Fast-growing cities and urban areas in the global South can be vulnerable because they lack the web of structures and institutions that enable more long-established cities to mitigate risks and, when a disaster does strike, to bounce back quickly. But thanks to many new technologies, and some smart new thinking, it is possible to bring resilience to even the poorest and most deprived urban communities.
The essence of resilience is to build into plans and daily activities a community’s ability to weather any disaster, small or large. All cities, rich or poor, can experience a disaster of some sort, be it weather, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, shortages, or economic, financial and health crises. New technologies make it possible for all cities, no matter how poor and overcrowded, to build in urban resilience. The ubiquity of mobile phones introduces a powerful city and urban planning tool. Mapping chaotic and unplanned areas is already underway in many cities of the global South (in Brazil and Kenya for example (http://tinyurl.com/qgba8kb).
Impressively, innovators in the South are using affordable microelectronics in the form of mobile phones and laptops to gather data and map it. This computing capability was once the sole domain of big information technology companies such as IBM. Now, a single laptop computer combined with a smartphone equipped with the right software can manage a large urban area, a task that once required rooms full of computers. The data can then be used to manage growth today and re-build after a disaster. Any excuse not to be resilient has been wiped out with this technological leap.
But how to deal with the common reality of feeling overwhelmed by the many obstacles to rational planning and building for urban growth in the South? Innovators have stepped in to take matters into their own hands with simple construction technologies as the solution. One example is the Moladi system of recycled plastic moulds (moladi.net). Anybody can master this simple building technique, as the mortar-filled moulds are designed to fit easily together to construct an earthquake-resistant, beautiful home.
This approach has the advantage of bypassing the failings of authorities to enforce building codes and standards in poor, urban communities, creating safer places to live and preventing the growth of unregulated shanty towns at risk to fire and earthquakes.
Others have found social ways to organize people, even in the most desperate of conditions, providing services and laying down the groundwork for an upgrading of an urban area to improve living conditions and long-term opportunities. The concept of ‘cities for all’ has inspired many to re-energize civic organizations and networking in poor areas to ensure they are not left out of economic growth. In Colombia, a famous example of this is the escalator in the city of Medellin, which connects a hillside slum to the centre of the city, opening up economic opportunities to all (http://tinyurl.com/nm47d3u).
Still more exciting, new technologies are in the works to simplify construction of major infrastructure and new buildings. A future city will be able to gather extensive data on an expanding urban area, make detailed development plans with architects and engineers, and then have robots and 3D fabricating machines quickly lay down infrastructure and erect buildings. Sounds far-fetched? Well, in China one company recently used a 3D machine to make 10 houses in a single day (http://www.yhbm.com/index.aspx).
An infographic from Southern Innovator’s fourth issue (http:// tinyurl.com/m9vfwur) shows 10 ways any urban area – either planned or unplanned – can build in resilience. All are proven approaches from cities in the global South.
To tackle diseases in the developing world, the most important first step is diagnosis. Without effective diagnosis, it is difficult to go to the next steps of either treatment or cure. While much attention is given to the high costs involved in treating and curing ailments, screening for diagnosis is also expensive, especially if it involves lots of people. Anything that can reduce the cost of diagnosis will free up resources to expand the number of people who can be checked, and help eradicate contagious diseases.
One innovation is an inexpensive microscope that could allow diagnosing diseases such as malaria to be done on a much larger scale. Called the Foldscope (foldscope.com), it is made from paper, comes in a variety of bright colors and resembles the cardboard, three-dimensional cut-and-keep models regularly found in children’s books and magazines.
Inspired by the ancient Japanese paper-folding craft of Origami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origami), Foldscope’s makers at the Prakash Lab at Stanford University (http://www.stanford.edu/~manup/) are trying to create “scientific tools that can scale up to match problems in global health and science education”, according to their website.
Once assembled, a user places a standard glass microscope slide in the Foldscope, turns on the LED light and uses their thumbs to guide the lens to view the slide.
Each Foldscope can magnify up to 2000 times with a sub-micron resolution of 800 nm. The battery can last up to 50 hours on a single button-cell battery and requires no further external power. Its makers claim it can survive being stepped on or dropped from a three-storey building. It can perform a wide variety of microscopy techniques.
Its makers hope to manufacture billions of Foldscopes a year by exploiting the cheapness of the material and the simplicity of construction.
A beta test called “Ten Thousand Microscopes” will enlist 10,000 people to test the Foldscope in the field. Participants will contribute to helping write a field manual for the Foldscope prior to mass manufacturing. The Foldscope costs just US $0.50 to make for the basic model and US $1 for a higher-magnification version.
Field tests are taking place in the United States, Uganda and India.
Foldscope is designed to be used where more sophisticated lab analysis is not possible or affordable. It can also be an educational tool to give students experience in hands-on microscopy, or build awareness in the general population of how infectious diseases are spread by unseen lifeforms.
