Finding Clean Cooking Technologies for the Poorest of the Poor

“Around the world, 3 billion poor people […] cook over unventilated wood, coal or dung fires. About 4 million deaths a year are associated with inhaling the smoke,” reports Significant advances have been made in the production and distribution of cleaner, more affordable ways of cooking for impoverished communities from South America to Africa to India. These stove technologies use wood, crop residue, dung, ethanol/biofuels, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), biogas and even solar energy. 

The goal of this post is to complement and provide background for a discussion on the most affordable and efficient clean cooking technologies. The majority of the ideas expressed in this post are from Patricia McArdle, a former board member of Solar Cookers International and Solar Household Energy, who has been involved with TIDES since its founding in 2007, and from Scott Sklar, President and founder of The Stella Group, Ltd, which focuses on clean energy technology optimization. Additional edits are provided by Scotty Davids, an intern with StarTides and a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. 

Because of the need for clean cooking solutions in developing countries, tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the past decade on the research and field testing of biomass-burning stoves by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), the Shell Foundation, the U.S. Departments of Energy and State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  According to McArdle, solar thermal cookers, the only cooking device that produces zero emissions, has been essentially dismissed as a viable technology by these organizations.  

“Influenced by one of their most prominent advisors, U.C. Berkeley professor Dr. Kirk Smith, and by the World LPG Association, the GACC is now promoting LPG as the cleanest of all cooking fuels for the poor—a move I consider to be completely unsustainable,” says McArdle,  “since it involves the use of a fossil fuel and can only succeed with permanent and economically distorting subsidies.  The GACC has given little support to solar thermal cooking technology despite our years of efforts to educate them.”

McArdle argues that in sunny, arid regions of the world, solar thermal devices should be Plastic_cookits_during_training_in_Sudanthe primary cooking technology for the poorest of the poor with locally made retained heat containers utilized to keep food and water hot for consumption after dark.  “Scarce wood, brush and dung should only have to be burned when there’s no sun.  In my latest visit (Jan 2015) to two Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad, the women had only two options for cooking.  Wood that they gathered at great risk from the few remaining trees in the surrounding desert or free sunshine. “

McArdle’s comments differ from the position of Dr. Smith, which is to promote subsidized LPG and, “Throw out your ideology. Don’t worry about renewable energy. If you want to cook with renewable energy, do it yourself. Don’t ask the poor to do it.”  

According to McArdle, the dependence of solar cooking technology on direct but intermittent sunlight is being addressed by technologies that include newly developed solar thermal heat storage units that use molten salts and by simple, locally-made retained-heat containers.  She acknowledges that combustion stoves will still be needed for back-up cooking when there is no solar energy available for extended periods of time, but she also argues that it makes no sense to burn anything to cook your food on days when free solar energy is available.  

Scott Sklar responds to Patricia’s comments.

“I generally share Pat’s views, with some slight deviations. I believe biogas in certain countries and places is both practical, cost-effective and sustainable. And there have been some advances that could address access to the poorest-of-the-poor. I also believe Patricia is exactly on solar, and there has been good product development – of course, needs to be way more.”

Ajay Chandak, an ISES board member and the founder of  PRINCE India has developed several low cost  floating biogas digesters one of which his extended family uses almost daily at his home in Dhule, India, along with a parabolic solar cooker.

“Although biogas digesters are great where adequate animal and vegetable waste are available,” says McArdle, “I am skeptical about the promotion of ethanol as a cooking fuel for the world’s poorest people since they will never have the means to manufacture or purchase it for daily use.  The poorest three billion people on earth will continue to harvest whatever is available (hopefully this will someday soon include sunshine for many of them) for cooking and heating water.”  McArdle’s other concern about ethanol is that it is produced on cropland that might be more productively used to grow food or on plantations that have been cleared by destroying biologically diverse tropical forests.  

So how can you decide which technology (or combination of technologies) is best for a specific community? How do you make a simple solar oven as marketable as a technologically advanced natural gas stove, especially when the gas is subsidized? How can you promote a culture change away from biofuels that are being used by millions of people around the world? These are the questions  that need to be addressed by the experts in the field. Funding needs to continue to flow toward clean cooking technologies, and all options need to be considered and expanded upon. The StarTides team welcomes any and all comments below. 

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Why is the Toilet Project in India Clogged?

By Scotty Davids

Over 50 percent of homes in India lack toilets. For hundreds of years, the Indian population has gone to the fields to relieve themselves. So when Rameshwar Natholi from Mukhrai walked out his front door to see a donated toilet, he reacted with, “We never asked for a toilet. Now we are stuck with it.”

