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2007: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

2007

December

Dabbawallahs Use Web and Text to Make Lunch on Time Development Challenges:The developing world’s rapidly growing cities are bringing with them whole new ways of living and working. One rapidly expanding category of citizen is the office worker. A symbol of growing prosperity, the office worker also tends to be a time-poor person who often must commute large distances between home and workplace.

Flurry of Anti-poverty Innovations Development Challenges: Innovation is key to transforming the lives of the world’s four billion poor. And it is at the core of much of the new thinking these days. While the world’s poor can’t rely on political developments, or wider macro-economic events to go their way, they can harness the power of invention, innovation and self-reliance to make big changes in the quality of their lives and increase income – and so can those who want to help them.

Local Animation: A Way Out of Poverty Development Challenges: One of the more remarkable creative developments since 2000 has been the explosion in animation production in the developing world, in particular Asia. Once seen as frivolous or unnecessary, animation is now acknowledged as a high-growth area and a critical component in the emerging economies being shaped by information technology.

Mobile Phones Bring the Next Wave of New Ideas from the South Development Challenges: The rapid growth in take-up has made mobile phones the big success story of the 21st century. With such reach, finding new applications for mobile phones that are relevant to the world’s poor and to developing countries is a huge growth area. It is estimated that by 2015, the global mobile phone content market could be worth over US $1 trillion: relegating basic voice phone calls to just 10 per cent of how people use mobile phones.

November

Mountain People: Innovative Ways to Help the World’s Most Vulnerable Development Challenges: Physically isolated and socially and politically marginalized, mountain dwellers are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A disproportionate number of the world’s 840 million chronically undernourished people live in highland areas — about 270 million mountain people lack food security, with 135 million suffering chronic hunger. Large numbers of additional people in lowland areas also depend on mountains.

Saving the Amazon Forest While Making a Living Development Challenges: The vast Amazon rainforest straddles Brazil (over half is there), and stretches over many countries, including Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. It holds more than 2,500 tree species and 30 per cent of all known plant species – 30,000 in all. It contains the world’s largest tropical forest national park, Brazil’s Tumucumaque Mountains National Park(http://www.amazon-rainforest.org/places-of-interest.html).

Africa’s Fast-Growing Cities: A New Frontier of Opportunities Development Challenges: According to a new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development, Africa now has a larger urban population than North America and 25 of the world’s fastest growing big cities. Europe’s share of the world’s 100 largest cities has fallen to under 10 percent in the past century.

Turning Street Children into Entrepreneurs Development Challenges: The UN estimates that 500 million people around the world are homeless, and UNICEF estimates India alone has 11 million homeless children on its streets (though it is difficult to pin down the figure). In order to survive another day, these children will work in one way or another.

October

African Culture as Big Business Development Challenges: In the last decade the world’s creative industries (including crafts, fashion and design) have gained greater respect for being the spark that drives economic development and entrepreneurship. They are seen as fast growers and good job creators, and importantly, the lynch pin in cultural identity and cultural diversity.

Next Generation of Innovation for the Grassroots Development Challenges: Taking inspiration from science fiction sagas like the TV show Star Trek, the next generation of innovation is already taking shape in the South. A group of innovative facilities called Fab Labs (short for Fabrication Laboratory) in Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa and Costa Rica are applying cutting-edge technology to address the everyday needs of people.

Ecotourism to Heal the Scars of the Past Development Challenges: The legacy of underdevelopment during the communist era in parts of Eastern Europe is now being seen as an advantage in the global tourism trade. Well off the beaten path for tourists, areas as diverse as Chechnya and Romania are working to turn their rustic rural hinterlands into a strategic advantage in grabbing the market for ecotourists.

Popular Characters Re-invent Traditional Carving Development Challenges: The popular cartoon characters from the long-running series The Simpsons are breathing new life into traditional African stone carvings.

September

African Breakthroughs To Make Life Better Development Challenges: In the last 50 years, the domestication of high technology – bringing cheaper access to everything from personal computers to digital cameras and applications like global positioning systems (GPS) – has transformed millions of lives and the way business is done. In the next 50 years, biotechnology is set to do the same.

