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VPI Member Spotlight: Patrick Kwiatkowski and Joe Zook

PK and Zook

History is full of dynamic duos — two talented individuals who find that they can accomplish more by working together. Lewis and Clark. Woodward and Bernstein. Aykroyd and Belushi. Kwiatkowski and Zook. Never heard of the last pair? Well you will, or at least you’ll soon know of their work covering Vort Port International’s (VPI) efforts to enable low-income communities globally to gain access to basic necessities through education, training, and innovation of sustainable technology-based solutions.

VPI’s media team members Patrick Kwiatkowski and Joe Zook both grew up in northern Michigan — Kwiatkowski in the tiny town of Cheboygan, Zook in the even tinier town of Reed City. Their paths crossed when they both were students at Grand Valley State University, having been drawn to video production for similar reasons — each wanted to use storytelling as a way to create social change.

“I find it rewarding and invigorating to survive in a natural environment with only the most essential tools,” Zook explains. “But, perhaps paradoxically, I’ve also always been fascinated with media and creating a record of events that can be engineered to tell a story. I eventually developed an interest in combining the two.”

Joe Zook pic

During college Zook had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout China, shooting documentary and anthropology footage of people operating in an environment far removed from the “modern” world of technology and luxuries, and much more reliant on immediately available natural resources. Traversing through the Himalayas and observing the unelaborate lifestyles of small rural communities helped cement Zook’s interest in exploring the ultimate simplicity of human existence through the complicated technological medium of digital video.

Kwiatkowsk also studied film/video production in college, and found that while he enjoyed producing student work in the film program, he was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the industry itself, finding it to be aggressive, self-important, and wasteful. Wanting to explore film as a means of social discourse and public good, he switched his emphasis to nonfiction media and produced two short documentaries as well as promotional material for the United Way of Ottawa County before graduating.

After college both friends ended up in Brooklyn, working in various types of media production. One day Kwiatkowski received a call from Merry Walker, a friend of a friend, who was looking for a volunteer to produce media content for the new nonprofit she had recently co-founded. Kwiatkowski became the media director for VPI, producing video content for the organization and its projects. He soon recruited Zook to help produce promotional content for each project, utilizing footage shot overseas by other VPI members as well as content produced domestically.

“Joining up with VPI was a no-brainer for us,” Zook shares. “Developing media for an organization that supports renewable and sustainable energy initiatives for the base of the economic pyramid was precisely the opportunity that we were both looking for to contribute our skills and passion for media to a cause that mirrored both of our own personal credos.”

Since joining VPI, the team has produced promotional videos domestically for the organization, as well as provided opinions and insight from a media-minded perspective. They also shared some valuable “training” advice (as well as comic relief) during a series of videos leading up to VPI’s EmpoweRun 5K fundraiser last spring.

PK pic

“The case is made overseas, and the projects are welcomed by those we’re aiming to help. It’s now time for these projects to make their case domestically, and that is where Joe and I come in,” says Kwiatkowski. He is currently working on a live-action spot shot in Washington, D.C., which showcases the prototype bamboo bike in use for Bandha Bikes, a project based in Uganda. And Zook, with the help of artist Valerie Light, is producing a short animation piece introducing the BioD project, based in Madagascar. Both are moving quickly to finish promotional material that can help raise much-needed funds for these two projects, and afterwards they will refocus their efforts on a new spot promoting the organization as a whole.

“Working full-time elsewhere, and spread between other video projects, it can be difficult to find the time to produce enough worthy content for an organization doing so much,” Kwiatkowski admits. The team often relies on the footage shot by other members during their assessments overseas (usually on their smartphones), creating some production challenges. In the future, hopefully there will be funds in the budget for them to travel abroad and document first-hand VPI’s trials, tribulations, and successes in order to better tell the organization’s story as a nonprofit and promote the causes of each project.

“It would be a thrill and an honor to produce content hand-in-hand with the people we work with on the ground overseas, and I’m sure one day we’ll get there,” says Kwiatkowski. “Until then, we are happy to do what we can here in the U.S. Producing content with little to work with puts us in a situation that demands creativity. I like to think Joe and I are up to the challenge.”