A recent article published by the Washington Post highlights the difficulties governments and humanitarian aid organizations are having when trying to provide toilets for people who lack proper sanitation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a hard push for more toilets in India, campaigning for 60 million homes to receive new sanitary toilets by 2019. Already, in the past year, his government has constructed more than 5.8 million toilets across India. But the Washington Post reports that “many of them have gone unused or that they are being used to store grain or clothes or to tether goats.”

Not only did the locals not ask for a toilet first, but there is a cultural boundary as well that was overlooked. Prior to 1950, those who were in the profession of clearing human waste were members of the lowest group in India’s caste system, the “untouchables.” Sangita Vyas, the managing director at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), which studies sanitation issues in India, explains to the Washington Post that “people fear a situation when their pit fills up and there is nobody willing to clean it because of the social stigma. That fear discourages sustained use of toilets.”

The push for toilets is not unwarranted. Rather, there is a desperate need for toilets in most rural communities. The Washington Post says that “poor sanitation and contaminated water cause 80 percent of the diseases afflicting rural India.” UNICEF compliments the need for proper sanitation by reporting that 609,000 children under the age of 5 died in 2010 due to pneumonia or diarrhea, the most of any country. However, there needs to be a change in thought on how toilets are introduced into India.

I recently spoke with Jason Kass, the President and Founder of Toilets for People, a member of the TIDES network that supplies composting toilets to areas in the developing world that are prone to floods. Jason was not surprised with the lack of success of donated toilets, and he says that it shows our inability to learn from what has been tried and failed in the past. A process that gives a toilet to each individual house is likely to fail if the community did not ask for the service first. Changing the lifestyle of an individual is the hardest part about the implementation process. The key to any introduction of a new technology is for the community to need it, to ask for it, and then to take ownership of it.

For the 7th year, the National Defense University (NDU) showcased a variety of innovative technologies for disaster assistance and development. From 1-4 October, more than 70 nonprofit organizations, citizen associations, and specialized vendors, using no water, power, or shelter, showcased their most inventive ideas and tools to help people in the aftermath of a natural disaster, conflict, or for those who live in extreme poverty. The demonstration will continue at the Pentagon in Center Court from 7-9 October where more than 20 civilian groups and businesses will be present. The exposition, held outdoors at Fort McNair in Southwest Washington, DC, is an offshoot of the TIDES (Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support) research project at the National Defense University. TIDES focuses on cross-cutting emerging technologies and sustainable solutions to support a variety of DOD missions. More than just static exhibits, different inventors and field operators exchanged insights and experiences, promoting public-private cooperation through speakers, workshops, and other interactions.  Speakers discussed a number of cross-cutting issues, including logistics, soft power, info-sharing, and community-based solutions. Notable presenters included Hon. Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment and Mr. Sheldon Himelfarb, Director, Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at United State Institute of Peace. Throughout the demonstration there were discussion groups open to the public that addressed pertinent issues centered around this year's theme:

Jason Kass at 2013 TIDES Demo

One way to handle this challenge, Jason said, is to invest time into the community that needs the toilets before any implementation, and to consider the alternatives and to adapt to what the people want. The Indian public needs sanitary toilets. But there was not enough conversation in the beginning to incite the community to ask for the service. Toilets for People attempts to address this issue by partnering with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs can educate the population on proper sanitation practices which, in time, could lead to a demand for toilets. Another strategy is to use the preexisting market. Even if subsidies are needed, having people spend their own money for a product will make them more likely to use it rather than a donation. Regardless of how the toilet is introduced, it will not be used unless the recipient asks for it.

There is an implementation issue in India, rather than a supply issue. Humanitarian aid organizations need to first educate the community on why there is a need for sanitary toilets. Later, the community is able to critique and take ownership of the proposed product. The challenges with introducing have been part of an ongoing discussion. See our blog post from December, 2014 on how this mentality relates to technologies in all humanitarian areas. The product will have a better chance of being accepted and integrated into the society when the customer is the one describing the need, rather than the humanitarian aid organization.

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Crisis Mapping in Nepal

By Jackie Faselt

Crowdsourced crisis mapping was introduced as an important technology in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief field during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and in the past five years it has greatly expanded in scope and efficiency. Crisis mappers use different types of data including SMS communication, social media, and aerial & satellite imagery to create a visualization for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies. After the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th 2015, many different organization rushed to create crisis maps that have been utilized by various domestic and international rescue teams and aid agencies to gain greater situational awareness and to help those in need of assistance.

