Category: Affordable Technology -
30 September 2013
Michael Roberts from iDE Cambodia will be attending and presenting at Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) 4th Annual Meeting, 2013.
The conference theme for this year is the Role of Private Sector and Producer Organizations in Rural Advisory Services and will be held September 24-26 in Berlin, Germany
Monday 23rd September 13:30 – 15:45 (CEST)
Swiss Forum on Rural Advisory Services (SFRAS) Side Event: Embedded services as modality for sustainable RAS
Case studies based on the experience of SFRAS members are presented that demonstrate the diversity of Rural Advisory Services provision in the form of embedded services as an approach for sustainability. Key themes addressed include:
- Embedding advisory services with input sales, processing and marketing
- Financial and ecological sustainability
- Comparative importance of embedded services in a pluralistic advisory services
Michael Roberts from iDE Cambodia will present the case study of the Farm Business Advisor model that embeds sales of quality agricultural inputs with professional training and support through ethical, relationship-based sales.
Peter Schmidt from Helvetas Swiss Interco-operation will moderate the session that will also feature case studies from CABI, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and Helvetas’ experiences in Bangladesh and Tanzania.
Tuesday 24th September 12:00 – 12:50 (CEST)
Parallel Session: Sustainability and cost-effectiveness in private sector and producer organizations
Michael Roberts will share lessons learnt from the Farm Business Advisor model developed by iDE in Cambodia and currently being rolled out by iDE programs in Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique and Nepal. Michael will be joined in the session by Stefan Kachelriess-Matthess from GIZ-Compaci and Souvanthong Namvong from the Department of Agriculture Extension and Cooperatives. The aim of this session is to identify sustainable and cost-effective approaches to providing rural advisory services, identify opportunities for transferability and garner lessons from existing public-private partnerships.
See photos on our Facebook page.
More details at, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services.
6 September 2013
Horticultural production is the main activity during dry season in Burkina Faso (October to June), a country where agriculture is the main sector of the economy, it employs 80% of the population. In the context of water scarcity that faces the Sahelian region, drip irrigation technology is one of the best alternatives to develop horticulture and enhance rural population income. iDE Burkina is developing the market of drip irrigation technology with a social entrepreneurial model to increase smallholder farmers’ income. One main constraints in developing iDE’s activities is access to finance for the poorest farmers and particularly women small-scale farmers. Smallholder farmers interested in purchasing drip irrigation kits do not have the access to financial means to secure loans from local banks.
17 October 2012
photo by David Graham
For the first time in Asia, a sustainable and market-based water filtration business has been registered under the voluntary Gold Standard scheme, and will benefit from carbon offset funding, illustrating that carbon markets can support sustainable technologies that improve the lives of poor populations. iDE’s Cambodian social enterprise, Hydrologic, manufactures ceramic water purifiers which provide clean water to rural households, reduce the amount of wood burned to boil water, create local jobs, and bolster economic development. Hydrologic was recently named winner of a 2012 Ashden Award. Start-up resources for Hydrologic came from several sources including the USAID WaterSHED project in form of grants and technical assistance.
Nearly 40% of rural Cambodians still have no access to safe drinking water. Untreated water and poor sanitation result in about 10 million cases of diarrhea and 10,000 deaths per year in Cambodia, mainly affecting children in rural areas. iDE’s Hydrologic produces and sells ceramic water filters that provide safe drinking water to rural households of Cambodia. By displacing water boiling practices, the filters allow Cambodian households to avoid the unsustainable burning of 18,000 tons of wood per year, saving 41,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. Thanks to this impressive environmental impact, the project has completed its registration under the voluntary Gold Standard scheme, an award winning certification standard for carbon mitigation projects.
The project has two major features:
• It uses a market based approach: Hydrologic Social Enterprise believes that sustainable business is a powerful way to provide clean water for as many people as possible. It created a market for water purifiers in Cambodia by selling affordable filters to NGO programs, and via shops and rural sales agents. Households benefit from a low cost water filtration technology, and the local economy is bolstered by the establishment of production and distribution facilities.
