Friday, August 29, 2008

What inspires you??

What music inspires you to make the world better?? (photo courtesy: FadderUri)

Echoing Green's Anthony is trying to figure out what music really inspires you to make the world a better place.

Submit your list and win a prize!

Here's what you need to do:

Prepare a list of your songs (artist and title) OR a digital mix tape of your favorite “Bold Songs.” Your mix should contain eight to ten tracks that motivate you to make the world a better place. We recommend that you make your mix using either of the following free services:

  • – Upload your songs in mp3 format or browse their network to stream your mix tape. We love this new site - we hope you check it out. If you use, please start the title of your mix with the words "Bold Songs." Here's a great screencast to get you started.
  • iTunes iMix – Create a downloadable mix tape using Apples iTunes software. For help, see this excellent tutorial.

I’ve prepared a sample entry in the comments below. We can’t wait to listen to what you come up with!

The rules:

Submit your mix by September 12nd at 5pm EST by leaving a comment on this blog post (below) with a link to your digital mix tape OR simply leave a comment containing a list of your songs (artist and title). Your comment must also contain a short statement about why you chose these songs. Additionally, entries with profanity or hate speech will be disqualified. All entries that meet these criteria will be entered into a contest for a 4GB iPod nano. Entries will be judged on their creativity and theme by a panel of Echoing Green staffers. The winner will be announced on September 15th at 5pm EST. The winner will have thirty days to claim their iPod prize. The contest is open to anyone except for Echoing Green staff and our beloved family members (and former staff/interns and their family members, etc). Questions? Email me at

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Water crisis?

We are in the middle of a water crisis. But what does that mean?? (photo courtesy: misteriddles)

I've been curious about what the "water crisis" means. Everyone's talking about it, but no one's actually quantified the problem. Is it a water supply problem? Is it lack of accessibility to water? Is it lack of technology development? Is it increasing pollution??

One might say all (though I would like to argue that tech development is not one of them). But what's the biggest one??

sat Aguanomics blogger and water economist David Zetland down to sort out the same issue. Check out the interview here (portion follows...)

We’re in a water crisis.

Before I talked to economist and creator of Aguanomics David Zetland, those two words–water + crisis—made me scratch my head.

I’ve visited developing countries with water problems in the past. In many of those places, water trucks refill tanks located on the tops of buildings, and consumers have to haul their daily dihydrogen monoxide home in buckets. Here in the States, however, there’s plenty of water flowing from our taps. All the time.

According to Zetland, that illusion of plenty–endless water flowing from our taps–is part of the problem.

Business Pundit interviewed Zetland, who was recently been featured in Forbes and on Fox Business News, to get a primer on the water crisis—and how to solve it. Below are notes from the interview.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Composting Toilets

But for the sign, would you know that this was a composting toilet?? (photo courtesy:

Having covered waterless urinals, its time to talk about Composting Toilets. If animals can make manure, why can't we??

Actually we can. Make did a great write up on the subject, including several resources about human manure.

Like waterless urinals, it would be great to incorporate composting toilets. But the reality of the situation is that it probably won't happen. This is a classic case of sociological issues rather than technology issues. There are just TOO many psychological issues to contend with. I can't get friends of mine to stop drinking bottled water in the United States (where tap water quality is excellent), because they are worried about germs in the tap water...I have no hopes with the composting toilets. And these are all people with college degrees from good schools!!

But maybe it'll have to become like the Darfuri solar cookstoves, where there are strong negative incentives that force people to use the technology. If things got so bad in the U.S, maybe we'd start using solar cookstoves, or composting toilets to save the planet (well, more like save ourselves).

How a composting toilet works
Build a composting toilet for $25
Is Humanure safe?

Profile of one of the many composting toilet designs (photo:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


An Indian Schoolbus (photo courtesy: Only in India, Oddee)

Check out Oddee, a blog that highlights interesting things from around the world in pictures...things like:

World's most worthless money (I've used two of those currencies and its ridiculous to be carrying around so much in your pocket. On one hand you feel really rich, and on the other, you feel really ripped off!)

