Yesterday, I returned to Olin after spending 5-weeks doing
design-for-development work in Ghana. I
was there through a program called The International Development Design Summit
(IDDS) and it was an inspirational and life-changing experience.
IDDS is a program that was started in 2005 by Amy Smith from
MIT's DLab and Ben Linder from Olin. Our
goal is to help design technologies that will help the world's poorest people
make their way out of poverty. At IDDS
we believe in Co-Creation, designing with
people rather than for people, and
Creative Capacity Building, showing people with no design experience that they
truly can design technologies to help themselves.
This was the second time IDDS was held in Ghana. I was one of
about 70 participants from 20 countries and every part of the world. It was amazing to be around such a talented,
passionate, and diverse group of people.
We all stayed together at a dormitory in Ghana's technical
University. We cooked and ate together,
played soccer and frisbee together, and had fun just being together. By the end, we all came to see our group as a
I was on a team with the
goal of helping small-holder farmers get more income. There were 8 other teams working on projects
ranging from prevention of malaria outbreaks to extraction of valuable plant oils, to
generating electricity from corn husks.
I had teammates from
Zambia, India, Tanzania, Denmark, and Ghana.
We began our process by spending time in several villages and hanging
out with farmers. We worked with them,
asked questions, and looked for opportunities for improvement. After identifying many problem areas, we
decided that the area we could help the most was with peanut harvesting.
In the region where we were working, 80% of the women grow
peanuts to sell as their primary source of income. They spend a lot of time harvesting peanuts,
laboriously picking each nut individually off the plant. Some tools had previously been made for
speeding up this process, but unfortunately they didn't separate the ripe and
unripe nuts. These tools weren't widely used because they were heavy,
expensive, and the time saved in picking was lost when the farmers had to pick
out the unripe nuts by hand afterward.
My team came up with many ideas for solving this problem. We did several rough experiments and built a
handful of prototypes in Ghana's amazing informal manufacturing district called
Suame Magazine. I especially enjoyed
learning to cast aluminum at the local foundry and seeing the amazing products
that the local artisans and metalworkers were able to make from scrap.
We returned to the villages to get user feedback on our
designs. The farmers were able to tell
us which designs they preferred and make suggestions on materials, ergonomics,
For the final stage, we refined our ideas and built an improved
set of prototypes. We also looked at the
business side and formed a business model that shows how this project could be
transformed into a profitable business as our Ghanian teammates take it
My favorite part of the experience was making friendships and
having fun with great people from every type of background. I learned a huge amount just in informal
conversations with these new friends and I was also able share my knowledge as
well. It was sad to say goodby to this
new family, but I will hold these connections for a lifetime.