Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kizingo and Kipungani

Almost 4 years ago, my new wife and I spent our honeymoon in East Africa. As a part of that excellent trip, we stayed a few nights at a resort on the southern shore of Lamu island, off the northern coast of Kenya. The resort has changed names (now Kizingo) and hands, now being owned by the folks that were managing it when we stayed: Mary Jo and Louis Van Aardt. It's a gorgeous and primitive setting! The resort is walking distance from the village of Kipungani, and Mary Jo and Louis support the schools there.

I mention all this because I've gotten the idea that someone could use a wiki (which will go nameless for at least one post) to provide information about all sorts of worthy and ready villages that would like some support in different kinds of projects. Some villages (like Ngelenge) are somehow able to establish their own websites, but I expect that's unusual.

So, I got this idea, but didn't really know how to try it out. I scrounged around the web trying to find Mary Jo and Louis (whose names I had forgotten). Got a bit tricky, since the place had changed hands and names, but there aren't that many primitive resorts on Lamu :-). I dropped an email and Mary Jo "promptly" wrote back. (Promptly means within a couple of days when she had a chance to load her small desktop computer into her small motorboat and put-put-put around the island to Lamu Town where they actually have steady power and a phone connection that will allow her to send and receive email. I'm tellin' ya, the place is primitive. But I don't want to make it too attractive. What's something negative? Hmm. Oh! Okay, here goes: There are no shops! No restaurants! No taxis! Heck, no cars! Generator runs just 2 hours a day! Want a newspaper? Sorry! Anyway, you get the idea...)

The long and short of it is, I have now asked Mary Jo if she might be able to help me connect with Kipungani village and use them as the "guinea pig" for this "host village page" notion that I have.

What will she say? Don't know. We'll have to wait for her next boat trip. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Confessions of a carbon junkie

AUSTRALIANS NOTE: you can see see An Inconvenient Truth for free. Intrepid Travel's CEO explains why he's picking up the tab:

This year Intrepid will carry 50,000 travellers and on average each will fly about 17,000 kilometres to and from their destination. That’s about 850 million kilometres. If you go to the Climatecare website it also works out to about 135,000 tons of CO2. Youch...

As happens with tipping points, Al Gore’s movie was about to be launched and so went to a preview screening of that. I walked out and thought, “Well, if I do nothing else, at least I can encourage people to see that film. That alone will help to change behaviours and start to make a difference.” So we offered to refund the ticket price if people sent us their movie ticket stubs. So far about 1,500 people have – but I’m hoping a lot more will...

I’m planning for Intrepid to become a carbon neutral travel company in the next three years. Call that an epiphany? No, just common sense and self-interest: if we want people to travel, we have to do something to ensure there is a world worth travelling in.

from Confessions of a carbon junkie, on Crikey. (I recommend the full article - it's not very long.)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Engineers Without Borders, Unlimited

I just spent several minutes reading the Mission and Vision of EWB-USA. What a remarkable group! Now, I have to acknowledge that there are tons of remarkable groups out there. Still, I'm struck by their approach, captured in this sentence:

EWB-USA promotes a new way of thinking for the engineering profession and provides unique opportunities for engineers to work in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders such as communities, social scientists, public health officials, economists, businesses, and international development organizations.

What I really like about this is the straightforward acknowledgement of the large eco-system that is involved in making change happen in the third world. EWB's articulate vision helps me to clarify my own vision. I want to help facilitate this eco-system!

What can be done to facilitate? Pardon my geekness, but I'll answer it this way. One kind of facilitation can be achieved through publishing "open API's". (API's are "application programming interfaces".) What I mean is, if each stakeholder, or group of stakeholders, openly announces the ways in which they prefer to connect with or work with the other stakeholders (i.e. "interface"), then the various players can much more easily support one another. Here's my example.

EWB mentions the social scientists group. I take that to include anthropologists, who may be doing regional assessments, like Paul Farmer, the MD/Anthropology PhD, did in Haiti. In an "open API" approach, EWB could proactively say, "If any of you anthropologist groups happen to be performing assessing a region, here's the information that we would really find usefu for determining water supply issues, and here's another set that's very helpful for building schools." Chances are, adding a few items to an assessment is only incrementally more work. Then the village organizations can chip in and gather much of the information in the absence of anthropologists. Another group, like Engineers for a Sustainable World, can say "Here's our list of desired info for planning sanitation projects." Then the economists and health professionals can chime in with reports that help prioritize (the unfortunate reality) of schools with respect to hospitals for a given region. Charitable organizations and NGOs can plan fundraising for different kinds of projects because they have a fair idea of the cost. Social scientists can train for the appropriate translation skills because they know the topics that need to be covered. Pretty soon, Version 2.0 of the API's evolves, and each group gets what they need without having to repeat half of the effort of another group.