Kwiatkowski became a first-time dad in July and hopes to impart on his daughter the importance of being a global citizen, and to do one’s part in a world increasingly stretched thin.

Zook couldn’t agree more. “Ultimately, my goal for this organization is to establish and sustain an active, relatable, and provocative media presence that educates, sparks interest, encourages the public to engage with our organization, and inspires them to utilize their own skillsets to contribute to good causes within and outside of their own communities.”

This blog post was written by Susan Patterson, Marketing and Branding Specialist for Vort Port International.

VPI Member Spotlight: Matt Ford

ImageMatthew Ford is a design engineer with Vort Port International’s Solaii (formerly India Solar Lamps) project. A native of South Carolina, he earned both his Bachelor and Master of Science in Engineering degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. During his senior year of college Ford took an industrial design course, and it was a project that involved designing for the dollar-a-day customer that sparked his interest in sustainable technology — something that until this point he had not given much thought to.

“I quickly learned why people call it ‘essential design’,” Ford said. “Designing for essential needs is the most basic, but at the same time complex, design problem. It shares all of the processes behind creating the things that make our lives convenient, such as securing investment capital, user research, manufacturing, marketing, etc., but the stakes are so much higher. The possibility to make real and lasting positive changes to peoples’ lives, coupled with the magnitude of the scalability, is both fascinating and inspiring.”

Before joining VPI in August 2012, Ford did pro-bono design work for a project serving farmers in Tanzania. In an effort to ease the burden of head-carrying water, the team built, shipped, and sold 1,000 pushcarts. This provided Ford his first experience working with overseas manufacturers and iterating through a design process with multiple pilot tests.

“Hearing the stories of our customers was inspiring, and it was a great start to reading up on international development. Everyone has an opinion about how to alleviate poverty, so it was helpful to get a sense for various attempts and outcomes.”

As with any successful endeavor, being able to think outside the box is crucial to the product design process — a point that was driven home for Ford while working in Tanzania. The pushcart team knew that the cart would be useless with a flat tire or a wheel that fell apart, and since the wheel was the most expensive component, they brainstormed to come up with an easy replacement scheme.

“Early in the project we were considering and testing all sorts of crazy ideas,” Ford explains.  “At one point it occurred to us that there were tons of old two-liter soda bottles in the urban areas, so we thought we could pressurize these and bind them to use as wheel hubs, since a pressurized bottle is nearly rock hard. We ran all the calculations to see what the strains and stresses on the bottle would be at various pressures and calculated how much dry ice we’d need to pressurize them. We then ran a series of load tests on the system, which consisted of repeatedly throwing 40-pound water jugs on dry-ice pressurized wheel hubs. Not exactly how I had imagined using my engineering degree!”

The team soon realized that dry ice was far too expensive, and that pressurizing bottles was dangerous. But they did find another solution — using recycled bike tires lashed to a steel spoke frame — which was both economical and safe.

Experiences such as this help Ford in his current role with VPI’s Solaii project, where he does mechanical and industrial design. His main task is to establish design requirements (based on prior design/field research) and translate those to a mechanical design that satisfies the specifications. He works with manufacturing and electrical engineers on the team to ensure all the pieces fit together and to help move the project into production. Currently he is making revisions to the design and preparing to build another functional prototype for testing, which will hopefully take place this fall. He also hopes to visit the sites in India once the team has completed its first production run.

Ford is looking forward to creating a product that will make positive and lasting changes to the quality of life in the communities Solaii serves. “I really enjoy meeting people who share my interests and learning from their experiences in development, but  overall I want to work on projects that make life better for people today, as well as those who will follow tomorrow.”

By day Ford works as a biomechanical engineer focusing on advanced materials research, specifically trying to understand injury mechanisms using physical and computational models, and apply those insights to develop better protective equipment. He has also designed sustainable housewares using the Kickstarter platform, and is currently experimenting with how to use graphic design and visual communication to make the chaotic news cycle more approachable (visit www.theshapeofnews.com for more information.) He is also the unofficial social secretary for VPI, organizing a monthly happy hour which gives the DC-based volunteers a chance to interact face-to-face.