Only in India (I laughed so hard; but ironically too true!)

10 Crazy Japanese Ideas
(They even have a word for useless Japanese inventions. It escapes me...but there is a book about it. Here's more to keep you going!)

World's Funniest Fortune Cookies Ever (I've always wondered who these people are who sit around writing the fortunes all day)

10 Most Bizarre Scientific Papers (seriously, PhD's are overrated!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Water Problem

This is a debate that could take ages to figure out - what do we do about our water and who is responsible?? A controversial documentary "Flow" is on its way out. See the trailer below. Also see Water Economist David Zetland's response. He blogs on it twice.

I am torn between the two points of view.

(I am a regular reader of David's blog and have tremendous respect for his opinions. But, like every economist, he needs a bit of practicality to his theories. I honestly think that if he worked with an engineer and urban planner (who added practicality to his points of view), we could get some seriously robust water infrastructure churned out...rather than it just being a bunch of talk. Get out there David!!)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Power of Do-it-Yourself

I'm a HUGE fan of DIY (do it yourself) sites. And there's a ton of them out there. One of the biggest things missing for the poor is the lack of access to information. Its not only that they aren't educated, but they can't read, and there is no place to fix it - no libraries, no schools for adults, no videos to learn from. They are stymied on several levels.

I often feel like Encyclopedia Brittanica when I'm "in the field." Frankly I should carry a set of them into the field (I would if I didn't have a ton of other things to take!). People assume that because I know a little bit about something, that I know everything. Sometimes I get the randomest questions ("why is the moon white?" or "why do Asians have slanty eyes??"). I honestly tell them that I don't know. But that's never a good enough answer. When I was a kid and people told me that, I'd keep asking the same question over and over until I got smacked or my question was answered. (I still do, only I get smacked around in a different way) So even now, I try to look their questions up and find an answer...if I can.

There are a range of new DIY sites out that can easily fix this problem. Want to learn to make a plough?? Here... OR Want to make biodiesel?? Here... And the best part is that you don't need to know how to read. You can listen and understand and watch and learn. Nothing like trying something out yourself and learning.

Forbes recently did a piece on the new DIY generation. It profiles all the names behind the best DIY sites out.

Make magazine and Instructables are my favorites. You oughta check them out. Here's an example of "Make Biodiesel." Pretty cool stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Emeka Okafor and good blogs on Africa

Emeka Okafor at the TED Global conference

I've done some research on TED Africa. Turns out that Emeka Okafor is the brains behind this amazing conference. He also has a major presence in the African blogosphere. Check out his excellent blogs Africa Unchained, and Timbuktu Chronicles. They are some of the best I've come across and he leads you to a million others...Africans writing about Africa.

Emeka has his hands in several African ventures, including Caranda Fine Foods, that sources gourmet teas and coffees from around Sub Saharan Africa. Caranda products can be found in most Whole Foods stores.

An interview with Emeka by The African Executive
Another interview with WhiteAfrican

Thursday, August 21, 2008

George Ayittey, and TED Africa

Following up on my Africa rant from yesterday, I thought I'd let someone else (more qualified) take over: George Ayittey. Here is his fiery talk from TED Africa:

I would also encourage to look at other videos on the site. SO encouraging and heartwarming and impassioned. I've heard nothing but praise on the blogosphere about this conference. People have even claimed it to be the launching point for the revival of Sub Saharan Africa!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evidence of Ancient African Societies

Paul Sereno and Elena Garcea excavate adjacent burials at Gobero, the largest graveyard discovered to date in the Sahara. (photo courtesy: New York Times)

Sadly, very little is known about ancient African societies. I got into a long discussion with a good West African friend of mine about this. I kept asking him for books about ancient African societies (outside of the Egyptians). Surely they must have had civilizations; but where's the information about it?? He voiced equal amounts of frustration. There were a few; but hardly any had the information we were looking for. As a student in Africa, so little of your history lessons are focused on your own country or continent. Most of it is focused on the world, and is extremely euro-centric (stunner!). But more frustrating than anything else is the fact that only a miniscule percentage of Africans even seem to care! Most of you might say...well, they are struggling for survival, so they don't have time! Well, I've seen evidence enough of well-fed Africans running around who have the time and money, but don't care...

