From the category archives:

Sustainable Sightings

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


Buleshwar Broom Walla 
I’ve been feeling guilty of late, for neglecting posts to Random Specific – so it was heartening to be approached by CNN this month, who’ve created a gallery of images from my recent Quick-pic Tuesday posts. Here’s my original intro and a link through to the post on CNNGo:

Inventively Old School

Ingenuity runs rife across Mumbai – often flourishing at street level where stretched resources fuel efficient work-arounds. These lean business models frequently yield sustainable solutions based on conserving materials and energy. While the sky-line rises, engines rev and technology advances – lo-fi traders are seldom short on adaptive flair which pervades the city.
Check out some old school features of Mumbai’s street scene with fresh eyes.

Related links:
Post-consumption Creativity
Creative Plot to Blow Up Bombay


Single Serve

In the age of bulk buy and corporate over-packaging, I tend to enjoy street-food experiences on annual trips to the motherland. I’m particularly fond of offerings from roaming roasted peanut & lentil sellers in Mumbai – equipped for the micro-dose single-serve. Goods are freshly roasted and they’ll happily customise the additional spices to your liking. Plus it’s all wrapped up in the recycled goodness of yesterday’s news. Simplicity reigns.

Related posts:
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets
Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr


Sustainable fuel sign on recycle truck in New Delhi.

Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr


Post-consumption Creativity

February 8, 2011

During my current trip to India I’ve been adding a collection of posts to the REculture blog where we feature the post-consumption economy of repair, reuse, repurpose and recycling in low-income contexts. I thought I’d add some of the highlights here – a wee taste of post-consumption creativity.

Siesta Sachets and Remnant REculture: Fabric scraps (lead image) and discarded foil sachets (above) are woven into rope to form bed bases.

Repurposed Beauty: Reusing advertising billboard canvases – at a construction site in Ahmedabad and a workshop in Mumbai.

Cigarettes and Spirituality: I stumbled on children down an alleyway at Dharavi who had made a makeshift temple out of old cigarette packets.

Material Efficiency: Nestled behind a lean-to stall in Mumbai were two ingenious guys fashioning lanterns out of scrap metal and glass. They cut the salvaged glass into small sections to create the lantern casing. Given that Diwali is just around the corner – they’re bound to make a killing with very low material costs. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by their street-side enterprise – a small fan-club had gathered round and were equally impressed with their lucrative venture.

Related posts:
Scarcity Sustaining
Mathare’s Micro Farms and Market Gardens


Earlier this month on a fleeting visit to Kenya for Nokia’s Open Innovation Africa Summit I met an array of innovative folk like venture catalyst Emeka Okafor, Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman and mobile novelist Steve Vosloo. But the most interesting person I met during the trip happened to be after the summit was over, when I went on an early morning foray in search of entrepreneurial activity in the slums of Nairobi. I came across Festus Ambche, 38, tending a flourishing half acre plot of edible produce at Mathare.

Festus arrived in Mathare from a family of farmers and saw the opportunity to put his agricultural knowledge to use. He rents his plot from the local council and sells his large variety of produce in the neighbouring slum – direct to residents and also at the local market. He’s also been experimenting with sack gardening and, noting it’s relevance for the cramped conditions of Mathare, has been sharing his learnings with others.

Sack gardening became increasingly popular during the post-election violence in 2007/08 when food prices rose by up to 50% and access from volatile sites like Mathare to regular food sources became a challenge. A number of non-profit groups, school and self-help organisations began to promote the efficient, low-maintenance and low-cost sack gardens as a way of enhancing food security. Spinach, kale, chard, peppers, spring onions and tomatoes could be grown with relative ease for household use. Some families began selling their surplus harvest to neighbours while others grouped together to create micro-enterprises around their collective crops, including nurseries to supply the growing flock of Nairobi’s sack gardeners with seedlings.