Traditional Medicine is now a Proven Remedy Development Challenges: Once dismissed as old fashioned, ineffective and unscientific, traditional medicine is now seen as a key tool in bringing healthcare and healing to poor people bypassed by existing public and private health measures.

Mobile Phones: Engineering South’s Next Generation of Entrepreneurs Development Challenges: Technology is fuelling unprecedented growth in productivity in Asia, with sub-Saharan Africa languishing behind (International Labour Organization). But the growth in mobile phones could help close this gap, as home-grown entrepreneurs are stepping up to exploit this new opportunity.

Saving Water to Make Money Development Challenges: The world’s water supplies are running low, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), four out of every 10 people are already affected. But despite the gloomy reality of this problem, entrepreneurs in the South are rising to the challenge to save water.

August

Social Franchising Models Proving Poor Bring Profits Development Challenges: The four billion people in the world who live on less than US $2 a day have been described as the bottom of the economic pyramid, or BOP for short. In his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Indian business consultant and professor CK Prahaladargues that this attitude must be turned on its head: rather than seeing the world’s poor as a burden, only worthy of charity, Prahalad sees nothing but opportunity and unmet needs that business can address.

Cooking up a Recipe to End Poverty Development Challenges: Like music, food has a powerful ability to jump across cultural and regional barriers and unite people in the sheer pleasure of the meal. Tapping the rich vein of regional culinary heritages is also a great way to make money. Promoting local recipes and foods has other benefits: as the global obesity (or globesity as WHO calls it) epidemic reaches into the urban areas of cities in the developing world, anything that pulls people away from fast food and high-fat foods is a good thing. Doctors have found home cooking keeps people thin and is better for them.

The Power of the Word: African Blogging and Books Development Challenges:“Culture is not a luxury … Culture is the spiritual backbone of society”: with these words Jan Kees van de Werk, the Dutch poet and long-standing advocate of African literature, summed up the importance of culture to Africa’s development. Two trends could significantly alter the prospects for African writers in 2007: the new wave of African bloggers and websites that are now emerging, and the increasing awareness of African literature.

Online Free Knowledge Sharing Development Challenges: UNESCO’s Kronberg Declaration on the Future of Knowledge Acquisition and Sharing is blunt: the future of learning will increasingly be mediated by technology, and traditional educational processes will be revolutionized. Acquiring factual knowledge will decrease and instead people will need to find their way around complex systems and be able to judge, organize and creatively use relevant information.

July

Banning of Plastic Bags and Containers Brings New Opportunities Development Challenges: This month, Uganda bans plastic bags, outlawing their import, manufacture and use and joining a growing list of African countries seeking to sweep cities of this menace. Uganda’s ban follows similar moves in Kenya and in Tanzania, where even plastic drinks containers will soon be banished.

Record-breaking Wireless Internet to Help Rural Areas Development Challenges:Many initiatives seek to bring inexpensive access to the internet to rural and remote regions around the world. One of the most successful ways to rapidly expand access is to offer wireless internet so that anyone can use a laptop computer, a PC or a mobile phone to quickly access the Net. Access to wireless internet is being rolled out in cities around the world with so-called ‘hot spots’, but the thornier issue of improving access in rural or remote regions could get better, thanks to a Venezuelan team.

A New House Kit for Slum Dwellers that is Safe and Easy to Build Develoment Challenges: By 2030, some 5 billion people around the world will live in cities. Next year, 2008, is predicted to be the tipping point, when urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) will outnumber rural residents for the first time. These are the conclusions of UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report. Even more strikingly, the cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. And 72 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live in slum conditions.

Afrocoffee: Blending Good Design and Coffee Development Challenges: The importance of good design and a strong brand in the success of a business cannot be emphasised enough. That extra effort and thought can take a business from local success to regional and even global success. As consultants KPMG make clear, “For many businesses, the strength of their brands is a key driver of profitability and cash flow “. Yet the majority of small businesses fail to think about their brand values or how design will improve their product or service.

