Embrace Infant Warmer

Happy Mother’s Day from BoP Designer!  Today’s the perfect time for a post about a design innovation I’ve been researching just recently: the Embrace Infant Warmer.

Embrace is a low-cost alternative to expensive incubators for babies born prematurely or otherwise unable to maintain their own body temperature.  According to Embrace’s website:

20,000,000 low-birth-weight and premature babies are born each year. 450 of them die each hour. This occurs primarily in developing countries, often in areas that don’t have access to innovations in modern medicine. One of the biggest problems these babies face is hypothermia: they are not able to regulate their own body temperature, and therefore cannot stay warm. In fact, room temperature for these small infants feels freezing cold. 4 million babies die within their first month of life. Those that do survive often develop life-long health problems such as early onset of diabetes, heart disease, and low IQ.

Their solution “looks like a miniature sleeping bag that incorporates a phase change material, which stays at a constant temperature for up to 6 hours. This low-cost solution maintains premature and low birth weight babies’ body temperature to help them survive and thrive.”

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Insights from Embrace on Design for Social Impact

The following is reposted with permission from Embrace.  The original post appears here, originally published June 27, 2011.  

The Embrace Infant Warmer (profiled here on BoP Designer) is a low cost alternative to traditional incubators with many other benefits. In this insightful post, Embrace’s designers answer questions about design thinking and what it means to have been selected as a finalist for the INDEX 2011 design awards, asked by Embrace’s Business Development Manager, Ana Manzur-Allan:

Ana: Somebody said that to be an effective designer for social impact, we need to be humble listeners and fearless leaders, all at the same time, which is no easy feat. What are your thoughts on this?

Eu-wen: The person who said this was Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design and she is absolutely right. One of the key difficulties we face in our work is that the vision we have of the future, the vision that inspires and drives us in our work, is a fiction that many of our users and external stakeholders find difficult to be able to share with us. Our users grow up under severe resource constraints, and tightly circumscribed sociocultural norms. Opportunity to dream of something better is a luxury that we take for granted, but is often not even a rewarding exercise for people like our users because more often than not, that is exactly what it turns out to be for them – a dream.

Thus it is rare for us to be able to effectively co-create with our users, especially under the kind of pressing timelines that we put on ourselves (change should have happened yesterday, and I am impatient). The only viable strategy to create effective design for social impact, is then to carefully understand our users as best we can, in ways that they might not even be able to imagine themselves because we are imagining them interacting in a future with a new product that does not really exist yet. It then becomes our terrifying responsibility to take this understanding, and boldly make design decisions on behalf of our user. I guess I actually would tweak Pilloton’s statement to say “bold” rather than “fearless” because especially where Embrace is concerned, developing medical devices for social impact, failures in our design’s usability can lead to exposing infants to more harm than good, and so it is with no small amount of both boldness and trepidation that I craft my design.

The nutshell is this: Designers and engineers generally do not come from poor villages. They thus need the humility and tremendous empathy to understand their users who come from completely different backgrounds and often utilize very different mental models to understand and frame their world. Bold leadership is thus especially necessary when you consider how audacious and presumptuous one must be to create a design for people so unlike yourself. Continue reading

Project Sammaan Launches: Better Sanitation in Indian Slums

Project Samman is...

Quicksand Design and partners have begun work on Project Sammaan, redesigning public sanitation facilities in urban slums in India.  The new work began earlier this year, following their heavy design research phase in 2010–2011, funded by the Gates Foundation and nicknamed “The Potty Project” (previously covered on BoP Designer).  Partners include the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) and the city governments of two large cities in India, with continued support from the Gates Foundation.

The objective of this project is to rethink the current models of sanitation facilities and design a new programmatic infrastructure and physical structure that instills a sense of dignity while addressing issues affecting sanitation practices in India.

We feel that sharing our successes, and hurdles, is vital to the project to open channels of dialogue and instill a sense of collaboration in such a critical field.

