≡ Menu

At Home: Community Conversations on Health


Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai.

Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created the conceptual framework for the show, Nandita Kumar – and to meet many of the slum-based artists she had collaborated with. The installation grew out of a community-based initiative by SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) which cited an opportunity to connect resource constrained urban residents with health experts and artists – to share skills plus knowledge, discuss issues and create ways of spreading messages further in a locally engaging and meaningful way.
 

Children readily engaged with a hand-operated television set featuring ‘good news’

The installation space, set up within a school at the heart of Dharavi, housed artworks which spoke to local domestic settings – hence the exhibition’s name Ghare Pe – At Home. During my afternoon visit a number of neighbouring school groups excitedly swarmed through and were shown round by the participating artists – who confidently explained their artworks while encouraging onwards conversation on health issues. Young students were intrigued by the many household items which were both familiar yet creatively provocative. The interactive and tactile nature of the show reeled them in as Nandita had intended.
 

Both youthful and elderly visitors were taking in the show – here checking out a cupboard filled with stuffed emoticon balls. These intended to illustrate how women have diverse emotions but are unable to express all of them openly within acceptable social norms.
 

Stainless steel canisters are gifted to women at marriage. Here the artist, Sneha, reveals: “I store rice, dal, wheat, jaggery, peppercorns, tamarind and dried chillies – an array of ingredients. To me they are like the flavours of my marriage”
 

Embroidered figures were inspired by topics from diet to vision
 

Locals were confronted by images from their own neighbourhoods – here of a woman facing mental health issues who lives on the street outside a roller door.
 

An embroidered item from a workshop session exploring personal health histories. “Three caesareans. One appendicitis. One miscarriage. And like an ending to a poem, one last family planning scar” Image source.
 
The initiative behind the exhibition, Dekha Undekha (Seen, Unseen) brought together mentors in photography, textiles and ceramics with local residents of Dharavi and beyond through a series of workshops run over the past year. Participants were asked to draw household items and body parts that they were happiest with alongside other exercises which helped them grasp artistic abstraction and skills, connect as a group, discuss health issues plus focus on themes. Conversations went back and forth between composition, concepts and technique plus personal hygiene, mental health, maternal care, sanitation, waste disposal, domestic violence and superstitions.
 

Exploring everyday addictions
 


Dishracks displaying household utensils are exhibited with pride across homes at Dharavi. Blended with photography they speak here about local health issues – especially surrounding sanitation.
 

Embroidered work depicting bacteria. “If you think about it, looking at microbes through a microscope makes them appear like they all set for a wedding – stained in many colours of royal purple, hot pink and pistachio green. They look so dressed up!” – commencing a conversation about what can be done to prevent the spread of diseases.
Image by Neville Sukhia

 



Sneha’s stovetop exhibit portraying domestic harmony and violence.

Spirited local artist Sneha has been a victim of domestic abuse. One of her artworks encompasses a decorated stove top. “Some days are marriage, some days are war.” One side of the stove shows happy days full of colour while the other side is filled with fear and a darker side of home life. She told me assuredly that “learning about intention, sequence, themes and action helped guide the emotions we felt to connect with the health issues we discussed in a way that would appeal to people out here.”
 

Asmabee with a selection of photographs by various local artists, including her own.

Dharavi-based artist, Asmabee, hadn’t touched a camera till about a year ago. Last month she earned a photography prize at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in well-heeled South Bombay. She acknowledges that participation in Dekha Undekha has given her confidence and won her local respect. Having worked at Dharavi a few years back, I was in awe at the ease of the local artists I met in articulating both their personal feelings and aspirations for their communities. They had also zealously encouraged visitors from their diverse neighbourhoods to come see the show and to continue discussions beyond its walls. Ghar Pe has been an expertly conceived exhibition and goes a long way in triggering significant conversations and solution-seeking – applaudably with, not for those in low-income communities. It would seem that At Home is a great place to start.

Related posts:
Random Specific Images of Dharavi on Flickr
Women Together: Incentivising Savings

Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai. Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created [...]

Celebrating Street-level Ingenuity

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture blog which explores the post-consumption economy of repair, re-use, repurpose and recycling – predominantly by those in low-income communities.

