Tag Archive | india

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.

Introducing Our New Teammates!

A lot of good news has been happening around the Vort Port International camp lately. And one thing leads to the next. More funding means more projects, and more projects means we need more help! It’s all very exciting. So today I’d like you to help all of us at the VPI family welcome our new teammates. We’re glad to have everyone and we’re lucky to be working with them to help those at the bottom of the pyramid who need it! So welcome…

First up is a few new additions to the Girls Republic team (with more details on that soon) headed up by Thendo. Joining Thendo is

Jaime Duque: has a BA in business, works with cost benefit analysis that deals with health and safety.

Laura Miller Laura Miller: comes to us filling the role of research officer, all types of fact-finding missions for the projects. Currently works together with Thendo, has a background in journalism media studies.

Song Song Nguyen: will be helping with public health initiatives. Studied Public Health at GW, has a background in family and human development.

Next we have two new members to the communications team:

Kevin Chandler: will be helping with corporate sponsorship development (potential sponsors, talk to Kevin! :))studied journalism and communications at UNC and had a masters in political science and climate change.

Lauren Chiarello Lauren Chiarello: will help with grant writing for the communications team. Lauren works as Director of Federal Affairs for the MS Foundation, and has a background in public healh.

And last, but certainly not least, new help on the operations team!

Li Nie Li Nie: our fantastic new accounting intern.

tanisha Tanisha Govil: serving as internal operations associate, she’ll be helping our Internal Director, Shivangi, with recruiting even more people, interviewing them, and more internal affairs. Tanisha brings an impressive background and knowledge in HR.

So there you have it. Feel free to leave a comment of welcome! Feel free to check out each member’s in-depth bios on our Team Page.

Stay tuned for updates on our projects and some exciting news from this past weekend!

Playing Catch-up: Articles of Note

It’s tough running a blog about social enterprise and sustainability! Fortunately, it’s an issue of excess; there are plenty of stories to share every single day, it’s just a matter of sifting through and finding the best ones to share. So in the interest of getting up to speed on the most current events, I want to share some articles that have been on the backburner that I think are very interesting and very relevant:

Maker Faire Africa

  • A grassroots project harnesses data mining and infographics to improve life in Indonesian cities.
  • Kiva, everyone’s favorite micro financier, expands to include student loans in Paraguay, Lebanon, and Bolivia. They plan on expanding the service to 15 countries.

Students in Hydrabad

  • We’re excited to see the results of this: Gray Matters Capital is funding a contest to design low-cost learning tools for affordable private schools in India. The best ideas will become reality through for-profit businesses there. OpenIDEO.

Now you’re up to speed! We might do this regularly to keep up and keep you informed. I also want to do a weekly (I’m thinking Thursdays) cause marketing or slacktivist post where we highlight a campaign that you readers can help out with, whether  through a click, a purchase, or something else.

Lastly, go to our fundraiser!

-Drew

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

Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid

Vort Port is a non-profit, but we take pride in providing sustainable alternatives to people who truly need it. Those at the bottom don’t get the glitzy product announcements and packaging that the first-world does. They’re lucky if they get clean water!

But in a recent blog post from esteemed business and common sense writer Seth Godin, he makes the case for creating and marketing products for those who truly need them, whether for a profit or not. Seth’s always full of crazy sharp insight, and he doesn’t fail this time either, so be sure to check out his post.

If you don’t feel like reading (I have those days), well lucky you! Seth actually wrote his post based on the following video. It inspired him to hash out the importance of the people at the bottom, and why helping them will ultimately be good for everyone. Press play. It’s good.

(Sadly, the embed code isn’t working! But be sure to watch the video here on vimeo.)

What’s your opinion? That’s what we want!

TED Talk: The child-driven education

Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" experiment.

If you’ve never watched a TED Talk, you’re missing out on some very inspirational and innovative thought leaders tell the stories of their research and experiences all over the world.  I watched this one over the weekend and decided it greatly relates to the mission Vort Port is currently taking part in.

The speaker is Sugata Mitra, and he spends a few minutes talking about the educational effect that computers have on children. His research is simple: put computers in front of children and see what happens. In a lot of the cases, the children have never had the opportunity to handle a computer before, but they still learn within minutes to play games, look information up, and thus, become empowered. There are some very interesting results to Sugata’s studies. But enough from me! Watch it:

This is the very reason we’re trying to bring computer labs to rural villages in India. IT is a very big industry in India, but still the people int he smaller villages have never touched a computer. By providing a solar-powered computer lab, we’re giving these small villages a chance to compete for the IT jobs in the bigger cities, thus improving their own and their families lives.

From the Field: Raj’s Progress (and Frustrations) in India

This photo is from our completed project at Jnana Bodhini School in Pavagada. Photos from Raj are coming!

Today I’m going to give you a little glimpse behind the scenes of Vort Port International. Here at Vort Port, we’re constantly communicating with each other via text, instant messaging, e-mail, and weekly conference calls. Sometimes we even give each other updates during our day jobs (don’t tell anyone).

While these updates and communications aren’t always regarding the most entertaining of subjects like accounting or IT problems, we do get updates from our man in the field, Raj Vable, every so often. And I’d like to share such an update today!

Raj is currently in India until September 10th, overseeing the construction of one of our solar-powered computer labs and gave us a progress report on Monday:

“I’ll be in india til next friday, the 10th -I’m  headed to the village today.  The [solar] panels are in India (hooray!) and getting cleared at customs (boooo).  that should take a week, but I am very dubious, because everything here related to Gov’t drags on way longer than people say, and way longer than seems necessary.

While in the village, we’re going to decide on the computer replacements options and figure out how to get internet access.  Also, a dude from SELCO (Harish Hande’s company) is supposed to come to the village to check out the school.

Also, I’m reading The Kite Runner.  It’s so good.”

Two days later, Raj sends another update, this time with a slight hiccup in the plans:

“Hi all,

Disappointing news: the solar panels aren’t actually in India.  I just found out that apparently the container that was supposed to hold the solar panels reached Chennai, but the panels weren’t in it – they weren’t loaded from Singapore.  So the panels are in Singapore, Chennai ETA Sept 12th, two days after I leave.  Great.

Monday, I’m going with all the members of the trust to a company to discuss comptuer replacements.  Also, the Trust says it will be very easy to get the school hooked up with internet acesss.  All in all, a good day.”

What does this mean? Well, Raj won’t get to see the computer lab up and running before he leaves next week. Fortunately, he’s already laid the path and put in plenty of work to allow the locals and other people helping with the project to finish things up.

Regardless, Raj is definitely the linchpin in this project, and we’re very proud of the work he’s done! As our Executive Director Merry Walker told him, Raj has “paved the ground and others can walk on it towards a better life!!”

Raj has been taking plenty of photos, so hopefully we’ll get them up on the blog soon.

Fundraiser at Eden Lounge

We just had a fundraiser at Eden (www.edendc.com) this last Friday. It was great to see our friends come and support the India Project get off the ground. The venue was very cool–rooftop area with plenty of lounging space, great music/DJ, a small dance floor, and fun lighting. The bartenders were generous and the bouncer, Andrew, was kind enough to strike a pose with our poster. Generally, the event was a success! We look forward to working with Eden in the future!  Check out pictures on our facebook page.

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