Intern Profile #6: Natalie Bonilla (AIDG Guatemala)

Natalie Bonilla in Chel

Natalie Bonilla

Where were you Based?
Xela, Guatemala

What was your intern project?
Outreach and Facilitation Officer, with direct participation in the Ram Pump Group, Water Group, Micro-hydroelectric Group, and Biodigestor Group.

Describe what your normal day as an AIDG intern in like.
My normal day as an AIDG Outreach intern starts off with an early morning ride to a remote community for a follow-up or initial assessment visit. The scenery on the way to any given community is without a doubt the most mystifying experience one can have in a country covered in majestic mountains and endless valleys. Upon arriving to the community, I am greeted by cheery women in traje tipico and men armed with field machetes. They instinctively take me to their central building where we discuss the nature of my visit and their needs and expectations. Accompanied by the AIDG site surveyor Dave, we then take a tour of the community’s terrain, reviewing the potential landmarks where technologies could be adequately installed. By the time we have finished hiking down extremely steep cliffs to get to the river, feeling as though we have survived an episode of ‘Extreme Adventures’, a nice steamy lunch is awaiting us back in a local woman’s home. A pile of tortillas are accompanied by a delicious bowl of black beans and drum sticks with red tomato sauce.

After a lunch filled with discussion about where we are from and what activities the community does, a meeting with all community members is called, so as to discuss the objectives of a possible project that could be executed in the future.

The patio where we had been first taken for introductions now becomes a classroom dynamic, with Dave and I at the head of the class, explaining the project. The faces of these 30 men, women and children light up with excitement and with the efforts of understanding our explanation. Questions and concerns are raised directly from the attentive listeners as we get into the details that they want to address. When this meeting is adjourned, Dave and I say our lengthy goodbyes and are on our way back to Xela on his motorbike. The next day will give me the opportunity to write up the details of the previous day’s thrilling visit.

What has been a crucial moment in which you have felt that AIDG is truly succeeding?
I went with Maricela Chan, XelaTeco’s Administrator, to a workshop at a Woman’s Association called Pop Atziak, in Quetzaltenango. On behalf of promoting XelaTeco’s most popular product, efficient stoves, Maricela and I took a stove to the Association as a demonstration so that the women could test it out for themselves. The presentation that Maricela gave, as well as the way she encouraged the woman to use the stove to boil water, was engaging and informative. I was truly impressed with the way she presented XelaTeco and the results she had from the members at the workshop. Most women were interested in purchasing the stoves and some were able to. XelaTeco’s ability to reach out to its audience and inform them so eloquently about the benefits of their products in relation to the environment, health care, and the money they will save shows me that they are able to go forward in sustaining their own business.

What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
The most rewarding moment for me was when I was with Dave in a community near El Tumbador, called Plan de Arena, on a site visit where we wanted to identify their potential to be the host of a micro-hydroelectric system. After determining that the river they had was adequate for this project, we told them that it would be good to have a letter of interest and involvement from them, confirming their motivation to take part.

Without another thought, the community leader, Don Ovidio, sat with Dave and I, took out his typewriter, and began typing the letter. When the letter was completed, the community members came to sign it one by one. The ones that could not write left their fingerprint on the paper. Their contribution to our visit felt fulfilling and priceless.

Who have you met who has inspired you the most and why?

Measuring river flow
The team is measuring the river’s flow to determine the potential for a
micro-hidroelectric system. Pictured: Dave Goosen , Don Carlos Cano (Community representative), and Jose Guzman (Ana Cafe)

The group of people who have inspired me the most are the members of Comunidad Nuevo Eden in San Marcos. The sixteen families in this community had until recently been refugees, having fled to Chiapas, Mexico to escape violence during the Guatemalan Civil War. They returned to Guatemala by choice after ten years with the help of the government. Many of the families that fled with them, however, preferred to stay in Mexico. Upon their return, they took to repairing and utilizing a coffee beneficiary and began working the dryers and other machinery. They also cultivate macadamia nuts.