Much of the success of crisis mapping efforts after the Nepal earthquake was made possible because the organization Kathmandu Living Labs had already mapped much of capital and other parts of the country before the disaster struck.  In 2013, Nama Budhathoki was a PhD student at the University of Illinois studying crowdsourcing, open data, and social and mobile media when he decided to start a non-profit in preparation for a potential disaster in his native Nepal. Kathmandu Living Labs used technology from OpenStreetMap, an organization STAR-TIDES has previously worked with, to create a platform that could be used to process crowdsourced data in the event of a disaster. Because of its success, The Red Cross is now advocating that all at-risk areas prepare for potential disaster by replicating the work Kathmandu Living Labs had done before the earthquake stuck.

Within the first 48 hours of the devastating earthquake, 2,000 users had made over three million edits on different crisis mapping platforms. The growing volume of data after a natural disaster, which is in part due to mobile and smartphone penetration, has led to many big data challenges. MicroMappers, a member of the STAR-TIDES network, has begun to incorporate artificial intelligence to make the processing of copious amounts of data more effective.  Additionally, some in the emergency response field are calling for more personnel dedicated to data mediation so that information on crisis maps can be used more effectively by relief organizations and governments.

While crisis maps have been a very helpful tool in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, reconstruction efforts after such a devastating earthquake will be a long process. As foreign aid organizations exit Nepal and international media changes focus, it is important to remember that thousands of internally displaced people and other affected citizens are still in need of access to basic necessities such as water, food, and sanitation which STAR-TIDES network members and relief agencies both domestic and foreign continue to provide.


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TIDES at the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership Forum

By Samuel Bendett

On March 9, 2015, I attended Partnership Practitioners Forum: Transforming Ideas Into Impact, organized by the State Department’s Office of Global Partnerships, USAID and Concordia as part of the Global Partnership Week (GP3W). This was State Department’s first gathering of partnership builders from governments, multilateral organizations, civil society leaders, and private companies. According to State, “this new community of partnership practitioners will be known as the Global Partnership Collective and will bring together partnership practitioners and leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in discussion on the ideas and issues that shape our lives and challenge our times, identify partnership opportunities that address global challenges, and coordinate on collaborative solutions.”

Overall, such events are very useful to the larger US government and private sector community working on researching, analyzing and implementing public-private partnerships (PPP) – networking with forum attendees presented opportunities to learn about PPP conduct and execution. In fact, lead panelists and keynote speakers laid out a fairly comprehensive set of problems and potential solutions to forging and maintaining such partnerships. Yet it seemed that such evidence was geared more towards US civilian agencies and their private sector partners, not DoD-specific issues related to such partnerships. In fact, one DoD attendee said that “for the Department of Defense, PPPs are a huge gray area that is often difficult to traverse…”

Why is it still difficult for the Department of Defense to implement a wide range of PPPs that are practiced by other agencies in the US Government? There are no simple explanations, but the most significant one points to the absence of an overall legal framework that would guide partnership with the private sector. That is already changing, as each geographic Combatant Command is forging partnership it sees as advancing the missions and enabling a diverse set of solutions – engaging with NGOs, international organizations and academia. In particular, US Northern Command has a framework on engaging with non-government entities and institutions during and following a natural disaster in the United States. And DoD’s existing framework on working with numerous private sector companies on developing, testing and incorporating new and existing technological solutions that enable the warfighter is well documented. Yet this State Department forum presented an entirely new outlook on partnering with the private sector – doing so in the framework of international development and humanitarian assistance, two mission sets where DoD takes a decidedly secondary role.

With increasing frequency of major natural disasters, internal civil and military conflicts and potential for catastrophic outbreaks of diseases like the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, DoD is asked more and more by the international community to assist with a diverse set of tasks – from logistics to medical aid to strengthening host nation’s infrastructure and civilian response to providing relief supplies. Such mission areas are not DoD’s core competency, and even when US military can bring its strength and experience to the table, it finds that it has to engage potential partners that normally are not figured into military training and doctrine – United Nations, translational humanitarian organizations, local civil society groups, international religious outreach, as well as many other non-government actors from the private and non-profit sectors. Partnering with such organization, even on a temporary basis for the duration of a crisis, calls for a different knowledge set than testing or procuring military equipment. This is where this forum was at its strongest – a private sector attendee wanting to learn how USAID or State Department engages non-government organizations on providing clean water to local populations may get a comprehensive PPP review from speakers and fellow attendees. For DoD, this was definitely a place to listen and take notes, but not necessarily engage in full debate due to differences in approaches towards public-private partnerships.

I attended this event because my DoD-supported TIDES Project ( at the National Defense University seeks to provide reach-back knowledge on demand to US military if and when Pentagon needs to work with non-government sector in disaster and emergencies. For years, our projects served as the bridge between DoD policymakers and field offices and the massive universe of private sector technical solutions for populations under post-war, post-disaster and post-conflict stress. Working with the private sector is at the core of the project, along with letting US military decide how and why it could implement such solutions in its concept of operations or actual deployments. If DoD will be tasked more frequently to assist affected populations around the world, it would need to learn not just from State Department practices, but bring to bear on existing relationships and international networks forged by projects like TIDES. According to official directives from several Secretaries of Defense, partnering with the private sector is a way of the future for DoD as it navigates an increasingly complex world. Here is then to greater learning and understanding why such partnerships will matter more and more for DoD and its civilian and non-government partners.

