Design for the other 90% …

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises  

Just a few days remain for getting to the Design for the Other 90% exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt museum in New York City. 

Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.”

This is an exhibit that I greatly regret not be able to make …

But, the virtual tour via the website is very much worth the trip.  Sections on Shelter, Health, Water, Education, Energy, and Transport with a tremendous links list. 

Each section is richly introduced and, well, uses the power of the internet extremely well.  Let us take a moment with the Energy section page.

Fuel and power are needed for cooking, heating, lighting, communication, and income generation. More than 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity; and 2.4 billion people lack access to modern fuels for cooking and heating, relying instead on wood, dung, and crop residue. Increasing the availability of renewable energy is primary to reducing poverty in the developing world.

In other words, energy is a serious requirement for a decent life and a large share of the world’s population have inadequate energy supplie.  And, by the way, much of the existing supply is heavily polluting, not what a Global Warming aware world wants to be being used.

Ideas range from low-cost, energy efficient, simple technologies are helping to connect remote and underserved ”to the grid.” Rather than large, expensive public infrastructure projects, smaller innovations with broad applications are allowing people to harness energy off the power grid. University students are teaming with local communities, and local enterprises are partnering with rural banks to provide solar lighting which enables teaching, reading, and income-generating activities after dark. An easily installed virtual utility combines street lighting for safety with a Wi-Fi mesh network for communication and information. Solar dishes built from bicycle parts and vanity mirrors power an informal kitchen, reducing the cost of cooking and supplying a renewed sense of community for the displaced rural migrants who use it.

Note, there is no ‘single’ answer being presented here.  There are ideas, thoughts, approaches, and options — real options that can work in the real world operated by real people.  That not just ‘can’ work, but are working … real options exist that are being deployed, but the deployment can be hastened.

Up to two million people a year, primarily children, die from inhaling cooking-fire smoke. Clean cooking fuels and efficient portable stoves can reduce indoor and urban air pollution, potentially saving millions of lives. In addition, they spare women and children the chore of collecting wood—an estimated fifty billion hours are spent collecting firewood around the world each year—freeing them up to attend school and engage in income-generating activities.

The problem is serious, the implications are serious.  Huge economic impacts … what could those women do with their time if they weren’t collecting wood?  How many more children would be in school if they were collecting wood? Cooking fires kill two million children a year from inhaling smoke?  How many could be saved with more solar ovens? And, well, not that those From Wood stoves are big culprits in climate change:

Cooking stoves fuelled by wood or crop residue are contributing to climate change significantly more than expected, say researchers. …
When released into the atmosphere, the black, noxious particles — which are darker than those produced by grassland or forest fires — absorb light and increase atmospheric temperatures.

“They can absorb energy and keep it in the Earth’s system when it would otherwise escape”

But, back to  the energy page. A nice feature is a global map, allowing looks at products designed for and deployed in different regions of the world.  Such as, for North America, YouOrleans, which is a branding for the Katrina Furniture Project.   

I have many “favorite” institutions and organizations.  One of them is Architecture for Humanity — one of the first groups you will find under that links list.  This exhibition looks to be like a physical manifestation of their great book, Design Like You Give a Damn

The greatest humanitarian challenge we face today is that of providing shelter. Currently one in seven people lives in a slum or refugee camp, and more than three billion people—nearly half the world’s population—do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation. The physical design of our homes, neighborhoods, and communities shapes every aspect of our lives. Yet too often architects are desperately needed in the places where they can least be afforded. Edited by Architecture for Humanity, Design Like You Give a Damn is a compendium of innovative projects from around the world that demonstrate the power of design to improve lives. The first book to bring the best of humanitarian architecture and design to the printed page, Design Like You Give a Damn offers a history of the movement toward socially conscious design and showcases more than 80 contemporary solutions to such urgent needs as basic shelter, health care, education, and access to clean water, energy, and sanitation.

Design for the other 90% is an important exhibit, one that should not just be at the Cooper-Hewitt, not just something for architecture students, but something that would be valuable for every American … ever global citizen to be exposed to.  The exhibit has the power to change thinking. And, the ideas, approaches, options in the exhibit (and, more powerfully, on the web) have the potential to change the world.

If we want to Energize America … if we want to Energize the World … if we want to move toward a better, more sustainable, and equitable future … Design for the Other 90% provides tools to help get there.


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