pop!tech social innovation fellows

Heather Fleming speaks about her Catapult Design

I could fill a book with all the insights, ideas, and beautiful stories of my time at Pop!Tech this week, but for sanity’s sake I’ll just highlight a few of the most relevant and meaningful experiences and observations. One of these highlights, for me at least, was the expansion of the Pop!Tech Fellows program. This year, Pop!Tech brought 16 young Social Entrepreneurs from all over the world to Camden, Maine for a week of intensive workshops and, of course, to attend the conference. Throughout the conference, they each presented a brief synopsis of their work, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Heather Fleming (shown above), was here representing Catapult Design. Branching out of Engineers Without Borders, Catapult is a design consultancy offering design, engineering and implementation support to organizations working on development and social impact work. They’re in their early stages of development, with only a handful of projects (such as the Hippo Roller and a wind turbine designed for off-the-grid Guatemalan villages) , but have great potential to scale and spread their impact.
  • Tevis Howard (a fellow youngster at 24 years) founded KOMAZA to help rural Kenyans living in arid climates find a path out of poverty by developing sustainable micro-forests. By encouraging the growth of trees such as Eucalyptus, which thrive in even the toughest conditions, and creating processing plants and high-value markets for the wood,Tevis and his team are able to create impressive returns for both the farmers and KOMAZA. It’s a pretty impressive solution, and it has tremendous potential to have great impacts on those at the bottom of the Pyramid. That said, though, there are many potential environmental and peripheral risks involved, but when I grilled Tevis about the environmental implications of monoculture farming a highly invasive species he had a pretty solid rebuttal (which is briefly described here). I’m excited to see where KOMAZA goes in the near future…
  • Melanie Edwards, of Mobile Metrix, has tapped into what will be an incredibly important part of doing business with the bottom of the pyramid in the near future. By educating and equipping local youth in Brazil with mobile devices, Mobile Metrix is able to gather important market data about BoP customers that have been previously undocumented. They’re also able to connect these customers with relavent products and services (ie pharmaceutical information, voter registration, job training, etc). With a greater understanding of the needs of those at the BoP, businesses, NGO’s and governments alike will be able to better design goods and services for them.
  • Eric Hersman runs one of my favorite blogs (afrigadget.com), but was at Pop!Tech to introduce his newest creation, Ushahidi. Meaning, “testimony” in Swahili, Ushahidi is a platform through which people can quickly and easily spread and gather crucial information in crisis situations. By allowing users to submit information via email, SMS or web forms, information can quickly spread to those who need it most in times of crisis.
  • Brian McCarthy seeks to provide low-cost housing to those who need it most by converting surplus shipping containers into houses with 1st world ammenities for under $10,000. His organization, PFNC Global Communities (PFNC means Por Fin, Nuestra Casa, which translates into finally, a home of our own), will buy and convert shipping containers, then selling or renting the houses to factory workers or the urban poor. The houses look decent, although I think some applied design thinking could’ve saved some money and made them look and feel a little more comfortable. Nevertheless, it’s good to see the idea coming to market.

This is just a small sampling of this years fellows, and the others are equally impressive. The whole group can be found on poptech.com.

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