• Carbon offsets ensure a sustainable business model, as the carbon revenue is directly re-invested into further scaling up project activities.
Hydrologic joined Nexus, a nonprofit cooperative of NGOs and social enterprises that scale up development solutions by leveraging sustainable funding from the sale of high-quality carbon offsets, a concept referred to as “Carbon for Development.” Nexus provided financial and technical assistance with the carbon certification process, and is supporting the commercialization of carbon credits by engaging companies and public institutions on a fair approach to offsetting.
Hydrologic’s sustainable business model and its numerous benefits for the environment have also attracted private sector support. An impact investor, Impact Finance, provided a loan to support the development of the project, and a multinational company, Deutsche Post DHL, has committed to purchase carbon credits originating from the project.
2 July 2012
Ms. Aida Ganaba, head of iDE’s Technology Center, talks about drip irrigation innovations at the first anniversary celebration.
On June 12, iDE’s newest country program celebrated an important milestone. iDE’s Burkina Faso team was joined by esteemed delegates from the Burkina Faso Ministry of Agriculture at a ceremony to observe the first harvest at the Center of Technology at Yamtenga. Speakers included several key iDE Burkina Faso staff, as well as Abdoulaye Compari from the Ministry of Agriculture, and Paul Bayili, who spoke on behalf of SDC on the importance of the partnership to advancing drip irrigation in the country. The event was attended by representatives of key partners including SDC, AFD, CIDA, GIZ, JICA, UNICEF, Swedish Corporation, FAO, WFP and IFAD. Various NGOs including Self-Help Africa, ACDI/VOCA, SNV, PlanetFinance, and HKI helped us to mark the occasion.
iDE Burkina Country Director Laurent Stravato discussed the organization’s efforts to implement low-cost drip irrigation technologies in a region with severely limited water resources, setting forth three issues which iDE has been working on in Burkina Faso: scaling up drip irrigation in the region, developing innovations to make it more affordable to Burkinabé farmers, and iDE Burkina’s distribution model and the advisory role of twelve farm business advisors currently working in four provinces of the country: Boulkiemdé, Kadiogo, Sanguié, and Yatenga.
Ms. Aida Ganaba, head of iDE’s Technology Center, explained in detail the work being done with drip irrigation kits of varying sizes as well various innovative prototypes being tested at the Center, such as a 1000-liter, ferro-cement reservoir, a 150 liter clay jar constructed by local masons, and a wood support system housing a 1,000 liter tank, created by an iDE farm business advisor.
iDE Burkina’s Center of Technology was created to serve as a facility where affordable water technologies could be developed, tested, and demonstrated to local farmers. The team faced many challenges in getting the center underway, including poor soil quality, the 400 meter distance from the nearest water source, abundance of plant disease, and a need for system uniformity. Addressing these problems, which are shared by many of the farmers iDE serves, has helped validate the effectiveness of drip irrigation in the local context.
iDE Burkina Faso’s business model builds upon the successful Farm Business Advisor program, originally piloted by iDE Cambodia. iDE Burkina employs twelve farm business advisors who act as liaisons between iDE and the small producer. Located throughout each of the 4 current project areas, they provide demonstration sites for technologies, after-sales assistance, and a focal point for the smallholder farmer customers. They also direct potential customers to distributors and dealers who specialize in iDE drip irrigation kit sales.
The Center also functions as a base for development of rural marketing strategies, including publicity panels, t-shirts, and informational documents. Other activities, such as engaging local theater to promote the use of drip irrigation technologies, are planned and implemented here. “Why is it that products such as soft drinks and telephones are so well advertised in rural markets, while products used to better the lives of smallholder farmers, such as drip irrigation, are not as well advertised?” asked Program Officer Sean McKinlay.
