs out and buy a new one.  In other parts of the world there whole industries that repair and maintain phones that we would throw away.

Paul Polak - PopTech 2007
Video Description: From his extensive experiences working with the poor of the developing world, Paul Polak has learned a lot about effective market-based approaches to alleviating poverty. He argues that in order to be successful, solutions must be simple, inexpensive, easy to reproduce, and most important, respond to the expressed needs of the people they are meant to benefit.

Sheila Kennedy - PopTech 2007
Video Description: Most of us wouldn’t see anything remarkable about a cell phone battery, a dishwasher switch and the light from a crosswalk signal. But Sheila Kennedy reveals how the combination of these common items can create something groundbreaking: portable, durable, reliable lighting for the third world.

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement
Video Description: In Rajasthan, India, an extraordinary school teaches rural women and men -- many of them illiterate -- to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors in their own villages. It's called the Barefoot College, and its founder, Bunker Roy, explains how it works. 

Here is another video of
Bunker Roy from PopTech in 2005, it contains a lot of similar information, but there are some more stories and information not contained in the other video.

Adam Grosser and his sustainable fridge
Video Description: Adam Grosser talks about a project to build a refrigerator that works without electricity -- to bring the vital tool to villages and clinics worldwide. Tweaking some old technology, he's come up with a system that works.

Solar Cooker
Video Description: Cook foods using sun light, and you don't pay electricity, parafine, or firewood, and making it all a lot cheaper. That's the promise of the solar cookers implemented by a South African company called Sunfire. They have been doing that for the last five years, and Sunfire is starting an NGO to distribute thousands of dishes across the African continent. All it needs is good old sunshine.

Neil Gershenfeld: The beckoning promise of personal fabrication
Video Description: MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld talks about his Fab Lab -- a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It's a simple idea with powerful results.

Open-sourcing the blueprints of civilization: Marcin Jakubowski

Video Description: Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).  More information at

R.A. Mashelkar: Breakthrough designs for ultra-low-cost products
Video Description: Engineer RA Mashelkar shares three stories of ultra-low-cost design from India that use bottom-up rethinking, and some clever engineering, to bring expensive products (cars, prosthetics) into the realm of the possible for everyone.

Anil Gupta: India's hidden hotbeds of invention
Video Description: Anil Gupta is on the hunt for the developing world's unsung inventors -- indigenous entrepreneurs whose ingenuity, hidden by poverty, could change many people's lives. He shows how the Honey Bee network helps them build the connections they need -- and gain the recognition they deserve.

INKtalks: Mansukhbhai Prajapati: Making earth look cool
Video Description: Mansukhbhai R Prajapati was born in Nichimandal village in Gujarat in a family of potters and terracotta craftsmen. Being the eldest among four siblings, he became the helmsman of his family and its craft legacy. Despite financial constraints, Mansukhbhai's parents managed to educate him till high school. He has developed an entire range of earthen products for daily use in the kitchen. These products include water filters, refrigerators, hot plates, a cooker and other such items of daily use.

Product: Mitticool a water filter/refrigerator, that doesn't require any type of power or electricity

Arvind Gupta: Toys from trash for learning
Video Description: Arvind Gupta shares simple yet stunning plans for turning trash into seriously entertaining, well-designed toys that kids can build themselves. Listen for innovative ideas for kids to make their own toys while learning basic principles of science and design.

Elora Hardy: Building a sustainable (bamboo) future
Video Description: Elora Hardy had it all as a designer working for Donna Karan in New York, with her prints walking the world's runways. She left it all to return to Bali and build a sustainable construction company. Hardy builds visually stunning homes out of bamboo, fantasy abodes that look derived from Hollywood movie sets. In this striking talk, Hardy explains the versatility and durability of bamboo, and convinces us all to become advocates of bamboo as the choice building material for construction in the tropics.