June

African Entrepreneur Wants to Bring Order to Urban Chaos Development Challenges:All over the global South, urban and semi-urban areas are growing at a furious pace. Great swathes of mega-regions – places where large cities blend seamlessly into smaller towns and villages creating a giant economic hub – are becoming key economic and opportunity drivers in developing countries.

Entrepreneurs Use Mobiles and IT to Tackle Indian Traffic Gridlock Development Challenges: Around the world, traffic congestion is often accepted as the price paid for rapid development and economic dynamism. But as anyone who lives in a large city knows, a tipping point is soon reached where the congestion begins to harm economic activity by wasting people’s time in lengthy and aggravating commuting, and leaving them frazzled and burned out by the whole experience.

Web 2.0 to the Rescue! Using Web and Text to Beat Shortages in Africa Development Challenges: The beep-beep of a received text on a mobile phone is now becoming a much-needed lifeline to Africans. Zimbabweans, who continue to struggle every day with inflation that has shot to 3,731 percent (Zimbabwe Central Statistical Office), have usd African ingenuity and 21st century technology to survive another day.

Bio-ethanol From Sturdy and Once-Unwanted Indian Plant Development Challenges:With awareness of global warming at an all-time high – and governments seeking real-world solutions to solve this enormous problem – bioethanol fuel has risen up the agenda as a replacement for conventional fuel sources. At present, most bioethanol fuel is produced from either corn or sugar but a less known plant jatropha could be the real solution. Brazil has been a pioneer in producing bioethanol fuel from sugar, while the United States has focused on its substantial corn crop as a source, and both contribute more than half the world’s supply.

May

Youth Surge in the South A Great Business Opportunity Development Challenges:The world’s youth population (those between the ages of 12 and 24) has now reached a historical high of 1.5 billion – 1.3 billion of whom are in developing countries (World Development Report 2007). Nearly half of the world’s unemployed are youth, and the Middle East and North Africa alone must create 100 million jobs by 2020 to meet demand for work.

Old Adage Gets New Life Development Challenges: Education is recognized as critical for development and improving people’s lives. Universal primary education is a Millennium Development Goal and countries are now allocating more funds for primary education across the global South. However, the options available to youth after primary education are often very limited.

Safe Healthcare is Good Business and Good Health Development Challenges: Many people have been shocked by recent stories about the proliferation of counterfeit drugs and the rate at which they are killing and harming people in Nigeria. The International Narcotics Control Board found that up to 50 percent of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit. This has driven home the point that without the presence of legitimate players in the African drug market, the illegal sharks will step in to make large profits – and a literal killing.

April

Creative and Inventive Ways to Aid the Global Poor Development Challenges: As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. Poverty can be a major spur to invention, and invention a route out of poverty – but only if the poor in the developing world can get the recognition, capital and support for navigating the legal and bureaucratic hurdles that will inevitably stand in their way. Thankfully many new initiatives acknowledge this.

Kiva: New Gateway of Loans for the Poor Development Challenges: The rise of social networking websites has created new opportunities for the poor to gain access to much needed credit. Kiva.org is pioneering a new way for entrepreneurs in the South to obtain for their businesses unsecured, no-interest financing from lenders worldwide. By just a click of the mouse a person anywhere in the world can lend as little as $25 or more to aspiring entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Innovation from the Global South Development Challenges: A major study has documented a rising tide of scientific innovation coming from Asia’s fast-developing countries, especially India and China. Conducted over 18 months by UK-based think tank Demos, it challenges the conventional wisdom that scientific ideas come from the top universities and research laboratories of large companies based in Europe or the US. It found ideas emerging in unexpected places, flowing around the world conveyed by a mobile diaspora of knowledge workers from the South.

