In spring 2007, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York showcased Design for the Other 90%—an exhibition inspired by Paul Polak—that features affordable and socially responsible objects, including several IDE water irrigation and storage tools. Paul poses the same challenge in Out of Poverty that the exhibition addresses: 90 percent of the world’s designers focus on solutions for the richest 10 percent of the world’s customers rather than the other 90 percent who need it most. The exhibition is scheduled to travel nationwide for two years.
Currently, Paul is spearheading D-Rev: Design for the Other 90% with the intent of igniting a design revolution. D-Rev will help multinational corporations develop affordable products for dollar-a-day customers, continuing Paul’s mission—bringing prosperity to the world’s poor.
D-Rev will do this by inspiring, teaching, connecting and creating.
Put yourself in the shoes of Peter Mukula, a poor farmer who lives along a dusty road twenty-five kilometers from Livingstone in southern Zambia. If he could afford to buy a packhorse, he could make an extra six hundred dollars a year hauling vegetables to the Livingstone market.
What if Peter could buy a quarter-horse? Not a purebred quarter horse, but a horse that’s a quarter the size of a regular packhorse. Let’s assume that he could buy such a miniature horse for one hundred and fifty dollars and that it could pack sixty kilograms. Peter would earn less money each trip, but he could gradually use his profits to buy more miniature horses. Once he owned four of them, be hauling the same two hundred and forty kilos as a full-size packhorse.
Suppose we could invent a way to harness the remarkable strength-to-weight ratio of the common forest ant? An engineering class in Germany designed tiny weights that could be attached to an ant’s back and determined that forest ants can carry as much as thirty times their own weight. How many ants would it take to carry the same load as a packhorse?
I did the numbers. It would take 1.25 million ants to carry Peter’s two hundred forty kilos. Now 1.25 million ants would come pretty cheap. But designing the harness would be a challenge.
I have taken you through this imaginary design scenario to illustrate the central task of designing for poor customers—coming up with breakthroughs in miniaturization, affordability and expandability.
Revolutionary Designs featured in Out of Poverty
|John Mbingwe and his family borrowed enough money to install a $25 treadle pump that they bought from a local dealer. With less labor than it takes to water an eighth of an acre by bucket, he and his family suddenly found they could produce a full acre of vegetables. Within a year they had paid off the loan for the pump, increased their net annual income from $300 to $600, and were on their way to earning more.|
|After a small-acreage farmer has painstakingly collected and stored water in a 200 cubic meter pond, he needs an efficient water-distribution system to get the water to his crops without using it all up in the first day’s irrigation. He needs low-cost drip-irrigation systems that ensure that 80 or 90 percent of the precious stored water goes right to the roots of the plants, or something equally efficient.|
|This low-cost small farm water-storage system will hold 200,000 liters of monsoon rainwater, enough to drip-irrigate a quarter acre of high-value vegetables during the driest time of the year for 100 days and generate $500 in new net income.|
|Prun Chhon hopes that a new form of sustained-release urea granules, introduced by IDE, granules that he and his wife poke into the ground with a stick between every four rice plants, will all go to his plants and double his yield.|
|In Somalia, IDE helped refugee blacksmiths build 500 donkey carts that operated well hauling half a ton of wood or water on rough dirt tracks. These carts, outfitted on used automotive bearings, were bought by refugees on credit for a price of $450, and promptly started generating net income of $200 a month by hauling water, wood and repackaged food.|
A WISH LIST FROM OUT OF POVERTY
Other critical, affordable small-farm irrigation tools are now being designed and field tested.
A $100 quarter-hp microdiesel water pump
Diesel pumps have advantages over gasoline engine—powered pumps because they last longer and use less fuel. The ideal size of a diesel pump that would fit a one-acre farm is about three-quarters of a horsepower, but until now, the smallest diesel pump was two-horsepower, commercially available only from China.
A $15 scythe for harvesting rice, corn, and wheat
Most of the small-acreage farmers in the world still use a sickle to harvest their plots of rice and wheat. We have a range of modern inexpensive, stronger, lighter materials such as fiberglass that could be used to improve both the wooden handle and the blade of the scythes and cradles used more than a hundred years ago. A $15 cradle would dramatically improve the harvesting efficiency on millions of small farms.
$1500 and $5000 steam distillation units for essential oils
The centuries-old way to extract essential oils is steam distillation, the same process bootleggers have always used to make moonshine. It is entirely feasible to design small, efficient, village-based steam distillation units that would address both the aggregation and quality-control problems often faced by small-farm producers, create a network of new village-based enterprises, and put more money in the pockets of small-farm grassroots enterprises.
A $50 gasifier for generating heat
Many value-added processing procedures for crops produced on small farms require uniform heat. Designing a commercial gasifier at the target price of $50 would allow a variety of drying and other value-added processing procedures to be carried out at the village or farm level.
There is an even longer list for a range of consumer goods that dollar-a-day people are eager to buy when they increase their income, and people who earn $2 to $6 a day are ready to buy now, including:
- • A billion or so people would be customers for $2 eyeglasses if an effective global distribution and marketing system for them were developed
- • More than a billion people will never connect to the electric-power grid who would be interested in buying a $10 solar lantern, made possible by advances in light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
- • More than a billion people would be customers for a $4 household-level filter that would make water safe to drink.