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Kopernik Impact Tracker Technology Catalogue for ICTs

Amidst a vast amount of data and specifications on numerous Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that can help populations in disasters, emergencies, impoverished situations and other scenarios, there are few catalogues that can compile such data into an easy-to-use and easy-to-navigate database. One such effort has been undertaken by the Kopernik Impact Tracker Technology Catalogue, funded by the Impact Economy Innovations Fund in East and Southeast Asia, with support by the Rockefeller Foundation and Asia Community Ventures. The information in the tracker includes Digital Data Collection Maps, SMS Communication Platforms, Geospatial Mapping Tools and Remote Sensor for use by NGOs, social enterprise and community organizations, and other actors seeking to help populations through ICTs. The catalogue is found here:

According to the site, “tools in the digital data collection apps and SMS communication platform categories are assessed along the following 5 criteria, which are critical determinants from a user perspective.”

  1. Affordability: Prices of monthly subscription plans, as well as running costs.
  2. Usability: Richness and user-friendliness of features offered.
  3. Rapidity: Ability to send and receive large volumes of data on a real-time basis.
  4. Scalability: Ability to handle multiple services, multiple users, and high data load at the same time.
  5. Transferability:  Flexibility in using the services for different purposes, sectors, and contexts
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American Red Cross: A Vision for the Humanitarian Use of Emerging Technology for Emerging Needs

American Red Cross has been transitioning its focus from dialogue about emerging technology to experiments that harness their potential to strengthen urban resilience. Its capstone report from the initiative’s first phase is available online – A Vision for the Humanitarian Use of Emerging Technology for Emerging Needs. The 36-page report and executive summary review the global dialogue series organized by the American Red Cross and IFRC, defines its Eight Criteria for Resilience-Strengthening Solutions, announces its plans to test four experimental technologies with partners this year, and makes five key recommendations based on community-level requests and humanitarian expertise The report is available at
The publication explains how ARC chose the initial eight emerging technologies, the many ways they can help urban dwellers cope with emergencies and how it arrived at the following four priorities for 2015-2016:
• Wearable devices for providing early warning, supporting search and rescue, and reconnecting families
• Unmanned aerial vehicles for temporarily restoring communications networks and delivering critical relief items, such as medicines, post disaster
• Smart home sensor networks for sensing and reporting fires in informal settlements/slums
• Biometric scanners in ATM-like kiosks for restoring lost documentation to prove identity, access assistance and reconnect families.
Inside, you will also learn about the innovation teams, comprised of at-risk community members and multi-sector volunteers who will help us take these ideas forward in several countries around the world. They will co-facilitate experiments to help inform the technologies’ design, use and cost to ultimately support consumer access, management and ownership of these resilience-strengthening solutions.
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Mobile Money


“Mobile Money Asia.” Mobile Money Asia. January 9, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This blog shares thoughts on development of mobile money with a specific focus in Asia (Cambodia, the Pacific, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and etc.). Visitors who are interested in mobile money developments in Asian markets will find insights from those who worked in payments companies, start-ups, and development organizations in the regions.

Sachdev, Sunil. “Enabling the Move from Cash to Mobile Money.” Blog. November 25, 2014. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This blog answers to visitors who could ask why developing countries have an edge on developed countries that have complex financial systems; developing countries tend to have remarkable penetration of mobile devices and a lack of legacy systems.

“Why Does Kenya Lead the World in Mobile Money?” The Economist. May 27, 2013. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This blog explains why Kenya could become the world leader in mobile money. Visitors interested in finding out why Kenya’s been the most successful among dozens of other mobile-money systems that have also been launched will find interesting reasons and details.

Oyebode, Akin. “M-Pesa and beyond – Why Mobile Money Worked in Kenya and Struggles in Other Markets.” Venture Capital for Africa. January 15, 2014. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This blog shows why mobile money worked in Kenya and struggles in other markets: first mover advantage, the high cost of domestic remittances allowing the growth of cheaper alternatives, and the dominance of money transfer industry due to the monopoly of Safaricom.

Website articles:

Bhan, Niti. “Mobile Money Is Driving Africa’s Cashless Future.” Harvard Business Review. September 19, 2014. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This Harvard Business Review article shares a story about a current trend in which mobile money is driving Africa’s cashless future. Those interested in mobile money markets in Africa are encouraged to visit.