Foldscope’s makers hope their creation will help diagnose common but devastating diseases including Plasmodium falciparum (malaria), Trypanosome cruzi (Chagas disease), Giradia lamblia (giardiasis), Leishmania donovani (leishmaniasis), Dirofilaria immitis (filariasis), Human Sickle Cell (sickle-cell anaemia), E. Coli and Bacillus and Pine strobilus.
The quantity of people that need to be checked for diseases is vast and means, in countries where incomes and resources are low, it just isn’t possible to undertake diagnostic services using conventional methods.
“There is definitely a huge gap between where we are and where we want to be,” Stanford School of Medicine Assistant Professor for Bioengineering Manu Prakash explained on the university’s website.
“When you do get it (malaria), there is this simple-minded thing ‘forget diagnostics, let’s just get that tablet’ – and that’s what happens in most of the world. But the problem is there is many different strains, there are many different medications, you could potentially make the problem even worse by not realizing that you have malaria. And at the same time, the people who get a severe case – they are not detected at all.
“What is that one thing that you could almost distribute for free that starts to match the specificity of what detection requires? For malaria, the standard is to be able to image, and sit on a microscope and essentially go through slides.
“What we found as a challenge, if you truly want to scale, you should be really testing more than a billion people every year: that’s a billion tests a year. Any platform that you can imagine needs to scale to those numbers to make an impact.
“One of these things that have been shown over and over again – if you can put (in place) an infrastructure to fight malaria that is scalable and sustainable, then you get retraction of malaria in different regions.”
2) WHO: Ten Facts on Malaria: About 3.4 billion people – half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2012, there were about 207 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000). Website: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/
5) Stanford University: Stanford University, located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, is one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities. Website: stanford.edu
6) MaRS: Located in Toronto, Canada, MaRS is where science, technology and social entrepreneurs get the help they need. Where all kinds of people meet to spark new ideas. And where a global reputation for innovation is being earned, one success story at a time. Website: marsdd.com
We were able to identify numerous trends that were at the time being overlooked or under-reported; trends that could radically re-shape international development. This included the rapid rise ofmobile phonesin the global South and their powerful impact on economic development, the rush to cities and urban areas that was turning the world into a majority urban place, and the shift to greater South-South trade, investment and contact. Whereas the past involved people always looking North for inspiration, capital and business and trade relationships, this was shifting to South-South arrangements. And there were plenty of inspirational, modern, 21st century examples of economic, social and human development achievements across the global South to report on. By consistently tracking and chronicling a quiet revolution underway in the global South, the e-newsletter was able to draw attention to a rising 21st-century global innovator culture being shaped by the use of mobile phones and information technologies. Few at the time had grasped how much this was going to reshape the international development paradigm.
To start, the e-newsletterDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions(begun in 2006), was used to gather together as many stories, data, trends, and contacts as possible and get this message to as wide a group as possible. Luckily, this coincided with the very moment whole swathes of the global South were coming online, either through connecting with mobile phones or through the Internet. Quickly, it became clear there was not a lack of inspiring stories and innovations and solutions to share, but a lack of resources to communicate them. One solution was to utilise a new publishing tool that emerged in 2007: crowd-powered news services. It became a great way to bypass the stranglehold on news and information held by traditional media. Read more on this here:http://www.scribd.com/doc/251968773/Southern-Innovator-Summary-of-Impact-2011-to-2012
In particular, the e-newsletter caught the eye of those looking for inspiration in the wake of the 2007/2008 global economic crisis:
“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa Renewal, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information
“I just went over your June newsletter. It’s very well done and far reaching. Congratulations!” Violette Ruppanner, Director, 3D -> Trade – Human Rights – Equitable Economy, Geneva, Switzerland
“Just to let you know I enjoyed the newsletter a lot – it was interesting to learn about things going on that I would never otherwise find out about, and also the listing of future conferences and events proved very useful.” Ian Sanderson, Deloitte, Geneva, Switzerland
“Congratulations on another great newsletter that’s packed with fascinating information! I really enjoy getting it each month.” Whitney Harrelson, Making Cents, Washington D.C.
2008: Development work begins on the concept for a book on innovation in the global South. Attend an Africa trade-focused meeting in Switzerland just as the global crisis breaks. Witness attendees dash from the event as they get frantic calls from London and New York. Undertake Cuba study tour with the BSHF.
2010: Begin working with graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir and graphic designer Eva Hronn Gudnadottir in Reykjavik, Iceland on the initial concepts for what would become Southern Innovator. The working title for the new magazine is Creative Sparks.
2014: The fifth issue ofSouthern Innovatoris launched at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Washington, D.C.. Southern Innovator has always tried to inspire others to take action and this has turned out to be the case.
“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it”
Once blazing a lonely trail, there are now many places to find stories on global South innovation (The Guardian, SciDev, Devex, Business Fights Poverty, Zunia etc.). Mainstream media have also woken up to the energy and change sweeping across the global South, disrupting its regular diet of negative news stories focused around war, disasters and failure (unfortunately, still the majority of what most people see on their TV).
“I liked your latest Southern innovator! Always inspiring.”
“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.”
“The magazine looks fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!”