Back on July 19 I highlighted the amazing work of William Kamkwamba in his small village in Malawi.  Unable to afford schooling after age 14, William perservered and created a windmill adapted from a model in a library book that originally powered 4 lightbulbs and 2 radios in his families small hut.  Things have developed since then and William spoke at the TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania a couple months back and started a blog.  For those interested in this remarkable story, here is the link to the interview.

The August long weekend in Canada is traditionally the last long weekend of summer to be spent camping.  Even though the weather tends to be fairly nice during the September long, for Canadians the mood has changed and we feel winter’s fury approaching.  That is why I’ve been camping this weekend and things have been pretty quiet.

Coming home this evening and going through my emails and feed reader brought to an extremely interesting, though possibly impractical on a large scale, example of sustainable urban design.

 Two grad students at MIT, James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk, both M. Arch candidates have come up with an interesting way of converting mechanical energy to electrical energy.  Called the “Crowd Farm“, the pair have developed a system of subflooring consisting of blocks that depress slightly under the pressure of human footsteps and by slipping against one another, generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current.  This could, they believe, effectively utilize human movement in creating renewable energy.

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Thaddeus Jusczyk and James Graham

Although similar flooring systems have been developed already, the students believe that the “Crowd Farm” can potentially “redefine urban space by adding a sense of fluidity and encouraging people to activate spaces with their movement”.

Over the last couple of months I’ve written a number of postings alluding to the BOP (base of the pyramid) market of 4 billion citizens living in poverty, and how private sector business can not only profit from this huge market but help alleviate their poverty by assisting in economic development and providing a connection to the rest of the global economy.  I came across a blog posting at NextBillion.net by Rob Katz entitled, “BusinessWeek On BOP-A False Dichotomy?”.  Apparently he wasn’t impressed with the magazine’s simplistic portrayal, in the latest issue, of the BOP market using a definition similar to mine above.  Nor was he impressed with the “false dichotomy” created by discussing the BOP market as a consumer market and then introducing the opinion of Arneel Karnani, associate professor of strategy at the Ross School Of Business, who believes it should be viewed as a market of producers.  Katz has recommended in his posting that Business Week take a more “nuanced view of base of the pyramid strategy or practice” in the future.  I suppose using the comment they used to illustrate disagreement wasn’t the best.  Technically it does create a false dichotomy, but why not put a positive spin on the article rather than arguing logic and semantics?

In the BusinessWeek article, “On Campus, A Different Pyramid Scheme“, the magazine discusses the huge increase in both college classes offered relating to the BOP concept and student interest in the topic.  Whether or not the BOP concept is valid (I think it is), in the next 10-15 years we are going to see an increasing number of sharp business students and MBAs coming out of their post-secondary years full of purpose and yearning to find meaning by focusing their lives on helping those at the base of the pyramid.

You must admit, all those flocking towards this idea are looking for more than money.  The majority of this market earns less than $2 per day; obviously not a lot of money to spend.  The aim of this generation of students is to help, to serve, and to assist others have better lives.  It brings me back to the last aptitude in Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”: meaning.  Meaning will play a tremendous role in the lives of young people today.  Not only because we search for products and experiences with some meaning central to our these days, but also because we all strive to find meaning and purpose in life and one of the best ways to find just that is to help others, to go beyond ourselves.

Forget about the logical failures in the article, and focus on the fact that there are more and more university and college students every year looking to spend their careers involved in one way or another with the BOP market.  The best place to start for these students and for Business Week, Rob Katz, and even Stuart Hart and C. K. Prahalad is to see this “market” as a population of human beings with real feelings that suffer the same highs and lows as the lucky ones in the developed world and we must aim to serve them in some way.  If that is through for-profit business, great.  I believe that is ultimately going to be the only way to connect this population to the rest of the global economy thus allowing them to develop the infrastructure, health care system, educational system, etc. that they will need to be self-sustaining in meeting their basic needs.

Business Week did a great thing by alerting us to these business programs and their rising popularity.  It’s just time that the 4 billion person, BOP market be viewed not as producers or consumer, but as human beings, real people.  Objectifying people by applying some business-related label to them is not the way to either help them or “penetrate the BOP market” they supposedly comprise.

I will continue to refer back to the economic situation in Africa in my postings.  I feel called to serve in that are and whether or not I can do it at the moment, I will continue to chronicle the situation there.  I found this interesting link via NYTimes.com.  A New York Times and Pew Global Attitudes Survey conducted in the spring of 2007 found that of the 11 Sub-Saharan African nations, 10 of the 11 found the state of their economy to be SOMEWHAT GOOD!  I should mention that the survey replies were a)very good, b)somewhat good, c)very bad, d)somewhat bad.  10 countries had a majority of “somewhat good” replies, with only Nigeria having a majority of “somewhat bad”.  Not surprising given the government corruption and poor leadership rampant in the country.

All 11 countries had more respondents believing that their families were better off financially than they were 5 years ago than options a)worse off and b)about the same.

9 out of 11 countries surveyed had more respondents believing their children would be better off than themselves.  The exceptions were Uganda and Tanzania.