Creative Use of Wi-Fi to Reach the Poor Development Challenges: In 2003 former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for greater access to wi-fi, or wireless internet networks, as a mechanism to help poorer regions catch up with the pace of technological change in developed countries. Wireless networks remove the need to lay costly wires and can quickly bring fast and convenient internet access to large populations currently denied access. By removing the need to lay lots of cables to get communities online, wireless could help poorer nations narrow the digital divide and catch up with countries where the technology has already taken hold. Social entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill the gap between the promise of wi-fi and the reality.

March

Trade to Benefit the Poor Up in 2006 and to Grow in 2007 Development Challenges:The global fair trade market – in which goods and services are traded under the Fairtrade logo, guaranteeing a minimum fair price to producers experienced unprecedented growth in 2006. In the UK alone, 2006 sales totalled £290 million – a jump of 46 percent from 2005. The Fairtrade Foundation predicts sales will reach UK £300 million in 2007.

Business as a Tool to Do Good Development Challenges: The United States’ fast-paced and highly inventive technology sector is re-shaping philanthropy and proving it is possible to do good and make money at the same time. The approach taken by these philanthropists is flavoured by their experiences in the cut-throat world of technology, where innovation is a necessity and where re-invention and risk are de rigeur. They share many of these qualities, counter intuitively, with millions of the world’s poor as they struggle day in and day out to survive and get ahead.

Social Networking Websites: A Way Out of Poverty Development Challenges: Social networking websites also known as, Web 2.0 – the name given to the new wave of internet businesses and websites such asYouTube and MySpace that are transforming the way people interact with the Web – has been dubbed the social web for its power to bring people together.

Fashion Closes Gap Between Catwalk and Crafts Development Challenges: The notion of doing right with fashion has been getting a make-over in the past few years. In the West, non-sweatshop clothing and crafts from developing countries have long been confined to a small niche in the marketplace. They were seen at best as garments for the eccentric or unconventional, and at worst as a poor substitute for clothing and accessories peddled by the major manufacturers. Organic or ethically produced products were often stigmatized as unfashionable and frumpy.

February

Dynamic Growth in African ICT is Unlocking Secrets of SME Treasure Trove Development Challenges: A newly released survey of 14 African countries in 2006 has documented the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on private sector development and how it is contributing to developing a vibrant Small Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in Africa. It discovered how dynamic the SME sector is, how it has rapidly adopted mobile phone technology (96 percent have it), and how if used properly in concert with this new technology, extraordinary economic growth is possible.

Grassroots Entrepreneurs Now Have Many Ways to Fund their EnterprisesDevelopment Challenges: In the past, African entrepreneurs were extremely limited in the options for funding their plans. They had to rely on often ineffective national banks or local networks based on political, tribal or family connections to secure funding for enterprises. That has now changed, and there is an explosion in new thinking on business start-ups and how best to help grassroots entrepreneurs.

African Tourism Leads the World and Brings New Opportunities Development Challenges: Tourism around the world is growing rapidly again after the setbacks caused by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Tourism is also finally acknowledging Africa – home to 888 million people (2005, UN) – and where 46 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s people live on less than US$1 a day. Led by Kenya and South Africa, the continent has come out on top in world tourism growth according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) (http://www.unwto.org/). While global tourism is forecast to grow by four percent in 2007, Africa as a whole enjoyed growth of 10.6 percent in 2006.

Securing Land Rights for the Poor Now Reaping Rewards Development Challenges:The hotly debated issue of land rights for the poor has never been more relevant. There is mounting evidence that access to land rights can catapult the poor out of poverty and spur growth for the economy. Experience in India and China is now showing the economic power unleashed when the poor gain full legal rights over their land.

January

New Battery Back-up Technology Targeting Developing Countries and Remote Regions Development Challenges: Africa’s greater global engagement and economic growth in the past few years has started to draw attention back towards the continent’s dearth of reliable power sources and inadequate power infrastructure. While demand grows at a fast pace, sadly political instability and lack of security in many countries scares off foreign investors and multinational companies who could help to expand capacity.