Quicksand has launched a blog and twitter account (@ProjectSammaan) specific to the project, chronicling the progress and thoughts behind it along the way.  It looks like it’ll be a great resource and insightful window into the process that will be entertaining and informative to designers, design-thinkers and sanitation proponents alike.  Your ongoing input is invited.  Visit the Project Sammaan blog >>

In addition, Quicksand and partners have launched an “Open Innovation Challenge” to the public in three categories:

  • Architectural Design (of the facilities)
  • Hand-Washing Design (of the ideal soap-dispensing system)
  • Waste Management Design (within the facility)

See full details here, where you can download briefs to each of the three challenges.

(all images from Project Sammaan)

Intuition and Decision-Making

Here are some good thoughts from a post from The 99 Percent, “Don’t Overthink It: 5 Tips for Daily Decision-Making.”  This point seems especially relevant for designers and problem solvers working in development and unfamiliar contexts.

3. The three kinds of intuition.

In the creative and business worlds, you hear a lot of talk about intuition, and “trusting your gut.” But what does that really mean? It’s less simple than you might think. Columbia Business School professor William Duggan believes that there are three different types of intuition:

“Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct. Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket… The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.
…


“Expert intuition is always fast, and it only works in familiar situations. Strategic intuition is always slow, and it works for new situations, which is when you need your best ideas.



“This difference is crucial, because expert intuition can be the enemy of strategic intuition. As you get better at your job, you recognize patterns that let you solve similar problems faster and faster. That’s expert intuition at work. In new situations your brain takes much longer to make enough new connections to find a good answer. A flash of insight happens in only a moment, but it may take weeks for that moment to come. You can’t rush it. But your expert intuition might see something familiar and make a snap judgment too soon. The discipline of strategic intuition requires you recognize when a situation is new and turn off your expert intuition. You must disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.”

Takeaway: We should trust our expert intuition (based on experience) when making choices about familiar problems. But when we need a break-through solution, we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.

View the other 4 tips on The 99 Percent >>

(Image credit: The 99 Percent)

An Argument for Ecological Sanitation — “Ecosan”

Ever wonder about the efficiency of our “modern” toilet and water-based sewage systems, or if they even really make sense? Dr. Lucas Dengel shares with us the argument for Ecological Sanitation, or “Ecosan,” from his practice and perspective in Tamil Nadu, India. Ecosan is a universal concept that can (should) be considered everywhere, with practices adapted to local needs and conditions. The transition to a better way of separating, treating and actually gaining benefit from our sewage may be easier said than done, especially in cities—as most common ecosan practices rely on outhouses and composting containers, not conveyance through large, multistory buildings. But it’s time to start shifting our thinking. There’s a real need for healthy sanitation worldwide, and there’s a lot to gain from waste.

The following is reprinted from a document written by Dr. Dengel in January 2011, with minimal edits. Dr. Dengel is a medical doctor who became interested in the prevention of disease, rather than just treatment, early in his career in India. Now an organic farmer and an expert in ecosan, he champions its adoption, along with the use of effective microorganisms (EM) in treating sewage and waste—both for the sake of public health and for their many other benefits. Dr. Dengel lives and works in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India. 

Dr Dengel with UnBox Fellows

Dr. Lucas Dengel talks ecosan with UnBox Fellows in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India - Jan 2012

Ecosan – ecological sanitation

Why should there be a need for an alternative to flush sanitation?

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The LeafBed: A Cardboard Bed for Humanitarian Use

This one comes from The GUST Project, with a heads-up from @raovallabh.

The LeafBed, designed by Julien Sylvain and Leaf Supply, is a modular bed made of custom-cut and folded cardboard.  Multiple blocks join together to create the desired length of the bed and they are strong enough (with perpendicular criss-crossing cardboard struts inside) to withstand a hefty amount of weight from people sleeping, standing and sitting on them.  The LeafBed is intended for temporary use in humanitarian and disaster situations.  The blocks can also be used as table stands and temporary seating, for example.