Makeshift is a quarterly magazine and multimedia website about creativity in unlikely places – from the favelas of Rio to the alleys of Delhi. These are environments where resources may be scarce but where ingenuity is used incessantly for survival, enterprise and self-expression. In different cultures it goes by different names: DIY in the US, jugaad in India, jua kali in East Africa and gambiarra in Brazil. Makeshift seeks to unify these cultures of production into a global identity. Makeshift is about people – the things they make and the context they make them in.

Makeshift has been pulled together both artfully & articulately by Steve Daniels in New York. (I’ve featured Steve before on Random Specific for his insightful work Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy as part of a post on Amplifying African Creativity) Paying dues to the blog from which Makeshift evolved, this first issue has been themed REculture. Steve is quick to point out that informal economies operating in environments of scarcity tend to form sustainable trade ecosystems as they regularly reintroduce waste back into their supply chains. He perceives a new era “in which corporations, policy makers and designers must adapt to informal systems – devising platforms that empower people and communities to create.”
 

Russian photographer, Sergey Maximishin’s stunning images from Kenya’s jua kali sector.

The REculture issue contains imagery, infographics and articles on Mexican horseback recyclers, Kenyan hackonomics, Indian textile refabricators and more. My former collaborator, Niti Bhan, weighs in on contrasting approaches to waste from Delhi to the Phillipines and beyond: “Maximising returns on their investment and minimising their use of scarce resources, local makers develop affordable and locally relevant solutions to everyday challenges posed by the scarcities of the environment… extending the life of the product though a variety of characteristic behaviours…” She highlights the lessons to be learned from pursuing the limits of use from every resource.
 

Global-roaming anthropologist, Jan Chipchase, shines a light on the Afghani ‘dirty fuel’ street economy which keeps people on the road and generators running in a context of scarce reliable fill-up stations.
 

 
A savvy aspect of Makeshift is that it was crowd-funded on Kickstarter – the world’s largest peer-to-peer funding platform for creative projects. It raised over $40 000 USD in a matter of weeks from 600+ backers via it’s Kickstarter campaign – over double it’s initial goal. A fitting approach to funding for a magazine which celebrates bottom-up approaches and collaborative networks. Keep an eye out for Makeshift’s next issue on mobility – ingenuity on the move.

Related posts
Post-consumption Creativity
Indian Grassroots Innnovation
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture [...]

Global Challenge: Local Flavour

I recently hopped across the ditch to Queensland, Australia’s Sunshine State, for the Ideas Featival in Brisbane. We’ve been running a Local Food Challenge on OpenIDEO in conjunction with the festival and state government – featuring inspirations and innovative concepts from our spirited global community over the last couple of months. In Brisbane the OpenIDEO team were joined by policy-makers, food producers, farmers, retailers, researchers, educators, students, innovators and community connectors. Together, over two days of workshops, we explored behaviour change, customer journeys, environmental performance, health impact, community engagement, scalability and business models – alongside feasibility and implementation of the awesome shortlisted Local Food Challenge concepts.
 

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer, IDEO

It was a particularly momentous occasion for me as I met a couple of my OpenIDEO colleagues for the first time after 6 months of working together from across our globally dispersed locations. Our co-founder, Tom Hulme, presented to a full house, asking How Do You Engage Those of the Edge? – celebrating the power of participation. IDEO’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Bennett, provoked the crowd with Global Problem Solving: Can Small x Many = Big – confronting traditional interpretations of design to reveal how design thinking could be employed to address future social, ecological and political challenges.
 

Attendees were enthusiastic about the cross-disciplinary nature of the workshop teams. While we’re used to working in this way – it was refreshing for others who found it perspective building and got excited at the dynamic networks which formed around specific concepts. Read more on the workshops from our festival buddy, Ben Morgan, over at indesignlive.com And here’s an assortment of festival chit-chat:
 

Festival rock-star & entrepreneur, Robert Pekin, Food Connect: “Gee Whizz! Amazing to watch how local folk have applied their specialist knowledge to adapting these exciting concepts to the Australian context.”
 

Backyard transformer, Ben Grub, Permablitz: “There’s been a really good cross-section of players. I don’t usually interact with government, media and farmers and it was great to thrash out ideas from an online platform in an energised offline environment.”
 