What is most astounding about this group of individuals is how extremely well organized and interconnected they are. We came for a site visit because they were interested in a micro-hydroelectric system that would let them take advantage of the three rivers that run up to their community. The reason Neuvo Eden doesn’t have electricity like some of their neighboring communities is because at only sixteen families, their community is too small to qualify to receive power from the main supplier DEOXA.

Household members spoke to us about what motivated their desire to generate their own electricity. It almost always came down to one main objective: to have light so that their children could study at night and not have their eyes damaged by the dimness of candlelight which they currently use. In Nuevo Eden, not only do all the children attend the primary school located in the community, but families in neighboring communities also send their children there.

This community’s value of education and their children’s need to stay awake studying inspires me to help them gain the tools needed to create a better future for themselves.

Why did you choose AIDG?
I chose AIDG because its direction and presence in the NGO world is so unique and exiciting. While searching for jobs, I began learning more about the organization and was immediately inspired by its method of ensuring sustainability by incubating businesses administered by nationals of a country. AIDG’s solution to the challenges that the developing world faces through the development of technologies that take advantage of natural resources is a promising goal that I am so happy to be a part of.

Link of the Day 111908: White House Office of Social Entrepreneurship?

From the Chronicle of Philanthrophy:

Two liberal think tanks, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (DC) and the New Democracy Fund (NY), proposed that the Obama administration create a White House Office of Social Entrepreneurship.

Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Create an annual multimillion-dollar prize for the most creative, high-impact solution to a defined social problem. It could also make “smaller, daily efforts” to boost innovative nonprofit groups, for example by creating a weekly “Changemakers” award.
  • Explore changes to the tax code that would reward partnerships between nonprofit groups and businesses, and encourage charitable giving that would help successful nonprofit groups grow.
  • Work with the U.S Agency for International Development to create an Innovation Investment Fund to support new approaches to global development, such as the Acumen Fund, which provides money to entrepreneurial anti-poverty projects.
  • Coordinate with the Commission on Cross-Sector Solutions to America’s Problems, a new entity that has been proposed by the Serve America Act, a bill to expand the country’s national-service programs. The 21-member commission would suggest ways the federal government can help nonprofit groups work more effectively.

via The New Service

Link of the Day 111808: Getting serious about human waste [NPR]

The Big Necessity by Rose George

Kai Ryssdal of Public Radio’s Marketplace recently interviewed Rose George, author of the Big Necessity.

George commenting on sanitation:

Well, it’s one of the most effective health preventions you can make. And the World Bank and the World Health Organization has calculated that if you invest $1 in sanitation, then you reap $7 in health costs diverted and in labor days that are gained. Your workers are not off sick from diarrhea. So, it’s extremely cost effective. It’s actually a bargain.

From the book’s description:

the western world luxuriates in flush toilets; in toilets that play music or can check blood pressure, where the flush is a thoughtless thing, and anything that can go down a sewer – nappies, motorbikes, goldfish – does. In these times, Japanese women routinely use a device called a Flush Princess to mask the sound of their bodily functions; while in China millions of people happily use public toilets with no doors. The Big Necessity – as one Mumbai toilet builder called the toilet – is the account of my travels through the profoundly intriguing but stupidly neglected world of the disposal of human waste, which houses characters like Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization; Wang Ming Ying, who is attempting to alleviate environmental devastation and deforestation in China by persuading rural Chinese to install biogas digesters, which produce cooking gas from human feces; Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, whose NGO Sulabh has built half a million toilets in India, as well as the world’s only museum of toilets; and the flushers of London and New York’s sewers, who scoff at roaches but hate rats nearly as much as they hate congealed cooking fat and tri-ply toilet paper.

Hat-tip Lorin S.