Finally, while the ability to pay for food is becoming more and more viable, all 11 countries could use a huge amount of assistance in paying for basic medical care.  This would go a huge way in allowing these countries respective economies to develop.

I was reading throught the China Cleantech Venture Capital Investment Report this evening, after it was highlighted by Earth2Tech earlier.  I believe that the Earth2Tech posting didn’t quite do the market potential of cleantech in China justice.  The posting definitely pointed out the quantitative projections of growth over the next few years, especially in the energy sector (mainly solar), but failed to highlight some of the more qualitative issues that show huge potential in the cleantech market in the next five or so years.  Here are some of the qualitative reasons we should expect a cleantech boom in China within five years:

  1. Effective Chinese environment policies and increased global pressures related to sustainable development in light of global warming
  2. A huge amount of funding is being poored into the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the moment.  Post-Olympics, look for astronomical growth in 2009-2010
  3. Venture capital has only caught on in the past 3 years in China due to the slow transitioning from a centrally-planned to market economy
  4. The other side of China’s booming economy=”environmental deterioration, energy scarcity and resource restrictions”
  5. Climate change will equal water scarcity for parts of China.  Hence the prediction the the water & wastewater sector will be the next booming cleantech market

     

A few days back I plugged in a new blog that’s been high in the WordPress rankings since day 1: Earth2Tech, a blog launched by the GigaOm Network devoted to the discussion of emerging clean technologies and startups.  Editor Katie Fehrenbacher, also a writer for the popular tech blog GigaOm was kind enough to do a short email interview for me despite her hectic schedule.  Here it is:

Q.  Tell us a little about yourself. Your CV if you will.

A.  I’ve been a journalist based in the Bay Area for the past 5 years. I’ve been writing for GigaOM.com (which covers broadband technology) for about a year, and a reporter at Red Herring for 2 years covering silicon valley and tech. Before that I was an editor at Engadget.com writing about gadget technology. And before that I was a reporter for a big Japanese newspaper in their Silicon valley bureau called the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Q.  Why should we read Earth2Tech?  How is it different from other cleantech blogs?

A.  We are focusing on the business of clean tech and highlighting the new startups. We are also writing for a group of readers across our network that has a history in IT, and the Internet, so we can connect that knowledge to the clean tech space. Our style is to combine blogging and traditional reporting, so we’ll cover the fast news in blog posts, but also write longer features and trend stories.

Q.  Where is the market headed?

A.   Booming – See Cleantech Venture $$$, Small But Growing.  But also pretty disjointed – some sectors are getting a lot of financing, while others are neglected (water). 

Also investment is in later stage high capital companies so we’ll see how this fairs for returns for investors.

Q.  What are your views on introducing cleantech into developing economies?

A.  Countries like China need cleantech technology innovation to make dealing with their environmental issues economically feasible. China will be a major market for cleantech as well as a major manufacturer of low cost clean technologies. China will also have its share of innovative startups. It is also understandable that there will be many international diplomatic issues when emerging markets are growing rapidly and don’t want to cut back on growth due to changes to fight climate change.

Q.  Bubble?

A.  In certain sectors — solar, biofuels.

Q.  Give us a quick critique of Live Earth?

A.  On the surface it is easy to find irony in Live Earth — preaching one thing that can actually deliver less than eco-friendly consequences. But to totally dismiss Live Earth  basically leads to two arguments: 1) that we shouldn’t do things like put on large concerts or events and 2). attempts at making something more ecofriendly are useless if they fall a bit short. I disagree with both of those arguments. 

Q.  Advice for any aspiring cleantech entrepreneurs?

A.  Clean tech business competitions are some of the best ways to launch a company, find funders and get your name out in the media – don’t underestimate them.

Thanks Katie!  We’ll be keeping an eye on your blog.

Like most of us I begin every morning with at least one cup of coffee, preferably two if I have time.  As I learn more and more about sustainable practices in the corporate world, I’m starting to see the need to transfer some of my business values into my everyday personal life.  I’ve started to really pay attention to choices I make that would be second nature to me before.  Purchasing coffee would be one of those choices.  Never before have I actually thought about the origin of the coffee I purchase at the grocery store.  Or whether or not the producer of that coffee was fairly compensated for it.  Now, as I’m consciously trying to evaluate my purchase decisions, I’m really looking into those things.

So, lo and behold, as I wait for my coffee to finish brewing this morning a couple of new articles from Green LA Girl were in my inbox.  One of the articles, the 6-Step Program For The Caffeine Addicted, describes how to “get on a sustainable, alert-but-not-wigged-out caffeine high”.  Not at 6 step plan for quitting, just some suggestions for making more informed purchasing decisions.  Interestingly, I learned that the coffee brewing in my coffee pot at the moment probably consists of “twigs, dust and floor sweepings” and even if I were to like foreign matter in my coffee, I should be boycotting the producer of the coffee due their part in increasing the supply of coffee, resulting in lower prices and dirt poor small coffee farmers!

Learning something new everyday!