Ray Palmer, Queensland Farmer with Symara Farms: “It was affirming to note that there’s a growing movement of folks who want to know the story behind what’s on their plate – across various sectors and communities.”
 

Jakob Trischler, Shortlisted OpenIDEATOR: “Awesome to get lively insights on a hot topic from such a diverse group from different disciplines.”
 

Ewan McEoin, Local Food Challenge Australian Lead: “Energy Central. Folks were amped to be building off such a diverse range of concepts supporting local goodness.”
 

Anna Bligh, Queensland Premier: “The Local Food Challenge has just gone gangbusters. You can actually go to the world with an idea and look for answers.”
 

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer, IDEO: “Hundreds of great builds, amazing energy, long days with crazy jetlag but really, really worth it.Our first outreach OpenIDEO workshop was amazing and was powered by all your great input. Thank you all!”
 

Our local challenge collaborator will continue to pursue avenues to prototype a selection of concepts together with local government and those with relevant expertise, contacts and outreach capabilities on the ground. As always we’re keen to translate the stellar skills of our growing, global OpenIDEO community into real world action and change – to enhance resilience at a local level. We’ll be celebrating impact developments over on our newly launched Realisation Phases.
 

On the back of the intensity of the workshops we rounded off our energetic sessions with a spot of fun. We distributed stickers to participants and dispatched them across the gorgeously sprawling riverside area surrounding the State Library, to seek inspiration. The stickers prompted folks to Stick It & Show Us. They were encouraged to photograph their sighting and email it in to a website we’d quickly cobbled together – with a prize offered for the cleverest cookie on the day. Some have continued with submissions from further afield.
 

Check out more highlights over at www.thisinspires.us (With a hat-tip to Candy Chang, whom I’ve featured on Random Specific before, for her ever-inventive public engagement initiatives which inspired us on this.)
 
Related posts:
OpenIDEO: Better Together
Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens

I recently hopped across the ditch to Queensland, Australia's Sunshine State, for the Ideas Featival in Brisbane. We've been running a Local Food Challenge on OpenIDEO in conjunction with the festival and state government – featuring inspirations and innovative concepts from our spirited global community over the last couple of months. In Brisbane the OpenIDEO [...]

Novel Tales and African Teens

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone?

Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology researcher in Cape Town – and financed by South Africa’s Shuttleworth Foundation, is dedicated to a participatory culture hungry for micro-doses of literature that are accessible as pixels not paper.

Officially launched last September, Yoza is based on Vosloo’s observations that African youth are book-poor yet mobile-rich. An estimated 90 percent of urban South African youth have access to cell phones and 70 percent of those phones are web-enabled. In stark contrast, more than half of South African households own no leisure books and only 7 percent of public schools have functional libraries.

Illustrations from Yoza’s premiere edition: Kontax

Yoza’s first story, Kontax, followed the adventures of a local graffiti crew around Cape Town. Its 20 pages were initially published over a month of daily dispatches via a mobisite and later on the popular MXit social network. Each episode, released in both English and isiXhosha, was around 400 words long. Prizes were offered for the best comments and sequel ideas from Kontax readers.

Via Yoza, 17,000 users accessed the full premiere Kontax series for free — well eclipsing the South African “best-seller” standard of 5,000 book sales. Each chapter costs the reader around 1 US cent to download. Explains Vosloo, “Mobile data is cheap relative to voice and SMS — and of course, books. It’s also about access.” According to Vosloo, readership exploded when Yoza was made available to MXit’s 15 million local subscribers — a share currently far greater than Facebook’s.

Yoza content on MXit social network and on a mobisite (Image courtesy of Yoza)

The comments feature allows Vosloo to stay in touch with what readers want. “It’s become clear that youth are keen to be both educated and entertained,” he notes. “We get many requests for stories which are relevant to their lives. We’ve had requests for story lines which cover drugs and teen pregnancy, careers, money and more.” Feedback has helped to shape onwards content which includes Streetskillz, set during the football World Cup, Sisterz which explores dark family secrets and teenage life plus Confessions of a Virgin Loser which follows a boy steering his way through a complicated world of peer pressure, teenage sex and HIV/AIDS. Social issues provide a further avenue for interaction. A story which touched on domestic violence elicited a slew of comments in support of the affected character and posts of personal accounts which empathised with her situation.
 

