Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back to School

It is that time of year... students are coming back on campus, faculty are scrambling to finalize syllabi. Sustainable design, social entrepreneurship, and and international development are hot topics on campus. If you are a teacher planning coursework in these areas (or at their "intersection"), or if you are a student that wants to do a project in one of your classes, check out these resources:

1) Get the juices flowing. The Cooper Hewitt Museum had an exhibit "Design for the Other 90%" last year. Gives some nice examples of some of the designs in this show. There are also teacher lesson plans for K-12 on this site.

2) A few ideas to get started. Paul Polak founded International Development Enterprises and helped organize the Cooper Hewitt exhibit. He recently wrote an excellent book called "Out of Poverty" which discusses design approaches for the poor (particularly the rural farmers). On his website, he has posted some products that he thinks will have large markets. See his wishlist here.

3) Who is the customer? The Economic Lives of the Poor by Banerjee & Duflo (2006 MIT Poverty Action Lab) provides some background on how much money the poor have and how they spend it. It will break down some assumptions/ stereotypes and can be a great tool for class discussions.

4) Is there a need? The Next 4 Billion (2007) by World Resources Institute can help. The introductory chapter gives a good overview, and then the other chapters focus on the needs in specific areas (water, energy, health, etc.) Appendices contain country-by-country info. This can be a way to dig deeper into specific needs. Move from general "the world needs clean water" to "in BOPistan, they need a pump to access groundwater at 10 meters, and a filter system to eliminate dissolved solids."

5) Who else is working on this? Google away. Identify organizations working on related projects or in the region. Have students find out "what is working and what isn't" and profile the organizations.

6) What approach will work? Consider setting up student debate teams to get them thinking critically about these challenges. For international development, try Easterly vs. Sachs, or for climate change try Gore vs. Lomborg. Neither of these debates will happen in real life, so it is useful to have students roleplay and apply these perspectives to their projects.

7) Do no harm. While projects may be motivated by good intentions, unfortunately they don't always end well. "Parachutista" projects of quick, one-time visits may help students learn, but they contribute little or nothing to the community. To sensitize team members, read over the BOP Protocol and check out Tori Hogan's blog and documentary "Beyond Good Intentions." In addition, if the project involves designing a new product, please consider Cradle to Cradle and biomimicry principles. Challenge the team to create as much value with as little waste as possible.

You may also want to take a look at the current online discusion on "Design for Social Impact" led by Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO.

Now I have to get back to scrambling to get ready for my classes...

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