Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 18 - Foundations and funding

This morning we were given another presentation by Kurt Kornbluth that was a little bit about his work at UC Davis, a little bit about the design process, and a huge amount of spilled water everywhere! He talked about some lighting and energy storage projects that he was working on and even at the early time of 10am, participants expressed huge interest in the type of work that he was presenting. He gave the audience four crucial tips for design; build often and early; quantify your results; ask "will it pay for itself"?; and 'sure, you'll sell a million, but how are you going to do that?' Kurt's energy and enthusiasm can only be described as infectious and some of it has most certainly rubbed off on some of the participants, many of whom he has been working with quite closely on a number of the projects over the last week.

The participants then had an afternoon and a morning work session split by a presentation from Kate Lessard, of foundation relations in MIT. She informed participants about the different avenues to pursue for funding projects and went into detail about how to work with Foundations to help fund charitable organizations. She simplified quite a complex process by telling the participants that some key questions needed to be asked of themselves even before they approach the foundations themselves. The key questions went something like this:

What problem will you solve?
Who will be served?
How many people will be served?
Why now?
How will you measure impact?
How will you sustain the project (what will happen in the long run)?

This session, in conjunction with the entrepreneurship session given by Paul Hudnut, and the lunch sponsored by the Public Service Centre, has the aim of helping to provide participants with the necessary tools and information to help them implement their projects once they leave MIT at the end of the conference. Kate also highlighted the importance of building a good working relationship with the foundation that is sponsoring you to ensure that the goals of those behind the project, and those behind the funds, are completely aligned.
Siobhan from the Power generation team examining their wheel mechanism

Charcoal Crushers casting concrete rollers

The ropeway transport system team looking for some cheap materials!

Dr. David Sokal, from the Breast Milk team, ready for some testing

In the evening, there was a presentation by TIE Boston, Social Entrepreneur division on Global Crisis for Water and Sanitation. We were provided with some Indian food for the dinner before a panel which included Denise D. Knight of the Coca Cola Company’s Water Sustainability Initiative; Michael Delaney, Director of Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Response; Dr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Asoc. Prof., MIT and Lotika Paintal, founder of a start up non-profit, Water Centric. Lotika was also moderating the panel and I found her presentation on her newly formed venture, Water Centric extremely interesting. It gave an insight into the ways in which a newly formed venture could effectively tackle a very specific issues by working closely with community partners.

The panel finished at about 8pm but most teams continued to work late into the night, in preparation for the second round of design reviews, due to take place tomorrow afternoon. Taking into account the long work hours, the level of camaraderie and energy the participants have shown is exceptional. The rope way transport team, in particular, always seem to be up to some kind of mischief, hidden away in D-lab!

Winnie hard at work in the orphanage...sorry - I meant workshop!

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 17 - Bikes not Bombs

Participants returned to the workshops this morning with renewed vigour, after their break the previous evening. Some of the teams are moving on to their second and third prototypes at this stage and the work spaces are a cacophony of noise with participants anxiously experimenting with their various projects. Participants were delighted to be finally able to spend a full, interrupted day in the workshops, as their projects are now entering a crucial stage. There is still time for teams to try out and build different designs but come the weekend they will have to have centered in on the specific prototype they want to build, otherwise there will simply not be enough time left!

Some quality craftsmanship from Joshua on the newly refined Charcoal Crusher

Sunil using bike parts for the rope way team

Participants get to grips with some welding for their projects

After a tiring day, we organized a trip to Bikes not Bombs, a Boston based non-profit, for the participants. We made sure to clarify that the trip was optional but the prospect of free dinner meant that very few of the participants stayed at the dorms! Bikes not Bombs were established in 1985 and aim to provide bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction. They work with community partners in Tanzania, Guatemala and a host of other countries and have sent over 33,000 bikes to Central America, the Caribbean and Africa (and New Orleans) in the last 24 years, providing old or damaged bicycles to local villages. The home organization, such as Global Alliance in Tanzania, then works to fix these bicycles, sell them at reasonable prices to the locals, and in the case of Bernard, dismantle them to work on new pedal powered forms of technology!

The dinner table at Bikes not Bombs

After a quick potluck dinner, with meals provided by Crossman, John, Zubaida, Sumit and other organizers we were free to move onto some quick presentations. The founder of Bikes not Bombs, Carl Kurz, gave us a brief introduction into their work before opening the floor up to the IDDS participants. Laura then introduced our two presenters for the evening, Shaibu Laizer and Carlos Enrique Marroquin Machan, from Tanzania and Guatemala respectively. Both Shaibu and Carlos are direct beneficiaries of bikes from the organization, which have been sent to their home countries, and as such were delighted to present!

