A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Developement through Design

The US in technology central, and no where is this more evident than at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston.

Through the TED Talks, I heard of a professor, Amy Smith, and a group of students who are applying their technological know-how to design products to accelerate development through a class called D-Lab (Development Lab). So, when in Boston, I went along to find out a bit more. It was good timing too, for the students were hosting end of term poster presentations explaining their innovations. There was briquette burner for in home use (with the briquettes made with sugar cane waste). There was a moulding vacuum device for making prosthetic limbs and a prototype intelligent pill dispenser box; all with application in the developing world.

Chatting to the class’ teaching assistant, Amy Banzaert I realised also that D-Lab acts as a catalyst to get more and more technically minded young people interested in developing issues. As part of the course, students have an opportunity to travel overseas to study the problems and develop prototypes with local communities. Once they are back at MIT, they work on their designs in collaboration with contacts they made. Ideas are sparked, developed, modified, redesigned and when a good design is hit upon, it is passed on to the next group of students who develop the idea further. A new generation of technical thinkers in incubation…

But what happens the designs?

Well, a good question. It was a question plaguing Peter Haas, so much so that he went on to establish AIDG (Appropriate Infrastructure for Development Group). Through his travels and studies Peter was seeing available solutions, which due to a lack of business models in the developing world to support the scale up and manufacture of the design, did not have the impact they could. And so he set about developing local businesses which take the designs, get them manufactured and then distributed locally. It is relatively early days for AIDG, but starting out in Guatemala they now have plans to replicate their own model in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Like D-Lab, AIDG tap into the latent talent of students by providing overseas internships. In doing so the local business’ benefit from technical knowledge and a fresh pair of hands. A good match all round I would say.

DLab and AIDG were good examples of how the link in the chain (from concept to distibution) need to be forged for effective solutions to spiral into action.

(Thanks to Cathal Kearney, a Irish pal at MIT who helped me set up the DLab meeting, and Anne Marie Bellavance for the link to Peter)



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