Many good Samaritans want to help people in developing countries. Unfortunately these efforts often consist of a one time donation of hygiene kits or something similar. While well intended these efforts aren't sustainable because they rely on donations. Once the donations stop the relief stops. To top it off you might find out that this country had an overabundance of hygiene kits and all your hard work was wasted. So how do we help people in developing countries get the products and services they really need and want?
In a muggy pastel green house in India, engineers Charles and Amy Wood of BYU's Design Lab prepare for their day.
“A lot of engineers from America assume people in other countries want the things Americans have. Oh, they don’t have clean water they must want a filter. Oh, they don’t have electricity they must want that, said Amy Wood.”
But, things are different in India then in America. For example having a philosophy degree in India is the American equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer.
In India running water and electricity aren’t seen as a necessity and the Wood's were determined to discover what these Indians wanted and needed most.
In India the women cook outside on the street using cookstoves. Smiling and chatting, they talk about their families. While cooking outside works well for these women most of the year it isn't practical during the torrential downpours accompanying the rainy season.
“We watched a woman bring her cook stove into her house to cook while it was raining. The smoke from the cook stove filled her house, said Charles Wood.”
Cook stove smoke blackens lungs and causes diseases that kill about 1.9 million people each year. The Woods began working with a woman named Lakshmi to design a cook stove shelter that would allow her to cook outside when it rained. Lakshmi is a single mother with a little girl and boy. She has flashing dark eyes and vibrant dark hair that she wears up in a ponytail. She travels from her village to the richer areas to work as a cleaning lady so she can provide for her children and give them a good home.
Lakshmi helped the Woods design and redesign their cook stove shelter. The shelter now allows her to cook outside during the rainy season and save her kids from the uncomfortable and dangerous smoke that normally fills her home.
Many engineers avoid designing products for people like Lakshmi because they assume it's not a profitable market. Charles and Amy Wood of Design Exploration aren't like most engineers and they disagree.
"Even though people like Lakshmi make less than four dollars a day the developing world represents an overlooked market that has a combined purchasing power of over 5 trillion dollars. We just have to be smarter and more efficient so that we can design high quality products at a cost that's low enough for these people to afford," said Charles Wood.
When impoverished people are able to purchase affordable products that increase their quality of life it creates sustainable relief that isn’t dependent on donations.
At BYU's Design Exploration we believe engineers can design profitable products that make the world a better place and help people get out of poverty. It’s a win-win situation.