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

light-up-malawi-logo-color

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.

The Little We Can Do

Last week I attended a panel at Columbia University with Jeffrey Sachs, George Soros, and Nouriel Roubini entitled “Can We Save the World Economy?”. While that question wasn’t directly answered, Sachs did give us his usual brilliant and inspiring, Occam’s razor view of how we could save the world. I’ve heard it before, but never from him directly, that our generation can be the generation that ends poverty – permanently. This set fire to a question I’ve had lately in how, in my daily work, can I work in the dual purpose of finishing the task at hand, while looking at the bigger picture of how we can add a positive aspect to every commercial project. As a start, I joined the Designer’s Accord movement, and their social network in order to find other collaborators. I highly encourage you to join, even if you’re not a designer, because manifesto’s like this need at the very least a good base of awareness before massive change takes place. Below are some links for more info on the panel, Designer’s Accord, and another manifesto that is my favorite: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto.

Panel information and video download
http://www.earth.columbia.edu/worldeconomy/
An Interview with Sachs
http://www.motherjones.com/news/qa/2005/05/jeffrey_sachs.html
An Interview with Designer’s Accord founder Valerie Casey
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/129/100000-and-counting.html
Join the Accord
http://www.designersaccord.org/
Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto.
http://www.brucemaudesign.com/incomplete_manifesto.html

Hijacking all Screens

This is a link to a white paper I wrote about new media surfaces, art, branding and sponsorship in urban environments and presented at the Urban Screens conference in Amsterdam in 2005 at Club 11.

http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/special11_2/kumra/index.html

Abstract: By tracking the use of non-traditional forms of outdoor advertising in static media there is a strong indicator for time based media (video, animation, interactive and generative video arts) to take a leading role in broadcasting art while serving the goals of the corporations that own these screens. Apart from the initial use of the “video billboard” in commercial and advertising based applications, the city is responding to its new media skin with more creative and interactive executions. Case studies in this paper document some of the first experiments utilising video at the urban screen level and show how the press and public relations value of these projects is more beneficial to the advertiser and the community than spending on traditional advertising.

Course & Lectures: Public Space + Interactivity

For the past 3 years I’ve been heading to Holland in the spring to teach a few courses at the University of Amsterdam’s technical school Hogeschool Van Amsterdam. The minor is aptly called Content In Motion and the students are taken through the basics of branding, interactivity, urban planning and experience design.

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