Mind-shift and Innovation at Work in Rural South Africa
We are currently in the Inspiration phase of ThinkImpact's Innovation Institute. Right now we are collaborating on teams with community members who we have chosen based on their skills and assetts. Through these "Design Teams" we hope to inspire and collaborate to create a sustainable innovation, development, product or service the community. :)
When I first got to the village of Gottenburg, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that the model of ThinkImpact was radically different than the majority of need-based organizations. I knew that the mission was to inspire and lead and to collaborate in order to create teams of dynamic community members who would spearhead the primary challenges that affect them on a daily basis. These were things that I knew. What I did not know is the magnitude of this. I had no idea that I would encounter so many incredibly talented people whose skills, experience and wisdom vastly exceeded my expectations.
Last week, we selected teams, called Design Teams. After profiling hundreds of people around town and getting to know a select few better by shadowing them for days, we began to compile lists of the primary people we wanted to join our team. We have been focusing on the groundbreaking themes of sustainable innovation. Now a week later, with our teams selected and our missions clear I would like to report that the ripple is starting. Our teams are starting a movement. The way people think is beginning to change. Optimism is entering some minds for the first time and the former pessimism and skepticism to innovation is falling to the wayside.
Just the other night we had a joint Design Team meeting with all four teams in my village of Gottenburg. The other scholars that lead the teams are Shelby Gullion(current rising Sophomore at Indiana University) & Andrew Hinton(rising Senior at Pennsylvania State), Sarah Peterson(Recent graduate of University of Southern California) & and Georgi Klissurski (my fellow classmate from Dartmouth), Brent Davidson (A fellow HCD Connect Scholar) and myself, Alexander Lopez.
All of us with our teams ranging from 4 members to 10 members sat around four sets of tables, ready to learn. Each of us was given the task of sustainably solving the water issue in Gottenburg. Currently water is acquired through long arduous process in which community members have to walk miles to the water tap and then must carry heavy jerry cans full of water (many of which contain no taps – leading to a loss of water) all the way back to the village and to their homes. My group was on fire! First Evidence & Alice, two daughters of the Induna who I told you about in my last entry were coming up with creative ways in which to collect rainwater and then purify it. Alice began to talk about the purification qualities of Ash and the effects of minor amounts of cleaning chemicals such as bleach. Karabo, my second youngest design team member, at 16 years of age, began drafting ways we could create brick cylinders using the leftover brick pieces from failed housing projects in town in which the home purchasers or builders of the home (a skill that only three people in the village possess) died in the process. This left the homes an everlasting incomplete memorandum to their death. However, Karabo, with his innovation cap on, thought to use this materials and construct a sort of cylindrical casing to coat the side walls of tunnels dug into the ground (similar to wells) and then the group proposed implementing this into a water collecting system and using Alice and Evidence’s filtration methods to clean the water. I then brought up the issue of debris falling into the open hole, after all the ground is primarily sand here, and also I made the point that the water would spill over once full.
As if instinctually Debbie, my other sixteen year old design team members began, “You see Alex, we can actually put large rocks around the sides to contain any overflow, as for debris, we can use the leftover metal scraps that liter our streets and pound them into tin lids and cut holes in them that will only allow clean water to come through.”
I was stunned. The idea was brilliant. I was so proud of my team for coming up with something so innovative. Then, out of the blue, Thandi asked “What about standing water? Won’t it go bad with bacteria?”
Valid point, I thought. Surely we had no way to combat this. Then in unison the group smiled and said “Simple, we boil it.”
That day we answered the question “How might we combat the challenge of the distance and inconvenience of water by using local resources?” and I was literally amazed at how thorough and incredible our answers were, all due to the inventiveness of my Design Team members. I am so proud that the tenets of IDEO, HCD, and ThinkImpact are all starting to sink in and ripple through the community like dominos. The ideas of assets and planning out solutions according to the skills and materials you already have as opposed to focusing on Government Aid or Excessive Spending was a welcome change. One member of my group even said during our “What worked well/what didn’t” that his favorite part of the day was when “We discussed ways in which to help out community by not spending the excess of money, we were sustainable and I like that.” I almost cried I was so happy. I was watching it, happen right before my eyes, the light bulb, turning on in everyone’s minds. My wonderful team, full of brilliant and competent community members, took this information home with them and shared it with their friends and family.
The next day people stopped me in the streets to ask how they could get started innovating. That’s all it takes, is that one spark, and you can get hooked on making the world a better place! I truly believe in the project I am doing, and I believe that by using the tenets of Asset Based Community Development, Innovation, Creativity, and Sustainability as (ThinkImpact/IDEO/HCD) all encourage, we can truly create a sustainable world full of people who all do their part and lead enriching lives.
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