Computing in Africa is Set to Get a Big Boost Development Challenges: The image of Africa as a technological laggard is set to be seriously challenged as a number of developments converge in 2007. Alongside the booming African mobile phone market – itself now getting global attention for innovation – the African computer scene will soon have both the software and hardware that acknowledge the continent’s unique needs while being affordable.

Ring Tones and Mobile Phone Downloads are Generating Income for Local Musicians in Africa Development Challenges: African musicians hoping to support themselves through their recordings have always had to contend with the added burden of poor copyright control over their work. While musicians in the West are supported by a highly regulated regime of copyright protection – ensuring some to become the richest people in their respective countries – most African musicians have had to stand back and watch their work being copied, sold and exchanged with little chance of seeing any royalties.

Carbon Credits Can Benefit African Farmers Thanks to New System Development Challenges: The global carbon credit trading schemes emanating from the Kyoto Protocol are now creating a multi-billion dollar market – the European carbon market was worth €14.6 billion in 2006 – and represents one of the fastest growing business opportunities in the world. Being green has finally come of age. Yet all the benefits of this are largely bypassing Africa despite more than 70 percent of the continent’s inhabitants earning a living off the land.

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Innovation from the Global South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A major study has documented a rising tide of scientific innovation coming from Asia’s fast-developing countries, especially India and China. Conducted over 18 months by UK-based think tank Demos, it challenges the conventional wisdom that scientific ideas come from the top universities and research laboratories of large companies based in Europe or the US. It found ideas emerging in unexpected places, flowing around the world conveyed by a mobile diaspora of knowledge workers from the South.

China has seen its spending on research and development jump by 20 percent each year since 1999. India is now producing 260,000 engineers a year and its number of engineering colleges is due to double to 1,000 by 2010. Research and development in India has grown by threefold over the past decade. There is now a global flow of research and development money to the new knowledge centres of Shanghai, Beijing, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

The study found the greater political and economic emphasis being placed on science and technology was paying dividends. These emerging science powers are now investing heavily in research to become world leaders in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology within the next ten to fifteen years. This is also producing a flood of scientific papers from China and India to the world’s prestigious scientific journals.

For India, its knowledge-based industries by the end of this year will be a US $57 billion export industry, accounting for 4 million jobs and 7 percent of Indian GDP. Interestingly, the study also found a new wave of change is underway. Where once it was mostly low-wage manufacturing and call centre jobs that were going to China and India, a new wave of research and development jobs is now moving there. Drawn in by technology clusters in Shanghai and Bangalore, “Microsoft began to realize we can’t find all the talented people in the US. Nowhere in this universe has a higher concentration of IQ power (than India),” said Harry Shun, head of Microsoft’s research in Asia.

Resources

  • The Atlas of Ideas is an 18-month study of science and innovation in China, India and South Korea, with a special focus on new opportunities for collaboration with Europe. It is a comprehensive account of the rising tide of Asian innovation. It pinpoints where Asian innovation is coming from and explains where it’s headed. Special reports on China, India and Korea, introducing innovation policy and trends in these countries can be downloaded for free here.
  • Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India
  • Innovation China: A website linking all stories on the fast-breaking world of Chinese innovation.

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China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Since the 1950s, science fiction has been telling the world we will soon be living with robots. While robots have emerged, they have been mostly kept to heavy industry, where machines can perform dangerous, hot and unpleasant repetitive tasks to a high standard.

But China is pioneering the move to mainstream robots in more public spheres. And the country is promising big changes in the coming decade.

Robots, strange as it may seem, can play a key role in development and fighting poverty.

If used intelligently, the rise of robots and robotics – itself a consequence of huge technological advances in information technology, the Internet, nanotechnology,artificial intelligence, and mobile communications – can free workers from boring, difficult and dangerous jobs. This can ramp up the provision of public goods like cleaning services in urban areas, or remove the need to do back-breaking farming work.

Robotics also offers a new field of high-tech employment for countries in the global South who are producing far more educated engineering and science students than they can currently employ. These students can help build the new robot economy.

