Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Global Development Timeline: September 2008

What we did in September 2008
(Photo: Iheartlinen)

This is Part III of our Global Development Timeline. You being our stakeholders, we'd like to catch you up on what we have done thus far. Read Part I: July 2008 here, and Part II: August 2008 here.

With our domains clear, we decided to jump headlong into research.

September was largely focused on understanding the water, sanitation, and waste management space, and foraying into the mobile/wireless/IT space. For my research on the former, we talked to several field and technology experts, as well as visited a number of water, wastewater, and waste management plants. My own background in the same from the developing world allowed me to compare and contrast the techniques and knowledge between the two. What emerged from these visits, research, and brainstorms confirmed my own original beliefs - that most of the basic technology for clean water, sanitation and waste management already exist, often in very simple, low-cost forms. The problem was accessibility to the technology, the methodology to construct it, and the necessity of using them. Other potential areas that appear to be "prizable" include water diagnostics (speed testing to assess water quality) and desalination. (Note that this is work in progress and I plan on continuing to visit wat-san projects in the field, as well as meet experts constantly. The research on any subject is never entirely closed until we actually launch a prize).

By the end of September, we started moving into the wireless/mobile realm. As we've said many times before on the blog, this is the space to be in. Its the one piece of reliable infrastructure for the poor, and they have grabbed onto it with all their might. Cell phone adoption growth rates in Sub Saharan Africa and Asia are the highest in the world, and the poor are finding more and more ways to use mobile technology to compensate for the things they don't have access to.

On this note, I visited MIT's NextLab which had expressed a great interest in being involved in designing an X PRIZE around a mobile platform. My hope is (and frankly I think its highly possible) that they will come up with something extremely good that we can turn into an X PRIZE. Sitting in class and listening to their presentations filled me with a lot of hope and energy. (I assume that this is magnified a million times by the rest of the world's population, so PLEASE contact us with your ideas!)

I also had several meetings with entrepreneurship, health, nutrition, and agricultural experts at Harvard and MIT (and outside...which were equally engaging and important)...many of them enlightening conversations. There is a LOT of work and interest in the Bottom of the Pyramid now. Its an exciting time to be alive!!

Then on to NYC, where we met with some potential advisors and experts in financial markets, landmines, and social venture funding.

October will focus on building up our mobile/wireless knowledge. Neither Emeka or I are experts in the field, and it is a RAPIDLY evolving space that promises much potential. First up, BarCamp Africa on October 11th in Silicon Valley (thoughts on why Silicon Valley is hosting it is here), of which we are a proud sponsor; followed by the Mobile Active 08 Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. I'll try to blog about these as they happen.

Look for our October update later this month or in early November (and again, if we forget, don't hesitate to remind us!).


Ray said...

For wireless, have you looked into Google's $10M Android Developer Challenge for ideas?

It would also be interesting to see if something could be done with the commercial space push of the X PRIZE Foundation and Global Development using wireless. There are various commercial satellite communications services, but what comes to my mind first is some kind of use of satellite phones in remote locations throughout the globe not served by traditional wireless. Those tend to be expensive services and phones, though. I'm not sure how to make them affordable, but maybe that would be part of the competition.

For water and sanitation, the Grainger Challenge might show some ideas, or at least people to talk to for ideas.

For agriculture, William Masters has some prize ideas related to African agriculture. They're a bit different from the X PRIZE Foundation approach, though, so I'm not sure there's a good fit there. It's worth looking into, though.

pragzz said...

Ray, thanks for your excellent feedback.

Yes, we have been regularly talking to Google and William Masters (regarding agriculture). You are right, William's prize theory is quite different from the traditional X PRIZE methodology, but we are definitely considering it. As we go forward with agriculture, he is certainly one of the people we plan to engage more seriously in our discussions.

I have been following the Grainger challenge for some time now. While the idea and the technology outcomes are useful, they have had hardly any real impact in the field (though some may say this is too harsh). This is where its important that the X PRIZE go the extra miles to ensure that whatever is designed will be measured on adoptability and field usability.