OF THE MAN Y PRODUC TS AND TOOLS WE RELY ON DAY TO DAY, the ones that serve us best meet a few basic criteria: they are
convenient, they are affordable, and they fulfill
a functional and beneficial purpose. Those rules
apply for pretty much anyone, anywhere.
If it sounds obvious, these criteria are moving
targets for product developers, depending on
whom they are trying to serve, and developers
whose designs cater to low-income populations around the world often face the steepest
hurdles to meeting these criteria. For one, the
people behind the product ideas rarely belong
to the demographic for which the products are
intended. Whether its an engineer in Mexico City
building a device for rural Mexicans or a university student in the U.S. working on a product
for farmers in Myanmar, product developers are
often far removed from the problems they are
trying to solve. This means they have to stretch
further (and farther) to understand local customs, contexts, and restrictions, in order to build
functional and beneficial solutions. Guaranteeing
affordability and convenience on top of that
poses another set of barriers to serving communities where incomes are low or unpredictable;
where financial services are minimal to non-existent; and where poor infrastructure imposes
logistical costs and constraints.
This issue of Demand features four case studies
that explore the challenge of community access
from multiple angles. In Mexico, one company is
tackling the renewable energy value chain, from
design to delivery to ongoing customer support, to
serve remote communities at the very base of the
pyramid. In Nepal, a women-focused organization
exposes the obstacles to distributing clean tech
products in a nascent and unpredictable market.
And in Africa, a team from Penn State University
is building awareness and demand for small-scale
greenhouses one community at a time.
We lead the issue with the story of how
Proximity Designs leveraged its long-term product
development experience and rural network to
introduce the benefits of low-cost solar irrigation
to Myanmar’s small farmers.
ARUN VENKATESAN is
C TO of Villgro Innovations
Foundation. His area of expertise is materials research and
development, device integration and forward-integration
of technology into tangible,
marketable entities, particularly
in the healthcare and biomedical sector. He holds a Ph.D. in
DANIELE LANTAGNE is
an Assistant Professor in Civil
and Environmental Engineering
at Tufts University. She received
her Ph.D. from the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
and completed her post-doctoral
work at Harvard. Dr. Lantagne
has provided technical assistance
and evaluation of water treatment implementations in more
than 50 countries.
JASON PRAPAS is C TO
and co-founder of Factor(E)
Ventures, a firm that finds,
validates, funds and grows
companies offering innovative
solutions to energy access.
He has been working in
energy R&D for over a decade.
Dr. Prapas holds a Ph.D. in
mechanical engineering from
Colorado State University.
FROM THE EDITOR Jessica Pothering
CONTRIBU TING EDITORS
DIREC TOR, ENGINEERING FOR
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT, ASME
DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS,
ENGINEERING FOR CHANGE
Demand is supported
by the ASME Foundation
ASME (founded as the American Society of
Mechanical Engineers) promotes the art, science
& practice of multidisciplinary engineering and
allied sciences around the globe.
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