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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Social Entrepreneurship in Colorado, Part 2: International Development Design Summit

By Francisco Noguera

Sudhir Satra answers questions about his venture SEED.

Editor's Note: Today we feature two posts on the busy Social Entrepreneurship summer that is winding down in Colorado. The first one featured the happenings at the Unreasonable Institute, while this entry profiles the International Development Design Summit at Colorado State University. 

By Zach Youngerman, Staff at the 2010 International Development Design Summit. 

Benjamin Linder, a professor of sustainable design at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, is explaining to a classroom the technological and social innovations of Grameen Bank in cooporation with Danone Foods. The game-changing micro?nancing bank and the European yogurt giant created a socially-impactful enterprise to sell forti?ed yogurt to the large market of extremely undernourished Bangladeshis. "Yogurt for Power" is about half as expensive as unforti?ed existing yogurt products commercially available.

"I think the families will not buy this for the girl child," says Suprio Das, a native of Calcutta. "Even at ten cents, that's too expensive."

"In Bangladesh, yogurt is a delicacy. It's not something you have every day," adds Zubaida Bai.

Das and Bai are two of the forty-eight participants from nineteen countries at the 4th annual International Development Design Summit, held 7-30 July in Fort Collins, CO. The Summit is organized by MIT and Franklin W. Olin College, technology development ?rm Cooper Perkins and hosted by Colorado State University's Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise alternative MBA program. IDDS "is an intense, hands-on design experience that brings together people from all over the world and all walks of life to create technologies and enterprises that improve the lives of people living in poverty." Rob Katz from NextBillion chronicled the second version of IDDSa couple of years ago.

The conference is different from other design-oriented efforts (last year's Summit at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana) in that it focuses on "dissemination". The goal this year is not for participants to engineer new products, but to design ventures, around proven prototypes, that will succeed at scale in the developing world. That process has included examining a lot of case studies - like Grameen Danone Foods.

Not all the ventures being developed are for-pro?t, but they are all committed to ?nancial sustainability, and so naturally capture some of the more respectful aspects of capitalism: the freedom of the customer to judge the value of a product and using markets to meet the needs of a population. Also, several aspects of  business development, like distribution, were discussed in depth. For instance, Professor Rajendra Prasad of IIT Delhi lectured on how ef?cient cookstoves were distributed for free by the Indian government, deeming it as a great endeavor except for the fact that the feedback mechanism allowed by markets is completely absent in this scheme. The government was much more concerned with the distribution itself than the experience of the end user, and the stoves project was a disappointment

The nine teams took this and the whole course of lessons to heart, and worked during the Summit to combine this new knowledge with market ?eld research conducted prior to the conference.  Pro?les of each of the nine teams are available at the end of this post.

By and large, innovation among the teams is not on the technical end, but on the social and cultural ones. AYZH, for instance, combines existing appropriate technology with traditional craft in a hybrid water filter and storage unit called SHEBA.  The upper section is made from plastic, affordably manufactured, and houses the bio-sand filter system. The lower storage section is made of clay, a material that is heavy, but sourced locally, takes advantage of artisan knowledge and production, and keys into a tradition of storing water in clay pots. (Evaporation through the clay keeps the stored water cool.)

While aesthetics based on traditional products may make AYZH competitive against their instant-name-recognition-rival, Tata, their advantage comes from employing self-help groups as manufacturers and sales representatives. The women live in the communities that are the products' target audience, creating a built-in trust of the product.

Similarly, many of the ventures are using standard or easily-replicable technologies in a business model that is new to the area of implementation. Looking at the capability of irrigation pumps compared to the need of individual farmers in Bangladesh, SEED decided that a shared system of ownership based on a single buyer and many renters was the most cost-effective way to irrigate. The distribution system reaches four segments of the market: buyers, renters, pioneers and followers.  Assuming that some initial renters are simply risk-averse, these renters will become owners themselves after one or two seasons. While the owner-renter model has geographic constraints on a single scale, it's easy to imagine what the team calls "the pandemic model" spreading.

Lastly, the system Fuel From the Fields has designed to produce and distribute agri-waste charcoal briquettes in Haiti is as much a technology dissemination model as it is a business model: establishing centralized production co-ops from existing farmer co-operatives. The mega co-ops are supported by Fuel from the Fields through partnerships leveraged with other non-profits, micro-financing, advertising, and distribution set-up. The charcoal production technology is so simple and cost-effective - Haiti imports charcoal from the Dominican Republic at high cost - that Fuel from the Fields has a planned obsolescence in each community. Once the system is working, FFTF as outside management is no longer needed and can organize elsewhere.

If there is a common thread to the conference, it is that teams are designing logistics systems based on the properties of cultures and societies of a region. Business models explicitly integrate existing organizations and social structures - be they Village Environment and Energy Committees in India or farmer co-ops in Haiti.

Read on to learn more about the nine participating teams.

* * * 

 Adobe and Bamboo Research Institute: Nepalese tradesmen in vernacular bamboo architecture and the farmers who grow bamboo are threatened by the prevalence of cheap, imported concrete. ABARI has devised a method of replacing the starch in bamboo with Boron, improving by ten the lifetime of the material and creating a new demand for  bamboo.

 AYZH employs women's self-help groups in India to manufacture affordable, appropriate, and aesthetically-considered products to meet the basic needs of their customers.  A clean home-birth kit, Janma, is already on the market.  At IDDS they are working on Sheba, a water ?lter which uses natural materials that can be sourced and assembled locally.

 Fuel from the Fields: Haiti is 98% deforested and yet the overwhelming majority of poor Haitians cook with wood charcoal. To tackle deforestation, Fuel From The Fields trains and provides micro?nancing for farmers in Haiti to produce affordable, high-quality charcoal from a variety of agriculture waste products.

 SEED: In Bangladesh, farmers frequenty lose crops due to unpredictable rains and a lack of deep-pull pumps.  Small Engines for Economic Development improves food security among poor rural farmers in Bangladesh through portable diesel pumps sold in partnership with local micro?nance organizations.

 Solar Innovation Organization: SIO works with residents of Brazilian favelas who often access electricity illegally and dangerously.  By providing affordable solar water heaters while working in partnership with electricity distributors, SIO is able to both lower electricity costs and create legitimate customers.

 LoCl: Zimba Low Chlorine provides clean drinking water with chlorine treatment, a chemical which continues to disinfect up to several days after dosing. The technology they have designed is unique in its ability to dose ?owing water and create chlorine inexpensively on site through electrolysis of salt a solution.

Just Milk: Just Milk's technology prevents the transmission of HIV during breastfeeding through modi?cation of an existing commercial nipple shield. Working with NGOs in southeast Africa, Just Milk expects to provide more consistent and affordable care than currently available through infant antiretroviral treatments.

Running Water International: Running Water International creates sustainable enterprises that deliver clean water to the nearly 15 million people currently without access in rural Kenya. The ?rst enterprise, RWI-Maji Salama, manufactures biosand ?lters in Nakuru, Kenya for point-of-use household water treatment.

Sollys: Sollys seeks to provide reliable solar lights to base-of-the-pyramid families in northern India by working with Village Energy and Environment Committees (VEECs) who assist with micro?nance and marketing responsibilities.

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