Maarten On the Move!

Maarten and Nedi Discussing Solar Hot Water Installation

Our all-star intern Maarten Graveland, hailing from The Netherlands and here as an intern for nine months, has had quite the week. Balancing his time between solar hot water modification and biodigester installation, he’s been quite busy. Today I joined him in visiting two outreach sites. The bike ride out to the first community, Llanos de Pinal, was 45 minutes, uphill (we’re hoping to raise funds for a truck soon).

In the community of Llanos is an outstanding community organization and project locally referred to as The Guarderia, funded jointly by two organizations–one US-based, and the other Xela-based, Pop-Wuj. The project provides day care for toddlers, and after-school homework assistance for a total of 42 children. AIDG was asked to build a water tower and solar hot water system, because there is both a lack of reliable water, and the cold climate presents a health hazard as the children refuse to shower in cold water. Water towers are not in the scope of AIDG’s outreach projects, but Jovenes Juntos was able to raise funds for the project, an AIDG intern (civil engineer, Kelli Horner) designed the tower, and I found a contractor and organized a few volunteers to build the water tower structure.

Maarten, as seen in the photo above, is talking to the contractor, Nedi, regarding the details of how the solar panels will be affixed to the cement roof of the water tower, and the associated plumbing. Immediately after meeting with Nedi, we peddled on to Tierra Colorada, to visit the Dona Lety outreach site. Dona Lety is a victim of domestic violence, and a local organization approached us to collaborate with her. We’ve installed a biodigester at her house to help her keep her fuelwood costs down and provide a good fertilizer for her small agricultural production activity. Today, Maarten and Candido (XelaTeco employee) demonstrated how the biodigester functions to a local organization, CDRO that is buying 6 biodigesters from XelaTeco. Assuming all goes well with the 6 installations, CDRO will continue to buy the kits from XelaTeco and install them in rural communities in need. If we had an award for Intern of the Week, Maarten wins.

Intern Collaboration

Intern Collaboration

Two of the 5 interns in Guatemala, Jochen and Corrado, are developing marketing materials for XelaTeco and the AIDG outreach program. Jochen, with his native Spanish ability and his business degree, is doing an excellent job in making suggestions to XelaTeco in how to best present XelaTeco products. Jochen has also been working with Corrado in developing a modified brochure in Spanish to present AIDG outreach projects to communities in need. In fact, Corrado is already using the brochure (finished yesterday) and is out assessing a community today. In this picture, three of the five interns living at the Intern House (from left to right Nick, Corrado, Elena) are reviewing the draft brochure and finding something funny about it.

Green Development & Media

If you are in Boston/Cambridge next week, check out this event:

Green Development & Media: and Plenty Magazine

Date: April 4, 2007
Time: 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Location: MIT, 7-431 (AVT)*
Featuring Speakers: Deborah Snoonian, Plenty Magazine and Simran Sethi, Treehugger TV & Sundance “The Green”.


Journalists play an important role in raising public awareness of green development. This session invites them to share their views on the evolution of the image and market for green development.

Please RSVP via the Web site:

Is the high tech/low tech distinction flawed?

A month or so ago, Pete met with Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance. They had a fruitful conversation, but one piece of knowledge that Vikram shared really intrigued me. What I’m going to give you is a seriously second-hand paraphrase (think of the game “telephone”). If I got the gist correctly from Pete, Akula’s thinking/experience goes a little something like this. Folks tend to divide technology into high and low tech and assume that this division is directly correlated with how hard it is to learn. This is a fallacy. The ease with which a technology is mastered is more related to the number of individual tasks needed to get the job done and how straightforward each of those are. A good user interface also helps tremendously. The motivation of learning about something that is really going to change your life probably makes this process even faster.

I think Akula is so spot on. I’m struck by 2 experiences in my own life where folks have wrongfully convinced themselves that certain types of things were really hard to learn.

In grad school, I was a teacher’s assistant for a mathematical modeling and epidemiology class. So many students would get caught up in the “math is hard” mentality and assume that they couldn’t do it. A big thing I had to do as a teacher was to get students to see the easy individual steps that would let them write pretty cool differential equations that described infectious disease dynamics. “You have a big problem. Break it down”, I would say. “Use what you already know to figure out the next step or where you might have made a mistake.” In the end, pretty much all of them got it.