What started as a way of improving food security has blossomed into a number of entrepreneurial ventures, driving an increased demand for fresh, local produce. Folks I met seemed proud of the independence that their doorstep gardens could provide. Many residents are rural migrants with roots in farming and are rekindling agricultural knowledge they had left behind, via their sack based micro-farms. Meanwhile, for Festus, business is booming – with the community showing more interest in what can be grown closer to home and from trusted sources.
Related posts:
Women Together: Incentivising Savings
Mobile Enterprise

Kibera’s Garden in a Sack: Urban Agriculture Magazine (500KB, PDF)

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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)


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.
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.
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.
Bus operators Pancal Kirti and Jitendra Patel – who received yoga classes to encourage physical resilience and solidarity as part of their training.

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

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.
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.
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.


High Flying Waste

January 21, 2010

Over the last few years I’ve headed to Ahmedabad’s Old City to shoot the celebration of the vibrant kite festival when locals turn their heads upwards to a sky filled with millions of kites. Here’s a cross-post from my recent contributions to the REculture blog which explores global recycling, repair, reuse and repurpose – particularly by entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid.


In the past I’ve ignored plastic kites at the annual Uttarayan Kite Festival in Ahmedabad. But this year, through my REculture-lens, I paid more careful attention and found that many of the plastic kites are made of printer’s waste from a variety of packaging. Graphic designers and printers amongst you will know how much waste is created in getting prints just right – with numerous mis-registered and colour test sheets being discarded. Such sheets are bought cheaply in bulk from packaging printers and delivered to workshops in Jamalpur which specialise in the re-cultured kites.


While purists turn their noses up at them in favour of skillfully crafted paper kites – those with less money buy these plastic kites because of their lower price, relative robustness and staying power on the battlefield.


And as we’ve seen elsewhere, the re-culture approach doesn’t stop at the product itself. I found a kite vendor on the road-side at the popular Dilli Diwarja kite market that was selling the kites, plus had fashioned a paper-weight from an old brick wrapped in scraps of the plastic packaging sheets. “Free!” he announced as he grinned proudly to onlookers while I photographed his ingenious dual purpose advertising ploy.

Related articles
Uttarayan Kite Festival, India (Flickr)
High Flyers of Gujarat (Guardian: Kite Maker Interview)


Solution Seekers at Play

October 20, 2009

“Attack complacency. Lay siege to boundaries. Load your catapult with options”
– fundamental Moxism

Recently I participated in a NextPlays lab by Moxie Design Group along with ten others from diverse involvements spanning government, non-profit and corporate realms. NextPlays is a transformative platform encompassing a culture of participation to explore sustainable future scenarios – then to imagine, plan and build strategies around them.

The session was exceptionally well devised as a fast-paced yet flexible programme which harnessed group energy and maintained momentum throughout the day. Activities alternated between presentations and discussion on context and challenges, exposure to inspiring case studies, rigorous team brainstorming around specific scenarios – and the personas that would be interacting with them. The seamless framework focused participants’ energy on a wide range of variables toward cultivating sustainable and transformative solutions.
NextPlays Labs have been conducted by Moxie with a wide range of organisations both global and local – from Air New Zealand to the World Bank and upcoming sessions with big boys Procter & Gamble. Each lab is specifically tailored to relevant issues facing the organisations, with the Moxie team skillfully migrating approaches on the fly to accommodate the unique needs of participating enterprises. Strategist Bert Aldridge notes “NextPlays is not about delivering answers but rather it’s an engagement tool to enable and build capacity around the seeking of solutions” while director Peter Salmon succinctly refers to its power to “catalyse conversations towards sustainable outcomes.”
The labs have been used in both Bangkok and Hanoi to explore urban development in conjunction with the World Bank Institute. Participants in these workshops have included community educators, climatologists, architects, environmental youth groups, waste management specialists and urban planners. In such company NextPlays has played a role in the aligning of agendas towards future-focused outcomes on a civic scale. Through encouraging an appreciation of inter-connectedness, divergent players discover potential efficiencies and opportunities.
And back here on home turf I found the expert guidance from scenarios to solutions, context to collaboration, macro to micro – all made for a highly rewarding and productive experience of the Moxie mix.

Related articles:
Creating Waves Through Collaboration
Change Agents Surmount Style