Shaffer, Richard. “Mobile Payments Gain Traction Among India’s Poor.” The New York Times. December 4, 2013. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This New York Times article portrays the development of traction of mobile payments among India’s poor population. Visitors who are interested in mobile money markets in India will keep track of their recent developments.

“Mobile-money Services: Let Us in.” The Economist. August 25, 2012. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This Economist article argues for the advantages of mobile money in lives of poor countries. Skeptics of mobile money effects on poor countries are encouraged to visit to see what it has to say.

Hasan, Mehdi. “How Was MBanking Successfully Embraced in Bangladesh?” ICT Works. February 20, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2015.

This article reports a growing success of mBanking service that has gradually made life easier for Bangladesh people living in both urban and rural areas. The author is optimistic that even conventional users currently using a traditional banking system could still become potential mBanking customers in the future.

Academic articles:

Aker, Jenny C. and Isaac M. Mbiti. “Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 3 (Summer, 2010): 207-232. doi:

This paper examines the evolution of mobile phone coverage and adoption in sub-Saharan Africa and explores how mobile phone can influence economic outcomes and what the necessary conditions are to pursue broader economic development in Africa.

Ayo, C. K., W. I. Ukpere, A. Oni, U. Omote, and D. Akinsiku. “A Prototype Mobile Money Implementation in Nigeria.” African Journal of Business Management 6, no. 6 (Feb 15, 2012): 2195.

This paper introduces a short messages services (SMS) and unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) implementation of mobile money implementation in Nigeria and compares with M-PESA in Kenya, revealing some interesting discoveries.

Boss, Suzie. “All-Mobile Microfinance.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 11, no. 1 (Winter, 2013): 56.

This paper shares the optimism of the future of Musoni, the first all-mobile microfinance institution, which could provide a potential path to financial inclusion for unbanked citizens and expand its markets across Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

Edwards, Sebastian. “Capital Mobility, Capital Controls, and Globalization in the Twenty-First Century,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, vol. 579 (January 2002), pp. 261-270.

This paper analyzes the effects of economic openness and increasing capital mobility on the economic growth.

Githui, Donatus Mathenge. “Mobile money transfer in Kenya: an ethical perspective.” Research Journal of Finance and Accounting 2, no. 2 (2011): 152-160.,%20No%202%20%282011%29.pdf

This paper diagnoses the ethical and moral issues regarding mobile money transfer in Kenya and concludes that mobile players should adopt ethical theories and values to avoid potential misuse and unethical conduct that could occur in money transfer technologies.

Jack, William, Adam Ray, and Tavneet Suri. “Transaction Networks: Evidence from Mobile Money in Kenya.” The American Economic Review 103, no. 3 (05, 2013): 356-361. doi: 1353093416?accountid=14541.

This paper describes how deepened financial integration and expanded informal networks created by mobile money could allow households in Kenya to spread risk more efficiently.

Kendall, Jake and Rodger Voorhies. “The Mobile-Finance Revolution: How Cell Phones can Spur Development.” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 2 (Mar, 2014): 9-13.

Mentioning the recent study about M-Pesa, which increased the size and efficiency of the networks in Kenya, this paper claims that mobile-banking applications have the potential to encourage financial discipline in more effective ways.

Maurer, Bill. “Mobile Money: Communication, Consumption and Change in the Payment Space.” The Journal of Development Studies 48, no. 5 (2012): 589.

This article explores the field of mobile money in the developing world, discussing how economic techniques and narratives about the opportunities for profit and financial inclusion in the “payment space” format a consumer market for mobile money.

Maurer, Bill, Taylor C. Nelms, and Stephen C. Rea. “‘Bridges to Cash’: Channelling Agency in Mobile Money.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19, no. 1 (03, 2013): 52.

This article explores and scrutinizes the agency of mobile money agents, the people who permit others to put cash into electronic money transfer system and pull cash out of it – so called, the ‘human ATMs’ or ‘bridges to cash.’

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The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum: A Civilian’s Perspective

Our Star-Tides network member Jesse Levin, from Team Rubicon and, offers a very interesting perspective of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum – an independent, not-for-profit group of emerging defense leaders that strive to solve national security problems from the bottom-up by exposing defense professionals to the techniques and experiences of civilian innovators and social entrepreneurs:

“The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum(DEF) hosted its second conference in Chicago in October 2014. The initiative, founded by two veterans, Ben Kohlmann and Micah Murphey is a hybrid, which nearly defies categorization. Not the typical defense conference, it was more a loosely structured forum that attracted top, forward-thinking, solution focused minds from both the DoD and civilian sector to cross-pollinate and share best practices.