China is considered to be in the early stages of competing with robot pioneers such as Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United States. And China still has a low penetration of industrial robots per population. In 2011 estimates placed the number of industrial robots in China at 52,290 (International Federation of Robotics) (ifr.org).

In the years ahead, China confronts a double demographic problem. It has the world’s largest elderly population, who will need care, and it also has a shrinking number of young people available to work as a result of the country’s one-child policy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy).

Robots can help solve these problems.

China started its robotics research in the 1970s and ramped it up from 1985. It has already made significant progress manufacturing domestic robots for cleaning. The Xiamen Lilin Electronics Co., Ltd. (http://cnlilin.en.made-inchina.

com/) makes vacuum cleaners that are small round robots smart enough to return to their recharging stations when low on power. Another firm, Jetta Company (http://www.jetta.com.hk/home.htm), has built and sells the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaning and floor-washing robots (http://www.irobot.com/uk/store.aspx?camp=ppc:google:products_roomba:G_790612075_1846279957_iRobot%20roomba:roomba_brand&gclid=CMiezMiG8a4CFc4LtAodYE3MKw).

For the heavy duty stuff, there is Ningbo’s Dukemen Robot, sold with the slogan “man, technology, robot”. The company manufactures arm-like robots for heavy lifting and lifting in dangerous or uncomfortable environments (dukerobot.com/ks/robot-manufacturers/).

A company called Quick specializes in making soldering equipment for manufacturing electronic components and sells robots that can do this with high accuracy and speed (quick-global.com/9-new-soldering-robot-1.html).

Other robotic advances in China include a robot dolphin that swims through the water measuring its quality.

There are also robots in development to do housework and help people who need assistance in the home like the elderly and the disabled. These robots can monitor a person’s physical condition and provide psychological counselling and search for, and deliver, requested items. One example is called UNISROBO, and is based on the Japanese robot PaPeRo robot (http://www.nec.co.jp/products/robot/en/index.html).

Still other robots can perform surgical procedures or even play sport, like Zhejiang University’s ping pong-playing robot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BtHYHi7trA).

Even more ambitiously, China is developing robots to send to the moon.

The push to introduce robots into the workplace and wider society is receiving considerable attention in China.

The Taiwan-based technology company Foxconn – well-known for assembling products for the American company Apple, maker of the iPad and iPhone -has pledged to deploy a million robots in its Chinese factories in the coming years to improve efficiency.

Some are forecasting that if China starts building robots on the scale it has pledged, then the world’s population of manufacturing robots will grow tenfold in 10 years.

China is also broaching one of the trickiest aspects of robotics – getting robots to interact with humans.

The tricky bit in robotics is getting interaction with human beings right and to avoid the experience being intimidating or frightening. One sector that is already ahead in experimenting with this aspect of robots is the restaurant business. One robot being used in restaurants sits on a tricycle trolley laden with drinks. It cycles from table to table in endless rotation allowing customers to choose drinks when they like.

The first robot restaurant started a trial run in 2010 in Jinan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinan), the capital of Shandong Province. The hot pot restaurant uses six robots to help with the service. The restaurant has also given itself the perfect name for this new approach: Continental Robot Experience Pavilion. Adorned with robot posters, the restaurant is 500 square metres in size and can seat 100 diners.

Diners at the Continental Robot Experience Pavilion are greeted by two ‘female’ “beauty robot receptionists” dressed in uniforms. Inside, the six robot waiters serve the customers. There are two to deliver drinks and two to serve the small tables and two to serve the big tables.

The robot comes to the table and takes the customers’ orders for food dishes and drinks. The robots, designed with sensors to stop them moving when they sense something or someone in front of them, are able to handle 21 tables and deal with the 100 customers at a single sitting.

The robots have proven so effective, the restaurant’s staff can stay focused on administration and providing assistance. The cooking is still done by human beings.

This trial run is designed to test the concept and the novelty of having robots attracting customers, the restaurant’s manager told the People’s Daily Online.

The plan is to increase the number of robots to 40 and also to have robots do cleaning and other tasks.

