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Building an Interactive Radio Network for Farmers in Nigeria

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

As solar power technology has improved, new pioneers have emerged to exploit this innovation. Several decades ago, solar power was seen as too expensive for wide-scale roll out in poor countries and communities. But today, an army of solar technology pioneers has fanned out across the world to show the new wave of innovations and how they make solar power affordable.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without access to domestic electricity, these people need to fall back on expensive, battery-powered devices or use gas generators and lamps: a cost that eats into their income.  

More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 155 million people (US Census Bureau) live on just US $2 a day. Many of them are small farmers in remote areas. Access to information is very poor, especially critical information that can improve farming methods and boost incomes.

One of the most effective ways to communicate to a large number of people over a large territory is through radio.

A clever use of solar-powered battery radios has enabled the building of a low-cost, two-way communications network for rural farmers. The Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio (http://smallholdersfoundation.org) network broadcasts to 250,000 listeners with 10 hours of daily programming. The communications network reaches 3.5 million farmers in around 5,000 villages in Imo State (www.imostate.gov.ng), southeast Nigeria. The programming tackles issues from sustainable farming practices to HIV/AIDS and how to open a bank account . The clever part is the two-way dialogue between the listeners and the radio station. This is done through mobile radios known as AIR devices. They are small, solar-powered radios that let listeners send voice messages to the radio station. The message is stored on the radio station’s computers and later broadcast during a programme, allowing farmers to share their experiences, ask questions and receive answers in their own language.

The slim, hand-held silver-coloured radios have a small antenna and dials.

The network was created by Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, who won a 2010 Rolex Laureate award (http://young.rolexawards.com/laureates/nnaemeka_ikegwuonu). The awards seek to foster innovation in the next generation. Launched in 2009, it looks for “visionary young men and women at a critical juncture in their careers, enabling them to implement inventive ideas that tackle the world’s most pressing issues in five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation.”  

Ikegwuonu hopes to bring the service to other parts of Nigeria.

His radio studio is the height of simplicity and sophistication: a laptop computer, a microphone, a headset and a small control board to manage the sound levels. The radio signal is broadcast through a 30-metre-high antenna.

Solar power is being creatively used in many countries to tackle energy poverty. This ranges from lamps and lights to cookers to small power packs for electronic devices, all the way to large hardware to power homes and communities.

In India, whole villages are already using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country.

A report by the International Finance Corporation called the sub-Saharan solar market the largest in the world – a market of 65 million potential customers, who could access off-grid lighting over the next five years (IFC). The report anticipated high growth rates of 40 to 50 percent for anyone entering the market, with less than one percent of the market currently being served.

With a billion Africans using just four percent of the world’s electricity (The Economist), energy poverty is already harming further economic growth and development gains. As Africa’s population is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, the gap between people’s needs and the power available will be stark: in Nigeria, out of 79 power stations, only 17 are working (The Economist). It will take innovators like Ikegwuonu to bring hope to this situation and transform lives despite the obstacles.

Published: December 2011

Resources

1) ToughStuff has developed a modular range of affordable solar powered energy solutions to the three main power needs of poor consumers in the developing world – lighting, mobile phones and radios. Website:www.toughstuffonline.com

2) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website:www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) How We Made It Africa: A website detailing success stories on businesses investing in Africa and how people are making the most of opportunities on the continent. Website:www.howwemadeitinafrica.com

4) Solar Sister: A clever way to sell solar lamps and torches using a network of women. Website: www.solarsister.org

5) D.light Design: Their lights use LEDs (light emitting diodes) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_lamp) and are four times brighter than a kerosene lantern according to D.Light Design. Website: www.dlightdesign.com

6) Lighting Africa: Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, is helping develop commercial off-grid lighting markets in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of the World Bank Group’s wider efforts to improve access to energy. Lighting Africa is mobilizing the private sector to build sustainable markets to provide safe, affordable, and modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africaby 2012 and to 250 million people by 2030. Website: www.lightingafrica.org

7) A list of Nigerian companies selling solar-powered equipment and devices. Website: http://posharp.com/solar-energy-service-companies-in-nigeria-in-alphabetic-order_renewable.aspx?ptype=solar&btype=service&gtype=country_NG&xtype=ntype

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Tapping the Power of Child Play

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Children are an amazing source of energy. Each generation fizzes with the restlessness and optimism of youth. But all that energy is expended in the playground, leaving behind nothing but the sound of laughter. What if that energy could actually be harnessed and turned into electricity? And electricity to power the cash-strapped school the children need to attend to get a good head start in life?

Meeting the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education would be significantly helped if schools had electricity and in turn the ability to use computers and the Internet. As well, school buildings can be used to their maximum if they have lights for night schools, and expand to secondary and adult education. It is typical practice in Africa to use schools in the evenings for older students. But usually they only have kerosene lamps to turn to for light.

