Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 1 - And...we're off!

IDDS headquarters, 16-168, this morning doubled up as a registration office and was descended upon by over 50 participants eager to begin their IDDS experience. Each participant had to provide a certain set of important documents and in exchange were provided with a packet of information designed to make life easier for them during their stay at MIT. They were also lucky enough to receive a free IDDS customized mug! Breakfast was then served next door in the larger setting of room 16-160 and participants were soon introducing themselves over a selection of pastries, bagels and coffee.

Our wonderful IDDS Mugs!

A quick commendation has to be given at this point to Kendra Leith and Laura Stupin for all their hard work in helping the participants acquire visa's and flights to the US. Without the huge amount of time, energy and commitment that they have put into this process many of the participants would not have made it this far and we would thus not have had the opportunity to learn and interact with such a diverse group of people.

At 9am, in room 32-155, Amy began the conference with a short speech on what she believed were the overarching aims and vsions of IDDS. She described the idea of the conference to be for people to come away "not with business cards, but with corncob shellers and charcoal press prototypes". Many of the American based students involved in the conference had explained that their interest and belief in development and appropriate technology had been sparked by talks Amy had given in their home universities and it it is easy to see why. Her unfaltering belief in the conference, the appropriate technology movement and the potential of IDDS was powerfully communicated and clear for all to see.

Paul Polak, the keynote speaker for the conference, followed this with a rousing talk about the need for a new approach to tacking key issues of development as he believes that quite simply "What we're doing now to end poverty is not working". He argued that a dramatic shift was needed in thinking and design approach because currently 90% of design is focused on the needs of the worlds 10% elite. He talked candidly about the 12 steps he outlined in his book "Out of Poverty", which he thinks can help change the lives of the world's poorest people. He gave an extremely interesting example of a way in which these twelve steps had been implemented in a project supported by IDE(international Development Enterprises), an organization he founded in 1981.

The project in question was that of the treadle pumps, a device which can extract water which has been stored underground from heavy rainfall to help communities in India to irrigate their crops during the rainy season and thus increase a family's income by up to $300 a year. This may not seem like a lot but when you consider that many of the incomes of these family's are below $500 a year this can represent the difference between extreme poverty and a secure future. He spoke about this project as an example of how it was possible to create sustainable technologies once you worked closely with community partners and local dealers to see how the product could adapt to the specific market environment of individual villages and towns. He also mentioned some interesting ways in which the product was marketed including some wacky ideas such as recording a song about the treadle pumps in Bangladesh and also producing a Bollywood movie that managed to centre around the possibilities the use of the pump could open up!

A picture of the treadle pump in action

Two participants from last year, Zubaida Bai and Bernard Kiwia, then gave a short presentation of what they believed the IDDS experience was all about. Bernard talked about the practical nature of the conference and how many technologies he had been able to bring back from MIT to implement in his home country of Tanzania. This seemed to be the perfect example of what Amy had meant earlier when she had said that the aim of the conference was to produce real, tangible results. The experience that Bernard had at IDDS last year and the work he has done as a result in Tanzania has had a direct impact on people's lives and we hope that he can bring back some new technologies to Tanzania after the conference ends this year!

The group were then split up into groups for lunch, that they would then carry over as their teams for the design activity project scheduled for the afternoon. Each group was led by a mentor/organizer and the idea behind this was to make sure that the groups got to learn a little bit about each other before they would be thrust into the high pressure environment of design! Each group consisted of six or seven members and were first tasked with assigning a set of roles(such as chairman, timekeeper, reporter, presenter etc.) that would help make ensure the involvement of each team member.

The idea behind the design activity is that it functions as an ice breaker of sorts, with teams having to work together to achieve a shared objective. The teams were faced with the challenge of designing a free standing device to travel as far as possible while powered by an electric fan. The materials the participants had to choose from included cardboard, plastics, bottles of water, paper clips, glue and wooden dowels and they were given 70 minutes to complete this task. It was extremely interesting to see the different designs that teams came up with and Amy was amazed that even though the activity and materials had been exactly the same for both this and last year, there had been only one design crossover in both! Have a look at some of the design's in action below..

Winners of the aesthetic category

The multi lingual, European style, approach!

The affordable option

The winners - a very innovative design!!

Benjamin Linder then gave a presentation on the IDDS model and the steps involved in appropriate design, before holding a feedback session on how the participants felt that the design activity session went. One main point that was emphasized by the participants was the shared sense of wanting the other teams to do well. Also, they were interested to have learned that there was no perfectly correct way of approaching design. Different people had extremely different thought process and design strategy and and this was reflected through the fact that not one team had the same design!

We also managed to pack a 75 people dinner in Royal East, a big game of soccer, a computer orientation session and one last late "fifteen" minute meeting that went on for an hour! All together today was a huge success and I think that Amy summed it up perfectly by saying that "if the only thing hat goes wrong during IDDS is that we had a break at 1145 rather than 1115 then we'll have had a stellar conference". I think that everyone, both organizers and participants, are just delighted to have finally started and participants can now look forward to a day of spot-welding, sanding, sawing, metal cutting and casting in tomorrow's all day "build it" modules.

1 comment:

walkin1der said...

Here's an interesting article I found. I feel it shows another facet of the to the 90% - 10% insight that Paul Polak gave us.

The author makes a few generalisations but the article still strikes a chord somewhere.