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Breaking Down Barriers to a More Equitable and Prosperous WorldJames Koch
“Do not go where the path May lead Go instead where there Is no path And leave a trail”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In my Santa Clara University MBA class (Leadership for a Just and Prosperous World) I provide an overview of global demographics and pose the following discussion topic: if the world is divided roughly in half with more than three billion people living on less than two dollars a day and a comparable number living above this subsistence level, then a priori a fifty percent probability exists that any of us could have been born into a world of extreme poverty. Given this, I ask: “if this were the case for you or someone you love, what principles might you advocate to foster a more just and prosperous world?”
This exercise always leads to a lively discussion on the role of education and information access, markets and globalization, livelihood opportunities, and migration. It also spans the role of freedom, contract law, property rights, and justice systems, in addition to the needs for access to the basics of healthcare, shelter, food security, sanitation, water, and electricity. Not surprisingly, it also considers the critical importance of linking technological innovation to human needs for those at the base of the economic pyramid, where market incentives for research and development investment still are missing. Most conclude from this exercise that the barriers to creating a more equitable world for all are daunting, and that such abstract concepts as equality or freedom, and such social organizing tenets as efficient market theory require a host of assumptions for the benefits of these concepts to be widely realized in practice. This year’s Tech Laureates are overcoming barriers with both technological innovations and new models of social change. These innovations and models create: economic development that is environmentally sustainable; an information society that is shared beyond the billion at the top of the economic pyramid; access to affordable healthcare and education; and hope, human agency, and collective efficacy that supplants despair and the degradation of humanity. To paraphrase Emerson, “they are going where there is no path and leaving a trail.”
Imagine being imprisoned or on death row for a crime that you did not commit. Now imagine being metaphorically “imprisoned” in a village without electricity, sanitation, safe drinking water, healthcare, and information access, or livelihood opportunities that would enable you to grasp the notion of a better life for your family. And, imagine being one of the billions of people whose needs are the subject of one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, trapped by barriers to child literacy, infant mortality, and extreme gender inequality. The innovation, will, and incredible tenacity of individuals like this year’s Tech Awards Laureates can knock down barriers, such as those we have imagined, so that our prospects and those of future generations can be significantly improved, if not transformed. Taken together, the work of these social entrepreneurs provides insight into the “principles” that are needed to crest a bridge between technological innovation and human needs around the world (see Table 1).
Ten Principles to Break Down Barriers and
1. Overcome “civil engineering” deficits through affordable infrastructure innovation in sanitation, safe water, energy, housing, and transportation.
2. Overcome the barrier to capital access for those with no collateral or credit history through micro-finance.
3. Overcome the barrier to standard Internet access and value-added content through advanced services over TV, cell phones, and Web 2.0.
4. Overcome the reality of fragmented markets through distribution and supply chain innovations.
5. Overcome the barrier of inefficient markets through successful intermediation.
6. Overcome the challenge of deploying technology through localization and the creation of livelihoods to manufacture, distribute, and maintain technologies.
7. Overcome skill shortages and education deficits through simplification.
8. Overcome “non-consumption” as a barrier to adoption through education and a compelling value proposition that encompasses cost innovation.
9. Overcome “market failure” through the creation of sustainable business models.
10. Overcome barriers to entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid through the seeding of “innovation ecologies.”
Principles 1 and 2:
Off-grid energy in the form of low cost solar systems, biomass, and efficient stoves (an illustration of principle 1, overcoming civil engineering deficits, in Table 1) are made affordable to the poor in Bangladesh by Grameen Shakti (GS) with the help of access to micro-finance (principle 2). The work of GS illustrates how many of the factors in Table 1 work together to create opportunities for environmentally and economically sustainable innovations at the base of the pyramid. GS addresses the basic need for electricity and the potential to combine extant technological innovations in new ways to provide access to clean, efficient energy as an alternative to kerosene. Kerosene creates smoke-filled rooms, requires women to trudge miles for fuel, and causes premature deaths due to cancer, asthma, and other air-pollution diseases. GS, through its Solar Home Systems (SHS), provides low-cost alternative for light and energy. It also creates livelihood opportunities (principle 6) through Renewable Energy Entrepreneurs for manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance of 10-20 watt solar systems, as well as bio-gas systems that utilize Improved Cook Stoves (ICS). Distribution barriers (principle 4) are overcome by GS through the creation of 264 rural based offices with trained women engineers to repair, maintain, and supply SHS spare parts. The economic barrier of high up front SHS costs is addressed by providing micro-credit access (principle 2). The related non-consumption barrier is overcome through free user training and the low costs that come with high volumes (principle 8). GS plans to reach one million customers by 2015. A scaleable business model (principle 9) is evidenced by the rapid growth of GS, with 1,600 SHS systems installed per month in 2006 and the current rate of installations at more than 4,000 per month, making GS one of the largest and fastest growing rural-based companies in the world.
