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About the Author
Mark Aschheim is a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Santa Clara University. Dr. Aschheim works in the areas of earthquake-resistant and sustainable structural engineering. He has developed improved design methods and structural systems, and actively serves on building code committees of the Building Seismic Safety Council. Dr. Aschheim is a registered professional engineer in California.
The Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award
The Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award recognizes technologies that level barriers to success. These barriers may have many sources—natural disasters, physical or mental disabilities, cultural practices, or simply access to information and communication technology resources. The Equality category is unique among the Tech Awards categories in that the notion of equality or equal treatment, and community benefit, are the distinguishing factors. The Equality category includes projects that address the first U.N. Millennium Development goal, which focuses on extreme poverty and hunger, and the third, which focuses on gender equality and empowering women.
This year’s Laureates were selected from 34 applications, an increase of 3 percent from 2007. In broad strokes, they may be classified in the following categories:
This year, the Equality Laureates are drawn from the civil infrastructure, information dissemination, and disabilities categories noted above. They are described in what follows.
Build Change –– United States
Hundreds of thousands of people may die in an earthquake, but it’s not the earthquake that kills. Rather, poorly designed and built buildings, bridges, and other civil infrastructures are at fault. The knowledge to build safe structures exists, and building codes in many parts of the world reflect sound earthquake-resistant design practice. The major difficulty is social, not technical, and there are many obstacles to changing design and construction practice in the field to reflect the lessons contained within modern building codes. In some cases, entrenched self-interest and corruption are to blame. Mistrust of foreign methods may also play a role. Even where people are receptive to change, significant efforts are needed to retrain builders and to develop training materials that reflect local building materials, architectural styles, and languages.
Build Change has been remarkably successful in introducing culturally appropriate and seismically safe building practices to local communities. Working in earthquake-ravaged areas, Build Change is building local capacity by training builders and homeowners in the details of earthquake-resistant construction. Build Change is expanding its influence by providing technical expertise to guide other organizations involved in post-earthquake reconstruction. First-world structural engineering expertise is brought to bear on culturally appropriate architectural designs that make use of locally available materials. The improved designs become the basis of training materials that are developed in local languages. Experience in strong aftershocks has shown these designs to be superior to those used by other agencies involved in reconstruction efforts, with virtually no damage occurring to the Build Change design.
Build Change has trained and supervised homeowners and builders in the construction of 33 houses in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and is now providing 260 homeowners with design assistance and hands-on construction training in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Simultaneously, Build Change is influencing the reconstruction of some 4,200 houses by providing assistance with design and construction to organizations such as CARE, Catholic Relief Services, and Oxfam International. This young organization is scaling geographically, with new operations being contemplated in the earthquake-damaged areas of Peru and Sichuan, China. To address the needs of the different communities Build Change works in, the organization is expanding its library of construction typologies to include confined brick masonry, timber, and concrete block.
Build Change successfully fills the immediate need to provide culturally appropriate and safe housing in earthquake-damaged regions. Its designs have been cited as an example of best practices by ARUP, a well-known engineering firm, and Build Change has received an award of excellence from the Structural Engineers’ Association of Northern California. Perhaps it’s most significant impact will be in making enduring changes to customary building practices in the locations it serves. For more information, see www.buildchange.org.
DAISY Consortium –– United States
How can visually impaired people have equal access to digital information? The DAISY Consortium, an organization founded in 1996, has representation from 68 countries and promulgates the ANSI/NISO Standard (Z39.86) for the Digital Talking Book. This globally recognized standard for producing and playing digital media establishes a baseline for communication with the visually impaired. DAISY, which stands for “Digital Accessible Information Systems,” currently is used around the globe for making newspapers, magazines, audio periodicals, and books available to the blind, visually impaired, and dyslexic. Approximately 60,000 titles are available in the Netherlands, while about 40,000 titles are available both in Sweden and in the United States. Hundreds to thousands of titles are currently available in India, Thailand, and other Asian countries. DAISY-compliant titles are available in the U.S. from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic®, and Bookshare.org.
Audio playback of DAISY-encoded media can be done using a number of commercially available packages. The DAISY Consortium has developed distributed playback software at no charge to over 100,000 users. The Adaptive Multimedia Information System (or AMIS) playback software uses synthetic speech to make text and multi-media information available to people who have visual impairments, cognitive or learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and people who are unable to hold a keyboard or printed publication. The AMIS software provides additional functionality such as full text searching, bookmarking, variable playback speed, and support for a wide variety of navigation tools. AMIS can be configured for playback in different languages; nearly 20 such language packs are now available including many Asian languages and some European languages, in addition to English. The free, open-source nature of AMIS gives users around the world access to print materials without the expense of software license fees, and encourages further development by a vibrant community of users and developers.
The DAISY Consortium is about to release Version 3 of the AMIS software. This version will embed a SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) multimedia player, Ambulant, giving AMIS the ability to support video and other rich SMIL multimedia in addition to functioning as a DAISY book player. Through its standards development, engagement of users, and development of software, the DAISY Consortium is extraordinarily effective at leveling barriers to information and education for its users. For more information, see www.daisy.org.
Hany El Miniawy, Appropriate Development, Architecture Planning Technologies –– Egypt
Many parts of the world face housing shortages. In many cases, makeshift and sometimes illegal housing camps are juxtaposed against modern buildings in large, thriving cities. Squalid conditions often result from the low incomes and lack of public services (e.g., water, sewer, and garbage service) in these areas. In Egypt alone, 11 million people, or 16 percent of the population, live in such informal areas.