Laura introduces IDDS to the folks fat Bikes not Bombs

Shaibu was understandably nervous, as it was his first time presenting to a group, but he overcame this and gave us an insightful presentation about the impact that an organization like Global Alliance can have on empowering communities and young people in particular. He talked in detail about his respect for the organization based on his own experience, growing up as an orphan in Tanzania and not having the financial means to complete his education. Global Alliance gave him the chance to work with and for the community, under his mentor Bernard Kiwia, and he is now employed as a bike workshop manager in his native Arusha. Shaibu's presentation, and the confident young individual in front of us, sent an extremely powerful message about the importance of grassroots organizations such as Global Alliance. To find out more about the work that Global Alliance does in Africa visit .

Bernard and Shaibu field questions about Global Alliance

We were then given the opportunity to hear about the innovative work that is currently being done at Carlos's workshop, Maya Pedal, in Guatemala. Carlos has come up with a variety of methods to harness energy using pedal power and had pictures of washing machines and a number of other appliances running without electricity. His organization then attempt to bring this technology to as many people in the community as possible but Carlos spoke of the difficulty inherent in this due to the current lack of funding available for his organization. Some participants were extremely interested in Carlos' technologies and we hope that the funding available from the Rockefeller foundation can facilitate people like Joshua Cholobesa, one of our Zambian participants, and Carlos working together on projects in the future. Find out more about Maya Pedal by visiting .

Carlos presents his finely crafted work at Maya Pedal in Guatemala

One of Carlos' technologies in action

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 16 - Learning from each other(and from the experts!)

The Charcoal Crushers rose very early this morning and, accompanied by Amy, began some early morning charcoal burning so that they would have some materials for testing later in the day. They pioneered the very interesting and elaborately named method of "egg on a stick" to grab some early morning snacks as they worked. By all accounts, it was far tastier than one might imagine!

Amy ready to go into action

The finished product

After this, the Charcoal crushers, along with the other nine teams, got back to building and prototpying within, and often directly outside of, the workshops.

Nathan and Joshua, two of the Charcoal Crushers, sort through the carbonized corn cobs

Bernard, from the charcoal crushing team, speaks to a reporter from NPR(National Public Radio)

The participants were then treated to a lunch organized and sponsored by MIT's Public Service Centre. Each organizer facilitated individual round table discussions with the participants, explaining the role of the Public Service Centre and the potential for collaboration with MIT students on projects within their home countries. It was made clear to participants that if they submitted proposals to the Public Service Centre, the institution could then allocate funding for MIT students to work on research projects relating to the work or go out on field placement in the January break or on a summer internship.

Many of the participants were extremely excited about this and some great conversation was sparked at the table between community partners and students as they brainstormed about potential ways that they could work together in the future. In addition to this, there is follow up funding available from the Rockefeller foundation for for both the individual IDDS projects and for potential collaboration between participants in the future. This is something which was not available for last year's summit and as such we are hoping that it can help bring many more projects and prototype's to the implementation stage this year.

After lunch we returned to room 32-151, the lecture theatre in which we had spent so much of our first week. The subject of this afternoon's lecture was The Full Belly Project, a project which aims to relieve hunger and create economic opportunities in developing countries through the design and distribution of labor saving, locally replicable agricultural devices. The lecture was presented by the project's founder, Jock Brandis, and he spoke at length about his peanut sheller project in Mali and he also spoke to us about the potential the Jathropa plant had for developing new industries in the developing world. Find out more about Jock's work, and the full belly project, at .

A Jatropha flower

Jock Brandis in Mali with his Peanut Sheller

After this the participants broke once again into their teams to continue work on their projects. We had then organized an evening of cultural interaction to help participants to let off some steam and to learn a little more about each other. We had about twenty five short presentations from participants from all around the globe over some Mexican burritos and tacos and I personally found all of the presentations extremely interesting and some of them downright hilarious. Participants spoke about their home cities, countries and favorite places with infectious enthusiasm and I now seem to have a much larger list of places I need to visit!

The presentations were also interspersed with some hilarious jokes told by Kenneth and Joshua, two of our Zambian participants. All of their jokes seemed to centre around the eventual loss of their father's job due to the influence of their former colonial masters, the English, and as such Steven Gerrard specifically, hailing from Manchester, seemed to be on the receiving end of quite a number of jokes! It was all taken in good humour though and was followed by some hilarious impromptu presentations from our Brazilian participants. Rafael even showed us some "traditional" Brazilian dancing once we gave him some encouragement! We were also treated to a wonderful piece of fiddle music from Michelle Marcinel, and this instantly had me thinking about some potential collaboration for the Irish dancing at the talent show next Thursday week.

The consistently energetic participants finished up the evening with a late night game of ultimate Frisbee on the Football field, before getting an early night ahead of another full day building in the workshops.