Perhaps most importantly, the Center of Technology is a functioning farm. Mr. Désiré Yerbanga, Business Development Manager, presented economic results of the Technology Center’s inaugural harvest. In a single 3-month production cycle, 378 kilograms of okra were harvested from a 200 square meter plot, netting 36,000 F CFA with one month in the harvest still remaining. A similar return for the two remaining cycles in the year is expected, for a total return of 108,000 F CFA on an initial investment of 50,000 F CFA. That same 3-month production cycle also yielded a 90 kilogram peanut harvest netting another 36,000 F CFA. In addition, iDE has found that substantial farm income can be earned from the sale of peanut leaves, thus shedding light on the need to look more closely at potential markets for agricultural by-products.
As iDE’s first francophone country program, Burkina Faso has achieved important initial success in reducing market prices for technology, reducing producer labor, and achieving substantial gains in time and revenue for smallholder farmers in its first year.
iDE Burkina Faso has experienced challenges in creating partnerships with micro-credit institutions and finding local partners to assist with product transformation. iDE Burkina Faso continues to adapt and grow accordingly, and as such the June 12 ceremony represents an important opening for drip irrigation in the country. The presence of the government, donors, and all major media outlets there presented an especially strong case to the public.
31 May 2012
iDE Cambodia Director, Michael Roberts meets HRH Prince Charles prior to receiving Ashden Award on behalf of iDE/Hydrologic. (Photo: Andrew Aitchison/Ashden Awards)
We are very proud to announce that iDE’s social enterprise spinoff Hydrologic has been named winner at the 2012 Ashden Awards.
The Ashden Awards, given by The Ashden Trust, recognize and reward pioneering enterprises that share the Ashden vision of promoting “sustainable energy for all”.
Created in 2001, the event aims to raise awareness of the huge potential of sustainable energy to both tackle climate change and improve the quality of people’s lives.
The annual awards ceremony was held on May 30th at the Royal Geographical Society in London. iDE Cambodia Director Michael Roberts accepted the award on behalf of Hydrologic. Shortlisted in January, Hydrologic was announced as one of seven finalists for its energy saving ceramic water purifier.
Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, Director General of UNIDO and Chair of UN-ENERGY presents iDE Cambodia Director, Michael Roberts with 2012 Ashden Award. (Photo: Andrew Aitchison/Ashden Awards)
Roberts said: “In Establishing Hydrologic, iDE set out to deliver clean water solutions to base-of-the-pyramid customers, creating social and environmental benefits while at the same time being financially self-sustaining. Our aim is not only that Hydrologic reaches this goal, but also to prove a concept that entices other market players to replicate and improve on what we have done.
“Winning this Ashden Award gives us a significant boost toward ensuring Hydrologic’s success and a magnificent platform for sharing our experience more broadly.”
Since its inception in 2001, iDE’s ceramic water filter project in Cambodia has manufactured and sold more than 230,000 filters, transforming the lives of thousands of poor rural households. The project has been supported by US$ 1.9M in grants from numerous donors. Half of that amount was from WaterSHED, a USAID program that facilitated the project’s transition to an independent social enterprise.
More on the 2012 Ashden Awards:
Read more about iDE and Hydrologic’s nomination at Ashden.org >
Download the full Ashden case study on the project >
16 April 2012
On Friday April 13, iDE was selected as the winner of the Wharton School’s inaugural Barry and Marie Lipman Family Prize for our innovative, market based water, sanitation & hygiene projects. We’re extremely honored to be the first recipient of this prestigious award!
Here’s a short video produced for the award ceremony:
Lipman Prize Winner: iDE
And here’s the official press release:
Philadelphia, PA, April 13, 2012 – The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania announced today the winner of its inaugural Barry & Marie Lipman Family Prize – iDE, a social enterprise that has pioneered innovative, market-based approaches to safe water and sanitation access. Chosen from hundreds of organizations worldwide devoted to social impact and building sustainable solutions for social and economic challenges, iDE received $100,000 and bragging rights at a gala marking the event’s culmination last night at the Wharton School. iDE and the two other finalist organizations, KOMAZA, a pioneering forestry social enterprise, and MedShare, a distributor of surplus medical supplies, will all profit from unprecedented, synergistic opportunities with Penn and Wharton.