Hani El Miniawy is an architect by training. Rather than relying on “first-world” solutions to address housing needs, he adapted a stabilized earth brick technology developed by the Centre d’Architecture de Terre of Grenoble, France to incorporate locally available waste products. The low-cost, cold-pressed brick is made from materials such as earth, rice straw, and cement dust. Laboratory studies are undertaken to determine the precise recipe in each location to ensure the bricks have adequate strength. Mr. Miniawy made these improvements during his service to the Ministry of Housing in Algeria, where he was a Director, General Secretary, and then Minister. In these capacities Mr. Miniaway was able to obtain consent from government officials to bring this technology to many settlements in Algeria, where he trained impoverished youth, architects, and builders in brick production and building construction and oversaw the construction of thousands of houses. Local adoption of the technology has led to the construction of many more houses; now there are approximately 110,000 people benefitting from this technology in Algeria.
Mr. Miniawy has continued to promote cold-pressed brick construction techniques in Egypt. And with the aid of an NGO that he founded, Appropriate Development, Architecture, and Planning Technologies (ADAPT), he has begun to focus more on building model homes and community centers than on individual houses. Adoption of the techniques has led to approximately 100,000 people benefitting from this technology in Egypt.
The house designs are notable in that they preserve local architecture and in some cases continue to use traditional methods of construction. The bricks, composed of inexpensive materials and waste products such as earth, straw, and cement dust, have relatively low environmental impacts and thus are more sustainable than alternatives such as concrete and steel. Because the ingredients are locally sourced, brick costs are independent of the world market, unlike concrete and steel, whose prices have increased substantially in recent years. The affordability, low environmental impacts, and culturally-appropriate architecture are advantages relative to these industrially produced materials. Mr. Miniawy has been successful in providing low-cost technology solutions that improve living conditions while also helping to alleviate poverty by training low-income youth. For more information, see www.ashoka.org/node/2990.
OneWorld South Asia –– India
Rural farmers face difficult situations, with their fortunes or misfortunes dependent on factors beyond their control, such as weather, infestation, and illness. With rainfall becoming less predictable, and the presence of droughts associated with climate change, farmers face a changing and difficult landscape. Information provided by agricultural extension workers often comes too infrequently in rural areas to avert catastrophe. How can the farmers most in need of information to improve their crops or livestock receive it in a timely fashion? Any solution must cope with their poor access to computing technologies, local dialects, and the high rate of illiteracy among rural farmers.
OneWorld implemented a relatively simple telephony technology to provide farmers with overnight access to expert information. Building on their previous experience with SMS messaging in Kenya, OneWorld cleverly devised a system to reach rural farmers in southern India. Farmers call in to the system twice—the first time, to leave a message that describes the problem they are facing, and the second, to receive a recorded response. OneWorld South Asia staffs a central office with knowledge workers that search their voice database of Frequently Asked Questions—if a similar question has been answered previously, that answer is dispatched to the farmer. If the question is novel, an expert response is obtained from specialists from the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals. Answers are provided in the farmer’s language, even if it differs from the language of the
The use of knowledge workers to identify expert responses improves relevance and accuracy relative to other approaches in which young graduates staff the call centers and provide answers in real time. The service relies upon access to experts and fees forwarded by the telephone companies to OneWorld; the two phone calls cost the farmer about twleve cents U. S. Lifelines has been well received. In just one-and-a-half years of operation, it has fielded 88,000 questions from 40,000 farmers in 700 villages throughout southern India. Surveys indicate that 93 percent of the users are satisfied with the service, and 70 perent report farming improvements, with production increases ranging from 25 to 150 percent. 98 percent of queries are responded to within 24 hours.
OneWorld SouthAsia is expanding the Lifelines service to farmers in other parts of India, and is developing a similar system to provide answers to questions from teachers. Extensions to serve farmers in Kenya and for community development in Sri Lanka are being considered. For more information, see www.
SKG Sangha –– India
Impoverished rural families face many interrelated problems. For example, indoor air quality and health problems are associated with indoor wood-fired cooking stoves. But also, due to deforestation, the children of these families may spend several hours a day looking for firewood, time that otherwise cold be devoted to their education. In parallel, there are often problems with waste disposal and sanitation, and the need to purchase fertilizers and pesticides for farming.
SKG Sangha is an NGO that operates from southern India and addresses these problems with the combined technologies of biogas and vermiculture. They have trained masons to build biogas plants of the proven Dheenbandu design. These family-sized plants use anaerobic digestion to obtain methane from animal manure and human waste. The biogas fuels an improved cookstove that vents exhaust gases to the outdoors. This has dramatically improved cleanliness and indoor air quality. SKG Sangha has added a second system to process the effluent of the biogas plant. Organic waste from the kitchen and agricultural wastes are added to the effluent slurry; the mixture quickly ferments and is then processed by earthworms to create very rich compost. Typically about half the compost is used as fertilizer on the farm, and the remainder is sold. The liquid output can be used as a pesticide. The vermiculture system simultaneously eliminates a waste disposal problem and associated unsanitary conditions, eliminates fertilizer expense, and provides a source of revenue, while the biogas plant improves health and reduces deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
To improve social conditions, the biogas and vermiculture units are provided only if a family promises that the wife will own and manage the equipment and receive any revenue resulting from the sale of fertilizer; the children must attend school and the family must plant two trees. SKG Sangha has installed about 50,000 biogas units and about 350 vermiculture units, as well as a variety of other energy and lighting technologies For information, see www.skgsangha.org/activ_other.html.
Common to the Equality Laureates is a capacity to achieve social benefit by delivering first-rate technology for use by the poor or disabled in developing countries. BuildChange, SKG Sangha, and Mr. El Miniawy improve the physical infrastructure and build capacity through local training. OneWorld South Asia dispenses timely information to marginalized farmers to alleviate poverty and hunger. The DAISY Consortium develops and distributes audio playback software to improve education and access for the visually impaired. Each is succeeding at leveling barriers that have served to systematically maintain social inequities in the past.