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Landmark Study Finds Simple Toys Key to Boosting Educational Development and Meeting MDGs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 5

African youth need to play more according to a new landmark study published in the UK’s leading medical journal, The Lancet. The study tackles the high rates of illiteracy and educational under-achievement in Africa and finds that malnourishment and lack of stimulation are leaving millions unable to benefit from schooling. It found projects that encouraged learning through play led to children boosting their IQs and getting better reading skills. And it comes up with a very simple and low-cost solution – but excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs – toys and play.

“These are not high tech interventions,” said team leader for the study, Professor Sally McGregor of the Institute of Child Health of University College London. “Research over decades in Jamaica (and other countries) has shown that women with only primary school-level education and a few home made toys can be trained to make a significant difference in the education, intelligence and mental health of disadvantaged children. The Millennium Goal of universal primary education for all cannot be met unless these children’s poor development is tackled.”

The paper – Strategies to Avoid the Loss of Developmental Potential among Over 200 Million Children in the Developing World – is published in three parts in the journal.

Twenty projects around the world were evaluated for the benefits they produce for children under five who use toys. McGregor, who has set up several projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda designing and constructing toys using whatever materials are available, was appalled by the widespread neglect of play throughout these countries. With play, the study found children read better, have better mental health and better self-esteem. In Africa it is ‘desperate, really desperate’ she says.

African primary school enrolments and literacy rates are among the lowest in the world, with over 42 million school children in sub-Saharan Africa not enrolled in school, and many children not able to afford to go or stay in primary school. Today a little more than half of African adults are literate and some 60 per cent of children go to school, according to UNESCO. The agency has forecasted the need for an additional 1.6 million teachers in Sub-Saharan African classrooms by 2015 – an increase of 68 percent.

The materials used to construct the toys do not need to be expensive or sophisticated. Toys can be constructed from banana trees, mud, corn on the cob, old plastic bottles, or cloth and straw dolls. It is key that the toys are safe for children under five and that anyone building such toys for sale must follow existing manuals.

McGregor continues: ‘One mother in a village was doing marvellous things with tiny scraps of material to make a doll. She received no recognition in the village for the work she was doing yet it was so important. It doesn’t take much – dolls or simple wooden blocks – they are so versatile. You see schools with nothing – it is unforgivable. The problem is how poor these people are – food just takes priority over toys – it is that stark.”

Locally produced toys are key to resolving this crisis for several reasons. Cost is the most important, with those most adversely affected also the least able to pay for toys and who are already living a precarious existence where basic survival takes precedence over play. Another factor is Africa being home to the countries who import the least number of toys: Somalia, Liberia, Togo, Rwanda and Chad. But the situation for African toymakers is often desperate as well, with many craft workers living at the economic margins. Several initiatives have emerged in the last couple of years to address this problem and ensure African toys are local and toymakers earn a living.

Initiatives like the African Toyshop based in Johannesburg, South Africa – a fair trade business – work to ensure African toymakers can make a living and get their wares to as wide a market as possible. The toymakers featured all use natural resources or recycled materials. Most work at the village level and produce toys that are culturally relevant to Africa. The organization COFTA – Cooperation For Fair Trade in Africa – is a network of Fair Trade producer Organizations in Africa involved and working with disadvantaged grassroots producers to eliminate poverty through fair trade. It is an excellent resource for grassroots organizations wanting to work with African toymakers.

Resources

The UK charity TALC – Teaching-aids At Low Cost – is planning to make available toy making manuals on a CD. Tel: (0) 1727 853869

This website also has excellent resources for budding toy and play area makers in Africa.

Online exhibition of African toys: Click here

Book: Africa on the Move: Toys from West Africa Stefan Eisenhofer, Karin Guggeis, Jacques Froidevaux Stuttgart, Germany: Arnoldsche, 2004. 216 pp., 195 color, 28 b/w illustrations. $75.00, cloth.

Published: January 2007

SDG Resource Centre: The southern origins of sustainable development goals: Ideas, actors, aspirations.
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Prisons With Green Solutions

An ingenious solution is helping Rwanda reduce the cost of running its bursting prisons, while improving conditions for the prisoners and helping protect the environment.

The country’s prison population soared to a peak of 120,000 suspects awaiting trial for their role in the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. The traditional court system, gacaca, is being used for national reconciliation, but the process is slow and costly for a country where 90 per cent of the population exist on subsistence agriculture, and where food production has dropped below 70 per cent of the levels needed for self-sufficiency (USAID).

But thanks to enormous, bee-hive shaped human manure digesters, a steady supply of biogas is on tap for cooking and lighting at prisons – the first country in Africa to do this. Five of the country’s largest prisons – two at Gitarama and one each in Butare, Kigali and Cyangugu – now have biogas plants producing 50 per cent of the gas needed to cook for prisoners. It has also saved half of each prison’s US $44,000 a year firewood costs. The money saved is being ploughed back into renovations to the prisons to improve conditions, and to provide more services like healthcare.