As the video says, cardboard furniture is not a new concept, but what has been used in the past for humanitarian purposes is usually coated to be water-resistant.  The LeafBed doesn’t bother with additional coating, opting instead to use standard corrugated cardboard which allows them to be manufactured by any cardboard maker much closer to where the beds are needed.  This shortens shipping distances significantly, which speeds delivery to disaster-affected areas and cuts costs for Leaf Supply and for buyers.  It also prioritizes giving business to local cardboard manufacturers, which is a positive element for helping local economies, especially during or after a crisis.

The problem is that until now, cardboard furniture wasn’t made with standard packaging cardboard, but with treated cardboard which withstands water and humidity. Our innovation has been to produce furniture with standard packaging cardboard in order to use the cardboard industry, which is already present in every country.

I like the sound of the designers’ choice to forego weather treatment in favor of allowing local production and recycling after use.  It shows bigger-picture consideration and a confidence of not trying to be something more than what it really is—a temporary bed made of paper.  LeafBeds probably aren’t right for wet climates or on wet floors, but field tests in Niger show impressive durability even after six months of use.

The next natural questions would be first, how well these cardboard beds meet real needs—how well do they function, and how happy are people with them?  Then, what measures does Leaf Supply take to try to ensure a sustainable and socially responsible product life cycle from start to finish?  Issues like where the paper pulp comes from, what chemicals are used and how they’re disposed of, and what happens to the Leafbeds after their use are all important to try to steer for a holistic, responsible solution.  I’m sure using many different manufacturers presents a challenge.  Creator Julien Sylvain says he’d like Leaf Supply “to be the first socially responsible supplier of humanitarian equipment,” and that’s certainly a good sign.

According to Leaf Supply’s field tests, out of 75 users interviewed after 6 months of using LeafBeds in Niamey, Niger: 99% of users use the LeafBed as a bed (rather than using the blocks for other purposes), 74% of users use additions like a mattress, blankets or mats, and 99% report being satisfied after 1, 3 and 6 months of use.

Has anyone seen these in action?  I’d love to know more about what users think and hear about how they do in different circumstances.  Leave a comment below if so.

For more on the Leafbed, visit their profile page on GUST’s website, or Leaf Supply’s website itself.

For more examples of social innovators around Asia captured by a group of dynamic and wandering near-college-grads, check out The GUST Project.  Looks like cool stuff so far.

Photos provided by Leaf Supply

Micro Manuals for 4 Earth Building Techniques

Forwarded to me by Dhruv Chandra Sud—thanks Dhruv!

Self help construction booklets from barefoot architect Sourabh Phadke are the best way to get started on your love affair with mud building. Although based in Pune (where he also teaches ecology at the AmanSetu school), Sourabh has been advocating natural building & self help construction in several parts of India. Best of all these delightful and informative primers can be downloaded FREE!

From Sourabh:

“This series of five booklets intends to introduce you to four earth construction techniques that have been instrumental in shaping the world that we live in.

These tiny booklets are designed to deliver just about enough information to give you a flavour of the subject matter, but to keep you hungry for more! And although not strictly necessary, this mucky matter could be consumed with the natural additive provided (for better digestion).”

Click on the images below to download the PDF’s (2.9–3.6 MB each):

You can also find these micro-manuals and more on Sourabh’s website.  Happy building!

Design for Development and the Base of the Pyramid

The following was originally written for the Designmatters blog, a program at Art Center College of Design teaching and enabling students to take on more meaningful challenges and design for social impact.  I graduated from Art Center in 2005 and Designmatters was just before my time, but I’ve been happy to watch it succeed and grow—schools need more programs like these to help young designers (and others) understand their influence and potential beyond traditional and commercial-only applications.

