Innovators working in the global green economy could benefit from over US $450 million in investment recently pledged at the UN’s Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in Nairobi, Kenya.
A combination of green investors, businesses, governments and others came together at the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) headquarters in the Kenyan capital from 28 October to 1 November 2013 to share solutions and strike deals and partnerships.
The event represented a significant turning point in awareness of the role played by the global South’s innovators in global development and growing economies. The quantity of pledges and investment deals struck at the Expo bodes well for the future of south-south solution sharing.
Organized by the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (UNOSSC) (southsouthexpo.org) and hosted by UNEP (unep.org) under the theme “Building inclusive green economies”, the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the world’s biggest event for development solutions created in the South for the South.
“The theme of this year’s Expo is fitting in that Southern countries have both the opportunity and the obligation to pursue a ‘smarter’ development course than their predecessors,” said General Assembly President John Ashe.
Examples of the investment deals struck include helping to build organic fertilizer factories and constructing solar power plants in Kenya, and growing green business ventures for women in Egypt.
South-South cooperation is the exchange of resources, technology and knowledge between developing countries. Today, over US $5 trillion in currency reserves are held by countries of the global South. They also make up 47 per cent of global trade.
Tapping this rich resource is an unparalleled economic development opportunity and could be one of the main engines of growth in the years ahead, the Expo organizers believe.
“As so many stories that we have heard this week demonstrate, South-South Cooperation is playing a vital role in facilitating this global transition,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“Not only are these local, national and regional efforts producing positive results, but they are overcoming barriers, building new partnerships, creating new finance mechanisms, generating knowledge, sharing information, providing training and capacity building in areas and sectors that are critical for a global transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive economy,” he added.
As an example of how solutions are shared and deals are struck, more than 40 companies were successfully matched and held business negotiations using the Expo’s South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange (SS-GATE). An online match-making service bringing together innovative companies with the knowledge and funding they need to grow, the SS-GATE was able to get 148 companies to list their projects on the SS-GATE web-platform during an Expo event.
For the first time in its history, the Expo garnered a strong online presence with the help of volunteers who collaborated remotely around the world on social media. The event was so popular that it trended on Twitter in Kenya, meaning that the message of the value and growing scope of South-South cooperation reached the next generation of development practitioners, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, thinkers and leaders.
Also at the Expo, the fourth issue of Southern Innovator magazine (southerninnovator.org) had its official launch. Southern Innovator Issue 4 visits the new cities being built to tackle the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing 21st-century world. The magazine also highlights some of the solutions being devised to the challenges people face as the world becomes a majority urban place.
Some innovators are building new cities from scratch, applying the latest thinking and hard-wiring in cutting-edge information technologies and innovative environmental measures to create “smart” cities and eco-cities. Architects are designing and refining homes that are beautiful and functional, easy to build, affordable and conserve energy. Social entrepreneurs are innovating ways to create liveable and socially inclusive urban areas, often in places where planning has been scant and where incomes are very low. All the stories featured in the magazine were chosen for their focus on improving human development and for their ingenuity and fresh thinking.
Southern Innovator champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. It is being distributed through the United Nations’ network and partners and reaches some of the world’s poorest and remotest places, as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics.
1) Global South-South Development Expo: The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the FIRST EVER Expo solely from the South and for the South. It showcases successful Southern-grown development solutions (SDSs) to address the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Website: http://www.southsouthexpo.org/
2) Southern Innovator online story archive: Organized by theme, the story archive is a treasure trove of innovation stories and resources from the global South stretching back to 2006. Website: southerninnovator.org
The frequency of extreme weather in the past decade has been attributed to global warming (http://tinyurl.com/5peel). Many scientists believe the future will bring even more turbulent weather events and disasters. The devastation and hardship brought by natural disasters can eradicate development gains, and destroy livelihoods and health. It is critical countries help people to get back to their normal lives as fast as possible.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch) says extreme weather events will become more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense during the 21st century. Extreme weather is already costly for countries in the global South. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that the cost of droughts, storm surges, hurricanes and floods reached a record US$210 billion in 2005.
The Caribbean island of Cuba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba) was particularly affected in 2008 by extreme weather, as the island was battered by two devastating hurricanes – Ike and Gustav – and a lesser one, Paloma. It was the only time that three major hurricanes have hit Cuba in the same season, with just a 10 day gap between Gustav and Ike. The hurricanes were described as the “worst ever” storms by Cuban officials
The cost to Cuba has been high: Damages from Ike and Gustav are estimated at more than US$5 billion (http://tinyurl.com/ba7xny).
Between 2001 and 2005, Cuba experienced seven major hurricanes. Half a million houses were damaged, and 90,000 destroyed. In the 2008 storms, 619,981 homes were damaged and 70,409 destroyed, with 468,995 homes losing their roof tiles.
