Archive for the 'environment' Category

Hitting Backspace – Recovers.org Focus on Preparedness

After winning the IDEAS Global Challenge, our team took a hard look at our project’s mission and vision. One of our greatest strengths as first a student group and then a company has been that we never assume we are doing the right thing. I can imagine nothing less helpful to disaster recovery than to build a complicated pack of tools and try to force people on the ground to use them. For this reason, we develop by constantly flying into disaster areas and checking our development against needs on the ground.

It was during this same process of boot-on-the-ground testing, we realized that our favored method of dropping out of the sky to deploy software was not best way to help communities recover. In fact, we realized that much of the work needed to increase community resilience must be done before the storm.

Morgan and Dave flew to Florida in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby, only to find that no one they spoke to in the communities they visited seemed to realize how important it was that they begin taking in some of the aid being offered. After a frustrating week, they left (read more about the trip and our lessons here: http://recovers.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/slow-burn/). Eventually, a local organizer using Facebook to scrape together volunteers would take over use of the platform. Under her watch, the software has helped build a community of volunteers that not only responded to Debby’s damage, but also sandbagged homes to prepare for Hurricane Isaac.

Preparedness: the missing ingredient

Whoa, hit the backspace key. We’re talking about two very similar disasters in two very similar communities. What made New Port Richey, FL after TS Debby different than Northfield, VT after TS Irene? It wasn’t our ability to reach the community. We arrived at roughly the same time post-storm. It wasn’t the resources available on the ground – both areas were being served by a multitude of national and regional aid organizations.

It was preparedness.

Suddenly a lot of pieces fell into place. A group of four flying into disaster areas to save the day, while a cool plot for an action flick, is not practical or what is needed. A team of four focused on building tools that will prepare a community to recover, and distributing them before  a disaster is infinitely more useful. We’ve pivoted accordingly, licensing the software as a preparedness tool to interested communities.

Tools:
Back at the drawing board, we took a more critical look at the “community facing” side of our software. Small things, like an easy sign up process, a way to keep involved after signing up, preparedness tips and integration with existing social media chatter, are just as important as volunteer tracking features. It doesn’t matter if we have the best hours logging program in the world if the community isn’t aware they can volunteer.

Timing:
We’ve swung our focus to getting these tools in place ahead of a storm. We can keep our team small and focused, build faster, and provide better service if we’re in place when things hit the proverbial fan. We’ve also realized that it is much more economically sustainable to charge a small fee for preparing towns than it would be to somehow find a sponsor for recovering towns.

We’re on our way – with this new list of priorities, we’re able to narrow our focus and devote more time to the features that will have the greatest impact upon recovery. We still fly into disasters to test things, but we’re building a sustainable business around being there before that.

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Written by Caitria O’Neill with Recovers.org, a 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge award recipient.

Recovers.org provides easy-to-use tools to help communities efficiently structure volunteers, donations and information. http://recovers.org.

Scot Frank, Sol Source Earn Big for Green Work

Congratulations to alum Scot Frank, who’s solar concentrator just snagged €500,000 in the Netherland’s Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. From the press release:

AMSTERDAM, 23 September 2010 – Scot Frank has won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2010 for the affordable portable solar concentrator SolSource. His Royal Highness Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau, the honorary jury chair, announced the American as the recipient of the €500,000 grand prize.

“This is fantastic,” Frank said. “We’ve been working with target users in China for five years. We’ll use this money to set up our Chinese manufacturing, marketing and distribution base.”

The SolSource is a light, foldable device that harnesses the sun’s energy to cook, generate heat and light, and charge mobile phones. It eliminates indoor air pollution from dung- and wood-burning ovens. SolSource also saves women hours each day by removing the need to collect fuel. The device, to be produced from local materials in its target markets and sold for €10, will be a boon in developing countries.

Read the complete announcement here.

Why social entrepreneurs do what they do

A recent article in Stanford’s Business Magazine profiled the social enterprise D.light, which delivers affordable LED lighting to rural, off-grid communities. A powerful quote caught my eye, one that really threw into sharp relief the power of what students everywhere are doing to change the world:

“Chaudhary purchased a light for about $30 and soon noticed that his family’s eyes no longer burned and their chests no longer hurt. Even better, they could see at night. His sister, Rama, was able to stay up late knitting sweaters. His father, Gajinder, could read without straining his eyesight. His aunt, Suman, stopped charring the flat chapati bread she baked over the wood stove.”

All these benefits from a light? Its almost inconveivable in our comfortable lifestyles. To communities with less, simple, smart changes add up to significant quality of life improvements.

Read the complete Stanford article here.

Shanty Towns Are the New, Green Pioneer Cities

So says Stewart Brand.

During a recent talk at MIT, the urbanist scholar Anthony Flint said, “Cities are the greenest form of human settlement humans can aspire to.” Taking an aerial view of Los Angeles in the ’80′s, one might have been less than certain. Today, with an ever growing number of people living in “megacities” (those with more than 10 million inhabitants), one might be even less certain.

With an energy-intensive lifestyle and panoply of diversions, the truth of Mr Flint’s statement is hardly self-evident.

Broadly speaking, “green” is shorthand for the concept of “ecologically friendly.” In other words, little to no harm is done to the environment through the process of extraction, production or distribution of goods and services. Applying the concept of “greenness” to cities is no small feat.

Large concentrations of human settlement by definition have a more visible, intense impact on the environment than dispersed populations. Whether through resource consumption – for example, the construction of housing – or waste generation – and its necessary incineration or other means of disposal – large concentrations of people are by definition *not green.*

So what gives?

Continue reading ‘Shanty Towns Are the New, Green Pioneer Cities’

Black Carbon and Poverty

Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, studies say. Adam Ferguson for The New York Times  

Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, studies say. Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

A recent New York Times article in the Environment pages points out some of the climate-risks associated with the burning of dirty fuels, and makes the case for introducing new, cleaner burning stoves to the poor. Skipping over the massive health benefits to women and children who most often tend to the family fires, the article places priority – in part justifiably – on the worlds disappearing glaciers, especially in the Himalayas – linking their demise to a looming water crisis in areas fed by Asia’s big rivers. 

Continue reading ‘Black Carbon and Poverty’