Gameen Shakti illustrates how technological and market creating innovations at the base of the pyramid can foster broader innovation ecologies (principle 10). A healthy population—in this instance through reduced indoor air pollution—is also a more productive population. In addition, SHS energy systems have opened up new opportunities for employment in community T.V. centers, electronic repair shops, and mobile phone shops. Similarly, bio-gas innovation has created secondary organic fertilizer markets for poultry and cattle owners. This organic compost is a lower cost, less polluting alternative to chemical fertilizers. GS has constructed more than 2,000 biogas plants in the past year.
Principle 3: Advanced Services Over TV, Cell Phones, and Web 2.0
Cell Bazaar in
TakingITGlobal.org is one of the world’s best examples of using Web 2.0 community building tools and learning management systems to overcome barriers to the awareness of collaboration opportunities and to provide local language access to resources. It utilizes user profiles to build individual identities as global citizens and tap the power of social networks and digital media as tools for learning, collaboration, dialogue, and action. TakingITGlobal.org develops projects for this online community with partner international NGOs, UN agencies, and national governments. Seventy-eight percent of its members state that they have become more aware of global issues and challenges, and sixty-seven percent have been inspired to take regional, country, or community-level action.
Canal Futura in
Elluminate, Inc. in the
Principle 4: Distribution and Supply Chain Innovation
PATH’s Vacuum Vial Monitor overcomes the cold storage problem in delivering vaccines to the poor where refrigeration is lacking. Vaccines must travel from manufacturing facilities in Europe by plane to
Principle 5: Successful Intermediation
Kiva.org provides an excellent example of successful low cost intermediation between supply and demand. It links financial surplus households to deficit households in poor countries and people with good business plans who lack access to the financial resources to exploit them. It fosters trust by working through on-the-ground micro-finance organizations to vet projects and utilizing Pay Pal to provide secure payment systems. In addition, it provides lenders with feedback on the impact of the successful ventures they fund.
Counterpart International utilizes data warehousing to create a logistics system to assure donors that donated commodities get to those in need and to assure beneficiaries that commodities are inspected, safe, and in useable condition. The system builds trust through its information system and its relationships on the “demand” or need side with local organizations, communities, and governments, as well as relationships on the supply side with charitable organizations. Its services encompass assessment of humanitarian needs, project design, commodity inspection, managing shipments, planning distribution, monitoring use, gathering feedback, and reporting to donors, governments, and the media. By increasing efficiency and accountability in the supply chain it not only builds trust, but it encourages future giving and hence the flow of commodities to where the needs are greatest.
Principle 6: Localization and Livelihoods
Association la Voute Nubienne has revived an indigenous technology by standardizing and modularizing the construction process for timber-less, vaulted-earth, brick buildings in sub-Saharan
blueEnergy provides off-grid access to energy through the integration of wind and solar power. Its efforts combine technical and organizational innovations for producing windmills in series and at higher volumes with locally trained workers who have the skills to provide onsite maintenance.
HELPS International’s ONIL stove provides efficient, safe, and environmentally sustainable cooking. ONIL stoves are manufactured, distributed, and maintained through 120 NGO’s in
Fundación Terram has developed a system for cultivating kelp to absorb fish waste in Chilean salmon farms. This environmentally sustainable system also produces feedstock for cultivated abalone. Through a profitable supply chain, Fundacion Terram provides sustainable livelihood opportunities for indigenous populations.
Principle 7: Simplification—Overcoming Knowledge and Skill Shortages as
Barriers to Technological Adoption
Diagnostics Development Unit in
Tropical Forest Trust utilizes an icon or picture-driven ruggedized hand-held touch screen system that is linked by satellite receiver to a Global Positioning System (GPS) to inventory and develop community resource maps. This system is used by non-literate indigenous people in forest management. Working in concert with Forest Stewardship Council, the gold standard for sustained forest management, forest resource sellers like the Congolaise Industriellle des Bois can charge a premium rate for legally sourced, sustainably produced timber in the 1.3 million acres under its management.