The main focus of the event was to encourage conversation and to stimulate ideas about issues across disparate disciplines to foster innovative thinking and the potential for the implementation of ideas explored. The synergies created by those in attendance and topics covered were refreshingly productive and resembled a micro Summit Series conference with a DoD spin. Senior military leaders presented case studies rooted in historical precedent and time was allowed for “un-conferencing” providing participants a platform to present on a vast array of relevant issues.

DEF’s cross-sector and multidisciplinary practices have enabled a culture that’s purpose is to explore the synergies of innovation within the DoD and the private sector. DEF is similar to the Joint Integrated Field Exercises (JIFX) hosted by the National Defense University and the Naval Post Graduate School. The JIFX forum provides a venue for the DoD, first response, and not-for-profit communities to collaborate. While the exercises serve to refine products, joint response modalities etc., the real benefit, is the diverse and powerful cohort it unites. Like JIFX, DEF attracts a similar demographic of stakeholders.

The vast majority of attendees at DEF were in positions of leadership both within the DoD and the private sector. DEF accomplished the creation of what we can refer to as a rapid full stack innovation environment. Representatives converged from the defense and entrepreneurial ecosystems from enlisted personnel, to policy makers and from officers to defense contractors and civilian subject matter experts. These individuals gathered in an environment where the most pervasive traits were optimism, humor and a desire to affect positive change. Having these creative minds and stakeholders together in such an informal and positive environment eradicated the more typical siloing of perspective and information sharing. In affect, DEF successfully created an atmosphere that both greatly encouraged idea sharing across sectors, rank and branch as well as the civilian military divide.

There is a worthwhile piece in the January 2014 Harvard Business Review by Dan McGinn, entitled Build a Quick and Nimble Culture, for some reading on building “cultures of innovation.” (

There was an equal focus throughout the event on innovating within the DoD community as well as outside of it. The opportunity for members of the DoD ecosystem to interface with civilians to discuss and share best practices, from business to leadership methodologies, is important and does not occur often enough. This is an arena and a dynamic DEF is playing a role in changing. The DEF community has an incredibly strong base and will undoubtedly grow to be a key player in sparking innovation both within and outside the DoD. The community and forum is serving as a conduit to ensure lessons learned, in the post OEF / OIF era are acted on, and put to good use. DEF has launched the DEF Agora series to help ensure that momentum from the DEF conference is perpetuated. These are mini DEF meetings hosted across the country by members of the community to both continue the conversation and to provide support for those taking action.

There are numerous initiatives exploring innovation in general, however, there are few that focus on the sharing of best practices between civil / military communities that are as approachable, inclusive and accessible as DEF. Today’s military veterans are among the greatest untapped economic assets this nation has. The positive impact potential this demographic harbors is staggering and as a country we have not come close to identifying how best to unleash and empower all of this latent economic, innovative potential both within and outside of the DoD. DEF will play an important role in helping to ensure to fully maximize the potential of our veteran community.”

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Introducing Technology into Traditional Societies

By Alex Locke and Amy Gorman-Stieg

In any environment whether modern or traditional, the effort of introducing new technology has always been a challenge. New technology might be seen as one of the solutions to stability or as a means to improve health and quality of life in any particular region. However, the introduction and management of a new technology in a particular area requires the existence of a suitable and well-defined approach and execution.

During the 2014 TIDES Technology Field Demonstration we hosted a session entitled “Introducing Technology into Traditional Societies.” This panel featured real-world examples from TIDES Demo exhibitors (American Light Works, Day & Night Solar, Energy Solutions LLC, One Earth Designs, Shelter Box, KSI Video,Decadome, World Water and Solar, Sirona Cares, Toilets for People, GATR and Solar Stik) and other attendees. A number of principles were highlighted, but the true value of this discussion was the on-the-ground, real-time examples of what works and what does not.  The purpose of the discussion was  to provide lessons learned on how to successfully introduce and sustain new technologies into traditional cultures and environments. Read more below.

Mark Bent: American Light Works – Solar Flashlights

“Pay attention to what your clients want and need – often the West goes to places with the preconceived notion that a technology will provide a solution just because it works at home. Pay attention to what the people who are actually using the product are telling you – not what the experts back in Washington said was going to be the solution. Revisit those who received the technology and ask how it can be improved. What are we doing wrong? What are the use patterns of the technology?”

“A well-built solar flashlight with a focused beam should work well and be well received. Recipients complained that the flashlights couldn’t project enough ambient light to illuminate a whole room. This had the unintended effect of excluding dissenting voices during nighttime community meetings: ignoring people was as simple as not handing them the flashlight. The group ceased to use the device because it didn’t do what they wanted it to as well as kerosene lanterns. These situations are nearly impossible to predict without insight from recipients.”