Grudge match before late night Ultimate Frisbee

The participants take a break mid-way through the frisbee match

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 15 - Inventors and Innovators

Week 3 began with a lecture on some final design considerations participants needed to consider for their projects. The lecture centred around three main concepts; Design for Affordability, Design for Manufacturability; Design for Re-use and Failure. This was demonstrated with the use of the example of the $3 Drip Irrigation System developed and implemented by Paul Polak. Kurt Kornbluth, a lecturer in UC Davis, then showed the group the example of a low cost wheel chair and Amy Smith presented images of sustainable road side workshops in Guatemala.

Participants then broke into their various teams to continue the work on their projects and we hope that they can implement some of the design techniques and approaches presented this morning. This vast majority of this week will be spent within the workshops, as teams attempt to construct working prototypes for the design reviews next Friday, and of course the all important final presentations on the 6th August. The participants are obviously delighted with this situation, as all of them love getting their hands dirty in D-lab and the other workshops!

Lico and Limbor work on the stabilized soil block mechanism

This evening we were treated to an amazing lecture/demonstration by Shawn Frayne, an inventor involved in sustainable wind energy solutions. Shawn was part of Amy's very first D-lab class in MIT and is the perfect example of the potential that this class has in inspiring young innovators. He has founded two wind energy based companies, the most high profile of these being Humdinger Wind Energy, and gave us a rousing lecture on the need for inventors to come back to the fore.

Shawn Frayne speaking about his technologies

And we have light!

Amy introduced Shawn by claiming that he had "revolutionized the Wind Energy movement by unrevolutionizing it" and he went on to describe invention as "the pursuit of simplicity".He spoke candidly about the life long interest he had for invention . Before he joined D-lab he had questioned whether invention could be said to still truly exist, as he saw the vast majority of technological 'innovations' were only nuanced improvements on pre existing products, and these were only for the benefit of the richest 10% of the world's population.
A number of key technological innovations had been made 100 years ago, he argued, and the only way to replicate this rapid production of new ideas and technology was through a focus on the developing world. He highlighted that "Harder problems make for better inventions" and that you will do your best thinking when you are boxed into a corner. The constraints that are imposed naturally by work in developing countries force engineers, designers and community partners to become innovators.

He introduced the term "Confluent technology" to us, explaining that he believed that the appropriate technology movement had evolved to such an extent that a new term was needed. He told us that a focus on problems in the developing world would spark innovations that spark new industries thus reaching a point where technologies developed in emerging economies will impact industries around the world. I found this idea extremely interesting as it highlighted that working on appropriate technology in the developing world was actually in the best interests of the developed world, rather than simply having to bear the burden of providing financial aid.

He presented the participants with examples of the kind of appropriate technology out of which these innovations could emerge. He showed us some SODIS bags for water purification and transport, a technology that some participants from IDDS worked on last year, and he also demonstrated an Aeroelastic Flutter technology which can be used to harness wind energy. Even at the reception after the talk, participants were eager to see Shawn show them more examples of appropriate technology, and he duly obliged! Find out more about Shawn's work with wind energy by visiting .

Shawn Frayne and Kurt Kornbluth entertain the crowd with their demonstration of the Windbelt

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 14 - Working through the weekend

We had planned to have the IDDS Olympics this afternoon but due to the death of a family member of one of the participants we decided it would not be appropriate. Some of the participants decided to take the day off while others kept working right through the weekend.

The organizers then looked over the evaluations from Week 2 and it must be said that people are even happier now with the way the conference is progressing. At the mid-way point of the conference we can all look forward to a week of building and prototyping within the workshops!

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 13 - "How to" sessions

Way back in early July, at one of the first organizer meetings, we had planned a day of technology demonstration and dissemination. On Thursday afternoon participants had then been given the chance to decide which two "how to" sessions they would be most interested in attending. The options on offer in the morning session were Water treatment and testing, Pedal powered generator, Biogas digesters and Peanut/groundnut sheller and these were followed with afternoon sessions on Infiltration wells, Microbial fuel cells, Pedal-powered grain mill, corn sheller and a Pot in Pot evaporative cooler.

Past participants, organizers and mentors all gave hour long hands on tutorials on building and specialist techniques in which they had experience. The sessions were completely optional and as such it was great to see such a huge turnout from almost all of the participants. Bernard Kiwia had told me about his delight in being able to bring home pedal powered techniques shown to him by Carlos at last years summit and we are hoping for some similar interactions and technology sharing to come out of today's sessions.

John Shaba, a Zambian participant, with the water testing kit

Water testing in action

After the work sessions we split into two groups and took the participants on tours of Fablab and OLPC(One Laptop per Child). Fablab is a project which began in MIT and which aims to give ordinary people around the world the technology to design and make their own products. The lab already has sister laboratories in Costa Rica, Ghana, India and Norway and all the participants I spoke to enjoyed the hands on tour. I personally attended the OLPC tour and found the idea quite interesting.