Principle 8: Creating a Compelling Reason to Buy in the Presence of Non-Consumption through Education and Cost Innovation
HELPS International, Diagnostics Development Unit, PATH, and Jaipur Food have all created a compelling reason to purchase their products in the presence of non-consumption. HELPS in
Diagnostics for the Real World, the for-profit spin-off out of Diagnostics Development of Cambridge has a value proposition that centers around its rapid, simple, and accurate diagnostic tests for infectious agents that are common in the developing world, with certified predictive values of 97 percent v. only 44 percent for conventional clinical observation.
PATH’s Vaccine Vial Monitor value proposition is similarly compelling. For a few cents per vial its temperature-sensitive labels on vaccine vials reveal heat damage and ensure the efficacy of hundreds of millions of vaccine doses each year.
Jaipur Foot provides an example of extraordinary cost innovation. Its prosthetics provide functionality for kneeling, sitting cross-legged, running, climbing a tree, and driving at one two hundredth the cost of typical prosthetics ($35 v. $8,000). Jaipur Foot has combined its radical transformative design, together with its distribution and managerial system innovations to become the world’s largest limb fitting organization. It has developed 16 centers across India in addition to 30-40 “camps” that it organizing all over India every year, and two mobile workshops. (Note: “Camps” have been identified as a helpful organizational mechanism in previous Tech Awarda organizations, including Educational Camps for Conservation Awareness in
Principle 9: Innovative, Sustainable Business Models
Diagnostics Development Unit (DD) has developed a hybrid business model.
Kiva.org’s financial mediation services to finance social ventures around the world and PATH’s Vacine Vial Monitor provide examples of business models with declining marginal costs and increasing returns to scale. In its first 18 months Kiva.org originated $6 million in loans to more than 7,000 projects from more than 60,000 Internet users. PATH has sold more than 1.5 billion vial monitors to more than 25 vaccine suppliers since 1996, with its monitors now used in more than 20 countries.
Proctor and Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water is a single-use sachet that combines alum (for flocculation to remove particulates) and chlorine-based disinfection to kill bacteria, parasites, and viruses. To overcome distribution barriers and educate the market on the importance of safe water, Proctor and Gamble has worked with PSI (Population Services International), the U.S. and U.K. governments and NGOs in Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. Social marketing adapted to regional customs and language, and working with trusted local organizations have been keys to success in the delivery of more than 600 million liters of potable water and to the saving of more than 3,000 lives.
Principle 10. Fostering Innovation Ecologies
This year marks the seventh anniversary of the Tech Museum Awards. Two innovation ecologies are evidenced across the 175 finalists who have been recognized to date: the “gradual slope” innovation ecology and the “accelerated slope” ecology. The search for solutions to the growing need for safe drinking water reflects the former, while innovation in the appropriation of information and communications technology to address human needs appears to be accelerating.
The 2007 State of the Future report of The Millennium Project concludes that by 2025, 1.8 billion people in water scarce regions are likely to be desperate enough to produce mass migrations. An additional three billion will live in water stressed regions like
By contrast to the pessimistic situation in the water category, an “accelerated slope” ecology exists in the areas of information and communications technology. Here innovations appear to be building on each other and fostering increasingly valuable social returns. For example, one of this year’s Tech Laureates in the education category, Open Educational Resources (OER), has developed a solution that builds on the work of two previous Tech Laureates, MIT’s Open Course Ware (OCW), and
Another innovation ecology that is evidenced through seven years of Tech Museum Awards history is “complementary innovation.” For example, the micro-lending work that was pioneered by Grameen Bank enabled the accelerated diffusion of cell phones through thousands of village phone lady franchisees in
In our world of 6.6 billion people, income disparities are great and growing. Two percent of the world’s richest people now own half of the world’s wealth, while the poorest half now holds only one percent of the wealth. With stable or declining populations in nearly all developing counties, the poorest half of the world population will account for nearly all of global population growth over the next twenty five years. Too many people are convinced that help in closing the gap between rich and poor will come from some magic bullet, the product of an “unknown Edison” working in obscurity somewhere, ready to step forward when the world needs saving.
But there is another, more likely and hopeful scenario, demonstrated by the dedicated effort of the many social entrepreneurs and technical innovators profiled here and honored by the Tech Museum Awards. Rather than a singular solution, the collective efforts of dedicated visionaries throughout the world are breaking down barriers and defining new market principles in a search for a more just and prosperous world.
As Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges so poignantly wrote in Boast of Quietness, “my humanity is in the feeling we are all voices of the same poverty” and all of us “are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.” By enlarging our worldview, developing new solutions, and considering new paradigms, we are assuring the foundation for a century that is healthier, more prosperous, and more opportunity-rich for the entire world’s people.