With "standardized interfaces", each group can do its job more effectively. The work becomes a little bit "commoditized", which helps, but there is still room for "differentiation", and different approaches. That's cool, because the more, the merrier. A little "healthy competition" keeps us all at the top of our game.

So, thank you, EWB! For supporting the Sustainable Development Open API Version 1.0! I look forward to the first release of the draft standard. And it won't surprise you to hear that I'd like to see the draft published at Appropedia. That's what we're about over there: sharing information.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Better than handouts: Doing it for themselves

"It makes me proud to be a Bangladeshi" said an SMS that a friend received from Bangladesh. In case you missed it, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank have been awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Microfinance, as pioneered by Yunus and the Grameen Bank, treats the poor as competent people who can make use of the same services as anyone else, (including credit and savings accounts) and with hard work, can improve their own lot.

That's development as it should be.

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Appropedia gains momentum

I'm excited to see the level of activity at Appropedia at the moment - every day when I check the recent changes, there's new pages and more maintenance being done to improve the site.

I'm not able to spend all the time I'd like to, but I also keep coming across stuff I want to put on Appropedia. So I've been trying to focus, and avoid getting into the discussions too much, only contributing where I've got something to add and leaving much of it to other competent contributors. Not easy for a natural-born schmoozer like me. But I'm still keeping an eye on things, and adding material when I can - I just added Human-powered devices‎ and Washing and drying clothes.

I'm very
much appreciating the work that Curt, Lonny and others are putting in. It feels so much more active (well, it is much more active) with Curt on board. With more awareness-raising, things will get even better.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How to sign yourself up for a Mission

Well, we've been busy over at Appropedia. So busy (most visibly, we just went live with our new Main Page) that I haven't been doing my homework! So, of course, I'll take it out on you.

Here's my assignment: answer 5 questions as a part of developing a new mission statement for Appropedia. This came up on a discussion page a couple weeks back, and Lonny recruited a friend who knows how to do these things. She came forth with the questions below (which are currently on the "Talk" page of the Mission page linked above). I'll work on answering them here.

First, clear your mind. Now, envision Appropedia 5 years into the future:

What are your highest hopes for Appropedia?
  • My hopes are not for Appropedia as such. My hopes are for the masses of struggling people. I mean the billions that are living at or near the poverty line, living on a dollar a day. My hopes are that the millions, perhaps tens or even hundreds of millions, of concerned and relatively well off humans, will have the information and tools that they seek, and are able to work together to drive change in other parts of the world, as well as at home. (I am also hopeful for the wealthiest billion, who I believe are at long term risk of losing a home, but that challenge is probably beyond 5 years.)
What do you see happening as a result of Appropedia: within your field, locally, nationally, globally? Who is involved in Appropedia?
  • I see dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of small independent organizations, from volunteer groups to think tanks to large charitable groups to local 3rd world community groups, coming to Appropedia (or "son of Appropedia") to share or get the information they need and to reach other groups that they seek to connect with. Successes will breed successes: here is an effective way to drill a well; over here is a good process for assessing community health needs; this page tells you about the best solar cookers; another page shows how to build school houses out of appropriate local materials in a variety of environments; all of this can be done with less environmental impact to assure that progress is not short term, only to slide back. Common errors are called out to help guide success. Contact information for experienced hands-on experts is available. Volunteers prime themselves by reading articles on the region and type of project. Like-mineded people can connect with others.
(I grouped two questions together because they seem inseperable to me.)

What has changed from the present state?
  • The biggest change from the present state is that it becomes easier to share the information you have developed, and easier to find the information you need.
What are the greatest accomplishments?
  • In a 5 year timeframe (2011), the greatest accomplishment will be the demonstration that the Millenium Development Goals are in fact achievable, by 2015 as targeted, through achievements of a massive army of well informed and aligned volunteers, charitable organizations and local community groups.
And another cool thing is that my 3 year old son will grow up watching this happen. When he's 8, he'll have a much different perspective on the world than I did when I was 8. Now that's inspiring!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Wiki Synergy Project

At the moment, I'm trying to think about key strategic ways to advance the aims of Appropedia, i.e. promoting sustainable development and providing and developing ways to beat poverty. The ultimate aim is not to promote Appropedia, but rather the good things that Appropedia stands for.