In one of the (possibly) biggest archaeological stories of the century, the NY Times reported on a set of graves from the pre-Stone Age period that have been found in the Saharan desert. Pictures and history are slowly making their way out of there. How wonderful. Apparently the desert used to be lush and green. There's so much to learn from our past, so we don't make the same mistakes again. Hopefully more stories like this will make their way out. And hopefully it'll be Africans uncovering their biggest stories in the future!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A design competition for the homeless

The Homeless Utility Vehicle (source:

Homeless guy writes about a great design competition taking place for homeless people. He writes:
There is at least one serious design competition for designers, architects, and engineers which focuses on customized shopping carts for homeless people. The results are quite varied. From time to time, people ask me for advice on their designs.

There is a place for such considerations as improving the conditions of homelessness, for the reality is, there is no cure for homelessness. Still, we should give equal time and attention towards ending homelessness, so that such contraptions are no longer necessary.

Design Boom
Student Design

education, olympics, water, and aid effectiveness

1. On the education theme, a NYT piece on rebuilding schools the better way, thanks to Katrina.

2. On the Olympic theme, Why India has so few Olympic medals, by Tyler Cowen. Don't miss the discussion comments at the end. Great discussion!

3. On the water theme, aguanomics takes on the World Bank's advising policies.

4. A GREAT write-up on aid effectiveness by Maurice.

5. Treehugger on how Bangladesh is capitalizing on its PET trash.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rise and Fall of Pervez Musharraf

Photo courtesy: Financial Times

I often wonder about military dictatorships in the developing world. These work quite well sometimes (eg. General Park's influence on South Korea; and arguably Fidel Castro's effect on Cuba, and all the kingdoms of yore that had good kings); but generally the end result is quite the opposite (too numerous to mention). I'm torn about dictatorships. My own theory is that benevolent dictatorship is the best way out of the instability of war or poor governance that afflicts so many countries in the developing world. Democracy doesn't work so well because of the time it takes to bring consensus, and because the consensus is so corrupt (votes are bought from the uneducated masses).

Sadly, benevolent dictatorships rarely happen. Its TOO easy to get drunk with the power and wealth that come with the position. And while many start with good intentions, they are quickly seduced by the "fringe benefits" and the country does far worse very quickly.

Musharraf started off similarly. He took over Pakistan in a bloodless coup, and replaced a truly useless politician (Nawaz Sharif). People were only too happy to support the change. But then Musharraf was quickly seduced, as everyone else is. I can't say that he's done much for anyone but himself in the past few years. And now he's "stepping down" and being replaced by another lacking politician. I wonder...when will Pakistan be finally able to be something truly great??

Watch this great Time photoessay on the "Rise and Fall of Pervez Musharraf." Also read this past post about my thoughts on Pakistan - a country with tremendous potential, suffering under mediocre leadership!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Twitter's a dud in Africa...and more...

1. Read WhiteAfrican's great post on why Twitter's low penetration in Africa matters

2. The Importance of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, by Tactical Philanthropy

3. PSFK's find: Camera for the Blind. I think more technologies for the disabled should be developed.

4. NY Times does an amazing graphic visual on Olympic game dominance by country, over the years. Its simply fascinating to see the evolution!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting Kids Involved in the Poverty Dialogue

Get kids involved in the dialogue early! (photo courtesy: Josh Hough)

BOPreneur blogger, Paul Hudnut has written an excellent blog entry about getting kids engaged in the poverty dialogue. He provides 6 ideas for moving forward:

It is that time of year... students are coming back on campus, faculty are scrambling to finalize syllabi. Sustainable design, social entrepreneurship, and and international development are hot topics on campus. If you are a teacher planning coursework in these areas (or at their "intersection"), or if you are a student that wants to do a project in one of your classes, check out these resources [...]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What defines a BoP business??