South African students read and respond to Yoza content. (Image courtesy of Yoza)

Alongside popular culture content, Yoza has also been adding episodic versions of classics from Shakespeare to Wordsworth and other curriculum related texts. Feedback from teachers in low-income schools tells of class assignments given in conjunction with Yoza content and applauds the access to classic literature which the platform has provided. While some may criticise the informal use of language by readers – comments across the site also highlight an engaged audience ready to amend mistakes which have eluded Yoza’s editors. Although youthful readers may comment in text-speak, they eagerly respond with corrections on errors which creep into stories.

Looking to the future, Vosloo has been speaking with various potential sponsors who understand the bridge he has created between reading, response and social issues. One such discussion has been with a bank around the notion of a series featuring elements of financial literacy within its storyline. An aspect which is attractive to sponsors is the appetite created through releasing stories in installments but also that the entire series is then available on the Yoza site and continues to attract commentary. “It’s a bit like the transition from a box-office to DVD release,” adds Vosloo. “There’s the initial rush to devour a fresh feature yet the legacy contributes to a growing library of accessible content.”

An edited version of this article appears in my Change Observer Report on Design Observer.

Related posts:
Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens
Amplifying African Ingenuity

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone? Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology [...]

Amplifying African Ingenuity


Next week ushers in this year’s Maker Faire Africa which celebrates the spirit of African ingenuity, innovation and invention. I recently interviewed one of its founder’s Emeka Okafor for Design Observer: Tinkers, Hackers, Farmer, Crafters. He spoke with conviction of

“the interchange between the emerging global dynamics and local inspiration in Africa. This speaks to a far-reaching conversation in which the questions are posed: How do we regain our creativity? How do we redefine what we mean by a society that is advanced?

He went on to describe the experimental platform which is neither a science fair, conference nor trade show – but which rather values all makers who have uniquely responded to a need with an adaptive sensibility.

“If you place a tinkerer who works on the side of the road next to an Ivy League engineer, dynamics are bound to get interesting. Folks begin to recognize, reassess and remix value… This is something I came to appreciate in curating TEDGlobal in Africa. When you place the biochemist next to the poet or the visual artist next to the physicist, you can rely on synergies springing from their shared curiosity.”


Last year’s MFA featured a potent mix of inventiveness from robotics through to black-smithing and agricultural innovations – punctuated by recycling endeavours and global-local craft mash-ups. The event had it’s own locally fabricated radio station and endearingly analogue black-board blogger, Alfred Sirleaf.
 

This year’s MFA promises another round of multidisciplinary ingenuity. Digital fabrication is set to feature alongside artisanal eyewear. Workshops will share solar technology skills with young people and mobile hacking tips with all ages. The event will also see the African launch of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy. Steve’s rigorously insightful book provides a comprehensive exploration of jua kali – informal artisans who work in industrious clusters across Kenya:
 

“Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socio-economic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun”, because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in solving problems…

… Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation… The study examines how the jua kali design, build and manage though theoretical discussions, visualizations of data and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs.”

Maker Faire Africa promises to shine a light on a wealth of African talent and turn up the volume on their diverse voices of inventiveness.

Related posts:
Indian Grassroots Innovation
Creative Waves through Collaboration

[Images – 1 + 2: From White African’s Maker Faire Africa set on Flickr, 3: from the portfolio of C. Kaibiru, 4: cover detail of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do]

Next week ushers in this year's Maker Faire Africa which celebrates the spirit of African ingenuity, innovation and invention. I recently interviewed one of its founder's Emeka Okafor for Design Observer: Tinkers, Hackers, Farmer, Crafters. He spoke with conviction of "the interchange between the emerging global dynamics and local inspiration in Africa. This speaks to [...]