OLPC's mission statement is to "To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning" and we were given a brief synopsis of the history and vision of the project by two of OLPC's staff. Participants were impressed with the technology and the aim of the project but expressed concerns as to how many children and schools were actually using the laptops in an educational capacity. All of the ten dollar computer team attended the tour however, and found it extremely useful in the context of their project. They even stayed behind for over an hour afterwards to get as much information as physically possible out of the very open and friendly OLPC staff!

OLPC's interesting network system

Participants take a look around the cluttered OLPC office

We then organized a rather unusual trip to see an open air showing of Shakespeare's As you like it in Boston Common. Almost half of the participants made the trip, needing to let off steam after a long week. Once there, however, we couldn't actually get close enough to see the performance and were attracting dirty looks from some of the other spectators so we decided to go for an impromptu game of Frisbee in the nearby park. We even went about creating a human pyramid of sorts and had a lot of fun in the process, with Sunil Singh Jethuri, one of the Indian participants, inspiring the other participants through his effervescent enthusiasm. As you can see in the picture below, the space on top is reserved for him!

Participants adopt an unusual approach to the human pyramid!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Day 12 - Design Reviews

The participants continued their work on the projects this morning in preparation for the upcoming Design review in the afternoon. We then provided lunch separately for the participants and the reviewers and I got a chance to see some of the basic models of the projects before the session began. Alvaro showed me the terrain model that the Rope way Transport team had constructed out of foam and explained that it was still quite basic, with a lot of work still to do. He also quietly informed me that twenty minutes previously, his team had found out that the area they were working in would not have access to electricity, dramatically changing the conversations they would be having with the reviewers!

The rope way transport system foam model

I also had a chance to take a look at the models that the low cost incubator and stabilized soil block maker had come up. The incubator's had come up with quite a number of different concept foam models but they explained that what they really needed was a baby! This does not look likely however so they are working on obtaining items to simulate the heat that a regular incubator would provide. The soil block team showed me their tentative model and they were looking forward to getting some feedback about it from the reviewers.

The first Incubator foam model

Another participant's vision of the incubator

The stabilized soil block maker in its very early prototype stage

Before the official review session began the teams were charged with giving 90 second presentations to their fellow participants and the reviewers. We made our way up to the 5th floor of the Green building in MIT for the presentation and some conference logistics. I'll let the presentations speak for themselves.

Brian Rasnow introduces the Pearl Millet threshers

Derek Lomas talks about the idea behind the $10 computer

Francesca Campagnoli presents Micro Hydro(or Pico) power

The Charcoal Crushing team is introduced by Jessica Vechakul

Kenneth Muyayaeta introduces the Power Generation from Mechanical Devices team

Mariela Molina Parades presents the Stabilized Soil block maker

Madeleine Abomowitz introduces the low cost incubator team

The hand held diagnostic medical tool is presented by Mark Jeunette

Stephen Gerrard gives a speedy presentation on the Flash system for heating breast milk!

Winnie Yiu, of the Rope way Transport team, presents

The design reviewers then spoke to the various teams in three changeover sessions. Participants were also encouraged to interact with people outside their teams and give their honest opinions and advice on the protoypes. Benjamin Linder, who helped to facilitate the sessions told us later that he believed that the most dynamic conversations took place between the structured time sessions. Participants made sure they got as much out of the session as possible but all the reviewers I spoke to also were delighted to get the chance to offer their insights and learn about the projects on offer at this year's summit.

Elizabeth Kneen, Breast milk team, answers questions from design consultants at the review

Once the participants had completed the reviews, and their second round of weekly evaluations, they were given the chance to participate in a choice of optional special interest groups. The participants had been given the option, earlier in the week, of choosing a preference out of a list of interests such as Entrepreneurship and Innovation, IDDS through the years, University to University collaboration and Curriculum Development.

I sat in on this last option and found the session extremely informative. The group discussion was facilitated by Amy Smith and we each first explained our interest in the area, before talking about some key issues that exist in creating space for service and experiential learning in universities. Amy spoke to us about her experience in setting up D-lab in MIT and explained the difficulties inherent in the process. The huge range and diversity of the backgrounds of the people participating in this interest group meant for an interesting hour of discussion and we assigned related tasks which we agreed to work on during the rest of IDDS 08'.

Participants were then given the evening off and we collectively let off some steam through games of tennis, soccer and cricket. Sumit Pahwa, an organizer/participant from India, had been attempting to organize a cricket match since the inception of the conference and as such he was delighted that he was finally getting the chance to teach his fellow participants the ins and outs of bowling, batting and fielding. He made sure that his team won though!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 11 - Speakers and Team Dynamics

Following on from our weekly evaluations from Week one we decided to organize a team check in to make sure that the teams were happy with the way their projects were going and also with the working dynamic within their team. The day began with a two hour follow up session given by Paul Hudnut and we then had our team evaluation session. The teams were encouraged to be honest with each other about how they felt they were working together but we also told them to come up with a myriad of positive aspects about their team dynamic.

