Archive for February, 2008

Roots~Where do flowers come from?

A reader of the betterplace blog in German commented on From Kenya with love – and left the link to this great film. Thank you!


Thank You, Bonty


This morning I received a well-worn parcel in the mail. When I opened it, what a wonderful collection I found! Bonty, who had received some support from betterplace for her cultural project Patterns in the Sky, had sent full documentation of the event, from the receipts of the expenses to a dvd of the show. THank you so much. This is the kind of feedback we love! 

Design for the other 90%


“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

One of the developments I find most compelling among poverty reduction efforts are the many new product ideas which address the needs of the „other 90%“of humanity. Last year the Hewitt Cooper National Design Museum in New York put on an exhibition of the same title, accompanied by a worthwhile catalogue. In a similar vain, Design Like You Give Damn, a book published by Architecture for Humanity offeres many inspiring product innovations for markets, thus far neglected due to the small buying power of its costumers.  

But – in the age of the long tail, where a large number of small-budget buyers can bring more profit then a few big spenders – this is changing.  A number of innovations depend on self-generated energy. Thus wind-up radios – belittled in the 1990s, when they were first marketed, have proved to be a very successful in regions where batteries are too expensive and electricity is non-existent.  

One of the fields in which a lot is happening concerns lighting- and solar-applications. The Freeplay Foundation has just developed lanterns which can provide up to two hours of light from just one minute of winding. The LEDs used are rated for 100,000 hours, whereas a filament bulb might burn out after 16 hours. For African populations which are estimated to spent between 10-15% of their monthly income on kerosine, candles and fire wood, these lanterns could make a real difference, enableing people to spent more time on studying after dark, be better equipped for medical emergencies and run their shops later into the evening. The lanterns, promoted by Freeplay Ambassador Tom Hanks, will be tested over the course of the next few months in Kenya and South Africa.  

Efforts to improve self-generated energy were the topic of  a recent Science article, picked up by the Economist last week: They presented the “Eneregy Harvester”, an instrument which looks like an orthopaedic knee-brace.”It tucks behind its wearer’s knee and has extensions that strap around the front of his calf and his thigh. When the wearer walks, the knee’s motion drives a set of gears which turn a small generator”. The energy generated by the harvester could, for example, be used to charge up batteries.

Many of the new Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) products are sold via special financing models adaped to the needs of customers living below the poverty line. Harish Hande, from the Indian company SELCO Solar Lights has developed a special credit system for its poor, rural customers. For his innovative and sustainable approach to poverty reduction the Schwab Foundation has rewarded Hande with the Social Entrepreneur Award 2007. Moreover, the new companies try to really get to know their customers. Whereas many of the older product designs targeting the “other 90%” originated in the Design Departments of Western corporations, without in-depth knowledge of the living conditions of their target groups, the new generation of BoD Entrepreneurs explicitly makes a point of taking their customers point of view and analysing their needs and lived reality.Canadian company Environfit sends market researchers in rural areas in developing nations in order to devise a new health – and environmentally friendly cooking stove. Toxic indoor-smoke is a serious health problems: The WHO estimates that 1.6 million people die of it annually. As half of the world’s population and 80% of rural inhabitants cook on traditional stoves which emit carbon-monoxide, Environfit (in cooperation with the Shell Foundation) saw a new market niche for new, clean ceramic stoves.In order to develop suitable models, the market reserachers analysed the cooking- and living conditions of various populations. How do they cook – while sitting, squatting or standing? Which are the preferred colours? How many cooking pots need to be handled simultaneously? The final results – to be tested in the Indian market – cost between 10 and 200 US$.

Saving Children’s Lives

savethecildren_report.jpg Every year 10 million children die before their fifth birthday, 99% of them in the developing world. 

Is it inevitable that poor countries should have high child mortality rates? Are governments in developing countries powerless to improve the survival prospects of their children? These are questions asked by a report from Save the Children in a report published today designed to re-alight the flagging momentum for the U.N. Millenium Development Goals.

The study compares economic performance with child mortality and concludes that a number of countries have not translated wealth into improvements across society. Thus Bangaldesh, low on the development index, scores far better as a result of sound health policies than oil rich Angola, which distributes wealth very unevenly and consequently has the second-highest mortality rate in the world (260 deaths per 1,000 live births.).