Dave Foster (Advertising ’05) is a social innovation designer, focused on creating solutions for social and environmental benefit based on deep understanding of issues and communities involved. His expertise is in social enterprise, sustainability and, increasingly, development and appropriate technologies. He is the founder and editor of BoP Designer, a website and blog dedicated to “solutions and social innovations at the ‘base of the pyramid’”. His personal portfolio can be found at davefoster.info. Dave currently lives in Dubai, UAE.

BoP Designer - Home page screenshot - March 2012Last year I launched a website and blog called BoP Designer, dedicated to “solutions and social innovations at the ‘base of the pyramid.’” The base of the pyramid, or “BoP,” is a term referring to the billions of people in the world living on less than a few dollars per day. Economist C.K. Prahalad used the term in his book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, discussing the benefits of treating this massive population as a huge, untapped market of customers instead of as charity cases. For BoP Designer, I refer to the BoP as the people in developing, low-income and underserved communities around the world where basic needs are high but often unmet and resources are low.  Challenges include poverty, food, water, shelter, sanitation, safety, health, education and livelihoods. My goal is for BoP Designer to be a collection of resources, stories, knowledge and links about the field in the hopes of helping, empowering and inspiring designers and others to use design practices create solutions to their own challenges.

I define “design” in general as creative problem solving, thanks largely to Roland Young at Art Center, and I’ve spent most of my career since graduation dedicated to creating social and environmental impact, using my skills as a designer to bring more to the table than just communications, but to get my hands on creating and improving products, services, systems and organizations as a whole. I’ve found a lot of opportunity to do that especially with smaller, dynamic, entrepreneurial-type ventures that require everyone to do much more than their job descriptions ask of them to make an idea a success. I’ve been a designer and an implementer, a project manager, a researcher and a facilitator, and I think the more one knows about all the steps of the process from idea to adoption, especially first hand, the more complete and valuable a designer can be.

UnBox Fellows on bicycles in Auroville, India - Jan 2012Last August, I came to the end of a contract doing some CSR consulting and faced another the opportunity to either try to drum up more business doing more of the same, or follow a different direction. I’d had a strong urge to learn more about and dive deeper into the world of development and I was specifically curious about where “design” fits in the whole landscape. Having built and managed websites over the last few years, including managing the AshokaTECH blog, a website seemed like a natural vehicle to organize what I knew and what I didn’t and start contacting people to learn more. I also wanted to make it public in case this information could be helpful to others. Through BoP Designer, I’ve been learning about the current landscape of designers for social impact in general and especially for development, moving heavily into “appropriate technologies”, product development and engineering, but continuing to include all forms of solutions, whether they’re objects, services or systems.  Solutions take all forms and part of the challenge lies in finding the most appropriate one.  Or, more frequently, the best combination of many.

I love what I’m doing, constantly learning and sharing, meeting amazing and brilliant people in so many different contexts and cultures. I’ve been taking advantage of my location in Dubai, where I moved last year, traveling to Nepal and India so far, visiting designers and development organizations and learning about their work. And I’ve been talking with as many others as I can all around the world by Skype and email.

Swing, stove and solar panels at Sadhana Forest, Auroville, IndiaI have a lot of stories, too many to share here, but I’ll start with one and I’d be happy to talk more with anyone who’d like to contact me.

This past January I visited India for the second time in a few months, this time on a short fellowship organized by Quicksand Design (who I highly recommend checking out). I met six other people from various backgrounds in Auroville, a utopian community in southern India near Pondicherry, where we discussed “sustainability” in general in a very natural setting full of research and development of sustainable technologies and practices. Auroville was founded in 1968 on a spiritual foundation, but not a religious one, seeking to create a society in harmony with itself, with nature, and with the community around it. It is a magnet for sustainability experts and practitioners of all kinds, many of whom we were lucky to meet.