All the participants I spoke to found this session extremely useful as the importance of good team relations as the foundations of a successful project was not lost on them. We then provided an ethnic lunch for the participants and our two guest speakers for the day, Ruth Mufute and Harish Hande. Columbian, Chinese, Indian and Brazilian food was ordered and there was no surprise when the Brazilian food once again turned up late! After lunch we all convened on room 66-160 to listen to presentations from our two guest speakers.

Ruth Mufute, currently the Regional Director for Africare in East and Anglophone West Africa, spoke to participants about her experiences in empowering women in Africa. Africare is an organization which works in partnership with African communities to promote health, education and productivity. Ruth talked about the need that exists to respect traditional culture in the face of globalisation, and numerous other factors. Find out more about Africare at .

We were then treated to an extremely interesting lecture from Harish Hande, co - founder of SELCO. This is a sustainable energy based company whose mission is to empower the lives of under-served populations throughout the world by selling, servicing and financing services that improves their quality of life in a holistic manner. Harish talked to us about his experiences with SELCO and then went on to outline what he felt were the key issues surrounding entrepreneurship in developing countries.

He argued that what was needed was a renewed focus on consumer need, rather than simply creating new products for the sake of innovation. His key points were that barriers are functions of human resources and not of technology, that money is best put towards services and letting word of mouth speak for itself, over unreliable marketing, and that increasing production doesn't increase income. He made the point that sub par answers to real world problems were simply not good enough and that innovators need to work with communities, rather than simply providing them with Western solutions. Find out more about SELCO by visiting

The participants then broke into their teams for their afternoon workshop session. The teams have been working hard for the last few days to create presentations and basic concept sketches and prototypes for the first design review this Friday. The participants are excited about hearing from design experts about their respective projects and are looking forward to learning about some technologies in the "how to" sessions during the weekend.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 10 - Potluck Entrepreneurship

One of the concerns expressed about last year's conference by many of the past participants, and by Amy herself, was that teams began to think about the implementation stage of their project far too late. To help solve that problem Amy invited Paul Hudnut, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at Colorado State University, Bainbridge Graduate Institute and Bordeaux Business School. Paul has worked extensively with Envirofit International, a company which develops and disseminates products and services that address major environmental problems in the developing world, and shared his insights with our IDDS participants. He spoke about the crucial need for dissemination of technological ideas and he highlighted it as the difference "between invention and innovation – between creativity and making a difference."

Technological and design innovations on pre-existing products such as solar cookers are all well and good but Paul stressed the importance of designing for dissemination and the specific needs of people living in developing countries. Too often, he said, designers and engineers throughout the world do not focus on these two crucial factors and as such many of the very real needs and problems of the world's poorest people remain unmet and unsolved.

Paul Hudnut speaks about technology and entrepreneurship

He argued that what is needed are business models and business thinking designed into the construction of projects right from the very beginning. He used the example of the 2 stroke retrofit engine kit, designed by Envirofit to help combat the pollution problems, and their knock on effects, caused by a 100 million two and three wheeler vehicles in Southeast Asia. The key concept here is that the buyer begins to make money the day it is installed, similar to the treadle pump system which Paul Polak spoke on, thus providing them with serious incentives to make use of the product. Check out some of the work Envirofit does at and also see Paul Hudnut's blog "What's a Bopreneur?", , for further information on the ideas touched on so tentatively here.

After the participants had engaged in some entrepreneurship sessions within their groups they were free to return to the experimentation, discussion and research stages of their all important IDDS projects. All of the participants I spoke to in the intervening break period had extremely positive things to say about the Entrepreneurship sessions and were looking forward to applying Paul's basic two step concept, "1)What Sucks? and 2)What are you going to do about it?", to their own particular design problems and projects.

After a day spent working within their teams it was time for the participants to return to the dorms to begin frantic last minute preparations for the much anticipated IDDS 2008 Potluck Dinner. Each participant had been charged with "designing and constructing", in the true IDDS spirit, a dish that represented some aspect of their home culture. I cycled home from IDDS central as fast as I could and was not surprised to find that the usually quite relaxed and docile Burton Conner dorms had turned into a hive of activity. Participants from over twenty countries one and all threw off their inhibitions and unabashedly attempted to steal all the hard won cooking utensils from the organizer's suite. Myself and Tombo were reluctant to begin cooking as we knew that if we turned our backs for even a moment our precious pots and pans would be lost forever!

Despite these blatant and continued attempts at utensil larceny the atmosphere within the dorms was one of great camaraderie, as participants helped each other out with their individual dishes and learned some exciting new recipes along the way! In our kitchen I worked on a dish consisting of that most traditional of Irish crops, the potato, while Tombo worked on a much more tasty and far more interesting Malawian snack food(absolutely delicious). The diverse range of the foods and cooking methods on offer in the dorms was fascinating and the smells wafting from the various rooms set quite a few stomachs rumbling. By far the most innovative cooking method surprisingly from the English contingent, using a power drill to make their world famous scones and cream!