“The $100,000 is one thing but the partnership with Penn and Wharton is just absolutely outstanding,” said Cordell Jacks, the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) Program Co-Director at iDE. “We really believe that we’re going to change the world with toilets and we think that a partnership here is going to bring together great people, creative ideas and really solve a global public health challenge, something that is very finite and can be achieved in our lifetime. So it’s just really exciting to do this together with the University.”
About the 2012 Lipman Family Prize Winner:
iDE is an international nonprofit organization helping poor rural households in the developing world to access the tools and knowledge they need to increase their income. iDE’s productive water solutions create and increase both food production and incomes, and with innovative drinking water and sanitation technologies, iDE gives rural households the basis for healthier and more dignified livelihoods.
iDE’s involvement with improved sanitation began in Cambodia, which has 16 percent sanitation coverage. Cambodia has the second to worst rural sanitation coverage outside of Africa, at only eight percent. Furthermore, Cambodia loses approximately seven percent of its GDP, USD $448 million per year, due to poor sanitation. iDE Cambodia’s Sanitation Marketing Program (SanMark) recently reached the milestone of 10,000 latrines sold and, in 2011, the organization was awarded a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Stone Family Foundation and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) to scale the SanMark approach nationally in Cambodia, targeting an additional 160,000 households. Building further on these successes in Cambodia, iDE has recently secured funding for WaSH activities in Bangladesh and Nepal with a $400,000 UNICEF-funded scoping and piloting project utilizing the model and support of iDE Cambodia to promote both water filters and low cost, sanitary latrines.
About the Lipman Family Prize:
Currently in its inaugural year, the annual Lipman Family Prize has been made possible by a $6.5 million gift from Wharton alumnus Barry R. Lipman and his wife, Marie.
“For more than ten years, I have had a strong desire to impact the non-profit/social responsibility sector,” said Barry R. Lipman, co-founder of California law firm Goldfarb Lipman. “Through a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School, my dream has been realized with the awarding of the first Lipman Family Prize. Penn and I eagerly look forward to annually honoring an organization whose mission is to improve the lives of those less fortunate.”
Administered by the University of Pennsylvania through the Wharton School, the Lipman Family Prize is governed by an interdisciplinary Steering Committee comprised of faculty, and staff from across the University of Pennsylvania, drawing upon the expertise of such entities as the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and the School of Social Policy and Practice.
The selection of Prize finalists involved a Student Selection Committee that reviewed initial submissions and conducted the due diligence process under staff guidance, and a Prize Committee that selected the finalists and chose the winner.
“This is the beginning of a long partnership with iDE, KOMAZA and MedShare as new members of the Wharton and Penn community,” said Thomas S. Robertson, the dean of the Wharton School. “The possibilities of these cross-sector collaborations are powerful and we look forward to our ongoing role in fostering sustainable new solutions for the advancement of society as a whole.”
For more information on the 2012 Lipman Family Prize and to view videos from the March 2012 site visits to the three finalist organizations, visit www.wharton.upenn.edu/lipmanfamilyprize.
21 November 2011
From iDE CEO Al Doerksen, on World Toilet Day 2011
In one of my former lives, I (and my family) spent three years in India. Our work took us all over the country, both urban and rural areas. I still remember driving the country roads in the dusk of early evenings, and seeing sari-clad women walking along the road with brass containers in their hands. They were headed out to the fields to the privacy afforded by the darkness so they could finally, at the end of the day, perform their daily ablutions, as they were called. Somehow they had waited the entire day before they could finally seek relief.
Talk about defecation, taking a crap, or taking a shit is not polite dinner-time conversation. It may not even be polite for a blog seeking readers who appreciate a measure of respectability. But that is part of the problem. Even though most of us hope for the regularity which allows for a daily movement of our bowels, it is not usual to discuss it. And the fact that we don’t talk about or even acknowledge that we did or didn’t crap today has contributed to not addressing the problem of one billion people who still defecate in the open every day! We are going to have to start talking about this so we can get on to addressing the issue.
iDE has been involved in sanitation marketing in Vietnam and Cambodia for several years, and successfully so, but I wasn’t always been convinced that iDE with its income creation mission should be involved in water & sanitation programs. I have changed my mind. I’ll tell you why.