Whether sketching out designs, collaborating with the Solaii team on conference calls, or bringing his fellow volunteers together at happy hour, VPI would like to thank Matt Ford for his many contributions to the team.

Vort Port International’s (VPI) Solaii project works to help the rural communities of India climb back on the economic ladder through effective solar lamp technology and smart business models, while reducing the environmental and human health hazards of kerosene lighting. For more information or to find out how you can contribute to this project please visit http://www.vortport.com/our-projects/solar-lamps/.

This blog post was written by Susan Patterson, Marketing and Branding Specialist for Vort Port International.

Project: Madagascar Biodigesters

Here’s a look at our Madagascar Biodigesters project.

Madagascar is an incredibly complex country, steeped in beautiful landscapes, endemic species, and vibrant cultures yet also host to high deforestation rates and biodiversity loss, political instability and abject poverty.  With one of the highest population growth rates in the world at 3% annually, and a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of less than $US2 per day (per World Bank), environmental degradation caused by human settlements continues to grow at alarming rates.  While environmental issues occur worldwide, the impacts in Madagascar are exponentially worse for biodiversity because 70% of the species found there are found nowhere else in the world.  Madagascar is in critical need of conservation programs that do not negatively impact the economic and social livelihoods of the Malagasy people.

One of the most significant threats to biodiversity is deforestation and land use change.  According the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) there are 472 endangered or critically endangered species on the island.  The three primary causes of deforestation in Madagascar are all related to human activity: slash and burn agriculture; logging for timber; and logging for fuel wood and charcoal production.

There are significant challenges to curbing deforestation rates in a country where more than 70% of the population lives in rural areas and survives on less than $US2 per day.  With livelihoods dependent on agriculture and wood the only cheap and accessible fuel source, Malagasy people have few alternatives to continued deforestation.

As a localized challenge with the global ramifications of biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions, creative solutions are needed to reduce deforestation rates while providing communities with effective and affordable alternatives to land use and energy production.

Vort Port International has identified the opportunity to bridge the energy divide through the implementation of biodigester technology.  Providing a mechanism to create a renewable and sustainable fuel source from waste products will reduce demand for wood charcoal and therefore lead to decreased deforestation.

Through the establishment of a successful biodigester enterprise, committed to community development and education, VPI will create a replicable model of a cohesive environmental conservation, social entrepreneurship, economic development, and educational program.

Madagascar Biodigester Process

Madagascar Biodigester Process

Low Cost Tech for Lowest Part of the Pyramid.

Chances are you’ve got the Monday blues and are more in the mood to be talked to than you are to read some article I decide to type up. Fortunately, I’ve got two great TED talks that will do the trick!

Vision for the Future

Josh's low-cost vision correction

The first you may have seen within the past year, and features Josh Silver demoing some very low-cost glasses (though they still need work) that can be adjusted to the right prescription in a matter of seconds and more than once. There’s a liquid inside the lenses that adjust to the needs of whoever might be wearing them, and as of this talk, they cost $19:

In another demo, Adam Grosser shows off a sustainable refrigerator. It’s low cost and requires no electricity, keeps foods cool–and more importantly, medicines preserved–in remote corners of the world. I hope that wasn’t too much reading for you. Don’t worry, tomorrow’s Tuesday! Enjoy the videos.

Teach For India is recruiting full-time teachers…

…to help educate India’s youth.

Here’s the rundown (via ThinkChange India):

THE CHALLENGE: Today, millions of low-income children in India do not have access to the same quality of education as their wealthier peers.  As a result, more than one in three students will drop out of primary school before the fifth standard.

THE MOVEMENT: Teach For India is a nationwide movement that aims to end this educational inequity by creating a powerful force of leaders in many sectors who will advocate for educational opportunity for all children. Check out the video of TFI here.

TFI Fellowship: We recruit the most outstanding college graduates and young professionals to teach full-time in an intensive leadership development program. It is a full time and competitively paidfellowship program with many prospects and further opportunities to develop a great career. Find out a ppt attached with this mail for more information

WHY YOU: To create this leadership force, we recruit only India’s most outstanding college graduates and young professionals, from all academic majors and careers. We look for people like you who live for a challenge, who excel academically, who believe India can be a better nation for all its citizens.