Some "traditional" Irish cooking

A brilliant innovation for whipping cream!

The Zambians cook Nchima together

Once the clock struck 7pm Crossman and John, the organizers of this year's potluck, began making their rounds of the various suites, attempting to usher participants downstairs to help speed things up. Crossman was quite insistent in his remonstrations with those participants lagging behind, simply because he was absolutely starving! We soon had everyone down in the assigned area(just outside the Burton Conner dorms) and were about to start when we realized that the Zambians and the Brazilians were nowhere to be seen! Rumour has it that the Brazilians were late because of an impromptu dance party in their suite and based on what I have seen in the last few weeks, this would not surprise me in the slightest.

Soon though, everyone was finally together and we could begin. A variety of meals and dishes from India, Ireland, Ghana, Zambia, Scotland, England, Tanzania, Brazil, Guatemala and a host of other countries were polished off by the participants in record time. There was even a "traditional" TV dinner cooked by one of the American participants, Derek Lomas. Conversations were sparked between participants, organizers and mentors as they explained the cultural origins and ingredients of their dishes to each other.

Amy gives the hungry participants licence to eat!

Sumit guards his Mango Lassi protectively(it went pretty quickly!)

Charcoal biscuits - surprisingly sweet!

Some of the foods on offer

The potluck dinner table!

Once the food was finished a clean up of similarly gargantuan proportions ensued and a particular mention must be given here to Gustavo Fujiwara, a third year mechanical Engineering student in the University of Sao Paolo, who did more than his fair share of washing up! Overall though, a superb event and probably my personal highlight of the conference so far.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 9 - Design Continuum

The participants spent the vast majority of today working within their groups. They were given a brief session in the morning on the various ways that they could construct mock prototypes using chip board, foam core, and actual materials to test the user feasibility. The teams then each found a corner of the Stata centre to work in and began a series of sketch models, system diagrams and experimentation's that lasted the until late in the afternoon.

The" hand held medical diagnostic tool" team work out some key concepts on their blackboard in the Stata centre

Each participant has also been given a design notebook which contains graph paper and information about design and prototyping. One student, Nathan Cooke, has been using his notebook extensively, sketching out ideas for the project and recording team and group sessions. He has also included some excellent sketches of the participants! Just another example of the huge reservoir of talent that exists among the participants in this years conference.

Nathan's sketches of some of the other participants

At 5.15 we all met back in 32-141 to get ready for our trip to Continuum. This design firm is working closely this summer with IDDS to help participants with information and advice on the design process involved in the projects. On Friday 25th July, and then again on the Friday of the following week, consultants from Continuum, IDEO and Cooper Perkins will come to participate in Design reviews to help give the participants guidance on the finer details of their design approach and prototype construction.

We had organized two school buses to take the IDDS group to the Continuum offices in Newton, a thirty minute drive from MIT. On the way there I had an interesting discussion with Jessica Huang, a civil engineering and business student in Berkeley college who is working on the Power Generation from Mechanical Device team. She is currently working back in California on a project focusing on Arsenic removal from water and will be presenting her work so far to the IDDS group next Tuesday. Looking forward to it!

We reached Continuum at 630pm(slightly behind schedule, in keeping with the IDDS style) and were delighted to find a huge array of food had been prepared for us. We were graciously received by all the Continuum staff and they even had the courtesy of providing name badges for those of us who had forgotten our IDDS versions! Continuum's president, Gianfranco Zaccai, welcomed us with a short speech in which he stressed the importance of conferences such as IDDS for helping to foster new ideas and new ways of solving real life problems through design innovations. He pointed out that even though it was possible to send man to the moon using an almost unlimited amount of time and resources the task of designing a simple, cheap, effective and implementable technology was in fact far more difficult and required far more innovation.

The participants and the Continuum employees then split into two groups, one of which went on a tour of the building while the other listened to presentations given by IDDS participants. I was in the first group and we were treated to presentations from Mariela Molina, Bryce Butcher, Suprio Das and Bernard Kiwia. Mariela, Universidad Rafael Landivar Guatemala and Bryce, Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA), talked about two very different projects. Mariela told the group of the work she was doing on water purification through solar panels and then Bryce followed this with an interesting presentation on a latrine design project entitled "Eco Loo". Bryce worked with fellow team members from the California Institute of Technology and the her own college to attempt to "to provide simple, efficient solutions to the latrine problem in developing countries". Her team went on a field trip to Guatemala to discover more information and then developed a design that they believe could help to stop the spread of latrine caused disease. To find out more about Bryce's project check out their website - .

Suprio and Bernard then talked about different forms of energy they had created using a variety of parts from bikes they had dismantled. Both of these mechanisms represent innovation at its best and were very much appreciated by both the participants and the designers in the room. I'll let the videos speak for themselves on this occasion...