Street-wise: Pedal Powered Retail


I’ve been following the cycle-centric developments between the Department of Counter Culture and RMIT University’s School of Industrial and Interior Design in Melbourne with some interest. Together they’ve been exploring changes of retail exchange in the public space and challenges facing the fixed-store trading paradigm. (Image: Raphael Kilpatrick)
 

In pursuit of socially engaged endeavours they teamed up with The Social Studio – a local, community-facing fashion and textiles training initiative. Recycled and excess manufacturing materials are gathered from local industry and re-configured into original clothing with the style & skills of the young refugee community at the Social Studio. (Images: The Social Studio + Nicole Reed for The Vine)





(Images: No Fixed Address on Flickr + TSS Pedal Powered Pop-up by Raphael Kilpatrick)

In an approach that’s been cross-disciplinary, collaborative and focused on customisation – students devised twenty pedal-powered-retail concepts. From these they developed two transformable bicycle kiosks which used sliding and folding mechanisms respectively. The operational mobile enterprises were launched as The Social Studio | No Fixed Address at this month’s spirited State of Design festival. (And speaking of mobile – the festival came with it’s very own iPhone app.)

Check out the project video to hear more on the design process.

Related posts:
Mobile Enterprise
Astronomical Outreach (Mobile Education)

I've been following the cycle-centric developments between the Department of Counter Culture and RMIT University's School of Industrial and Interior Design in Melbourne with some interest. Together they've been exploring changes of retail exchange in the public space and challenges facing the fixed-store trading paradigm. (Image: Raphael Kilpatrick)   In pursuit of socially engaged endeavours [...]

One Billion and Counting


Last week Design Observer featured my article India’s Epic Head Count:

“More than 1 billion people of diverse cultures, languages and religions are united by India’s national borders. Between 2010 and 2011, the country’s census will not only count and categorize them by gender, religion and occupation, but also probe their access to technology, toilets and personal transport. In a monumental orchestration, aided by a newly designed census form, government departments, local councils and 2.5 million census collectors will continue the increasingly complex national effort to tally India’s inhabitants, which it has conducted every decade since the late 1800s.”

With challenges posed by linguistic variation and literacy levels, the census collectors play a vital role. Officially known as enumerators but unofficially as census-wallas, they record all responses on forms that are later collected, scanned and read via character recognition software. [continued…]

I first became intrigued by the process on reading of Deepa Krishnan’s census experience insights. I poked around a bit further and became fascinated by the scale and complexity involved. I also discovered that my former colleague Rupesh Vyas from India’s National Institute of Design developed the new forms and the article on Design Observer goes on to describe their efficiencies and user-centered orientation. But of course the difficulties faced by census enumerators are not all able to be solved by the form alone…
 

An official marks a house after collecting census details. From Reuters via the Irish Times

Willingness to be counted and questioned in detail has been varied, with the initial phase
requiring 35 questions to be answered. Some census collectors reported that it was easier to gather such details from the less well off. “In a slum, everyone is eager to be counted and they all want to make sure they are not left out if any card or official document is being distributed.” Meanwhile I was told by one friend in Mumbai that she was impressed by the peaceful and professional approach of her enumerators yet was surprised that her affluent neighbour refused to be questioned, citing the flimsy excuse that she was monitoring her son’s study for exams.

Some people have mentioned that they faced judgement or hesitation by enumerators over issues such as live-in romantic relationships and the retaining of maiden names by married women. While India may be changing, attitudes amongst form-fillers may pose barriers to accurate accounting of some developments – though it is expected that such misrepresent- ation would be well under 1%. Elsewhere, I wonder how things went with transgender citizens (hijras) who were granted specific status by the Electoral Commission last year but not by the National Registry who govern census collecting.

Enumerators nationwide have to noted a number of further challenges. In areas such as Himachal Pradesh “road connectivity remains poor and enumerators walk hours to reach scattered hamlets atop high mountains, close to the snowline.” Recollection of exact age is a common problem. Sometimes details get so confusing that censuswallas end up using their erasers more than their pencils. Irrelevant complaints may be loaded onto the enumerator who is seen as just as just another government bureaucrat – prompting the rehearsed reply
“I am here just to count people, not problems.” But my favourite would be the account from Assam where the census collector asked:

“Age?”
“I think I am around 65.”
“And your wife?…”
“She was about five years younger than me when we got married.
I think she is still five years younger to me.”


Image from India Struggles to Count It’s Millions, via Agence France-Presse.
Plus their video news report, of the same name, makes for interesting viewing.