WHY NOW: Teach For India is currently accepting applications for its 2011 Fellowship. So, are you ready for a challenge?

VISIT www.teachforindia.org TO APPLY

Google Dishes out $10mil to Improve the Planet

Everyone’s getting in on the ‘improve the planet’ game. It’s fantastic. And who else to support such a thing than a company with plenty of money to give out: Google. Now 10 million is just a fraction of the bills Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook dished out to the Newark School System this week, but it is still fairly substantial.

But while Zuck gave a lot out quickly, Google’s Project 10^100 spent two years finding some worthy org’s. There are five on the list, but here’s the video results, followed by my two favorites:

1. I really like the Khan Academy. They’ve created a library of more than 1,600 teaching videos. Free to anyone, anywhere, Google has give the organization $2 million to enable more courses and in widely used languages. Hopefully users of our computer labs can take advantage of this!

2. Ok I admit, I’m a huge alternative transportation fan. I’m a bike nerd. I actually LIKE taking the DC Metro (I know, I’m weird), so my other favorite is the Schweeb. How can’t you love a name like that? Schweeb combines monorail technologies with those of the recumbent bicycle. It claims to be personal, efficient, and cost effective transportation. I hope it catches on!

“An iPod for Development”: Lifeplayer

Satisfied Lifeplayer owner.

This is so cool and I think I want one.

South Africa based Lifeline Energy announced the launch of the Lifeplayer. You might want to consider trading in your iPod. The Lifeplayer seemingly does it all: It’s a cellphone, a radio, Mp3 and internet enabled-device all in one. Power comes from the sun, with a secondary energy source in the form of a hand-crank.

The main focus for Lifeline with the Lifeplayer is education. Podcasts, mp3s, and information on weather, agriculture, or anything else are accessible on the device. It’s loud enough that 100 people can gather around and listen to it at a time.

Fast Company talked with the creator of this device and she mentioned a concern for delivery and proper implementation for the device. That’s why, whenever they can, Lifeline teams up with Ministries of Education to spread the word and make the device effective for the people it was meant for.

Lifeplayer is meant to educate groups of people at one time.

This thing is like a swiss-army iPod for the developing world. It can even record radio content, discussions or live voice and an SD card allows for transferable data. For now, the Lifeplayer is targeted at Africa, but Pearson says Afghanistan and Pakistan are definitely on her mind for the near future. Pearson also mentions they’re working on their model for how to effectively allow individuals purchase the device, but for now it’s being bought for distribution by schools, NGOs, businesses and other institutions.

The cost runs around $80, depending on the memory option you choose, and can come preloaded with media so it’s ready to use off the bat. Apparently, the radio in Africa generally caters to men, so allowing mp3s to be uploaded to the device allows women and children to get some attention and education as well.

Partnering for Pakistan: Mercy Corps, ITT

By now you’ve probably all heard about the devastation that’s occurred in Pakistan recently due to massive flooding (due climate change, some say). The magnitude of this disaster is astounding, and all affected people have been left without pretty much every living need:

pakistan flood magnitude

Infographic of the Pakistan Flood Numbers

But there are some good organizations trying their best to help the region out. Mercy Corps has teamed up with high-tech manufacturing and engineering firm ITT to make a dent in the number of people who currently have no drinkable water.

Fast Company reports that the two organizations have teamed up to distribute portable water treatment systems to Pakistan in the wake of the flood crisis. The beauty of this project is that only a few systems need to be in place to help thousands of Pakistanis. Already they’ve provided water for 110,000 people with only five (count ’em, FIVE) water treatment systems.

Mercy Corps water treatment system

The aid doesn’t stop there. Both organizations are also in Pakistan to assess the short and long-term needs of the region. Mercy Corps is performing the assessment, and ITT is providing the funds for it.

The systems themselves were bought from an organization called ScanWater, who manufactures such systems for NGO’s and these kinds of emergencies. Incidentally, ITT and Mercy Corps also teamed up (using the same ScanWater systems) to help provide clean water for Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there.

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