The International Development Fair: The Human Factor at Work in the World

author: Amy Smith, Edgerton Center, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: June 4, 2013,   recorded: October 2008,   views: 2737
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Imagine if thousands of Amy Smiths were unleashed on the world, providing simple, ingenious inventions to make life easier for those subsisting on less than $2 a day -- half of humanity. This MacArthur Award-winning inventor has been seeding such programs at MIT, and describes tangible results of efforts to inspire students to apply innovative thinking and technology to everyday problems in the developing world.

The Designs for Developing Countries Project, the MIT Program in Developmental Entrepreneurship and D (Development)-Lab have spawned a range of initiatives, spanning the fields of public health, labor, and agriculture. In Ghana and Ecuador, MIT students are helping provide safe drinking water, with low-cost water testing methods that can be applied in the field with no electricity.

In places like Haiti and Tibet, smoke from indoor cooking fires leads to high mortality rates among young children. Solar cookers have proven effective in some regions, but old models are very heavy and often slow to boil water in winter. So an MIT project came up with an inexpensive cooker made of canvas and Mylar, easily assembled by villagers, and highly portable – a major selling point with nomadic communities.

Smith recounts other ventures: a bicycle pedal-powered, corn-shelling machine in Tanzania, which entrepreneurs can rent out, and which saves hours of drudgery for women who traditionally remove kernels of corn by hand; a backpack for storing hundreds of doses of vaccine that can be delivered as an inhaled powder and therefore require no refrigeration; cell phone services that allow Brazilian day laborers and bosses to vet each other in advance, and permit Indian health workers to follow up on TB patients.

Concludes Smith, “Something like 90% of the world’s resources creates products and technologies that serve only the wealthiest 10% of the worlds’ population. There’s a revolution afoot to promote R&D to get designers to work on technologies for the other 90%.”

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