Related posts:
India Gets Behind the Wheel on Urban Mobility
Painted National Pride

Last week Design Observer featured my article India's Epic Head Count: "More than 1 billion people of diverse cultures, languages and religions are united by India's national borders. Between 2010 and 2011, the country's census will not only count and categorize them by gender, religion and occupation, but also probe their access to technology, toilets [...]

The People’s Way: Enhanced Urban Mobility

BRTS_5
Earlier this year I checked out a robust, sustainable urban transport strategy supported by digital technology and user-centric design which earned the global Sustainable Transport Award from Washington. Ahmedabad’s Janmarg (People’s Way) initiative incorporates dedicated bus corridors amongst other interventions to prioritize multi-modal, eco-smart transport options to serve a population fast approaching 6 million. By analyzing current and emerging local mobility patterns and aspirations alongside concerns for accessibility, safety, energy efficiency and connectivity – urban planners were able to adapt the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) model which had transpired from developments in Curitiba and Bogota. Most importantly its impact is being felt at street-level in a city which encompasses both tradition and modernity.
 
BRTS_1
Ahmedabad is India’s seventh largest city and fifth richest (ahead of Delhi and Mumbai), providing Gujarat with a thriving centre of commerce while hosting a large student population. Like most Indian cities its roads are becoming more strained as an increasing number of private vehicles compete for space with buses, trucks, rickshaws, pedestrians, hawkers, bicycles, cows, camels and the occasional elephant. While some areas of the city flourish via industries such as pharamaceuticals, textiles and construction – others flounder – and all are exposed to mounting levels of pollution. Faced with such issues the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation approached one of the city’s prominent tertiary institutions, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), to explore and propose solutions.
 
BRTS_3
Consulting architect Meghal Arya applauds the breadth of the planning considerations, which accounted for users, providers and operators. “Janmarg is likely to raise the whole city’s value,” she says, “but best of all it raises expectations about civic services in India.” Arun Amrutla (above), an Ahmedabadi man who has been crippled since birth, seems to agree. “Its so easy for people like me to get on and off the Janmarg buses,” he says. This kind of system, he continues, can truly change people’s lives — especially those who are physically and financially challenged. “Janmarg gives us access to parts of the city that we couldn’t access before — for education, employment or enjoyment — so it’s more our city now than it ever has been.”

Read my full coverage of Ahmedabad’s Janmarg initiative on Places (Forum of Design for the Public Realm) at Design Observer.
 
BRTS_7
BRTS_9
BRTS_2
Bus operators Pancal Kirti and Jitendra Patel – who received yoga classes to encourage physical resilience and solidarity as part of their training.
 
BRTS_16
BRTS_12

Eight year old passenger Rudri Mehta travels with her mother to visit popular recreational spot Kankaria Lake.
 
BRTS_15
BRTS_20
Bus shelters, designed by Arya Architects, employ passive solar design.
 
BRTS_10
BRTS_19
BRTS_4

Janmarg includes cycling and walking lanes. These pose challenges given that they have not previously been common in Ahmedabad but awareness building initiatives aim to shift attitudes and behaviours in the city.
 
BRTS_17
BRTS_18
BRTS_8
The service attracts a wide range of passengers from youth to the elderly, factory owners to tribal migrants. Many cite ease of use and timely arrival as key drivers for using the service over alternate modes of transport.
 
BRTS_6
Well over two hundred religious structures were relocated by negotiation to make way for bus lanes. Three, including this one, remain – constituting a kind of tribute to enduring tradition within progressive urban development.
 
BRTS_11
BRTS_13
BRTS_14

Earlier this year I checked out a robust, sustainable urban transport strategy supported by digital technology and user-centric design which earned the global Sustainable Transport Award from Washington. Ahmedabad's Janmarg (People’s Way) initiative incorporates dedicated bus corridors amongst other interventions to prioritize multi-modal, eco-smart transport options to serve a population fast approaching 6 million. By [...]

Indian Grassroots Innovation

A quick spot of cross-posting from my recent interview with Anil Gupta which featured on Design Observer this week.
 
ag_gupta
Anil Gupta serves as senior faculty at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) from where he champions the recognition, respect and reward of those who are knowledge-rich yet economically poor.

