Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Challenge: Choosing Which Babies Will Die This Year

Most of the problems addressed so far in Evoke come down to how resources are allocated. The issue of 'unfairness' crops up in many blog posts. I want to solve a real-life dilemma that goes beyond fair, beyond who 'deserves' help, and which comes down to someone having to make a decision about which babies will die unnecessarily this year. If possible, I want to try and minimise the relevance of money to this issue and embrace all the other forms of capital out there - especially social capital - to find a solution.

It started with this video on TED.com: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_chen_a_warm_embrace_that_saves_lives....

In it, we see a simple technology that has the potential to save millions of lives. But in the comments below the talk, we see some hostility. For example: This is a just an attempt to monetise a problem already solved for free ($25.00 is a lot of money for the target group). It is called "maternal-infant skin-to-skin contact" or the Kangaroo Method and was invented in Bogota, Colombia by Dr Rey and Dr Martinez since 1978... it is supported by UNICEF and has gone global and you don't need a hi-tech hot water bottle, the child is held against the mothers skin. This free method is superior and these people do not even mention it on their website or in their presentation. This is just another Northern NGO-Business in my opinion

After reading that, my first thought was "when does the mother sleep?" After all, the Embrace only works for a few hours at a time. It seems to me that it's a useful technology within the context of a proper care regime, and the hostility is due to people insisting that their solution is better. Either or, instead of both as required. Zero-sum, instead of combined benefits.

All the same, the real issue is one of control. The root cause of the hostility is the feeling of disempowerment that comes from having a rich sponsor take care of you when you really want to solve your own problems. And this was highlighted for me when I read a comment from someone who asked a simple question:

how can I purchase this? could anyone advice me about it.

The person asking the question is in Sri Lanka. I have no idea if he's a doctor, healthcare official, parent with an urgent problem, or whatever, but he clearly
feels that this technology fills a need.

So, on his behalf, I looked at the Embrace website, but it's all about fundraising and advocacy. Not much help for parents or healthcare professionals whith premature babies. This is fair enough, I suppose, if they're a start-up trying to get funding to save the world. You can't launch a product without resources and at the moment they're in the process of gathering the resources they need. It's all about resources, and in the meantime, babies are dying.

But this product is basically a sleeping bag with a quantity of wax in a pocket in the back. Sri Lanka is a country with a strong textiles industry, and a degree of industrialisation that should make it possible to produce synthetic wax. The key requirement is for a substance that undergoes phase-transition at the right temperature. It's a well-understood phenomenon, solutions already exist, so surely a country like Sri Lanka has all the resources necessary to implement their own solution right now instead of waiting for an NGO in Washington DC to raise money?

I tried to imagine myself as one of the founders of Embrace. There I am, with my great idea, and all I need is some money to make it happen. Then I can set up some kind of production facility, or outsource it to China, publicise the new product, and persuade health-care providers to accept my gift or cheap solution to their problem. And it's up to me to do it because nobody else is going to.

Isn't that the wh*** point of Evoke? All the quests are about turning ordinary people into superheroes. All the missions are about encouraging these future superheroes to understand and solve the biggest issues. The desired result is thousands of social innovators starting projects that will change the world, and it starts by changing us from passive spectators into active leaders. Evoke is designed to create more people who will stand on the stage at TED.com showcasing brilliant new ideas which they own. But in the process it turns us into control-freaks.

It's a worthy cause, but what about the people who could help themselves if they only knew how? What about the ones who can't wait for me to raise enough money to roll out my idea worldwide? What if my idea could be easily implemented by anyone with appropriate resources, but instead they have to wait for me to provide them with a solution? Very often, the only thing that people really need is knowledge.

I would hate to be sitting in my office in Washington, looking at an email request from someone who wants access to my great new technology and having to tell them "I'm sorry, but you can't have it yet. We don't have enough money to offer it in your country at this time. India gets priority."

Why should India get priority? There is no reason other than that we have some connection to India, and we have to solve the problems that are in front of us before we start looking for new problems. Nobody is wrong to give priority to India, but try telling that to a mother in Africa.

The problem here is not "a rich northern NGO-business." The problem is old-fashioned economic thinking which doesn't take account of new forms of currency: knowledge, reputation points, social capital, collaborative networks and the technologies that make them possible. (Phew, now I've answered the brief to get my ACT5 20+ courage points)

We have to find better ways of helping people to help themselves. It's called empowerment, and is infinitely preferable to dependency.

So here's the challenge: Find a chemist or materials scientist. Obtain complete instructions for small-scale manufacture of materials that undergo phase-transition at 35-38 degrees celsius, especially those with a high latent heat capacity. Help me to create online teaching material that is available to anyone in the world, giving a complete step-by-step guide to making your own low-cost incubator. I'll create a website hosting this, and any other similar 'help yourself' project.

In fairness to Embrace, I should also point out that someone from the company did eventually reply to the comments on TED.com in a constructive and pro-active manner. I will draw his attention to this post and ask him to share his technical data.