“They have a better service attitude than humans,” said Li Xiaomei, 35, who was visiting the restaurant for the first time. “Humans can be temperamental or impatient, but they don’t (the robots) feel tired, they just keep working and moving round and round the restaurant all night,” Li said to China Daily.

Resources

1) The Robot Report: It boasts compiling more than 1,400 robotics-related links and is about “Tracking the business of robotics”. Website: therobotreport.com

2) The Robot Shop: Bills itself as “The world’s leading source for professional robot technology” and sells online all the parts, kits, toys, tools and equipment to get any enthusiast or small and medium enterprise working with robotics quickly. Website: robotshop.com

3) Robot App Store: Sells ‘apps’ or software applications to expand the capabilities of robots. It also operates as a store for application developers to sell their robot apps to others. Also has information and resources on how to get started making robot apps and making money from making robot apps. Website: robotappstore.com

4) Roboearth: Funded by the European Union, RoboEarth is an online, open source network where robots can communicate with each other and share information and “learn from each other about their behaviour and their environment. Bringing a new meaning to the phrase “experience is the best teacher”, the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction. Website: roboearth.org

5) Robotland: A blog writing about the “visions, ideas, innovations, awards, trends and reports from leading robotics research and development places in the world”. Website: http://robotland.blogspot.co.uk/

6) China Hi-Tech Fair: Running from 16-21 November 2012, the Fair is a great way to see the latest developments in robotics in China. Website: chtf.com/english/

7) Singularity Hub: A cornucopia of robotic resources and news on “science, technology and the future of mankind”. Website: http://singularityhub.com/

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Taking Medicine To The People: Four Innovators In Community Health

Preventing and treating illness at home or in small local clinics makes financial sense. It also makes patients a whole lot happier.

By David South

Canadian Living (Canada), January 1993

Your health is your wealth, my grandmother used to say. It certainly is our most valuable resource – and when its caretaker, universal health care, is under attack, people take notice.

Provincial health ministries across Canada are scrambling to find new cost-efficient ways to deliver health care, and community health care is an increasingly talked-about option.

“Every royal commission has suggested we need to shift resources to community care and stop focusing on institutions,” says Carol Kushner, co-author, with Dr. Michael Rachlis, of Second Opinion (HarperCollins, 1990), a blockbuster book that challenges the way we approach health care in Canada. According to Rachlis, health care nationally cost more than $60 billion in 1992 and is primarily delivered through hospitals and doctors’ private practices. Yet 20 per cent of all patients in acute care hospitals don’t belong there, and about five per cent of hospital admissions for people over age 65 are the result of improper use of prescription drugs.

One study of the Toronto Health Unit found that as many as 50 per cent of seniors residing in nursing homes who were admitted to hospitals with pneumonia had contracted it through mouth infections. If they had received regular dental check-ups in the community or at institutions, these unnecessary and costly admissions could have been avoided.

Increasing numbers of people see community health care as the way of the future. In this model, health care providers – doctors, nurses and support staff – work as a team, and users of health care are involved in making important decisions. Community-based care supplements a medical approach to illness, with emphasis on social and environmental factors like work-related stress. Its advocates say community care can wean us off our addication to expensive hospitals (where one bed costs at least $100,000 a year), drugs and surgery – and make us all healthier.

“Fee for service” encourages doctors to see as many people as possible, emphasizing quantity over quality. In community health centres, doctors are put on a salary and encouraged to give as much attention as necessary to each patient. By simply spending more time with each patient, and by taking into account factors such as illiteracy and cultural differences, community clinics can cut down on misuse of medication.

Jane Underwood, director of public health nursing for the regional municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth in Ontario, says we have reached the limit of what hospitals can do to improve health. “Other factors are now more important than a strictly medical approach, which was the foundation of the old health care system. In 1974, a Health and Welfare paper urged a behavioral approach – stop smoking, get more exercise. Now we are moving to a socio-environmental approach, looking at poverty, social isolation, and unemployment, and their effects on health.”