Suprio's home made technology

Bernard's innovative pedal powered saw

Our group were then given a tour of the offices by Michelle Tsay, one of Continuum's employees. We were shown a number of interesting projects developed by the fire, ranging from a modulating shower head to an innovative runner design! Michelle told us a little about the aim and vision of Continuum and focused on the difficulty of striking a balance between sustainable and profit generating products. All the participants were very positive about their experience at Continuum and are very excited about working with some of the consultants there on designing their prototypes later this week!

A sustainalbe presentation stand made completely out of cardboard

Marcio, Stephen and Jagdish having fun on the tour of Continuum

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 8 - Prototype concepts and phone calls

Our second week at IDDS started far less chaotically than the first. The participants made their way to room 32 -141(the location for the majority of this week's lectures) at 9am for a quick, early morning session on conference logistics for the day. The focus today was again on idea generation and Ben Linder pressed home to the participants the importance of exploring as many different avenues as possible, as opposed to adopting a narrow focus too early. Ben and Amy then went through an extremely amusing but highly informative role play centered around selling a product based solely on its physical features. The idea of this activity was to remind the teams that what they are attempting to prototype must be an idea they are capable of selling to people!

The participants then split up into their respective teams to begin working out concepts for their various ideas and sketches. The teams have already done quite a bit of research into the underlying problem behind what they are trying to create and are also still in the process of finding out all previous research that has been done in that area. Many of the teams have been making contact with individuals and groups from all over the globe to try and find out more specific details about research paper's and to try and find out on the ground information in developing countries where the problem exists. Elizabeth Kneen, from the System for Flash Heating Breast Milk team, told me that they plan to talk to doctors in Zimbabwe and Malawi, have already made contact with people from Tanzania, China, Philadelphia, California, and even had a chat with some PHD students in Newcastle, England!

Shamo Thar and John Shaba working on the Interlocking Stabilized soil block maker

George Fuachie explains an idea to his fellow $10 computer team members, Miguel and Anuj

Pilo Banegas from Honduras working out some initial concept models for a Rope way Transport System

The Power generation from Mechanical Device team hard at work

After a day filled with sketches and sticky notes we met as a group at Lobby 10, just inside the main entrance to MIT. Once there we split into groups to take participants to a variety of grocery stores, so they could purchase some traditional food for the potluck dinner on Wednesday evening. Groups were led to Chinatown, Shaws, Trader Joe's and then the largest posse, of which I was a part, took a bus to Tropical Foods.

This store has a variety of food items from around the world, and as such many of the participants were thrilled to recognize their favorite foods. The Zambians; Joshua, Oswin, Dennis and Kenneth, were particularly glad to be able to stock up on Nshima, a staple starch food made from maize flour and water. They told me that they eat this food everyday in their home country and thus they tried to grab as much of it as they could to bring back to the dorms!

It was then time for me to me to think of an Irish dish that I could make for the Potluck dinner. I literally had my phone in my hand, on the verge of ringing home to plead with my mother for help, when I had a moment of inspiration. Strolling down the cereal aisle I came across a well known American cereal called "Lucky Charms" which plays heavily on the Irish leprechaun stereotype and simply had to buy it. Leaving the store(I also bought fish and potatoes) Nathan Cooke, a participant currently studying at the Art Center College of Design in Passadena, grabbed hold of my bag and triumphantly declared that he had "got hold of me lucky charms". He then stopped for a moment before declaring that he had in fact "been waiting his entire life" to be able to say that. I am glad to see that the Irish are still a source of amusement over here!

Yours truly, playing up to a good old fashioned stereotype

On the bus back to MIT Shaibu Laizer, a participant hailing from Arusha in Tanzania, promised that he would cook me some ugali(the Swahili way of saying nchima) once we returned to the dorms. Shaibu is employed as a bike workshop manager for Global Alliance in his native Tanzania and his work centers around repairing bikes sent from Bikes not Bombs, a company which has a base here in Boston. He also works closely with Bernard Kiwia in dismantling these bikes and attempting to create new pedal powered forms of energy from the remaining parts. He told me of his delight in having the chance to come to MIT this summer and stressed his desire to take home ideas and technologies that he can use and employ in his work in Arusha.

True to his word Shaibu made me a thoroughly enjoyable meal of Ugali and soup and was the perfect host, despite the fact that he could barely contain his laughter at the way I was attempting to smooth the Ugali with my hands(you do not use cutlery when eating this meal). We then joined some of the participants for a game of soccer that went late into the night. As I made my way to bed at about 2am I overheard a phone call that the Breast milk team were making to Malawi. This level of effort and commitment seems to be spread throughout the teams and I only hope it continues as the days and weeks go on!

Ugali(Nchima) with Cabbage

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 7 - Getting some exercise!