The need is urgent for electricity for schools in Africa: even sub-Saharan Africa’s richest nation, South Africa, has 5,131 schools without electricity. And in the battle for energy, schools have to compete with businesses and cities, as increasing demand makes power outages more common.

Child-power is currently used to run Playpumps’ merry-go-rounds, drawing water from wells. But a children’s see-saw hopes to use the same principle to bring light to power-starved African schools. Children in Uganda are involved in a pilot test of a see-saw that generates electricity with the simple up-and-down motion of the playground ride. The electricity generated is sent to a storage battery via an underground cable. Just five to 10 minutes on the see-saw can generate enough electricity to light a classroom for an evening.

The see-saw is being tested in the Ugandan city of Jinja, made from locally sourced parts, and has been designed by 23-year-old British design student Daniel Sheridan. He was inspired after volunteering on a school trip to the island of Wasimi, south of Mombasa, Kenya, while building a school and teaching.

“The number of children we saw there that loved to play, and their vibrancy, I thought it would be great if I could somehow make use of this,” he told the BBC. “They don’t have Gameboys and all the rest. They are just so genuine and keen to help – they would grab the wheelbarrows we were working with given the chance.”

Sheridan won £5,500 (US $10,930) to further develop the idea at various university student enterprise award schemes. The money is being used for prototype development.

“The current need for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is staggering. Without power, development is extremely difficult. The potential for this product is huge and the design could be of benefit to numerous communities in Africa and beyond.”

After the prototype testing in Uganda he hopes to either start a business or charity to manufacture the see-saws. His dream?

“Ultimately I would love to design a whole playground of different pieces of equipment that could generate enough electricity to power a whole village.”

Published: April 2008

Resources

  • Playpumps International: More child-powered ways to make a difference: these water pumps draw water from a well while children spin on the merry-go-round. Website: www.playpumps.org
  • OUiP! Or Optimized Universal Interface Platform: This white plastic handheld electronic bar uses the child’s play motion to power it, while it makes noises and displays images. Website: www.thinkthing.net
  • Sprig Toys: Electro-mechanical toys made from wood and recycled plastic that are run on child-power only. Website: www.sprigtoys.com

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Solar Sisters Doing it for Themselves: Tackling African Light Famine

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A social enterprise is seeking to capture the power of the sun to bring light and economic opportunity to women in Africa. Using a direct-marketing distribution system, it sells solar lamps and lanterns to some of Africa’s remotest communities. Solar Sister (www.solarsister.org), launched in Uganda in 2010, is hoping to do for power generation what mobile phones have done for communication in Africa: make a technological leap to a model of grassroots power generation, rather than waiting for large-scale power schemes to eventually reach the poor and rural.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of which more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank).

Solar power is being creatively used in many countries to tackle energy poverty and give women, in particular, viable sources of income. In India, whole villages are already using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country.

A billion Africans use just four percent of the world’s electricity (The Economist). Energy poverty is already harming further economic growth and development gains. With Africa’s population expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, the gap between people’s needs and the power available is stark: in Nigeria, out of 79 power stations, only 17 are working (The Economist).

A report by the International Finance Corporation called the sub-Saharan solar market the largest in the world – a market of 65 million would-be customers, who could access off-grid lighting over the next five years (IFC). The report anticipated high growth rates of 40 to 50 percent for anyone entering the market, with less than one percent of the market currently being served.

Being able to see at night unleashes a vast range of possibilities, such as being able to work or study later. But for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense.

As Solar Sister founder Katherine Lucey points out, households “rely on kerosene lanterns and candles for light. They spend up to 40 percent of their family income on energy that is inefficient, insufficient and hazardous. Widespread use of kerosene has an adverse impact on local air quality as well as on global climate change.

“Poor lighting, smoke and rudimentary lanterns are responsible for a large number of infections and burn injuries. Within the household, women are responsible for kerosene purchases and use – in order for new clean energy technology to be adopted at the household level, women have to ‘buy in’ to the technology.”

And this is the challenge: to find an affordable – and sustainable – way to bring electricity and energy to people living in remote and rural areas. These are places that face stark options: to remain off-grid and energy poor, or to abandon their communities and join the many millions across the global South on the march to urban and semi-urban areas in search of income and opportunity.

Lucey says that could be “a recipe for disaster”.

“In a country like Uganda, with a population of 32 million people, it is not possible to have them all move to Kampala to access electricity,” she said. “It would overburden already stretched infrastructure and services and disrupt the social and economic structures of an entire population. In the end, it can challenge the stability of entire nations.”

The Solar Sister direct-marketing model works like this: micro-investment capital of US $500 is invested in one Solar Sister Entrepreneur and she receives a ‘business in a bag’: a start-up kit of inventory, training and marketing resources. As her own boss, she has a strong incentive to succeed. She uses the money to purchase a consignment of lamps or lanterns, which she then sells, encouraging people to replace kerosene lamps with solar lamps: healthier, safer and better for the environment. She is encouraged to use her existing networks of family, friends and neighbours to reach rural and hard-to-reach customers.

