Architects of the future: Part one

Peter Haas: Incubating Innovation for Development

My name is Peter Haas and I am the executive director of AIDG: Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group. My passion is going out into villages and fixing and installing systems that can provide sanitation, energy and clean water.

A few years ago, I found myself in the position where I was doing this but I was fixing the projects of other NGOs. This was because I had arrived in these villages and had seen these broken-down projects. The people there did not know how to fix them; I did. The reasons why these projects had failed were really simple–things like broken gaskets, bad wiring, fuses, and circuit boards that had burned out. These were things that local technicians should have known how to deal with. However, the situation was that the local technicians who had been trained by the NGO to repair these systems had actually taken that training and done what any of us would do–they went and got a better job at higher pay in some urban center. This left the village in a bad situation when the technology broke down.

These are areas that are very dependent on renewable, sustainable technologies because they are not served by governments. They often do not have a power grid going out to where they are, and usually they have been promised a grid for ten, fifteen, twenty years, but it does not get out there.

I’ve seen the impact that these technologies can have. Just one example: I was in Cuba visiting two pig farms. One of these was a very typical pig farm for a developing country. It was a complete sanitation nightmare with pig waste contaminating the local water supply. The people had clear-cut the area for inefficient wood fires. They were polluting the insides of their kitchens–indoor air pollution is a major problem in the developing world. They were paying significant amounts of money for kerosene. It was generally a very bad situation.

The other farm provided the starkest contrast you could imagine. Apart from having no electricity, it was like being in a developed country situation. They had a spotless area, clean water supply, gas lamps, a gas stove, and this was because they had one technology–a bio-digester that was taking the pig waste and turning it into gas and fertiliser that they could use on their garden. When I asked the woman where she had got her bio-digester from, she explained that a relative had gone to a technical school, and she had got aid from an NGO to put in a bio-digester.

What is the recourse for the other farmer? How are they going to get a bio-digester? Are they going to have to wait for their NGO? Where is the company that can provide the bio-digesters?

This lack of continued maintenance and this lack of marketability to people made me realise that there is really a missing middle. There is a missing segment of small business companies that can provide the people in developing countries who can put in all the little puzzle pieces that make our economies function.

So in 2005 I started AIDG, the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, to provide training, financing and access to tools and equipment, for entrepreneurs and small businesses in developing countries. Right now we are working in Guatemala and Haiti to help them develop sustainable green solutions that are affordable to local villagers.

With our pilot business in Guatemala we started with a $50,000 loan. They are on track now, in the first year out of our programme, towards making $250,000 in revenue. This is very exciting.

We have just secured the financing to start ten or twenty other businesses like that in Guatemala and Haiti. We also work with companies and university groups to try to develop technologies that are appropriate for the region, that are low-cost, that work in situations that are extremely difficult, and that can be repaired locally.

I truly believe that if, as a society, we can work together to move beyond just aid and micro finance into mid-scale investment and angel investment, beyond just job training into job creation, and beyond just donating technology and equipment from developed countries into developing new technology solutions that are affordable to the markets in developing countries, we can help the amazing human capital that exists in these rural regions to develop their own infrastructure solutions, to solve their own problems and build the basis that will allow for larger scale governmental infrastructure improvements and larger scale economic development. That is what is really needed to end poverty.

Sarah Asad: Art Therapy Heals the Soul
I am Sarah Asad from Pakistan. Unfortunately, in the news these days Pakistan has been reduced to a land of bombs, burkas, and beards, but let me tell you that it is also a place that is very warm and hospitable and full of compassion and bravery.

Like any developing country, Pakistan really needs to invest in its future, which is of course its children, in programs of healthcare, education, and child protection. I chose child protection as the area in which I want to serve the country.

Why I chose it is a very sad story. There was a serial killer who raped and murdered one hundred street-living boys in Lahore, which is the city I come from. That was back in 2001. It was in all the media. When he was caught he pointed to this place and said, “What’s the big deal if I killed a hundred children? There are many more out there.” That was actually his comment. I went to that place, which is just half an hour from my home, and I was shocked because I lived in a very different world.

Within an hour I was able to interview six children who had run away from their homes either to look for work, or who had been kicked out or just wanted to strike out on their own because they needed to survive. They had all been raped. They were living in terrible conditions.