Another example was teaching my 68 year old mother to use a DVD player for the first time. Again she had that “technology is scary” thing going on. After 3 minutes, she looked at me and said “That’s it”. “Yeah mom, that’s it”. I even taught how to hook the DVD player up to the TV. “They’re color-coded. That’s so clever,” she said.

Another really interesting thing about what Vikram told Pete was that the Indian villagers SKS worked with did not know that cell phones palm pilots were supposed to “harder” to learn than the other tools that the NGO introduced. Without preconceived notions that are often huge barriers to people picking up a skill, many people just picked up cell phones right away.

Going back to the math example above, some of the worst of the “math is hard” offenders were women. Mostly because people, including the former president of Harvard Larry Summers, would tell them that girls were not good at it. Such nonsense and poppycock.

I’d be really interested in knowing what a cognitive psychologist would say about the sorts of tasks that humans learn most quickly.

fountain_of_z's News for 2007-23-03

  • His energy bill is $0.00 from Yahoo! News

    Mike Strizki lives in the nation’s first solar-hydrogen house. The technology this civil engineer has been able to string together – solar panels, a hydrogen fuel cell, storage tanks, and a piece of equipment called an electrolyzer – provides electricity to his home year-round, even on the cloudiest of winter days.

  • Make your own biodiesel from Journey to Forever
  • Top 50 Things To Do To Stop Global Warming

    #48. Tell Congress to act
    The McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act would set a firm limit on carbon dioxide emissions and then use free market incentives to lower costs, promote efficiency and spur innovation. Tell your representative to support it.

  • America’s Greenest Buildings from Forbes
  • City tries to cut energy bills with LEDs from CNET News
    Raleigh, N.C., wants to become LED City.

    The city, which is in the center of the state’s tech hub, is conducting experiments to see if it can cut energy consumption and maintenance costs by replacing conventional public light fixtures with ones based around light-emitting diodes.

  • Offshore Wind Farm Could Blow Away Energy Needs from

    Wind power could supply all the energy needs of much of the East Coast and then some, if a phalanx of wind turbines running from Massachusetts to North Carolina were installed offshore, a new study concludes.

  • Free* WIFI Booster Video
  • Turning sewage sludge into gasoline from CNET News
    BioPetrol gets the award for finding the most novel way to get gas for cars.
  • FAQ: Guide to alternative fuels from CNET News
    Here’s a handy guide to the major players in the alternative fuel world.

More Links from Pete Zink

Link of the Day The Starfish TV Network

Starfish Television NetworkYesterday I traveled down to Swarthmore for their annual Lax Conference on Entrepreneurship. I met some really great alumni there who I will undoubtedly be talking about in future blog posts. In particular, I met Ken Leith, senior veep at Bank of America, who is currently working on the finance side of a team trying to launch of the Starfish Television Network.

The Deal: All Charities, All the Time

Charities do good work, have good stories, and need help getting the word out. Starfish TV can help them do just that. Starfish will air your broadcast-quality NGO TV program FOR FREE.

Where and When

The launch date of the network is March 28. The station is part of the Dish’s 1000 high-definition package. Dish 1000 has about 1.5 to 2 million subscribers. A few weeks after launch, they will start simulcasting over the web. They are very interested in web 2.0’ing it up, being innovative and appealing to the masses. It should be a really good experiment.

How to get involved

The story behind the name:

Adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley

The story is told of a man walking along a beach the morning after a storm had passed through. The sand was littered with starfish that had been washed ashore. Down the beach he noticed a young boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the water. As he approached, he asked what he was doing. The boy didn’t hesitate as he explained that the sun was coming up and it would kill the starfish if they didn’t get back into the ocean. The man laughed and said, “There are thousands of starfish on miles of beach, you can’t possibly make a difference.” As the boy picked up another starfish and threw it back into the ocean he said, “Made a difference to that one.”

Non-profit and cause-driven organizations operate under a type of starfish principle. They know they can’t fix all the problems in the world, but most do their best, with what they have, to help as many people as they can. Unfortunately, far too many starfish are left on the beach.

More media coverage for good causes, more donations, more good work, fewer starfish on the beach.

Cause Related Marketing’s take II
Take I