Related posts:
State-of-the-Art Facilities: 1941 [Shorpy, 100 year old Photo Blog]
Poo Productions, Mozambican Music, and Environmental Heroes – Massukos
Tech Tuesday: Urine-Diverting (Dry) Toilet [Shada, Haiti] Pt 1
Promoting Sanitation in Bangladesh [World Bank, YouTube]
Sanitation voted Best Medical Milestone

Quote of the Day: Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles – Erik Hersman of Afrigadget

Erik Hersman at Better World By Design
Erik Hersman at Better World By Design. via White African’s Flickrstream

One of the best things about conferences is when you get to meet people who’s work you enjoy/admire in real life. Erik Hersman of Afrigadget documents low-tech entrepreneurialism in Africa. Specifically he looks at ingenuity born of necessity, “tech that keeps economies on life support”. Raised in Sudan (until the war got bad), Kenya, and then again Sudan, he’s a bit of a tech anthropologist searching for Africans solutions to African problems.

Because I haven’t done an appropriate tech roundup for a long while and because Erik’s Better World By Design talk showcased tech featured in his blog, I’m just going to pick my fave 10 posts from Afrigadget.

  1. Farming Innovations in a Slum

    Rubbish dump
    The former rubbish dump

    Installing irrigation
    Installing irrigation

    Spinach patch
    Spinach patch

    [A] local organic farming company Green Dreams has been documenting the progress of transforming a garbage dump [in the Kibera Slum] to an organic farm on the Green Dreams blog. They are working with a local youth group comprising reformed criminals in converting garbage into organic manure, and garbage dumps into organic farms.

    Not to be a wet blanket, but I do wonder what sorts of chemical may have leached into that soil.

  2. GSM/GPS based elephant tracking at The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya
    Young Elephant

    A pilot project placed an electonic collar containing GPS and GSM units on Kimani, a bull elephant who was the last surviving member of a 5 elephant group with a penchant for raiding farms to eat crops. This collar allowed park rangers to track the elephant’s movements using Google Earth / Google Maps. The project also allowed park authorities to monitor animal locations at all times and acted as a deterrent against the poaching of this important resource.

  3. Bio Latrines in Kenyan Slums

    Just the other day on a visit to Kibera Slum I came across this interesting bio gas latrine which is being set up for Kibera people as a response to lacking community toilets. The sanitation situation in Kibera is really really poor! There are a couple of community toilets which where set up after the shooting of the Constant Gardener but only a few years later these are in bad shape! Again, they cost 3/= per visit which is really above of what a typical Kibera inhabitant can afford. Just sum up what it will cost for 5 visits per day for a family of five! So the bio gas latrine is a really good option, since it will generate a little income to make the toilets free of charge.

  4. Mobile Phone Based Auto Security System (Video)

    Morris Mbetsa, an 18 year old self-taught inventor with no formal electronics training from the coastal tourist town of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean in Kenya, has invented the “Block & Track”, a mobile phone-based anti-theft device and vehicle tracking system.

  5. Hardware Hacking: Handmade Tools in Africa
    Hardware Hacking: Handmade Tools in Africa
  6. Rural Bio Gas Generator in Kenya
    Biodigester in Rural Kenya
  7. Philip’s Model Plane at International ArtBots Show (Video)
    Philip Isohe and his gorgeous model airplane
    Philip Isohe and his gorgeous model airplane

    Phillip Isohe is a metal fabricator in the jua kali, non-traditional industrial sector, in Kenya. In his spare time he builds models of airplanes and buses. This seems to be an extension of what many of us did while growing up in Africa – building wire, or tin can, cars. What’s most interesting is the excruciating attention to detail that he puts into each one. In fact, they each have motors with working lights, steering, engine and interiors.

  8. Africa’s Modular Machines
    Paint Machine
    Paint Machine
  9. Home Made Welding Machine

    This DIY welder in no way looks safe, but it is intriguing.

  10. AfriGadget: the story behind the stories.

    Duration: 53 sec

    Because I’m one of those people who love director’s commentaries and behind the scenes sneak peeks.

How does Afrigadget find all these innovations?

People send them a lot of stories, but also the Afrigadget bloggers walk into a welding shops, go scouting in industrial areas and pay close attention to what others might not see. It would be a very interesting/useful exercise to try out in Haiti or Guatemala.