With my friends, I set up an organization called Pahchaan. It’s an Urdu word that means “identity.” I named it this because I believe that every child has a right to his or her identity. Every child has a right to his or her childhood. No child should have to sleep on the street at night. No child should be raped or have to beg for food, or have to fend for himself and give up on education so that he and his family can eat two square meals a day.

At Pahchaan we have a network with the police stations, we have a network with the government agency on child rights, we have a network with shrines, transport hubs, railway stations, bus terminals–wherever you can find these children. We have a network with employers of child labor, and with hospitals. So we have a rescue service for them, and a rehabilitation service.

The ultimate goal is that within four months, through an innovative art therapy programme, psychosocial counselling, and the child’s right to active participation, we can remove the root cause of why they are on the streets and settle them back with their families, so that one day they can grow up to be healthy, happy citizens.

Right now we just have one drop-in center and many outreach programs. My dream is to have many more, at least five more in the city where I come from. To date we have helped 1,000 children, but there are tens of thousands more who need help.

As parents, you will understand when I say that these children need to be helped now. The pain they are suffering and feeling is now, and their future, for good or for bad, is being shaped now.

Pakistan is always on the receiving end of gifts–we are always looking for donations–but I would like to leave you with a gift from Pakistan. It’s the gift of a smile. This is Meraj [displays a picture of a smiling boy playing with crayons on the floor]. He is now at our drop-in center. Our team found him at a dump, picking through trash and trying to find food. His parents were murdered. There are four brothers, and his married sister, who sometimes looks after him and his brothers, cannot always do so because her husband beats them. That is why they spend their time at different shrines and on the streets. The older brothers are now going to school and he is happy because he is colouring at our center and is planning to go to school.

Thank you.

Jessica Mayberry: “I dream of a CNN for the world’s poorest”.
My name is Jessica Mayberry and I am the founder of an organization called Video Volunteers. Our work is to empower communities in the developing world with a voice, by setting up what we call Community Video Units that are sustainable and locally owned. At the moment we have 75 community video producers working with us in India, which makes us one of the larger media-producing organizations in that country operating on the video journalism model of filmmaking.

These community producers used to be rickshaw drivers, day labourers and farmers, but today they are local leaders because they are journalists and filmmakers. Every two months our community producers make a film on a different issue: health, education, water, child marriage, alcoholism–the issues that the mainstream media never gives people information on, and that they themselves rarely talk about.

After they make these films the producers take them out into the villages and the slums and they screen them in settings like these [shows picture of an open-air film screening to a whole village]. You can see the power of video: you get 200, 300, 400 people a night, often the majority of the community as they talk about these issues.

After they see the film, they have a discussion around an action point, so there is something concrete that local people can do on this issue. I’ll tell you a short story about some of the things that have changed in a certain set of villages in Gujarat in western India, as a result of these films.

A while back, a group of our producers made a film about water and in particular the water crisis in their village. The film explained to people that their water was seriously contaminated because of government inaction, and this was why their teeth were yellow. The villagers were outraged when they heard this.

In the middle of the screening, two jeeps pulled up and out walked a group of government officials. They said they had an announcement to make: the treatment facility in the next village, that had been shut down for a long time, was going to be re-opened and everyone would now get clean water. Of course, they had heard that this film was being made and they realised that they had to do something about it. Here we see the power of video to force government to take action.

We also believe that community video is about empowering local communities to take action. At that same screening, the producers had begged, literally begged, the people watching the film to make small financial contributions toward maintaining that center. This was something that the villagers had heard before but always refused to do. But when they heard it in the film they understood why they needed to do this.
So this is why we train local people to make films, as opposed to showing films made by outsiders and experts and professionals. When people hear the call for change coming from within their own communities they are much more likely to do something and believe it.

Our producers have made about 100 films and have reached more than 150,000 people in screenings like these. My dream is to create a kind of CNN for the world’s poorest. We have 75 producers now, but I dream of a network of thousands of these community video producers. Right now, the mainstream media completely ignore the issues of the poor, but I don’t think it has to be like that. When I watch the films that these producers make, I see that they have perspectives, ideas and solutions that are novel, unique, that we have not heard, and that can give us new directions for solving some of the issues that we are facing here.

I believe that if we can empower the poor with a voice, and give them access to tools and technology and to the mainstream media, we can create something that is very different, so that when we turn on our televisions we will see and hear things that we haven’t heard, from people that we haven’t heard before, and in doing this we will literally see a different world–a world that is more diverse, and a world that is more true.