After a week of sitting in lecture theatres we decided that some of the participants would appreciate the chance to get some exercise, and we were right! A bike trip to Walden Pond was organized by Gwyndaf Jones, a mentor at this year's conference and our bike mechanic specialist, and was attended by about twenty participants. There were two groups scheduled for the trip - one who got the train a portion of the distance and the other who decided to ride the full twenty miles. The teams arrived together to Walden Pond amidst a tremendous downpour of rain and were quick to get out of their clothes and into their swim gear. When I asked Deepa how the trip went her one word response "Awesome", was echoed by a number of participants who thoroughly enjoyed the day out, even despite the torrential rain and thunderstorms!

The biking crew get ready to leave the dorms

Deepa and Gwyn lead the charge!

Ariel Phillips had then planned a trip around Harvard and Harvard Square but had to cancel due to the thunder, lightning and rain. However, we did promise them we would re-do this outing at some stage during the conference.

The participants then made their way back to the dorms to set themselves up for the coming week. Concept selection, experimentation, entrpeneurship sessions, guest speakers, presentations and project design are all packed into Week 2 so there will be plenty to keep them busy! The organizers then met at 6pm to discuss week 1, the all important participant evaluations and the plan for Week 2. This was by far our longest meeting to date(5hours!) but we felt it was necessary as we really wanted to make sure that we addressed any issues raised by participants in their weekly evaluations. We also ordered pizza for the meeting's mid-point so that helped keep the masses(there were 19 organizers present) happy!

Overall, the feedback we received from the participants was extremely positive. All who completed the survey said that they felt very welcomed by the organizing staff and were thrilled to be working with people from such diverse backgrounds. The design activity was also a particular highlight for many of the participants, as was the balloon team building activity! However, Some of the African and Indian participants were uncomfortable with the level of air-conditioning used in some lecture halls as they were. We are working on attempting to solve this problem and also have taken into consideration comments teams have made about the mentor process.

All in all though the positive feedback provided a timely boost to the organizers, as we realized that our hard work in the preceding weeks had really paid off. One participant's highlight so far was "learning about a device I never thought I'd have the opportunity to work with" and I feel this dissemination of information, skills and technology is what we want IDDS to be all about.

So with their batteries recharged for Week 2 the participants had an early night after an action packed weekend. The first week of IDDS can be definitely be put down as an unqualified success and hopefully we can make the week's still to come even better and actually get down to creating technologies! As Anil Gupta put it, "if we decide not to live with a problem we will decide to solve it" and we hope that the participants can adopt this approach and keep up the huge level of commitment and energy that they have already shown to date.

The aerial shot of the group at Killian Court(notice the perfection that is D2)

The group all together on the steps beneath the dome

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 6 - Getting to know Boston

Having made it through the first week of IDDS unbowed and unscathed the participants were given the chance this weekend to travel around Boston and Cambridge. On Saturday we gave them the choice between a trip to the Boston Harbour Islands and a tour of Downtown Boston. Amy told us she had been expecting maybe a group of five or ten for the trip but ended up with a crowd of thirty or forty! By all accounts the group had a thoroughly enjoyable day, with kayaking, acrobatics on the beach, boat trips and swimming all on the agenda.

Miguel and Tombo act out a scene from a popular movie

The group gear up for some kayaking!

The rest of the participants went on a tour of Downtown Boston led by Mary Hong and Crossman. Bernard Kiwia from Tanzania was among the participants to attend this activity and was fascinated by the street performers he saw in the city centre. He even picked up a CD of some musicians using bamboo sticks to modulate sound! The heat today was absolutely stifling and even John Quansah (from Ghana!) found it too much and had to go home to the somewhat cooler confines of his room.- John even had to go back and get some sleep due to the crazy heat!

Back at the dorm I had an extremely interesting conversation with Crossman and John, the workshop managers, about their anticipation of the weeks ahead. Up until this point the conference has been quite discussion and concept based but as of next week the participants will be getting down to actually working in the machine shops, much to the delight of Crossman and John. They mentioned that some communication and language difficulties participants had been having during the problem framing and idea generation sessions would soon disappear once a more hands on approach was adopted in the workshops!

In the evening Alvaro organized a potluck dinner of sorts in his room, with the tortilla's he cooked being a personal favorite of mine. Pilo, Lico and Limbor, our Honduran participants also cooked a noodle and pasta dish that had everyone asking for the recipe! We will be then be having an official potluck dinner of sorts this Wednesday with food from Ghana, Brazil, Guatemala and India all hopefully on the menu. We are planning to take the participants to a variety of grocery stores this Monday so they can cook in the style of their country and then share with the group.

One personal way I am trying to communicate with participants who do not have English as their first language is by learning Swahili and Spanish. Carlos Enrique Marroquin Machan, a past participant from Guatemala, and Bernard are helping me with my Spanish and Swahili respectively. I am starting from practically zero base in both languages so I have a feeling I won't even be able to speak English very well in a few weeks!

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