A very noteworthy thing Erik mentioned is that folks are working on a Maker Faire Africa in Ghana in 2009. Maker Faire is a 2 day festival of arts, crafts, wild inventions and amazing sculpture that takes place in the Bay Area and Austin, Texas every year. The African version would have a slightly different focus however.

Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles proposed the idea of holding the event in Africa:

The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations, inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified, propagated, etc. Maker Faire Africa asks the question, “What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix?”

According to Afrigadget:

The focus here is not on high-tech, but on manufacturing. Specifically, fabrication, the type of small and unorganized businesses that pop up wherever an entrepreneur is found on the African continent. It gets exciting when you think about gathering some of the real innovators from this sector into one place where they can learn from each other and spread their knowledge from one part of the continent to another.

Related posts:
Video: Into Africa – Innovation for Developing Regions [DEMO Conference]
William Kamkwamba in the Wall Street Journal
Afrigadget at TED Global
Cat’s Picks for 10 Must-Read Non-green Blogs

Quote of the Day: The developing world is filled with the carcasses of dead Daleks – Ken Banks of Frontline SMS

Frontline SMS
I love a talk that starts with a good sci-fi analogy. This is how Ken Banks, the creator of Frontline SMS, began his lecture on mobile innovation in developing countries at the Better World by Design Conference.

Dr Who is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in an old-school police box. His sworn enemies are the Daleks, merciless genocidal robots that managed to conquer the entire universe. Brilliant machines, they were nearly an unstoppable force.

Dalek Design Flaw
Illustration from Flickr User mutantman

Unfortunately they had a few notable design flaws. They had a wee bit of trouble with stairs. Banks’ point is that tech however good doesn’t work everywhere. The appropriateness of a given design is all about context and the ultimate needs of the end user. Many people designing for consumers in emerging markets fail to understand this fact and thus the developing world is filled with the carcasses of dead Daleks.

iPhone vs Nokia 1100

To drive this point home he compares the iPhone, which many would describe as the pinnacle of good cell phone design, to the humble Nokia 1100. The 1100 is the best selling phone in the world. It’s cheap, run for ages boasting 10+ hours of talk time and a week on standby, has a simple menu and is rather impervious to dust and humidity. This unassuming no frills handset with its long battery is part of the cell phone revolution that brought connectivity to millions.The iPhone, though gorgeous, has only 4 hours of talk time and a hungry need for daily recharging. It is not optimized for harsh conditions or places with unreliable access to electricity. Or for people who always forget to plug their cell phones in at night, for that matter Oh and it’s not possible to remove/replace the battery yourself. FAIL.

Ethan Zuckerman writes (based on a similar talk):

Banks reminds us that there’s a huge gap between software developers and practitioners. People who develop mobile applications often don’t understand the context in which they’re going to be used. “Tech people who write things requiring Nokia 95s [or iPhones] really don’t understand that people in Uganda don’t walk around with those kinds of phones.” It’s important to introduce developers to the people who actually use these tools to ensure they’re appropriately designed.

Frontline SMS, free software that enables users to send and receive text messages from large groups of people, runs on the simplest of systems. It’s a two way messaging hub that requires a computer, a GSM cell phone, and a way to connect the two (usb, serial cable, bluetooth or infrared). In envisioning the program, Banks wanted to create an activist Swiss Army Knife. It is designed for NGOs, grassroots organizations and activists to get info out and to receive info from their constituency.

