Monday, May 30, 2011

The large-scale deployment of Solar Bottle Bulbs

I've come across multiple stories from the Philippines (see [1], [2]), on the many public/private partnerships designed to promote the adoption of solar bottle bulbs. The catalyst appears to be an organization called A Litter of Light -- a project spearheaded by local entrepreneur Ilac Diaz:
Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light), is a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulb to disprivileged communities nationwide. Designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Solar Bottle Bulb is based on the principles of Appropriate Technologies – a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies that address basic needs in developing communities.

For instructions on how to make a solar bottle bulb, see here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Right Livelihood and 7 Charateristics of Frugal Innovators

I recently stumbled across a 1994 essay on Mindfulness and Meaningful Work that characterized people engaged in, what Buddhists refer to as, right livelihood. Coincidentally many of the items the author1 listed also apply to the many innovators I've met or have read about.
  • Persistent: Innovators have to be able to overcome the inevitable obstacles that occur in the early stages of any breakthrough project.
  • Realistic: Or as the author puts it, the ability to "face the facts". While persistence and perseverance are important, recognizing and accepting that something isn't likely to work out is just as critical. Deciding whether to move forward or change direction, often requires a certain amount of maturity and experience.
  • Overall strategy is to "minimize risks": Innovators who understand the existing product landscape, are more likely to come up with solutions that meet the needs of customers. In the case of frugal innovation, many of the famous examples are products explicitly designed to meet the needs of working class consumers in the developing world. This doesn't mean that one should avoid working on bold ideas. But becoming a successful entrepreneur does require contingency planning.
  • Active participant (preference for hands-on learning): Knowing the details of particular tasks and how they fit into a larger framework, are needed in order to design products, services, and solutions that meet the needs of customers. In the context of market research, I'm reminded of what ethnographers refer to as "deep hanging out".
  • Self-starter: There is no substitute for working on things that interest and engage you. But at some point executing on your ideas means  routine and not-so-inspiring tasks need to be done. Paying attention to routine aspects of a project sometimes leads to insights about further improvements that your final product can provide. (Building on the Buddhist perspective that I'm borrowing from, it's worth noting that those steeped in mindfulness practice, swear that mindfulness helps them experience "flow" even when they're faced with seemingly mundane tasks.)
  • Community member: It's much easier to innovate when one has a support structure in place. Start with friends and family, but expand to a network of (online) friends with similar interests and passions. Reciprocity is important in healthy relationships: you have to  nurture and support those that do the same for you.
  • Knows how to manage time and money: Time and money are essential to any new venture. Learning how to manage time and money frees you to pursue your ideas. Without adequate resources, you frequently have to postpone working on your pet projects. Similarly if you mismanage your time (e.g., by overextending yourself), your resources may prove inadequate to fund your projects.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Unbanked by the Numbers

Below are three charts and tables from the recent issue of the Economist. The first provides estimates for the number of unbanked in several high-population countries. As financial services companies in these countries continue to innovate to reach the large number of unbaked citizens, look for some of those innovations to start influencing banking in the developed world.

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The next two charts (taken from here & here respectively) assume that fertility rates stay more or less at current levels. The shocker in the first chart is the Philippines: currently at 96 million and projected to reach 178 million by the end of the century. That estimate will probably fall short, given that the country is poised to pass landmark legislation that should curb population growth.

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