It’s a health issue. Open defecation and unsanitary latrines are a huge source of fecal matter in food which then leads to diarrheal disease. Never mind the inconvenience this causes adults, diarrheal disease kills more than 1.5 million children a year! It’s incredibly sad to lose a little person in this way! The grandfather in me can easily identify with this pain.
It’s a women’s issue. Women should not have to suffer the indignity, the inconvenience and the personal safety risks associated with open (field) defecation. They should also not have to wait until nightfall to deal with their daily physical routines.
It’s a children’s issue. Chronic diarrhea can hinder child development by impeding the uptake of essential nutrients that are critical to the development of children’s minds, bodies, and immune systems. Reduced incidence of diarrhea has the effect of increasing school attendance, especially for girls.
It’s an economic issue. In a recent policy statement, the Gates Foundation estimated that the economic benefits of improved sanitation can reach $9 for every dollar invested by increasing people’s productivity, reducing healthcare costs, and preventing illness, disability, and early death. For an organization like iDE with a focus on creating income opportunities, this is huge.
It’s a market opportunity. Several years ago, iDE Vietnam engaged in a project to help local suppliers construct and supply low cost latrines through the local market place. A post-project evaluation conducted 3 years after the close of the project showed that high latrine sales rates continued even though the project was long over. More recently, iDE Cambodia working with an IDEO product designer developed a simple, award winning “easy latrine.” In the first year after this was introduced to local producers and marketers, more than 10,000 units were sold and installed (and are now in daily use). These units sell because they align with the value structure of our customers.
iDE is gratified to report that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Stone Family Foundation, and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program have recognized iDE’s leadership and proficiency in sanitation marketing with $6 million in grant funding to expand our work in Southeast Asia. We are poised to also move into Nepal, Bangladesh, and several African markets.
19 November 2011
Lack of access to sanitation is a major problem affecting the developing world. Poor sanitation is a major cause of diarrheal disease, lost labor productivity for adults, missed school days for children, and additional financial burdens for families requiring medical treatment. In Cambodia alone, diarrheal diseases account for 17 percent of deaths in children under five. The World Bank recently estimated the annual economic loss due to poor sanitation there to be $448 million a year, which is equivalent to 7.2 percent of GDP.
Existing markets for rural sanitation in the developing world are woefully underdeveloped. Low demand and weak supply chains hinder the availability of sanitation products and services. Publicly funded sanitation projects often make extensive use of hardware subsidies with disappointing results; typically, only a fraction of the subsidy reaches the intended target group, and recipients often do not use or maintain their latrines over time.
For a number of years now in Asia, iDE has been at the forefront of Sanitation Marketing developments to address these challenges. iDE recently completed a pilot project in Cambodia that exceeded expectations by enabling 9.6 percent of the rural population to purchase sanitary latrines in eleven target districts over a 16-month period.
Now, a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made it possible to expand these achievements on a national scale, improving the sanitation conditions of tens of thousands of rural households while stimulating vibrant and sustainable sanitation markets. Over a three-year period, the Cambodia Sanitation Marketing Scale-Up Project will build on the original pilot project by working directly with some 90 local enterprises, encouraging them to invest their own resources into addressing the demand for sanitary latrines.
The project will enable 115,000 households in 60 districts of Cambodia to purchase affordable sanitary latrines. Other outcomes include:
• Improved latrine designs for two “challenging environments”
• Sanitation financing mechanisms for consumer households and supply chain enterprises
• A research and training center to become a global dissemination platform for Sanitation Marketing experience
The total cost of the project is estimated at $6,942,199. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded iDE a grant of $3,987,717. Other key partners in the project include the Stone Family Foundation, the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program, PATH, and the Royal Government of Cambodia.
Sanitation Marketing has emerged as a highly effective approach for rapidly and sustainably improving rural sanitation at scale by connecting consumers with products that they want and can afford. Evidence from a number of recent projects demonstrates that stimulating private enterprises to address the untapped rural sanitation market can have a revolutionary impact on the uptake of sanitary latrines—with associated health and financial gains for rural households.
