Friday, February 27, 2009

Det Stora Nätverksmötet (The Big Network Meeting)

My time was well spent at a network meeting for Social entrepreneurs on the 12th of February if for no other reason than the excitement of hearing what kinds of projects were happening around the world. The creativity in this field makes the rest of the business world look very sad. First, here is a description of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurship is a name that has been given to businesses that have as their first goal to make a positive difference in society while earning reasonable profits.

Secondly, there is a group of programs that are the venture capitalists behind social entrepreneurs. Ashoka searches and supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. New projects can start at a place like The Hub, which is in seven countries and offers basic office space and services to new starts to work out their ideas and get a prototype made. A stock exchange started in England to help new started social enterprises with access to risk finance for expansion and growth.

Then, we have some examples of the projects themselves. My favorite was Peepoole, a short version of peeing,pooping people. The idea is to bring better sanitation to 2.6billion people who have none at this time. It is a relatively simple concept, which makes it all the more elegant. Take two biodegradable plastic bags, an inner and an outer. Line the inner bag with an enzyme, which combined with urea builds ammonia. The ammonia kills all bacteria and virus, rendering the contents safe enough after four days to sow the seeds of eatable plants. The product has been tested in Africa and the users are largely positive. Lower production costs and moving production to local areas is the next challenge, but the concept works. There are many effects of using these small personal toilets. Women seem to like them best. In a number of cultures, women only feel safe from attack and the view of others when going out at night to relieve themselves. Many drink only just before dark so that they only have to urinate after sunset. Having their own little bag, they can use it in their own home. It can lay there till morning, odor free. Even if it is just tossed on a trash heap, it will be safe within 4-6 days depending upon the weather. The damage caused on land and to waterways disappears, because the contents become fertilizer (with inherent costs savings) and does not just wash into the nearest stream, river or ocean. Proximity to water has traditionally been thought of as the best disposal place, the water washing away feces and diluting urine. However, we now know that diseases and water pollution are the result. These simple bags eliminate that.

Some other exciting initiatives are samples below:
Take a Palestine nerd and an Israeli nerd, add a little hotel called Everest located just on the border (surrounded by the wall) and a gathering of peace loving, computer savvy people, you have motivation and a place to discuss issues without guns.

An elderly man in Soweto, suburb of Johannesburg, saw a hill near his village where violence had taken place and now it was filled with trash. Slowly, the trash disappeared and some of the villagers got involved. The old man planted and created a monument to those who had died there. When the UN summit "Earth" was in Johannesburg in 2002, Kofi Annan came to the hill and made an elegant speech which acknowledged all those who had died on the hill and those who had “recycled” it. The hill remains a source of hope to those for whom hope is a long in coming.

A young woman in the UK wanted to make shoes out of recycled material. Her first attempts fell apart with the first rain. Shortly thereafter, she met a young fellow at a pub and it turned out that his father was a prominent shoe manufacturer. A little help from experts and she is now making her recycled shoes.
Feel inspired?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Keeping up with the Jones' - housing

What is considered current and what is considered a new trend depends a lot upon the audience. The 10 trends are shown in Signs of The Times are not new with professional people but they might be new to people who have not been following anything concerning new home construction.

1. Earth-Friendly Home Design
2. "Prefab" Home Design
3. Adaptive Reuse in Home Design
4. Healthy Home Design
5. Storm-Resistant Home Design
6. Flexible Floor Plans in Home Design
7. Accessible Home Design
8. Outdoor Rooms in Home Design
9. Abundant Storage in Home Design
10. Eastern Ideas in Home Design

Of course, they come from an American source and some will be well integrated in other countries. For example earth-friendly home design has been going on in Germany and other countries for twenty years at least and the trend is just now taking off in the States.

There seem to be dichotomies in house building, those who want to build an environmentally friendly home, but don't realize that a big home and large closets just encourage consumerism, which they have not counted as contributing to global warming. Another dichotomy is between those who build low tech and others who add mile after mile of wiring to have lights, heating, sound systems, heating and energy monitors digitalized and controlled from their mobile telephone. Living costs are a consideration for many as so many who build houses retire.

A small, but important group of Brits dream of warmer climates and renovate old barns, churches and houses all of which are slowly crumbling. Most of this type of renovation goes on in France, Italy and even Spain. Naturally, they make an enormous contribution to their new communities, and many are trying to reuse brick and beams found on the property, but not all are environmentally friendly.

Those lucky enough to find property to build on or renovate in London are using double insolated containers with south facing windows. In addition, they are environmentally sound with green roofs, water collection and small wind turbines outside. Lisbon, Berlin and Toronto are copying London's Village Underground where offices are placed upon an old storage local and are made of old subway cars. Painted and decorated with exciting interior design these new offices may be the first recycling of old subway cars.