One of my concerns is that there's a lot of small groups working on these issues, and they could really benefit by sharing information more effectively. For example, instead of having multiple wikis about sustainability issues, why not focus our effort on just the active one(s)? And let's avoid duplicating our efforts - there's no point in two groups developing the same resource in two different places.

See The Wiki Synergy Project (at WikiIndex) for more info, especially the section on Sustainability, environment, & international development wikis. If you follow the links, you'll see the various wikis on these topics - some of which are active, many of which are not.

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Chris here...

Glad to be on board here. I'm fairly new to blogging, and currently pre-occupied with personal stuff, but will post from time to time. Thanks for the welcome - I think you have overstated my language skills, but it's true I am fascinated with language. The only foreign language I speak fluently is Indonesian, but I plan to learn others (and currently learning Tetum, as I'm applying for a volunteer position as an election observer in East Timor).

At busy times like this, I'm glad to be contributing to a wiki like Appropedia. I can contribute in a big or small way, and the contribution stays there for someone else to build on. I can also come back any time and join in again. It's a great technology for collaboration, and for building an information resource.

About my username: If you want to find me on the web, just google Singkong2005 - this is the username I use when contributing to wikis, commenting, asking questions, writing vegetarian recipes or whatever. Feel free to call me Chris, Singkong (Indonesian for cassava) or Singkong2005.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Growing Resolution

Exciting news! Chris Watkins (aka Singkong, aka Singkong2005) has agreed to join the Resolution blog as a co-author!

Woohoo! Let's do the wave!

I've introduced you to Chris before; he is the wiki-savvy water and sanitation engineer from Australia, with serious experience in Indonesia (check out his Wikipedia user profile), who introduced me to Appropedia. We've decided that, despite some potential challenges, collaborating in blogspace was a good way to express our support for other collaborative efforts, including wikis and Open Design concepts in general.

I am very pleased to have Chris on board! There is some potential that, in a positive competitive/collaborative spirit, both of us will post more than we would as solo bloggers. And now you'll benefit by getting two (perhaps closely aligned? perhaps not so?) viewpoints for the price of one! I've asked him to do most of his posting in English but it's fine with me if he uses his other 3 languages now and then. Ach, wohl. Hoffentlich kann ich Deutsch ein bißchen besser als Chris schreiben!

Welcome, Singkong!

(Okay, partner, your turn at bat!)

(Hm. Hope the new kid gets the baseball reference.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Appropedia Action

It's (not) been a quiet week in Appropedia, my home town. (What the heck? Okay, Garrison Keillor says something like that about Lake Wobegon.)

We've been pretty active over there, and it's starting to bear fruit. Even without aggressive promotion (fear not, it'll come!), we've gotten some notice in several great spots. Engineers Without Borders International has recognized Appropedia as a Solution of the Month for September, and they've also added the wiki to their list of Comprehensive Appropriate and Sustainable Technologies Databases and placed among their list of 12 phenomenal Useful Tools! Ethan Zuckerman has recognized Appropedia as a "very cool idea" and added a link. And Appropedia got great mention on O2 Nederlands.

Meanwhile, several new contributors have shown up and added content. A lot of house cleaning and yardwork have been furiously going on, improving the usability of the site. We're in the final stages before an "open house". That's my perspective; while we haven't been keeping the doors tightly shut, we haven't sent out a zillion invitations either. Once we've gotten all our ducks in a row and vacuumed under the beds and cleaned the windows, we're gonna put onour Sunday best and have our coming out party. (Okay, yeah, I did mix a few metaphors there, but you get the idea.)

One of the things we've been working on is our mission statement. This is a very useful idea, of course. Most of the people scurrying around and getting stuff done all think pretty much alike, and the mission seems fairly obvious. But it helps to find ways to articulate it, and that's what we're working on now. In addition, this exercise helps us make sure we're thinking as BIG as we can. Some stop by the Appropedia Mission discussion page and help us think big!

Another effort has been to create a more colorful and inviting Main Page. I was perfectly happy with it, until I visited some really nice sites. (One site has a great looking main page, but no activity in the last 30 days. ) We're incorporating some of those great ideas at our test page, and will be going live with that shortly.

So, if you don't get an invitation very soon, it's, um, just that I misplaced your address. Drop me a note or comment! Y'all come! Invite your friends!

See you soon at the wiki.