The Solar Sister, after succeeding in selling the first consignment of lamps, then receives training in marketing and inventory and business skills. She can then move on to be a team leader and recruit other Solar Sisters. She earns a commission from the lamp sales, which help to improve her ability to pay for healthcare, education and food for her family. She then repays the cash for the lamps and the cycle starts all over again with a new consignment.

The model will sound familiar to many: it is what has built successful marketing machines like the famous all-women’s make-up and beauty products seller Avon (www.avon.com). Or the other famous direct marketing behemoth, Amway (www.amway.co.uk).

The Solar Sister model is heavily dependent on the success of word-of-mouth to grow:

“What we have found is that the women are the best distribution system for bringing new technology to rural households since they sell through their trusted networks of family, friends and neighbours,” Lucey said. “They use the lamps themselves, and then talk passionately about the benefits: the better light, the money they save by not having to buy kerosene, the amount of time their children are able to study, the cleaner air and safer environment for their kids.”

According to Lucey, the business model “brings solar technology right to the women’s doorstep. The Solar Sister business model developed as a grass-roots solution to the gender-based technology gap. Women make up 70 percent of the rural poor, but are often left out ‘in the dark’ when it comes to technology solutions.”

It is still early days for Solar Sister, which has been in operation for just over a year and now has 107 Solar Sister Entrepreneurs working in 10 teams reaching 34 communities in three countries – Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan. Lucey says the goal is to build a network of 1,500 female entrepreneurs in Africa over the next two years, benefiting over 1 million people.

Apart from the business model and the new technology, there is a radical concept at the heart of Solar Sister: to replicate for electricity generation the distributed and rapid growth that has been seen with mobile phones. In just five years, the availability of mobile phones in Africa increased by 550 percent.

“Distributed energy, such as solar, puts the investment in energy generation rather than transmission, and breaks the problem into smaller, achievable, components that do not have to wait for political processes for implementation,” explains Lucey. “It allows for the possibility that people can solve their own problems rather than wait for government or NGOs to come solve their energy problems for them. Distributed solar has the potential to leap-frog the 20th century grid-based solution, much like mobile phones have done in the telecom industry.”

One of the solar lanterns for sale is manufactured by D.Light Design. Their newest lantern model is called Kiran (http://www.dlightdesign.com/products_kiran_global.php). It sells for US $10 and provides up to eight hours of light on a full battery, its manufacturers say. D.Light Design calls it the “$10 Kerosene Killer” because it believes it has the right mix of price and technology to trump the need to use kerosene lanterns. The lantern gives off a white light powerful enough so people can read, study or do domestic tasks. A solar panel sits on top of the lantern, which is shaped like a drinking thermos with a large carry handle on top.

Other solar lamps/lanterns have been burdened by cost, ranging in price from US $15 to US $30: a prohibitive price for many poor people.

The ubiquity of mobile phone payments in Africa has made it much easier to transfer funds back and forth between the entrepreneurs and Solar Sister. And since its launch, Solar Sister has learned how to change and adapt to local conditions.

“These women are the experts in their local communities of what works and what doesn’t,” Lucey said. “Solar Sister Voila (http://www.solarsister.org/voila-uganda) decided to visit the roadside market stalls at night when shopkeepers were burning kerosene lamps for light. She got their instant attention with the high brightness of her solar powered lamps.

“Solar Sister’s mission is to bring more and more women from the veils of smoke, darkness and anonymity to the forefront of a clean energy revolution.”

Published: April 2011

Resources

1) D.light Design: Their lights use LEDs (light emitting diodes) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_lamp) and are four times brighter than a kerosene lantern according to D.Light Design. Website: www.dlightdesign.com

2) Lighting Africa: Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, is helping develop commercial off-grid lighting markets in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of the World Bank Group’s wider efforts to improve access to energy. Lighting Africa is mobilizing the private sector to build sustainable markets to provide safe, affordable, and modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africa by 2012 and to 250 million people by 2030. Website: www.lightingafrica.org

3) Solar Lighting for the Base of the Pyramid – Overview of an Emerging Market, a report by the International Finance Corporation finding Africa will be the world’s largest market for solar portable lights by 2015. The report addresses market trends and statistics at a global level with more detailed analysis for the African market. Website: www.lightingafrica.org/market-intelligence/market-trends-assessment.html

4) How We Made It Africa: A website detailing success stories on businesses investing in Africa and how people are making the most of opportunities on the continent. Website: www.howwemadeitinafrica.com

5) Barefoot College: The College is training women to be solar engineers, developing both useful skills and a new income source. So far, Barefoot College itself has solar electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan. Website: www.barefootcollege.org

6) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website: www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

7) Sun King solar lantern: The lantern provides 16 hours of light for a day’s charge. Website: www.greenlightplanet.com/ourusers.html

8) ToughStuff has developed a modular range of affordable solar powered energy solutions to the three main power needs of poor consumers in the developing world – lighting, mobile phones and radios. Website: www.toughstuffonline.com

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Time-Tested Iranian Solutions to Cool and Refrigerate

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Keeping food cool is critical for human health. No matter what the climate, a cool environment will prolong food preservation, stave off spoilage and lower the risk of food poisoning. This is crucial for the poor because it means they can reduce food waste and avoid illnesses caused by food poisoning. Diarrhea is a common problem when people do not have access to refrigeration for their food.

Food security is also enhanced, as more can be stored and less thrown away as waste. Keeping food cool also means less need for preservation techniques, such as using salt, spices or smoke. Salt and smoke both can have adverse affects on human health. Salt increases sodium in the diet, which leads to high blood pressure, and smoke is a carcinogen which can lead to various forms of cancer.

It is healthier to keep food in its natural state – and keep it cool.

While the invention of the electric refrigerator was a major breakthrough, it requires a steady supply of electricity, which is expensive and difficult for many people.

Various pre-electric refrigeration technologies have been developed over the centuries. Among them was a pioneering technology used in Persia (modern-day Iran) as far back as the 11th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avicenna). And now, it is being looked to once again today as a sustainable refrigeration solution that does not damage the environment.

Iran’s solution involves creating a domed ice house made from earth bricks. Many ancient ice houses have been discovered on the edge of deserts, where ice was scarce and supplies remote. The solution was to create a dugout channel at the rear of a domed house and then flood the channel with water. When the temperature dropped at night in the desert, the water would freeze into ice.

Rising early in the morning, the resident would break up the ice into blocks and store them inside the ice house. This was repeated night after night until there was enough ice in the house that it could last the summer months.

The water was drawn from elaborate irrigation systems used for farming.

The ice houses were cone and dome-shaped and included some with underground structures. To date, a project headed by Dr. Hemming Jorgensen has documented 129 centuries-old ice houses at the fringe areas of large deserts in Iran. Jorgensen, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, has documented the use of these structures on his “Ice Houses of Iran” website (http://www.hemmingjorgensen.com/).

In 18th and 19th century England, ice houses were also common place in country estates to keep food cool in kitchens. Today, there are growing numbers of people around the world who are turning to technologies such as ice houses to find sustainable, non-electric, low-carbon alternatives to electric refrigeration.

Another environmentally friendly cooling solution from Iran involves using wind catchers to circulate air during the hotter months. Called bagdir wind towers, or windcatchers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windcatcher), they have been used in Yadz, Iran since the 19th century.

Profiled in Green Building Magazine (http://www.greenbuildingpress.co.uk/product_details.php?category_id=10&item_id=235), the wind towers are made of stone, and channel wind down into a shaft to cool or heat the rooms below. It is an air circulation solution that does not take any energy – because it uses the wind – and is carbon neutral. In summer, the wind is drawn down into a stone chimney by low air pressure zones in the ventilation system. It is cooled, and then is circulated through the dwelling, rising as it warms up through the house. This is combined with a strategy of moving rooms depending on how hot or cool they are, adjusting clothing based on the temperature, or even placing water on the floor to cool the air.

In Nigeria in West Africa, a cooler called the zeer (http://practicalaction.org/zeer-pots) has been developed. It works like this: two ceramic earthenware pots of different sizes are arranged one inside the other. The space between the pots is filled with wet sand and kept moist. The user then places drinks or vegetables inside and covers it with a damp cloth. As the water from the moist sand evaporates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporation), the air inside the centre pot is cooled several degrees, enough to preserve some foods and drinks.

Published: June 2013

Resources

1) ChotuKool fridge: The ChotuKool fridge is designed to stay cool for hours without electricity and to use half the power of conventional refrigerators. Priced at US $69, it is targeted at India’s poor. Website: (http://www.new.godrej.com/godrej/godrej/index.aspx?id=1)

2) Ice house designs from the 18th and 19th century in the United Kingdom. Website: http://www.icehouses.co.uk/petworth.htm

3) The High Desert Chronicles: “Sometimes you need to look back to move forward!”. Details use of contemporary ice houses in the desert for refrigeration. Website: http://www.highdesertchronicles.com/2012/10/ice-in-the-high-desert-without-electricity-or-refrigeration/

4) History Magazine: The Impact of Refrigeration: The role played by refrigeration throughout human history. Website: http://www.history-magazine.com/refrig.html

5) Methods of Alternative Refrigeration: Three solutions in detail. Website: http://www.provident-living-today.com/Alternative-Refrigeration.html

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022