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
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.