But Cuba has developed a pioneering way to quickly rebuild after disasters on a tight budget and using local resources. By using so-called ecomaterials – construction materials that are ecologically and economically viable – the Cuban approach erects sturdy homes, rather than just temporary shelters.
It is a common experience after a disaster in a developing country for all the resources to be spent on imported emergency shelter – tents, shacks, plastic sheeting – that then become permanent and inadequate homes. These makeshift dwellings provide poor security and shelter from the elements. For Cuba, the enormous scale of the repair and reconstruction job is especially difficult because of the fuel shortages and building supply restrictions brought on by the United States’ embargo on the country (http://tinyurl.com/4alwrb). In turn, Cubans are adaptable and creative with their solutions.
The Cuban approach builds permanent homes that can be expanded, teaches homebuilding skills and creates permanent employment in manufacturing building materials.
By developing technologies to manufacture building materials – bricks, concrete blocks, cement, roofing tiles, bamboo furniture – on site using local resources, the approach lets homeless people themselves rebuild sturdy, high-quality homes, rather than waiting for outside building crews to come and do it, or being dependent on expensive, imported building materials. By doing this, jobs are created and wealth and gets the community back on its feet after the disaster.
“This is all about going back to the roots: wood, concrete and bricks,” said the passionate brains behind this approach, Fernando Martirena, a professor at CIDEM — the Centre for Research and Development of Structures and Materials — at the Universidad Central de Las Villas, in Santa Clara , Cuba (www.ecosur.org).
“The so-called free market has demonstrated it can not tackle this problem of the urgent housing crisis in the world.”
At the heart of the Cuban approach are easy-to-use machines that produce the building materials. They range from hand-cranked presses that make mud and clay bricks, to vibrating presses for concrete brick making.
Training the homeless population to do the building themselves allows reconstruction work to begin straight away, rather than waiting for professional building crews to arrive on the scene. It is also psychologically more empowering for the people to be active participants in the rebuilding of their lives. The pride the people have in their new homes is visible.
And quality has been critical for the programme so it can become sustainable and long-lasting:
“The driving force for this project is need,” Martirena said. “If we want to obtain sustainability, we must go beyond need. After disaster, need is the driving force. But after two years, when most things have been completed, it must be a business. Good, beautiful, cheap. Normally, this technology is cheaper than industrial technology.”
To stay prepared for future natural disasters that destroy or damage homes, the Cubans have established strategic reserves of micro-concrete roofing tiles. The lightweight but strong tiles can be used to quickly erect a small module home, and then the home can be expanded and built on as resources and time allow.
Martirena, a former UNHABITAT award-winner, believes this approach to building materials brings prosperity back to rural areas and helps stem the flood of people to cities and urban sprawl seen across the global South.
“You have to go back to the origin of the problem: people are looking for money and better jobs. It is not because they like the cities; they hate the cities!”
“Bamboo harvesting (for furniture making) can bring people three times more income than they would make in the cities. They are really making money.”
For Cuba, this has been a journey from a highly centralised and fuel-dependent approach to house building, to a decentralised, low-fuel approach. From 1959, the year of the revolution, until 1988, Cuba built housing using a centralised factory method to make building materials. Prefabricated houses were erected across the country. The materials were delivered by road and rail, all fuelled by cheap oil from the former Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, oil became scarce and the transport network the building industry depended on fell apart. This time was called the “special period.”
Apart from natural disasters, Cuba’s housing stock has suffered under the US embargo. The country’s housing began to decay as repairs were not happening and new houses were not being built. When people did want to do the repairs themselves, the lack of building supplies made it difficult for them to do so. Cuba realized it had to do things differently: the solutions had to be local, energy-efficient, and easy to use.
CIDEM oversees workshops, training and building teams across the country. It tests new materials and designs in its labs before they are deployed as building solutions. The ecomaterials are chosen for low energy use and the ability to recycle waste. Being inexpensive, they offer a sustainable solution for the poor.
In the community of Jatibonico, single mothers make up 40 percent of those who have benefited from the building projects. One woman proudly showed off the home she had built in the Spanish style, complete with Greco-roman columns on the porch. It has a clean, modern bathroom with shower and toilet.
Martirena is currently working on a book of case studies about CIDEM’s projects helping Cubans cope with reduced oil dependency.
CIDEM collaborates with universities around the world and has 19 workshops employing over 200 people in Cuba, and 15 in other countries in Latin America and Africa. It works with the Ecosur initiative and all the machines and advice on how to use them is available from the Ecosur website (www.ecosur.org).
“How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” is an award-winning film on how Cuba transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call “The Special Period.” Website:http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php
Cuba Hurricanes: Real-time reports of current hurricane threats to Cuba provided by an office in Old Havana. Also information on hurricanes of historical significance to Cuba. Website:http://www.cubahurricanes.org/
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