“In a refugee camp in Ethiopia, the UNHCR wanted to put numbers on our flashlights, so that when they were distributed, each individual recipient could keep track of their devices and to prevent theft. In the local culture however, men would take offense to the implied suggestion that they would steal another persons’ things. Instead, we decided to color-code the lights. We went to the community elders and let them devise a system in which each color was assigned to a different group of people; pink for women, green for guards, orange for teachers and so on. It became that the society itself decided where the lights would go, and then enforced that system themselves.”

Michelle Lacourciere: Sirona Cares – Solar Power

“It takes business to drive change. We have watched the debilitating issues that charity causes over a long time working in Haiti. Creation of jobs and creation of commerce is critical to helping a community help itself out of the hole that it’s in. We designed a solar charging station, and each home gets a battery pack that costs them less than what they pay for kerosene – so we’re automatically saving them money. In designing that, we took a lot of the things that are really important to the indigenous people: They wanted lights that looked like ‘rich people’s lights’. Our lights look like filament light-bulbs, but they are LEDs. Designing form to be what they wanted it to be has led to increased demand: we have 10 homes on the waiting list for every one we have lit. We are also operating a sustainable business there recharging battery packs for customers. “

“We learned a lot about where to put things and about the mentality around where to put the control of the equipment itself. We tried putting the station at the home of the best businessman of the village, thinking he was running all these viable businesses and that he would be the best person. It turned out that in about 6 months the community decided that this individual had ‘enough money’ and they did not want to pay him any longer – so there went the sustainability of our business. After he had paid for the station for about 4 months with decreasing participation from villagers, we moved the station to the local school. Automatically we had over 100 homes paying for the service every month for electricity. Ultimately, the community felt more comfortable with the school now operating the station and collecting revenue, which created 3 new teaching jobs. You have to understand the communities you’re working in. “

“This process is multi-tiered, because not only is there the village setting, there is the wider context of the government. The Haitian government has a monopoly on electricity, which does not reach a majority of the population – only 1 in 8 Haitians have access. Power cannot be sold through a line without concessions from the government. Our technology bypasses that, which at first made us appear like major competition. However, when EDH (L’Électricité d’Haïti) officials visited our villages, they encountered people who now understood the economics of electricity; that one needed to purchase it. This resulted in more customers for EDH, and allowed us to move our station to a more remote area. We showed that we could compliment and assist EDH in providing more light to more people without directly competing with them. We are now ready to deploy the sustainable business model proven in Haiti to new locations in Africa. We estimate that after 5 years of operating 10 stations, owners should have enough revenue to double their businesses.”


“Another way that Sirona empowers is that we leave quite a bit of the revenue at the sight where it was generated. It gives the operator at that station the ability to manage and negotiate their side of the business. We needed to prove that what we were doing was economically sustainable. In Haiti there is no delineation for non-profits – just charities or businesses. So we started a corporation and applied for new-business incentives packages. We are operated in Haiti by Haitians, we pay Haitian taxes and we are in the black – there is enough money to cover the operations budget and add new systems organically. It’s a social enterprise.”

“Also, it’s extremely important that you introduce the ‘thing they want’ for the ‘thing they need it for’. I’ve seen so many technologies used for entirely different purposes; taken apart, re-used for unintended purposes because it made more sense culturally. It’s unfortunate to see, because if the right thing had been delivered to the right people we would see positive change.”

One Earth Designs – Sol Source Ovens

                  “My first attempt at introducing solar cookers was with a very simple cardboard and aluminum model. I worked with a village cook to try to encourage the use of this technology, but she was extremely reluctant to try this new technology. Part of the problem is that people in dire poverty are risk-averse – if food isn’t ready on time, then people don’t eat for the day. It’s also a matter of education: If someone doesn’t understand the light optics, or how to focus the solar cookers, then they won’t be able to effectively utilize them.”

“My recent endeavors have utilized the Sol Source parabolic oven, which was culturally more appropriate because Haitians prefer to cook their food with direct heat; char-grilled or fried. Unpredictable weather and time constraints among women meant that food had to be prepared quickly, with no time for slow-cooking. We distributed these ovens using a lease-to-own program. What often goes awry in solar-oven projects is that they are given away or sold at an extremely low price to whoever shows up and looks interested, though they may not be the most suitable candidates for the technology. In our program, the functions and limitations of the parabolic cookers are well explained, so that people can make informed decisions about whether it is right for them or not. Users pay $5 a month, and if they see no benefits from using the cookers than they can return them to the social entrepreneurs. We’ve trained two social entrepreneurs to provide training and distribution, as well as to conduct monthly surveys to track fuel and solar usage. From one season to the next, charcoal prices can go up multiple times. All of these considerations need to be taken into account when measuring impact.”


