Cherry Trees Blossoming in NY Today.

It’s New Year’s eve, and today I had the opportunity to visit a fantastic museum in Beacon, New York. However intrigued I was at all the conceptual art, I was blown away in their outdoor garden. The cherry trees were in blossom. It’s December 31st. It was near sunset, and the sun shone through the trees and their pink and yellow blossoms, with the broad Hudson river and rolling mountains framing the view. I wore a light sweater, and was quite comfortable without a jacket. As beautiful and pleasant the aesthetic experience, I realized the museum’s garden was not designed to be a futuristic experience of spring’s splendor, and that the experience is the reality of a changing climate.

As the new year approaches, the immediacy of the severity of humankind’s impact on the environment is fresh in my mind. I am honored to be part of a small organization dedicated to creatively and actively create the change that is so greatly needed. I look forward to this coming year, and all the action towards bettering our common future.

Last Chance for 2006

It’s just a few hours before New Year’s and it’s your last chance to give a tax free donation to AIDG for 2006.

We need your help to continue providing electricity, sanitation, and clean water to underserved rural communities in developing countries. Together we can make a difference in the lives of many families by providing affordable and environmentally sound technologies that address their most pressing needs.

You can help struggling families every day of the year by joining AIDG’s monthly giving program. This program gives you an easy, convenient and effective way to help build a sustainable future in developing countries.

Can you contribute $10/month or more?

We’ve made huge strides in 2006. The hydroelectric project at Comunidad Nueva Alianza has been completed (press release coming soon; see some of the photos on Flickr) and is providing 40 familes (over 200 people) with access to electricity in their homes for the first time. We’ve made significant inroads at XelaTeco and have dramatically expanded our programs and offerings. Not too shabby for a crack team of young idealists.

To continue this momentum and increase the rural poor’s access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation, we need your help today.

Give $10 a month (Only 33¢ a day)
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Give $30 a month (Only $1 a day)
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Back to work

My mom is doing A LOT better and will be home soonish (si Dieu veut). I’ll be back to blogging after the New Year. I may have to cut down the frequency for a spell as we are simultaneously ramping up other AIDG activities.

For the week from Xmas to Epiphany I was planning to do the 12 days of appropriate technology. I think I’ll still because I was really looking forward to such titles as 5 golden rings: cell phones, 3 French hens: biodigesters, 10 lords a-leaping: wireless repeaters, 7 swans a-swimming: water purification, and 8 maids a-milking: refrigeration.

Making of Geekcorps CanTV (high res) (YouTube)

I linked to this in a previous top 10 post, but I thought it was worth popping up here again. When I next head down to Guate, one of the big things I want to do is produce some short how-to videos on making the different technologies. I really like the style of this video (as a supplement to written directions). What do folks think?

In the village of Bourem Inaly, Mali there are over 120 television sets powered by 12-volt car batteries, but there is almost nothing to watch. With its CanTV project, Geekcorps has helped the local radio station stream video content to the local community over WiFi. The radio station which rents these units out benefits from a new monthly revenue stream, while the villagers benefit with an improved source of news and entertainment. Link

Things that make me livid

Baby Formula

It’s funny. I’d read Nicholas Kristof’s review of “White Man’s Burden” in October and this paragraph didn’t effect me as much then. I read it today (thanks Steve) and it really … well … made me livid. So excuse me, while I whip this out.

You visit an AIDS clinic there [in Africa], and see the efforts to save babies by using cheap medicines like Nevirapine to block mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy. Then the clinic gives the women infant formula to take home, so that they don’t infect the babies with HIV during breastfeeding. A hundred yards down the road, you see piles of abandoned formula, where the women have dumped it. Any woman feeding her baby formula, rather than nursing directly, is presumed to have tested positive for HIV, and no woman wants that stigma.

It really made me think of why businesses are so different from non-profits. I’m just going to put it out there how I imagine a business might deal with this issue.

So, if you know that your customer has to make to choice between a rapid social death followed by natural death if they use your product vs. plain old natural death if they don’t, there are a few things that you might do to appease your customers fears. From the customer’s perspective, her and her kids’ chances of survival are greater if they do not become social pariahs. Despite her tainted milk, her newborn may still have a shot, but if her status becomes widely known, they are both goners.

Knowing this, the effective entrepreneur might make the packaging as discreet as possible, make it easy to hide/dispose of the formula, offer tips on how to keep your HIV status a “private matter”, offer things to say to divert suspicion (like my baby is failing to thrive on my breastmilk alone), etc. etc. If a business fails to address these dire privacy concerns of its customers, it is highly likely to go out of business and thankfully make room for someone else who will do a better job. This is not the case for non-profits. That Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest is not as good at culling that herd. Okay that was a bit snippy and to be fair, I have no idea what is currently being done to address this and similar issues in health and development. It just struck me that the business approach to development where the recipients of aid are viewed as customers is not common. Otherwise folks wouldn’t get massive praise for being innovative whenever ever they do the least thing that is culturally competent. It’s so depressing that common sense business practice is seen as innovative in this field. Okay rant over.

Keeping on the business tip though, there is a great article from Slate called The Other Trojan War. It talks about why the Trojan condom brand became the leading seller of condoms in America and what “a canny Presbyterian from upstate New York” did to overcome everything from the Comstock Law, which banned the use of birth control, to the reticence of pharmacists to even stock the product. I think it is an excellent example of the type of ingenuity and understanding of the market that is often lacking in the implementation of development projects.

Appropriate Technology and Text Messaging

I’m loving how the definition of what is appropriate technology is constantly changing and how it is beginning to include things like cell phones and wireless mesh networks. Over the past few months, I’ve seen some neat ways people are using text messaging to fulfill health, environment and human rights goals.