Friday, August 03, 2007

A New Summit?

As I have written before in this blog, I think many entrepreneurial endeavors start with asking two questions... "What Sucks?" and "How can we fix it?"

It sounds pretty simple, and yesterday I had a chance to propose it to some students at the International Development Design Summit at MIT. In fact, this summit can be used to examine this approach to design.

There are a number of meetings/conferences/summits on international/sustainable development. Lots of bright, energetic people talk about the problems of the developing world. Many of them fly in on airplanes, stay at nice hotels, and fly home. Everyone feels good- they talked about the issues, they had panels, they networked. They helped make a difference... maybe.

Well, someone might say "That sucks" because all that happened was talk. And they might then say, "what if we had a conference that had as a goal that the participants wouldn't just talk, but they would actually design a new product or service to fix a problem? Oh, and what if we actually invited lots of different types of people- engineers, designers, health workers, business people- from around the world. And had them live/eat/work/play together for a few weeks."

This is happening at MIT this month, through a summit organized by several folks at Caltech, Olin and MIT. And it is a cool experiment. Some interesting ideas are kicking around, and it remains to be seen what happens, but it is very cool that the conference is designed around a useful output besides "conferring." If this group is successful, we may need to rename these events (I hope).

UPDATE 9/11/07: Article on IDDS in NY Times.

Do you want your Sustainable to be local or global?

An interesting article in today's Grist. Seems like the UK organic certifcation board may decide that items that are flown in are not organic enough. The imbedded energy of jets and all. This presents a bit of a problem for the farmers in Kenya who have changed their practices to access the UK markets. As the Economist reported earlier this year, the whole local food thing needs more rigor. As the Kenyans point out, if one of their organic customers flies on a jet, this has a much larger footprint than their supply of organic food. In many cases, more fuel is used by the consumer driving to the store than is used to get the actual food they buy to that store. So, who's "right"? I don't know, but think it is an interesting debate, and would rather it not be solved by a certification board. Let the consumers decide. Personally, I'd buy Kenyan.

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