The Sanitation Marketing model leverages the advantages of private sector entities, civil society, and government to reach large numbers of rural households in short time frames. Donor funds are not used to provide direct subsidies for hardware or installation. Instead they are invested in laying the foundations for demand-driven, self-financing market systems.
Broadly, Sanitation Marketing applies iDE’s market-based poverty alleviation approach to the related problem of inadequate sanitation. First, we develop a deep understanding of the target group’s needs and aspirations, and adapt or design affordable technology options to meet those needs. We strengthen the capacity of local enterprises to manufacture and deliver the technologies, conduct social marketing campaigns to encourage the purchase and proper use of the technologies, and coordinate with NGOs, microfinance institutions, and government agencies to extend scale and to reach poorer households.
27 September 2011
On September 22, the inaugural iDE Paul Polak Award for Social Innovation was given to its namesake at a gala event marking the close of the Design for the Other 90% exhibit at RedLine Gallery in Denver, Colorado. The well-attended event celebrated Polak’s contributions to the bottom of the pyramid design movement. Speakers included artist and RedLine founder Laura Merage, Ball Aerospace President and CEO David Taylor, iDE CEO Al Doerksen, and Metropolitan Homes President and CEO Peter Kudla.
The iDE Paul Polak Award for Social Innovation honors the important legacy of Paul Polak, whose work has inspired millions of the world’s poorest people to become entrepreneurs; increasing their income and livelihoods, and enabling them to live a life beyond subsistence poverty. This award will be presented annually to a deserving individual social innovator or organization that has significantly advanced design focusing on the “other 90%,” or otherwise demonstrated significant impact using principles articulated by Paul Polak throughout his career. In subsequent years, iDE will select a jury of industry leaders and development practitioners to review nominations, and select the award recipient from that pool of nominees.
Attendees gather at RedLine under a canopy of Nokero solar-powered light bulbs
Paul Polak answers questions with a donkey, which represents his first income enhancing design project, an affordable donkey cart sold in Somalian refugee camps.
iDE CEO Al Doerksen with Paul Polak's wife, Aggie
Ball Aerospace President and CEO Dave Taylor presents the award
Al Doerksen comments on Paul's legacy
Paul Polak and Metropolitan Homes President and CEO Peter Kudla
27 July 2011
From Paul Polak’s Blog, guest blogger Kali Friedmann gives an overview of the Design for the Other 90%, with some ideas about how to (and how not to) design for the developing world:
“Design for the Other 90%” Comes to Denver
By Kali Friedmann
The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit has arrived at RedLine Gallery in downtown Denver, showcasing products designed explicitly to fit the needs and circumstances of the world’s poorest customers – the “other 90%” who are bypassed by current design processes.
The exhibit, organized in part by International Development Enterprises (iDE), showcases products from an array of designers, engineers, and organizations focused on development, including the Design Revolution (D-REV), the non-profit technology incubator co-founded by Paul Polak. D-REV is an outgrowth of Dr. Polak’s vision of fomenting a revolution in how companies design, price, market, and distribute their products, to produce radically affordable income generating technologies for customers living on less than $4 a day.
Products like D-REV’s Jaipur Knee (a simple prosthetic knee that costs $25 to make and retails for $80) and low-cost ceramic water filters from iDE and other organizations, help illustrate the types of technologies that – at the right price and combined with appropriate mechanisms for marketing and distribution – have the potential to leverage the power of the market to reach large-scale impact.
Kamal using the Jaipur Knee (YouTube)
True to RedLine’s mission of merging art, education, and community, these low cost technologies are displayed throughout the gallery along with the creative responses of seven local artists to poverty, waste, and the challenges of design for development. One such work, created by RedLine resident artist Viviane Le Courtois, emphasizes the disparity between the bottom 90% of the world’s citizens in dire need of practical design solutions, and the top 10% who are served by the majority of designers and live surrounded by excess. The product of several weeks of work, many gallons of Elmer’s glue, and the waste from a covey of Le Courtois’ friends, it is a round thatched-roof hut made entirely of shredded junk mail.
