Design ‘For the other 90%’

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The other 90% refers to the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

A billion customers in the world are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and $100 house.” Paul Polak told a crowd of inventors recently. Surprisingly, the few offspring of the other 90% when after the necessary training through some affirmative actions of some benevolent join the clan of inventors, they also get themselves engaged in designing for the same 10% class.

Polak is psychiatrist by profession, but presently runs an organization helping poor farmers become entrepreneurs, cater to the globe richest 10%, creating items like wine labels, couture and Maseratis.

As reported in media, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum housed in Andrew Carnegie ‘s 64-room mansion on Fifth Avenue is exhibiting presently the works of inventors dedicated to ‘the other 90%’.

One of the exhibits is the simplest and yet most elegant design that eases the task in which millions of women and girls all over the world spend many hours every day in the year. Many paintings and sculptures might have depicted it sexy or more sophisticatedly elegant postures. But the work is just fetching water, the basic requirement to live. Balancing heavy jerry cans on the head is back breaking work and sometimes causes crippling injuries. And the inventors have come out with the design of the Q-Drum, a circular jerry can, holds 20 gallons, and rolls smoothly enough for a child to tow it on a rope.

Each object on display in exhibition tells a story. Design ‘for the other 90%’ demonstrates how design can be a dynamic force in saving and transforming lives, at home and around the world. As claimed, “some of these design innovations often support responsible, sustainable economic policy. They help, rather than exploit, poorer economies; minimize environmental impact; increase social inclusion; improve healthcare at all levels; and advance the quality and accessibility of education.”

In another case, Martin Fisher, an engineer from Stanford has founded KickStart, an organization that has helped 230,000 people escape poverty. Its human -powered pumps cost $35 to $95. Pumping water helps a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price. According to Fisher, customers had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,00 the next year selling vegetables.

“Most of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers, so they need a business model that lets them make money in three to six months, which is one growing season.” KickStart works for them Is it not something that requires emulating?

Designers, engineers, students and professors, architects, and social entrepreneurs from all over the globe are devising cost-effective ways to increase access to food and water, energy, education, healthcare, revenue-generating activities, and affordable transportation for those who most need them.

Prof Anil Kumar Gupta of IIM-Ahmedabad and his work on grassroots innovations through National Innovation Foundation is also an endeavour with similar motives. Many of the innovations can change the life of people at the bottom of the pyramids. NDTV-Profit as well as NDTV India used to cover some of these stories.

CK Prahalad his book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits” proposes the involvement of the big industrialists in the game of alleviating the poverty of the millions and provide them with a cheap way to improve the quality of life. According to him, even big multinational firms can help cut poverty and boost profits at the same time by tapping a huge market of 4 billion low-income consumers in developing countries. “There is a deeply held assumption that the poor will not appreciate high quality or will not accept high technology and they have no need for products and services that are innovative. However, that is not true. The bottom of the pyramid can be a focal point for innovations for the large company too.”

Reliance’s Rs. 770 mobile phone, and $ 100 (our HRD ministry’s $10) laptop of the One-Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) are endeavour in the same direction. Even Intel’s recent announcement of $200 laptop teaming with Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc, the world’s largest maker of motherboards is a step with the similar mission. All these will empower the poor people of the world that are in billions.

I wish and propose that the educational institutes of India participate in the game in big way by involving its students in these projects of ‘designs for 90%’. Why can’t the Indian farmers produce the same quality of fruits? Can some fruit plucking devices reduce the damage on the surface? Can someone devise a safe fruit-polishing machine? Can an Rs 20 filter be provided in each family to provide safe water? Can some cheap means kill the mosquitoes? Can oil from Jatropa plants grown on waste land be directly used in rural equipment? Thousands and thousands of innovations are the national requirements. It will provide India a competitive edge. These innovations must and will come from everyone from all professions from a cook, a janitor, a carpenter, a housewife or a designer from all part of the country. Only this process can make the country developed in real sense.

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