Views: 115

Comment by Josh Judkins on April 13, 2010 at 10:44am
Whoah! Epic post here, Chris. Thanks for all the thought, research and heart you've put into this.
Comment by Riko Kamachi on April 15, 2010 at 12:54pm
I have to agree with Josh here, I'm having to read your post a few times to take this all in! Awesome post!
Comment by LucasG on April 18, 2010 at 11:02am
Big job, great post, and now a couple of bits of extra information:

- A template for your wikipage: http://www.openfarmtech.org/index.php/Incubator + there's more under "hexahatch" in their blog http://openfarmtech.org/weblog I would strongly suggest you host your wikipage in appropedia.org, but please look at the license and see if that fits your aim. The license allows for people who will be able to make money locally.

- http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/other/phase-change-blanket-cold... folks may have some data. Their emails are in the video, at the end of the presentation.

Plus of course there's the general contact points of @outofpoverty (twitter), demotech.org, maybe even afrigadget (probably not, but maybe worth a look), Amy Smith over at MIT, and _of course_ http://www.appropedia.org as a, sorry, not "a" but _the_ place (I'd suggest) to host your project.

Now, the details of your challenge. Marcin at openfarmtech.org has done something that's quite intriguing. He sets up a project and gets bids for parts of it. Then opensources the final resource. See http://openfarmtech.org/weblog/?p=1373 or generally google for "site:openfarmtech.org/weblog bid". You "simply" need to have some seed capital to ask for that kind of professional help, but even that can be crowdsourced like in http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=Open_Source_Ecology:Site_su...

So, to sum up, I'd humbly suggest the following:
- Create a page on appropedia using Marcin's template.
- Crowdsource, from UrgentEvoke or wherever, the information finding effort. All that information goes to your page at appropedia.
- If need be, set up a bid to ask for specific designs.

Of course, it helps if someone in the crowd you're convening looks into numbers: how many babies per year, etc. http://gapminder.org may give valuable data. But that, I know, doesn't stab your proposal: build a resource that anyone will be able to use.

Also, google for "site:www.appropedia.org incubator".

I hope some of this helps.
Comment by LucasG on April 18, 2010 at 11:07am
Maybe we can ask over at globalswadeshi.net - as simple as placing a link to this blog entry of yours, see if someone knows about phase-change materials. Probably not, but who knows. We've been surprised before! ;-)
Comment by Gabriel Martin on April 18, 2010 at 7:54pm
on it ^_^
Comment by Chelsea Howe on April 18, 2010 at 9:42pm
Fantastic post; one thing I always try to remind myself is that the people, like you said, who start these companies are really probably just like me. They can't possibly know the full implications of their actions. In the heat of the process, sometimes it's difficult if not impossible to pick the right path or understand from within the bubble that it's the bubble itself that's the issue. I give props to anyone who goes after a goal. Business is a terrible thing to understand, and even getting sound advice for one usually costs hundreds of dollars. But as information starts to proliferate through the internet and as information caches become higher and higher quality, more people are going to know. More people are going to recognize the meta-level problems.

This gave me a lot to think about - thanks!
Comment by LucasG on April 18, 2010 at 9:47pm
Chelsea, some lessons here http://redbuttondesign.blogspot.com/2010/03/twelve-lessons-run-down... Amanda is a social entrepreuner.
Comment by Ternura Rojas on April 20, 2010 at 9:04am
Hi Chris, I love this project I am a Pharmacist with chemist contacts in Spain and also some countries in Latin America, I will be glad to help with the teaching material. Agent T
Comment by Ternura Rojas on April 20, 2010 at 9:13am
PS Chris, probably it would be a good idea to post this project of yours at the Oficial Ongoing projects Thread :-) Good Luck!
Comment by Elora Ramirez on April 23, 2010 at 12:32pm
Chris, the thoughts in this post are incredible - and relevant. I think far too often those of us who have these "big ideas" forget about the people we are trying to help. I often wonder, "what if my big idea and their local insight - their knowledge about what it would take to truly get this off the ground and be effective - came together?" Over the past few years I've seen a shift in thinking. You do still have those NGO's just waiting for cash to implement their product or program, but you also have those people who are willing to GO and DO first before waiting for the cash. So, instead of developing this Embrace product (which, seems amazing - I watched the video a couple weeks ago) and waiting for investors, I wonder what would happen if the organization took this idea to developing countries and asked the locals, "okay. Here's my idea. Would this help? And if so - let's collaborate and figure out how to creatively make it happen within your country." You do still need some investors, but instead of it outsourcing somewhere or building a factory in North America, you provide opportunities for employment within the country and work hand in hand with those you're trying to help. And, when you are at the point of asking for people to invest in your product, you have sustainable solutions within your budget with which most people would connect.
I'm certainly not a business professional - I teach English. I don't know much about finance or economics. I do know there are people with wasted talent in other countries (and in America!) because they have no one to listen or no means to share. It only makes sense those of us with big ideas collaborate and work with those who have the ability to fine-tune the necessities with local insight. I think you're spot on with your comment about control. If I refuse to collaborate simply because it means relinquishing some control of my product, I've failed and my eyes are not on benefiting others but getting my name out there for recognition.
Great post, Chris - thanks for making me think so early in the morning. ;)


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