UnBox Fellows with Dr. Lucas Dengel - Auroville, IndiaOne was Dr. Lucas Dengel, a medical-doctor-turned-organic-farmer and expert proponent of ecological sanitation who taught us about an organic solution called EM-1, which sounds practically magical in its uses and effects. “EM” stands for “effective microorganisms” and EM-1 is a combination of three of them in a solution that keeps them in a healthy ratio. It was developed by a Japanese agricultural scientist who suffered from the effects of chemical pesticides as a child and developed EM-1 as an organic fertilizer and natural pesticide. In addition to those benefits, Dr. Dengel taught us about others that he had experimented with first hand, including its application in waste management and sanitation, breaking down organic waste in landfills, compost and septic tanks. EM-1, when fed to dairy cows in Auroville and used to wash them and their facilities, cured hoof rot, radically reduced the smell and number of flies around them, improved their milk production and reduced the amount of times the vet had to visit from once or twice a month to once or twice a year. EM-1 can even be used to clean your kitchen, bathrooms and everywhere, breaking down accumulated dirt and sanitizing surfaces. Testing on human beings has been limited, but many around the world are playing with the possibilities. The potential for this stuff is amazing, and we learned a good lesson on the importance of microorganisms to a healthy ecosystem.

Dr. Mouhsine Serrar introduces UnBox Fellows to Prakti's stovesAnother was Dr. Mouhsine Serrar, an engineer and the founder of Prakti Designs. Dr. Serrar develops high-efficiency cook stoves that require less fuel and reduce the amount of smoke released, helping to address issues of health, deforestation and income, saving people time collecting cooking fuel, money needed to buy it and health risks due to smoke inhalation, which primarily affects women. Prakti models can burn wood, charcoal or briquettes made from compressed paper and agricultural waste, and they operate so far in India, Nepal and Haiti. There are a lot of cookstoves being developed around the world but Prakti continues to test at or near the top. The field of efficient cookstoves is complex, juggling a mix of technological, human, cultural and economic factors. It’s developing rapidly with increasing interest and I’m really curious to see how it all continues to unfold.

Jorge Ayarza demonstrates MinVayu wind turbine to UnBox FellowsA third person we had the opportunity to meet is Jorge Ayarza who founded MinVayu, developing small-scale wind turbines from accessible materials to poor and rural communities. The turbines use carved wooden blades and a tail on a frame that’s relatively easy to weld. It uses a modified car wheel at the center and a series of magnets and coiled wire cast in resin to create a charge at it rotates. When we met Jorge, he was training a couple of Nepalese men on how to build them so they could take the knowledge back with them to apply in Nepal.

For all we learned about sustainable technologies, Auroville is a grand experiment in society, sustainability and human nature itself, facing lots of obstacles and challenges. The discussions we had with the people we met and among the seven of us were deep and engaging and we had a lot of fun. After Auroville, we traveled north to Delhi for the UnBox Festival for three days of presentations, performances and events revolving around design and creativity in all contexts, also organized by Quicksand Design. It was a very cool, high-quality event that gave us the opportunity to mingle with lots of other designers and experts in so many fields. After the festival I stayed a few extra days to get to know the Quicksand team a little better. They’re becoming a go-to agency for social innovation design in India, with projects funded by the Gates Foundation among others, and are expanding their social impact practice.

Dave Foster with Kiran Neupane of CHOICE International in NepalAs I look ahead, I’m pursuing two directions: One, looking for my next job or project in this field of design and development, helping to create solutions to issues in the communities themselves. I’d specifically like to gain more experience in design research, which I’m increasingly more convinced is an invaluable tool and key to any idea’s chances for success. And I’d love to get more hands-on with fabrication processes. The other is continuing to grow BoP Designer to its larger potential, adding team members and more contributors, increasing its content and thinking about how it could add maximum value to the conversation and to the spread of this kind knowledge. If anyone has any leads, opportunities or contributions in either direction, please feel free to contact me. And if I can be of help or if you’d just like to chat more about this subject, I’m always happy to meet new people and like minds. Thanks, and keep up the good work, whatever you’re working on.