Archives for category: Acara Corps

— By Vikash Singh (Acara Corps Fellow)

Design Thinking

Technology Transfer is an idea which keeps culminating in the minds of the champions of ‘Sustainable Business Development’ (SBD). Climate Change discussions are filled with ideas for technology transfer and are discussed as potential solution to SBD.

From decades of attempts at building sustainable development, one can be only so sure that technology transfer is, at best, a mixed blessing. Too often it is based on an old idea that has not yet been retired as it should have – that technology is good and will bring economic growth and development and that technology is transferable. But technology is not always transferable. And that includes ‘renewable energy technology’, a favorite among Sustainable development folks.

Let’s take the example of cooking stoves. Rural communities in India chop down trees (or gather dead wood if it’s available) for fuel to cook food, especially those for whom other cooking energy sources are too expensive. This contributes to deforestation and, when the cooking is done indoors, it can increase respiratory illness. Not a great situation for people or planet. For the past decade, there have been various attempts to change this pattern to enhance sustainable development. They have been successful but not to the required extent.

Most of these ‘technological fixes’ have come from the West, designed in American or Dutch laboratories and then taken down to Third World Countries. There are problems of uptake, problems of usefulness, of familiarity, and of countless little things those who designed these new stoves didn’t think of. People prefer the taste of food made with fire. The new designs (there have been several of them) break easily, or take more time, or are not suited to other aspects of the culture.

So what does work? One really had to get to the heart of sustainable development. Technology should not be designed far away and then assumed to work. It needs to be designed with the local people as much as possible. The answer somewhat lies in Design Thinking- Simply put as a set of principles, from mindset to process, that can be applied to solve complex problems.

As IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown begins to frame this within the opening pages of his book Change By Design:
What we need are new choices – new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that results in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them.”

The outcome of the application of Design Thinking to create Design Models, to create actual solutions for a social cause, is not been explored much. Being in a country like India, where there is a certain amount of Social Innovation happening at the Base of the Pyramid, we stand a good chance to see the applicability of Design Thinking and its measure its success.

Design Thinking however need not be culminating in Social Innovations in the form of products only. The outcome could be an interface, it could be a service that is designed, it could be a model etc. Because Design Thinking itself tends to see its application in different areas, the outcomes vary.

Reached Jalandhar, the city where our teammate and Acara Corps Fellow, Maninder hails from. Luckily for us, after our long journey, his father picked us up in his car to take us to their home rather than taking us in another rickshaw or bus. Even though we got in after ten, his mom cooked us a feast and we ate untill 12 am. It was much needed and appreciated given the lack of provisions and healthy eating, due to our village trips. Although most of Indians are Hindus and do not eat meat, Maninder and his family belong to the Sikhs community and they eat meat. It was really good to get some protein in our diet since meat has rather been non-existent for us for the last week.

The next day, we started our day with a large breakfast. Then a 2 hour drive west to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. True to Sikhism’s inclusive nature, everyone is welcome at the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. Before entering the temple, each visitor has to remove shoes and socks, wash their feet and cover their heads with scarves.

Sikhism is a religion that began as a reaction against the caste system in the 15th century. Sikhs believe in one god and believe in rebirth and karma. A belief in the equality of all beings lies at the heart of sikhism.

The 750 kg pure gold plated temple glittered in the middle of a holy pool which spanned the size of two football fields. A causeway like bridge leads to the two-story temple. Cathedral spires towered over the marble walkway which surrounded the pool. About sixty to eighty thousand Sikh pilgrims flock to the temple everyday and it took two hours of pushing and shoving through the claustrophobic causeway with thousands of people in 115 degree F, to reach the temple in the middle of the pool. It was quite an experience. Priests inside the temple kept up a continuous chant from the holy book which is broad-casted around the temple complex using loudspeakers.

Throughout our stay in the temple, we were to pay our respects as any Sikh would, which included getting down on our knees and bowing and touching our head on the floor at every entrance to a shrine. After going through the Golden Temple, you are given some holy food which you eat and then move onto encircling the temple on the marble walkway surrounding the pool.

It was a very interesting and intense experience. It was hard to compare, for Sikhs, the Golden Temple is like Mecca, and you can definitely see the seriousness in prayer and pure religious ferver everyone at the Golden Temple seemed to be experiencing at the time. I myself maybe would have been in the same mindset if I had not been burning my feet on the marble floor, and pushing through crowds.

After the Golden Temple, we preceded to a memorial known as the Jallianwala Bagh where some 1500 Indians holding a peaceful demonstration in an open space surrounded by high walls were trapped and massacred by the British. This was quite a solemn experience.

Next, we drove an hour more west to the Indo-Pak border. We went to see the border bravado where every late afternoon, just before sunset, members of the Indian and Pakistani military meet at the border to engage in a 30 min display of theatre. The flag lowering, closing of the border ceremony was a fusion of colonial-style pomp, goose stepping, and considering the two countries’ rocky relationship, a surprising demonstration of harmony. India-Pakistan tensions are always high, with terrorist attacks in India coming from Pakistani insurgents (Mumbai bombings two years ago)

So popular is the event border crossing, that grandstands have been specifically constructed to accommodate the patriotic throngs of people. Prior to the ceremony the spectators (some 10,000 Indians) paraded the Indian flag, played loud patriotic music and pumped up the crowds patriotic fervor with song and dance. The Pakistani side were equally vociferous and patriotic (although slightly less in number). The whole experience gave the slight feeling of a high school pep rally. Then, with a bellow from the guard room, a squad stomped out, and paraded dramatically to the border with kicks so high the soldier looked in danger of kicking himself. From the audience roused thunderous applause and repetitive chants of “hindustan zindabad” (lone live India)

The gates were flung open and commanding officers of both sides shook hands and saluted. Then both flags were simultaneously lowered and folded and the gates slammed shut. The border was now closed for the night.

After the ceremony, we spent the evening driving back to our teammate’s house to enjoy a large dinner. We all woke up at 6 am the next morning to another large breakfast, last minute hugs from Maninder’s amazing parents, and then back on the train to Roorkee for more BioServ business (details to come).

Until we speak again,

Anthony Jakubiak