Alongside consulting global development agencies he formed the Honey Bee Network in the late eighties which nurtures and cross-pollinates grassroots knowledge, creativity and innovation. Via various platforms stemming from the network – scouting, documentation, validation and dissemination of innovations are pursued while seeking to catalyse knowledge into feasible products and sustainable enterprises.

Meena Kadri
How would you describe your mission across your many initiatives?

Anil Gupta
To enhance the inherent creativity of grassroots innovators, inventors and eco-preneurs while exploring a new paradigm for poverty alleviation that celebrates inclusive development. We focus on devising a knowledge network from village to government level while overcoming the constraints posed by language, literacy and locality. We also facilitate the documentation and cross-pollination of traditional knowledge across India.

Meena Kadri
How do you see these endeavors playing a role in reducing poverty?

Anil Gupta
Most models of development are centered on what the poor don’t have rather than what they have. Some position the poor at the bottom of the economic pyramid, but this does not equate to a lack of knowledge, values and social networks. I prefer to see the poor as a provider than a market — with their limited material resources driving knowledge-intensive, informal innovation. Through providing incubation and development support, patent and intellectual-property-rights assistance, marketing advice and microventure funding, we seek to support the creativity that already exists at the grassroots.

Read the complete interview at Design Observer.
 
ag_mitticool
ag_iron
ag_coffee
Mitti Cool cookware by Mansukhbhai Prajapati, from Gujarat
Gas-powered iron by K Linga Brahman, from Andra Pradesh
Pressure-cooker coffee maker by Mohammed Rozadeen, from Bihar

Related posts:
Mumbai Markings Enhance Service Design
Mumbai’s Pavement Purveyors (CNN)

A quick spot of cross-posting from my recent interview with Anil Gupta which featured on Design Observer this week.   Anil Gupta serves as senior faculty at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) from where he champions the recognition, respect and reward of those who are knowledge-rich yet economically poor. Alongside consulting global [...]

Creating Waves through Collaboration

creative_waves_1
I was reflecting today on my involvement as a mentor on the 2007 Creative Waves Project. It was a 3 month online education initiative which sought to facilitate global participants to propose initiatives to raise health awareness in Kenya. The project championed collaborative practice and encouraged intense and pro-active engagement of participating students, pharmacists, graphic designers, health workers, professional bodies and education institutions.

Over 50 pharmacy students and 50 graphic design students from diverse locations worldwide were united by the comprehensive online platform and had contact with international mentors and participants on the ground in Kenya throughout. Health related concerns including malaria, tuberculosis and immunisation were to be addressed through a well devised learning methodology which spanned 12 weeks. This included ever-inclusive tasks within the stages of Socialising, Gathering, Identifying, Distilling and Resolving – some of which were addressed from within assigned groups and all of which were lively points of intersection.
 
creative_waves_4
As a mentor it was interesting to note the principles of self-organisation play out as some students rose to the fore and took up leadership roles, groups figured out their respective skills and capacities, particpants cross-pollinated ideas and assisted each other to overcome technical challenges. The discussion sections with collaborators onsite in Kenya were particularly active and provided essential insight to the project at large. Guest professionals came in at various stages and memorable was the input by Anne Miltenburg, of Studio Dumbar, who spoke of issues surrounding visual communication and illiteracy.

Proposals that came out of the project included a headscarf that could be laid out and used as a board game to highlight health issues, soccer uniforms which vibrantly carried relevant messages and stickers to be adhered to fruit and vegetables, bearing health information. As a mentor I found the process as rewarding as the results. Social media initiatives are gaining popularity in bringing people together to solve diverse challenges. The Creative Waves project was pioneering back in 2007 and gave all participants a taste for the power of participation. One hopes that many were inspired to go forth and… collaborate.

Photo credit: Women’s Que for HIV Testing in Kenya, by Georgina Goodwin for Vestergaard Frandsen.

I was reflecting today on my involvement as a mentor on the 2007 Creative Waves Project. It was a 3 month online education initiative which sought to facilitate global participants to propose initiatives to raise health awareness in Kenya. The project championed collaborative practice and encouraged intense and pro-active engagement of participating students, pharmacists, graphic [...]