Free Energy for Everyone! Light Up Malawi’s First Pilot:

Thanks to an amazing partnership with BuildON and Energy For Opportunity we had a very successful first pilot on our renewable education tract.
Over a three day workshop we taught 17 teachers from 4 different communities in the Kasungu District how to do basic electrical, and basic solar maintenance, and a solar installation. Simon Willans of EFO led the instruction. The learnings were amazing: Malawians are hungry for knowledge – we had full attendance, attention and more people interested every day. Watching the teachers create a basic circuit for the first time was fantastic. Their understanding spread from the classroom to the installation. We left tools for each student and a professional solar instruction manual for each community and also placed this manual in the library of the Wimbe School. Every one of the teachers is committed to taking this knowledge to all of their communities, and spreading the instruction into all of BuildOn’s Community Education Programs.

The panel we installed will power the lighting for two classrooms and even a laptop. Stand by as we hear feedback from the community on how one panel is changing their lives and helping them in small and large ways.


We also placed some solar mobile charging stations and dynamo lanterns for clinics in the Chiradzulu District, and Thyolo District and gave a donation to Goods for Good CBO in Luzi and met with several ministers to begin talks about Malawi’s energy policy and tariff reduction on renewable energy products. While in Kenya we attended the Lighting Africa conference where we met with key stakeholders working in renewable energy in Africa.
All in all, a very productive time in Malawi.

Please support this project !


Light Up Malawi

UPDATE: We’ve raised $6500 and secured a spot at the Unreasonable Institute! Thank you to all of our sponsors and tweeters that helped make us winners in the crowdfunding competition.

This is exciting news, because through the institute this idea hatched during a trip to India in November will get connected to some great advisors and fantastic funding. Light Up Malawi is indeed a very ambitious project, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are determined to bring sustainable energy solutions to one entire country. That’s one nation completely off the grid – using solar, wind, biomass, and kinetic to achieve this. Malawi is where my mother grew up, and I have family there to this day. I grew up hearing her stories about the country and the people. We believe that Malawi is the best place to start on a mission of this magnitude. And we believe we can do it. I hope you’ll join me on what will be a remarkable journey to prove to the world that poverty can be solved with sustainable, strategic solutions.
For more: Go to Lightupmalawi.org/about

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Coke Zero | Doppelgänger

In conjunction with award winning master animators  MK12, the Ebeling Group, CP+B and the Agency for Holistic Branding we bring you the most sophisticated Facebook application yet. Using facial recognition software developed at Carnegie Mellon University I present: The Coke Zero Facial Profiler.
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Although I only received a 57% match when I used the system, I’ve seen it work really well for some others (I never tend to agree that I look like anyone else anyways). Since its launch a few weeks ago it already has 162,162 registered users filling the database with photos.

The recent advances in image recognition software are truly astounding. It’s incredible to think this is an app for pure entertainment, when last year software of this type was mainly used only for classified purposes. Google Goggles will also bring about a massive paradigm shift in for text, image, and location search. No doubt tons of questions on privacy, and usage will come along with its launch.  Interesting times ahead when software gets crossed with sight.

India, I feel you.

The TED India conference was a great jumping off point to begin my need finding research in India. I continued traveling around the country for the month researching opportunities after the conference meeting people and organizations in Bangalore, Mysore, Ahmedebad, Udaipur and Rajasthani villages, Delhi, Bombay and Ludhiana. I came only with the intention to find something I could contribute to,  holistically of course – through both my agency and its offerings as well as on a personal level. During all my time on trains, planes, cars and autorickshaws here are the main themes and realizations culled from my travel:

Design Poverty: Indian light switches, the irregular height of stairs and floors, the chaos in visual communications,  the accepting of shoddy industrial design as the norm, the total lack of accessible design,  the general cacophony of any public or private space and in 80% of instances user experience so bad it will give you a headache. Not to mention the encouragment of noise pollution in every corner of India. I know no outsider, or insider can really change India – in fact Indian culture will never change -  and I hope it doesn’t.  However small changes that heighten the quality and experience of life,  with the right education of India’s designers and the right demand from its increasingly educated consumers could make a massive difference to India overall. Methods for ending poverty could be designed into this education as well.

Reverse Diaspora: Many Indians like myself, that are brought up abroad are returning to India to join the “wild, wild east”. At TED it felt as though 1/3 of the people were from Silicon Valley- and though the convection between India and Silicon Valley is well established for technology talent, I am excited to see how my generation uses it for the social good and designing a better world.

Contradictory Space: India is a giant contradiction, and Indians work and live in this contradictory space daily, and are comfortable and balanced within this space. This would help explain a bit about the clash that sometimes occurs when foreign companies come to India expecting a smooth transition. Devdutt Pattanaik outlined  this in his talk explaining the fundamental cultural differences between the East and the West and how they play out in business and why.

Jugaad: finding a workaround. Jugaad literally means an arrangement or a work around, which have to be used because of lack of resources. Indians have always employed Jugaad, which is in essence not doing things the formal way, but rather maneuvering one’s way and finding loopholes around the answer ‘no’. Indians do not like to hear or say no. There’s almost always a way, which is a great mentality to live in.

Indigenous Inventions: financial and physical products that are invented by the end users are more valuable to them than the one’s we design down to them. The Honeybee Network and their inventions and the Chit Fund are great examples of this.

Disruptive Everything: disruptive business models, disruptive design, thinking, talking – all of it -is being embraced more and more in India and the world as a more attractive option than the tried and tested. Disruption not only stems from innovation, but more importantly serves to keep the playing field democratic. I absolutely subscribe to this theme.

Philanthrocapitalism: Or, compassion based business as I like to call it, is often baked into many Indian companies. Culturally, social responsibility is part of daily life, so its much less of an afterthought in India than elsewhere.

Corruption: No one thing has halted India’s progress more than this. Until things are done in a more transparent way, and the bribes vanish, its going to be very difficult for India to become the world leader it ought to be. I wish Shaffi Mather lots of luck with his anti-corruption campaign.

The Kids: It is known that the true change in India and the world will be with the next generation, and education in India needs a revolution, now. Many people are doing that including Kiran Sethi of the Riverside School and Deepti Doshi who is bringing La Escuela Nueva to India. With the right type of responsibility baked into their education, be it for sustainability or social change or design thinking, the next generation is where change lives. That said, having the largest, youngest economy in the world, might turn one of India’s greatest criticisms into its greatest boon.

Mobile Truths: Everyone knows its vital to banking the unbanked and setting up payment systems. I see lots of places where it hasn’t been used yet to its full potential, like in the education sector, in food, in advertising and public service – which could really prove to be the best tool to solve mass scale problems in India.

More to come as I process and digest this incredible month of research.

Knitta, Please…

Nothing makes me appreciate analog more than spending way too many hours immersed in digital executions and products. Several years ago when I was learning Java programming, I also developed an insatiable desire to knit, knot, crochet and otherwise do something with my hands and yarn. I used my render times during edits to make scarves and it staved off carpal tunnel. It was the call of the real. It kept me sane. And now, when I see new forms of knitting come up such as the guerilla knitters from Houston called Knitta Please and their many other cohorts creating fabric based grafitti street art and yarn bombing industrial objects, it simply makes me happy that there is no screen, spray cans or pixels to process. Finally a format that really does shock the streets yet knits into our urban fabric. While it does seem a bit in its early stages tea-cozy-esque – I can’t wait to see who takes this format to the next level.

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