“The social enterprise we set up has the right incentives structure for the entrepreneurs to make money and want to expand their business. The micro-finance institutions we leveraged for support were also well established, and helpful at finding the best social entrepreneurs for the job –in this case, women.”

Toilets for People – Sanitation

“It’s hard to know what will work and what won’t – every community is different. The NGO that you’re working with needs to be extremely knowledgeable and have an interest in the community. The first NGO we worked with wasn’t top-notch, but we didn’t know that going in. This required us to do a lot of background interviews in the target community before we were ready to start building. In another instance, having a much better NGO made all the difference. The NGO already had all of the background information, and all of the training had already been done. The community already understood what composting was, and the basics behind our system. Implementing this new technology was made much easier because we had a foundation that was stable.”

“As outsiders, we assume communities in developing countries don’t know very much about new technology, but a lot of times they really do. In our case, people understood that composting waste needed to be dry, so when we explained to them how this method would be safer and more sanitary, they already understood. Make sure your bases are covered, but don’t assume that they don’t know what’s going on. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.”

“It’s also critical to understand the social dynamics of the community; their leadership, hierarchy, and means of governance. Some communities have a solid democratic system where everyone gets a voice, in which communal toilets might be the best option. In these settings there are systems in place to keep people in check and enforce maintenance and cleaning. This isn’t always going to work, because well-managed facilities can be abused through collective action problems. So there’s more to the technology than just the technology itself. It’s not just that a composting toilet can solve the problem, as there are all the other aspects of governance and society to consider. It’s important to look at the bigger picture; understanding the educational needs and community structures of the area you’re going into will enable you to tailor your work to a specific community.”


“Sanitation requires an initial amount of adoption, at least by some members of the community, before it can be scaled up. Sanitation is something that we all deal with every day, but that we don’t talk about. It’s the same in most other cultures –people don’t discuss going to the bathroom openly. Everyone needs to be brought on board and made to realize that the issue is important. If people truly believe that the issue is critically important, then scalability is possible.”

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TIDES Reports on ICCM Conference

On November 7-9 TIDES Founder, Dr. Linton Wells attended the International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM  2014) at the New School in New York City. The theme of this year’s event, Affected Communities in Spotlight, focused on better engaging and understanding populations as the primary reference frame during a disaster.

The annual ICCM is a very important humanitarian technology forum, bringing together key humanitarian, human rights, development and media organizations with exceptional technology companies, software developers and academics.  It is a neutral space where important conversations can lead to concrete new projects and deliverables across diverse domains.  As a community of practice it catalyzes innovation in the area of human technology.

Nigel Snoad of the Google Crisis Response Team was the MC and outlined the importance of finding better ways to serve affected populations and the ultimate end users (people whose lives are at risk or who want to make their lives better).  As he noted, “Mapping is not just plots on a 2-D space, mapping is about telling stories.”

The schedule was divided into four parts: Pre-conference training and field trips on Nov 6, A series of 22 five-minute “ignite” sessions, plus three keynote speakers on the 7th, Deep dive project reviews and a real world field mapping exercise on the 8th, and Self-organizing sessions and wrap-up discussions on the 9th

Supporting the overall theme above, the ignite sessions broke down into a few broad categories:

  • Real world experiences, in the Philippines, with the American Red Cross, the Czech government, etc.
  • Project Descriptions, ranging from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to communications & alerting systems, to information sharing protocols, etc.
  • Gender issues in crisis response
  • Legal, medical, privacy and ethics concerns

Some of the highlighted questions that arose included:

  • How to handle risk to people in vulnerable communities. What should be shared and what should be private?
  • There are many crises today: Ebola, human trafficking, drugs, food (800 million people don’t have enough food), failure to mitigate climate change, income disparity (1% of people have 40% of the world’s wealth), youth unemployment, Iraq, Ukraine, etc. What are the causes and effects?
  • Can S&T improve the environment? Can it end hunger?
  • Humanitarian data exchange is important—how do you communicate info from digital maps to people who are used to white paper for maps? What happens if we get too dependent on technology?
  • How do you take the politics out of violent conflict situations?

The co-keynote speakers included: Ms. Atefah Riazi, Chief Information Technology Officer & Assistant Secretary General, United Nations; Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Chief, World Humanitarian Summit, United Nations, and The Rt. Hon David Miliband, President, International Rescue Committee
The field mapping exercise used New York’s Union Square as a “crisis response hot zone” and produced an exceptionally rich and interesting set of mapping products and human interactions in just a few hours.

Dr. Wells truly appreciates all the creativity and agility and anticipates that the theme of ICCM 2015, in Boston in conjunction with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), will be: How to put Crisis Mapping in the shoes of survivors? A goal will be to put user-based thinking at the heart of the efforts. The full trip report, which contains useful links, can be found at:

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