Some of the poorest countries in the world – Nepal, Malawi, Tanzania and Bangladesh – are among the top ten performers in cutting child mortality, whereas India, the fastest growing economy in South Asia, has some of the worst rates in the word.

From Kenya with Love


Today development-conscious people should make sure that the Valentine-flowers they get for their loved one(s) are from Kenya. At least that’s what Hilary Benn, British International Development Secretary, recommended yesterday:

“This Valentine’s day, you can be a romantic, reduce your environmental impact and help make poverty history.” (The environmental isn’t obvious considering that the flowers are brought in by plane, yet a recent study conducted at the University of Cranfield concluded that the ecobalance of flowers “made in Kenya” is positive as they are grown in nature, whereas their European counterparts use power-intensive greenhouses.) 

Despite the terrible unrests in Kenya following the election, there are enough flowers around: four million stems landed in Amsterdam to be distributed all over Europe today. Flowers are, after tourism, the main source of foreign currency in the East African country and the industry employs around 70.000 workers, mostly women. 95% of the flowers are exported, but the local demand for tulips and roses is rising as new consumption patterns are spreading with globalisation.

win-win partnerships


This morning I experienced an ICT disaster: Upon starting my laptop it reset itself into its virgin state and that during a time when I had been more than lazy with my back-ups. Fortunately my internet access was still intact and my mood was raised by an email from Michael Gleich, science journalist and co-creator of Culture Counts. In it he pointed me to two worthwhile initiatives (Thanks Michael!).

The first was Cotton made in Africa, an initiative started by the Otto group and supported by, amongst others, Tom Tailor, the DEG (German Investment and Development Association) and the GTZ, the main German state agency for development aid. Goal of the cooperation is to support the sustainable growth of cotton in African and its fair trade.The site is worth a closer look. Amongst others there is an interview about the future of CSR and an article by Michael Gleich about one of the buzzword of our time – sustainability. (Did you know that worldwide there are over 800 different defitions of sustainibility in use and in discussion?)

A comparable approach – poverty reduction through economic development instead through “help” given from one large institution (state aid agencies, large international NGOs) to another (governments and regions) – is followed by Osram, the German lightning manufacturer, who supports a  project on Lake Victoria. There, kerosene lamps, polluting the lake and increasingly unaffordable for the fishermen, are being replaced by solar-operated lamps. Everybody profits from the project: the environment, die local population and the company, which opens up a new market and improves its image (although, strangely enough, I couldn’t find anything on the Osram site about the project). 

Aid – free or cost-sharing?


One of the many open questions discussed in the aid community is whether aid is more effective if offered free of charge or if the poor have to pay for it. In White Men’s Burden. Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, development expert William Easterly describes how Mosquito nets often don’t make it to the poor: distributed by aid agencies for free (for example by the UN), they end up on the black market or get used for purposes other than intended – as fishing nets or wedding veils. According to a study of free mosquito distribution in Zambia, 40% of the nets were not used for their intended purpose.  

On the other hand, the non-profit organisation Population Service International in Malawi sells insecticide treated bed-nets for 50 cents to pregnant mothers though birth clinics. The nurses selling the nets are allowed to keep 9 cents themselves and thus have an incentive to always have them in stock. The programme itself is financed by the profits from regular net sales (5 US$ a piece) to more wealthy Malawians. It was a huge success, resulting in 55% of pregnant women and children under 5 using bed-nets (up from 8% in 2000).

The rationale of the cost-sharing proponents is that people paying for goods and services will give aid institutions valuable feedback, whereas when delivered for free, the poor don’t have any power to complain or reject the goods offered to them.

“Charging the poor modest fees for health care is a way to increase accountability for delivering health services. If the villagers don’t get a good service after they have sacrificed to pay for it, they loudly complain”, says the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (People’s Health Center), a Bangladeshi NGO charging a small fee in return for their support of pregnant women.

A new study by the Brookings Institute Free Distribution or cost sharing? Evidence from a randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment comes to a different conclusion.

Continue reading ‘Aid – free or cost-sharing?’