“Community health care is inevitable because we can now do many procedures on an outpatient basis. With the new technology, all kinds of things can be done outside institutions,” says University of Toronto professor Raisa Deber, co-editor of the recently released book Restructuring Canada’s Health Services System (University of Toronto Press, 1992).

“Just as people can work out of their homes because of computers and faxes, technology can take medical care to the home.” This trend can already be seen in the treatment of cancer. Many patients now receive their chemotherapy at home, with the help of computerized IV pumps.”

If the debate over community health care often seems confusing, it may be because of the haphazard patchwork of programs across Canada. Quebec is the only province that took community health care seriously enough to set up clinics across the province in the 1970s and make those clinics an integral part of the provincial system. Elsewhere in Canada, programs sprang up in the ’60s and ’70s at the initiative of community activists but were met with indifference or hostility from government.

The challenge for community care advocates is to educate both the public and governments. Jane Underwood admits it will be a tough struggle. “Governments are beginning to understand, but the public still has reservations. They panic when there are fewer surgeries and feel that lots of high tech will provide a safety net for health. In fact, it is more scientific to probe for the true causes of illness and not think that just taking a pill will make us better.”

Four Innovators in Community Health

South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto

This fully functioning health centre opened in 1976 in Riverdale, a multicultural and economically diverse neighborhood. The staff consists of doctors, nurses, chiropodists, social workers, health promoters and a nutritionist. Innovative in taking on economic concerns of the community, the centre has set up a community food market to provide cheap and healthful food and recently started workshops with business and community members to come up with strategies to recover jobs lost during the recession. “We consider ourselves part of a movement,” says executive director Liz Feltes. And this is played out in projects with local groups and citizens on a variety of issues – from wife assault, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, to medication literacy for seniors. 

Victoria Health Project, Victoria

Originally started in 1988 to tackle the problem of poor communication between hospitals and community health providers, the project first targeted Victoria’s large senior citizen population. Twelve programs were launched, including Wellness Centres, palliative support teams for patients dying at home and elderly outreach service focused on mental health. The project has been successful at getting local services to cooperate and eliminate duplication. “There are 500 different agencies for seniors in Victoria, so we linked up with them and increased cooperation,” says Susan Lles, excutive coordinator of the project.

It was such a great success that the minister of health created the Capital Health Council to expand the program to the rest of the community. Now, for example, in hospital emergency rooms, quick response teams of nurses assess whether a patient would be better served by other services in the community or by being admitted to hospital. 

Centres locaux de services communautaires (CLSC), across Quebec

Started in 1972 as part of province-wide health reforms, these comprehensive health centres now number 158, with more than 500 satellite offices all over Quebec. Every citizen is guaranteed access to a CLSC, even in remote areas. With five per cent of the provincial health budget, they are able to serve 41 pr cent of the population. They also involve the community through elected boards. “We think it is a unique model in that it integrates health and social services in the same place – both prevention and cure,” says Maurice Payette, president of the federation of CLSCs. Because CLSCs are close to the community, governments, schools, community groups and other organizations have turned to them for advice during the last five years. In rural areas, CLSCs have been crucial in reducing the number of farm accidents. 

Canadian Healthy Communities Project (CHCP), across Canada

Started in 1989, the program is aimed at municipalities and gets them to pledge that they will review all their actions with community health (including impact on the environment and economy) in mind. CHCP is part of an international movement linked with the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities movement. With more than 150 participating programs, it is an innovative attempt at getting the powers that be to plan for overall health. “We bring together community leaders to make a list of top 10 health problems and then decide what can be done with the existing budgets and staffing,” says David Sherwood, project director. The city of Sherbrooke, Que., is a classic example. Facing reduced funds for road and sidewalk repairs, the city concentrated on repairs in neighborhoods with hig numbers of the disabled and elderly, thereby reducing the number of accidents. Unfortunately, funding was recently reduced dramatically by Health and Welfare Canada, but programs in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec continue with the help of their own provincial government.