Some Applications

  1. Coordinating health workers and collecting field data
  2. Emergency alerts and updates to embassy staff (Czech Republic)
  3. Conducting interactive surveys
  4. Providing security alerts to field workers
  5. Election monitoring
  6. Providing market prices to farmers
  7. Reporting and monitoring avian flu outbreaks
  8. Community outreach and information distribution

Ethan Zuckerman writes:

One of the major applications for FrontlineSMS is election monitoring. Banks tells us about a project that allowed 800 Filipino election monitors to coordinate their work via SMS, performing very thorough monitoring of elections. A similar project in Nigeria put the ability to monitor elections into the hands of private citizens, not official election monitors. The results were interesting – the citizen monitors were very interested in getting good news out about the Nigerian elections, combatting the perception Nigeria has for corruption and for election violence. This may not be a completely accurate picture of the recent Nigerian elections, but it shows the desire of the people in Nigeria to combat negative reporting and stereotypes about the country.

Tech Considerations

The current iteration of the software works on any GSM phone that features the AT command. It doesn’t currently work on Blackberries, Symbian phones, Windows Mobile, or iPhones. Ironically it doesn’t work on the 1100 either. A list of specific phones namely Nokia, SonyEricsson and Motorolla models is available here.

An important thing that Banks mentioned in this talk is the need to educate people around the risks of tech use. For instance, it may not be obvious to people is that your (cell phone) location can be triangulated even if you don’t have GPS.

Cell phones are two way radio transmitters that work by connecting to a nearby tower and exchanging data. Despite the FCC’s limitation on maximum power output of a cell phone, they are still able to connect with towers miles away at UHF frequencies … Because cell phones put out a constant RF output (sometimes pulsed) they can be tracked using the tower triangulation method where the network administrators can find your precise location with their administrative network access. [From IT Digest via Google Answers]

From what I understand this is how E911 location tracking and Google’s new mobile maps feature works for cellphones.

Banks tells a story of activists who were sending messages from a moving vehicle to minimize their chances of getting nabbed.

Don’t feel bad if you were unaware of this possibility. In Italy, CIA agents were undone by their cell phones.

Great Frontline SMS review from Mobile Active

Related Posts:
Link of the Day 072708: Literacy, Communication & Design [Jan Chipchase, Nokia]
Video: RISEPAK, a Web 2.0 tool for disaster response [Harvard Social Enterprise Conference]
iPhone: “Don’t you know that you’re toxic”
Appropriate Technology and Text Messaging
12 days of Xmas: 5 cell phone rings

Job: IDEAS Competition Coordinator [MIT]

Title: IDEAS Competition Coordinator
Req Number: mit-00006075
Department: Public Service Center
Location: Cambridge, MA
FT/PT: Full Time
Employment / Payroll Category: Administrative

IDEAS (Innovation, Development, Enterprise, Action and Service) COMPETITION COORDINATOR, Public Service Center (PSC), to run the IDEAS Competition (, an annual invention competition at MIT that invites students and their collaborators to develop innovative solutions to community challenges ‘ in any field, anywhere in the world. Will ensure the ongoing success of the competition, holding primary responsibility for planning and implementation of IDEAS events, advising and developing new opportunities for IDEAS teams, developing strategic partnerships within MIT and with external organizations, recruiting and supervising volunteer staff, and liaising with community partners around the world. Other activities include handling publicity and media exposure; maintaining the IDEAS web site and other information media; overseeing monitoring and evaluation; creating reports and other documentation; and engaging in fund-raising from grantors, corporations, and donors. Will also act as a critical member of the PSC staff, helping to develop and implement its goals, visions, and strategies, including its newest initiative, the MIT Global Challenge.

REQUIREMENTS: a bachelor’s degree and excellent collaboration skills, leadership competencies, and a capacity for operational management. Must be passionate about facilitating innovative solutions to community needs and able to combine managerial qualities with the creativity, vision, and energy to help the competition maintain its track record of success and grow to achieve its full potential. Great communication skills required to negotiate the multiple relationships involved. Experience with or potential for entrepreneurship, fund-raising, project management, communications technologies, and technology transfer are assets; as is field experience in the developing world. Experience within MIT or other higher education institutions is an added benefit. Must be available for a weekly evening meeting and evening events. MIT-00006075-N

This is a full-time position with benefits. Annual renewable contract. Salary mid-$40s to low $50s depending on experience.

Posted: 11/13/08