As BoP markets are being studied better, more standardized terminology is entering the business. Here NextBillion guestblogger Monica Touesnard blogs about what defines a BoP business.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Waterless Urinals

Kohler's line of waterless urinals (photo courtesy:

You are probably cringing as I write this. I did too. Men's bathrooms smell bad enough with running water...imagine how bad it could be without water!

One of my biggest annoyances when I'm traveling through developing countries is the presence of the ubiquitous man-facing-the-wall-and-peeing-wherever-he-feels-like-it. Many guys suggest that my irritation comes from not being anatomically endowed to do it myself. I disagree. My irritation comes from the sheer inconsiderate and unsanitary nature of this behavior. Many developing countries have enough waste and sanitation problems without having to deal with issues like this.

But there are water problems and the smell from many urinals is often unbearable, so can waterless urinals really work?? Apparently so.

How do they work??

How a waterless urinal works (photo courtesy:

Fascinating stuff. Apparently they require little maintenance, and no water; and still are odorless and sanitary. This makes it perfect for the developing Falcon Waterfree Technologies has already shown by installing their line in the men's bathrooms at the Taj Mahal in India.

Here are some posts about waterless urinals:
No Flush Urinal
Waterless Urinal

Waterless Urinals already being used in Japanese Train Stations

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympians turned Entrepreneurs

1992 Olympian Mary Mazzio on the set of "Apple Pie" (photo courtesy: Spoiler Alert Radio)

So on my Olympics binge today, I discovered this great article about Olympian Entrepreneurs. I've always wondered what happens to these amazing athletes. Lornah's story is just one (there is a similar story about India's famed runner P.T Usha, who went on to start her own girl's sports academy). But what about the rest...particularly those with access to better resources??

Check out the Forbes article. Probably the coolest of the outlined bunch is Mary Mazzio, U.S rower extraordinaire from the 1992 Olympics, who went on to get a J.D and a film degree after the Olympics and finally founded her own film company, 50 eggs. The company mostly produces award-winning documentaries about stories that others overlook - working moms, moms of athletes, moms of entrepreneurs. BusinessPundit wrote a great profile on Mary, and I agree with her...we need more of her out there.

BTW, Mary didn't win a medal in the Olympics (nor did P.T Usha for that matter). But really does it matter??

Stuck in a warzone

You've probably been following the ridiculous david-vs-goliath war going on between Georgia and Russia. I think war is dumb and should be used as an absolutely last resort. And stupid men should not rule countries, because they go into war so its a G.I Joe game.

I just read a particularly touching note on a blog somewhere. A Georgian actress wrote this journal entry appeal that ended up on a blog. Its very raw and real. She, like many other innocent people, is stuck in the middle of this war that she had nothing to do with (like all stupid wars).

Run Lornah Run

Lornah Kiplagat, Kenyan (now Dutch) long-distance runner (photo courtesy: PBS/Frontline)

The Olympics are on right now, much to my own delight. I love watching and getting into the Olympic spirit. I always get annoyed with the U.S media's obsession with their own athletes and how many medals they win, but atleast they show the Olympics! I remember being on assignment in South Asia during the 2006 winter olympics, and I was furious that I couldn't catch the opening ceremony. Ten channels were dedicated to cricket highlights (a most useless game, in my opinion), without a single allusion to the world's greatest sport show!

For me the greatest thing is seeing female athletes from developing countries. Women aren't encouraged to play sports or compete in many of these cultures. In fact, they are often discouraged. As I have been told many times myself, "what's the point of girls playing sports...they only get married and work in the kitchen! Sports are for boys only." I still don't get that logic...but whatever! If women end up becoming sports legends, its often because they did it on their own or with the help of a small (1-3 people) supportive group, against the wishes of a vast majority of the people around them. So even to be on a world stage, without medaling, is a HUGE deal! I wish more media stories captured these struggles and celebrated these women.