On the exhibit’s opening day, reporter Ryan Warner from the Colorado Public Radio program Colorado Matters met Dr. Polak at the gallery for a walk-through interview. True to form, Dr. Polak provided both a clear description of the design process required to create meaningful and effective tools for development, and an honest critique of the difficulties inherent in doing so.
Dr. Polak highlighted the importance of talking to customers and building not only radical affordability into design – a primary and thoroughly non-negotiable requirement – but also taking into account the much less obvious cultural and lifestyle factors of the communities being served. Failure to take into account details about social structure, cultural preferences, and the subtleties of life at the local level often results in the failure of the project as a whole. As an outsider, this requires a deep cultural understanding that can only be attained by spending time on the ground listening to the needs of users early on in the design process. A full explanation of Dr. Polak’s 12 Steps for Practical Problem Solving can be found in his book, Out of Poverty, but the first three are crucial, and, while they seem obvious, are often overlooked:
- Go to where the action is.
- Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they say.
- Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.
For example, there’s the Q Drum – a doughnut-shaped water transportation vessel that can be rolled to and from a water source with a rope tied through the center. Sounds great, looks cool, but, 1) at more than $70 per unit it’s too expensive for poor customers, and there’s no way for it to pay for itself, 2) the ropes tend to wear out quickly, and it’s unusable without a way to pull it, and, 3) the opening in the container is too large, making the water vulnerable to contamination from hands reaching inside or dirt finding its way in (80% of the contamination of bad water occurs during transportation between source and end-user). These sorts of problems can only be understood and solved by designing for affordability, spending time on the ground with users, doing a lot of listening, and continually iterating in response to feedback.
Developing countries are littered with well-intentioned but eventually useless products ostensibly designed with poor people in mind, but without their consultation or true knowledge of their needs. A classic example in this category is the PlayPump, a product that is not part of the Cooper-Hewitt exhibit. Designed like a manual merry-go-round, as children run and spin on it the device pumps water into a storage tank for later use. Harnessing the power of children at play to pump water for the village conjures up a lovely image of a type that often appeals to Western donors. As a result the project (run by PlayPumps International) received tremendous press coverage and raised over $60 million dollars to build 4,000 pumps in villages in Southern Africa.
Yet in just a few months it became clear that the project was an abject failure. In the absence of expertise or funding for maintenance of the devices, technical malfunctions were never resolved, and water ceased to flow. After a period of initial excitement, children for the most part lost interest and stopped using the toy, leaving women to spin the PlayPump themselves. Imagine a seventy-year-old woman, after a full day’s work, having to single-handedly spin this large toy that replaced her simple hand-pump just to get the water she and her family need. It’s this type of problem, rooted in the failure to connect with the customer, which designers working for the bottom 90% must avoid by beginning the design process on the ground, listening to the people for whom the product is being created.
By contrast, the treadle pump created by iDE has proven to have a higher output of water than the work put into it. As a result of that efficiency, of its low cost (around $25), and an effective marketing and distribution system involving troubadours singing its praises and local artisans manufacturing and selling the pumps, over 3 million units have been sold throughout the developing world, helping many millions of people increase their incomes by cultivating higher-value, off-season fruits and vegetables. It’s affordable, reliable, leads directly to increased income (and pays for itself several times in the first year), and it’s so efficient it allows men, women, and children alike to pump water without breaking a sweat.
Which brings me to my one and only point of contention with Mr. Warner: I was witness to the fact that at age seventy-seven, Dr. Polak was able to consistently and almost effortlessly operate the treadle pump, and simultaneously talk about it without skipping a beat – much less “appearing out of breath.”
The Cooper-Hewitt Design for the Other 90% exhibit will be at RedLine through Sunday, September 25th, 2011. RedLine is located at 2350 Arapahoe Street in downtown Denver.
Click here for the full interview with Paul Polak that aired on Colorado Matters Wednesday, July 13.