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Appropriate Design For The Developing World


TiE-Boston's Social Entrepreneurship Group organized a panel presentation focused on the issue of Appropriate Design for the Developing World at MIT on July 31st. This event was also coordinated with the ongoing International Design Development Summit at MIT that brought together 50 students, faculty and community partners from 16 countries. They learned to design and build products to address the needs of the world's poorest people. The distinguished panel, assembled due to the initiative and perseverance of TiE Charter Member, Raj Melville, consisted of:

Peter Haas, Founder and Executive Director of The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), a non-profit working mainly in Gautemala that helps people get technology that will better their health and improve their lives.

Tim Prestero, Cofounder and CEO of Design that Matters. DtM's mission is to create new products that allow social enterprises in developing countries to offer improved services and scale more quickly.

Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer, MIT teaches at the D-Lab and is a recipient of the MacArthur Genius grant in 2004. She works on clean water, cooking fires and other problems that face people in the developing world.

Iqbal Qadir is Co-founder and Director of MIT Program for Developmental Entrepreneurship. Earlier, he established Grameen Phone in partnership with Grameen Bank that now offers access to phone services to 100 million rural Bangladeshis.

Each member of the panel, with humor yet empathy, gave their own perspective of processes and technology diffusion that can benefit poor people in the developing world. Peter Haas focused on developing infrastructure -- affordable and environmentally sound access to electricity, sanitation and clean water -- to lift up living standards. His organization aims to improve people's livelihood by the creation of local industries. DtM identifies needs that are then isolated to specifics in order to generate design concepts. He illustrated his talk with an example of incubators for communities in Nepal. DtM also draws on universities for product designs and is open to manufacture of their devices outside of the intended country if it makes overall economic sense. Amy's D-Lab, true to its education mission, aims to create a corps that understands the context, designs and dissemination of appropriate technology. Her example of more efficient cooking fuel showed the iterative nature of design and adaptation of the basic process to local raw material sources in different parts of the world. Iqbal Qadir stressed the need for decentralization of power structures in order to encourage development and entrepreneurship. He gave an interesting logical extension of Moore's Law (the number of transistors on a chip and hence its processing power doubles every 18 months) and its effect on decentralizing power. The Grameen Phone enterprise is a vivid example of his developmental philosophy.

The audience was deeply engaged as evident from the questions and discussions that followed the presentations. The meeting served to both underline the reality facing a vast majority of the world's population and also hope that development issues are being confronted and tackled in myriad ways.

(J. Ravi is the Co-founder and Principal of Semlux Technologies which is developing silicon technologies for the photovoltaic industry. He is also very interested in applying modern design and development methods for products aimed at meeting the needs of people in the developing world. )

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