Back in 2004, PBS profiled one such amazing athlete, a Kenyan athlete by the name of Lornah. After competing successfully in a series of long distance events, she took her money back home to invest in developing the next generation of female Kenyan runners. Its a beautiful story! Watch it here (

Monday, August 11, 2008

Imitating Photosynthesis, a breakthrough in Storage technology

Nature's most efficient energy producer and storage device: the green leaf (photo courtesy: Luca5)

Nature's most efficient energy maker?? The green leaf. In a process called photosynthesis, the leaf, uses chlorophyll to capture solar energy, water and carbon dioxide, and efficiently converts it into oxygen, water and starch/sugar. The leaf distributes the sugar/starch within the plant system, releases the oxygen for the world to breathe, and either keeps or discharges the water.

Oxygen is that thing that we breathe in and need to survive, and it is a great fuel source.

For years, scientists have tried unsuccessfully to mimic the green leaf. Then last week, renowned MIT Professor of Chemistry, Dan Nocera, announced a breakthrough. He had finally found a way to artificially mimic the leaf. I think he deserves (and frankly, he just might get it!) a Nobel Prize for this research. Its THAT big!

Why?? Free energy for the world...

To quote PSFK:

Scientists at MIT have developed what may be the holy grail of of solar power. In the past, the problem with solar was keeping the electricity flowing at night. Storing excess energy for use after sundown has traditionally been really expensive and highly inefficient. Now, by mimicking the way plants store energy MIT has created a way to store solar power in fuel cells that can keep power running around the clock.

MIT News reports:

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

Solar Cookers in Darfur

Different versions of Solar cookers

Time Magazine did a great photoessay on solar cookers being disseminated in Darfur.

The photoessay proves a very important point...that all technology has its place.

While solar cookers are environmentally friendly and convenient in many ways (less labor/time intensive than gathering wood), they've never quite caught on in the developing world. I've never been to a village where solar cookers were being used, even in areas of extensive sun/heat where firewood was scarce! I even came across a couple of villages where the cookers were given away for free as part of some program. The women/families would pull it out when guests came and do a short demo. But for everyday use, they still preferred firewood and its smokiness.

The reasons were mainly:
  • most women cooked early in the morning and later in the evening, before the family had awoken, when sun light/heat is at its lowest. During the day, they were out collecting wood for light, heat, and cooking (which solar cookers can't compensate for) and doing other income generating activities.
  • the last thing any of these women wanted to do was sit out in the hot sun and cook (its the same reason why smoky cookstoves are placed inside the house rather than outside)
  • flies and bugs are ubiquitous outside (inside too, but they are minimal compared to the outside). Cooking out in the open is simply less comfortable and sanitary. This is another reason for why women prefer to inhale smoke rather than cook outside.
  • the cookers rarely come with instructions/training and aren't have a problem and who do you go to for help??
  • Finally, depending on the culture, women aren't allowed or don't feel safe sitting exposed outside the house for extended periods of time when their husbands aren't around. Cooking outside means being more exposed, less safety, or even asking for trouble. Granted hunting for firewood is dangerous, but its more socially acceptable and there are other women around with you when you are doing your search.

Yet I do believe that the solar cookers in Darfur have a lot of things in their favor:

a. They come in a kit, which means that they are standardized, and they are buildable (which increases ownership!), and they are transportable. Some enterprising person can even take the same kit apart and make their own.

b. They used fairly locally available materials...again some enterprising person can build their own.

c. They come with specialized training. Most women I had met with the free solar cookers didn't quite know how to use them and didn't have the time to invest in sitting idly for three hours cooking food.

d. MOST importantly, the security situation is so bad, that there is a STRONG negative incentive for them to use the cookers. In some ways, they have no other choice but to use the cookers. They probably also spend a lot of day-time in their homes (it being a refugee camp), to allow day-time cooking rather than taking part in income generating activities as you would in a safer/regular part of the world.