Biogas is produced from the fermentation of household or agricultural waste or animal or human feces, and has become a viable alternative when traditional gas sources become more expensive. The waste is placed in a 150 cubic meter beehive-shaped digester and fermented until a gas is produced. According to lead engineer on the project, Ainea Kimaro, 100 cubic meters of waste is turned into 50 cubic meters of fuel by bacteria devouring the manure in just four weeks.

The digesters are a project of the Kigali Institute of Sciences, Technology and Management ‘s Center for Innovations and Technology Transfer.

“Biogas kills two birds with one stone,” Kimaro told the BBC. It gets rid of all the human waste and helps cover the enormous costs of feeding so many prisoners. Prior to the digesters, the quantity of human waste was a real problem: it was flooding down hillsides and leaking into rivers and lakes.

A school, the Lycee de Kigali , also has a digester. “The methane gas is used to cook for 400 students and for operating Bunsen burners in the school laboratories”, Kimaro said.

Many would think this a smelly affair, but in fact the whole process isn’t that pungent. Most of the digester is underground and the gas produced burns a clean, blue smokeless flame. It is much cleaner than the smoke from firewood. The remaining sludgy residue is used as an odourless compost for soil. This is used in the prison gardens to grow maize, mangos, bananas and tomatoes – all of which ends up back on the prisoner’s plates, improving the quality of their nutrition.

“The firewood savings are excellent – they really make a difference for us,” a Cyangugu prison warden said, adding that the odour-free compost had done wonders for the prison gardens. “Look at all these bananas! This fertiliser really is the best,” he said to the BBC.

In Uganda, human urine and feces are being mixed with banana peels, algae, water hyacinth and poultry droppings to make biogas. In Uganda’s rural Mukono district, biogas is used for cooking, lighting pressure lamps and to power engines. The slurry left over is then used to fertilise the soil. For Ugandans, most of whom are rural dwellers, electricity is rare and petrol to run generators and refrigeration units is expensive.

“It keeps the environment free of organic wastes, is convenient, time-saving and reduces smoke-related illnesses often associated with the use of firewood,” said Patrick Nalere, country director of the Heifer Project International, an American NGO which shares livestock and knowledge to reduce poverty. “If the majority of Ugandans adopted biogas, we would preserve our biodiversity. People should exploit decomposing raw materials, which are free. Therefore, no monthly power tariffs.”

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: February 2008

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.  

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Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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African Megacity Makeovers Tackle Rising Populations

Nigeria’s largest, busiest and most congested city, Lagos, has long had a reputation for dynamism mixed with chaos. Its sprawling slums and ballooning population have for decades stretched governments’ ability to provide services.

The 2006 census placed the city’s population at close to 8 million, making it the most populous city in the country and the second largest in Africa after Cairo. One forecast saw the population reaching 23 million by 2015. It was called the fastest growing city in Africa by UNHABITAT (2008). The city is Nigeria’s economic and financial hub and critical to the country’s future.

According to a 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. Getting to grips with urban development will be critical for the future of the continent and the wellbeing of its people.

In West Africa, an OECD study found the area stretching along the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean had a network of 300 cities larger than 100,000 people and the biggest collection of urban poverty on the planet.

It is a common problem across the South as fast-growing city populations surge past the ability of institutions and infrastructure to cope.

By 2025, Asia could have 10 or more cities with populations larger than 20 million (Far Eastern Economic Review).

It is a development challenge that urgently needs solutions.

In Lagos, the Oluwole district – formerly a crime-plagued slum – has been transformed into a new marketplace, and the plan is to follow this with new offices, homes and shops. The brainchild of the Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babatunde_Fashola), redevelopment of the 20,000 square metre site is part of his multi-stage plan to bring more order to the chaos that is daily life in Lagos. There are also ambitious plans afoot to build new roads and bridges. The area’s traffic congestion is also being targeted for solutions. The former slum is now re-branded as the Oluwole Urban Market and Multifunctional City Centre (http://tinyurl.com/2wmrscq) and is being re-developed in partnership with the private sector.

The re-developed slum is part of the much-larger Lagos Island Central Business District (CBD) Revitalisation/Marina City Project, a five-year project, jointly executed by the Lagos government and private sector players. This project has already begun with the redesigning and reconstruction of roads and infrastructure within the CBD and the adjoining axes.

Another fast-growing African city is Addis Ababa. The capital of the East African nation of Ethiopia, it has been in the grip of a building boom for the past few years. But much of this building has been unplanned and, to many, is ugly. The current building boom’s architectural legacy has been criticized for leaving buildings that are too hot for the climate and require expensive air conditioning systems. They also use imported cement and steel and are not earthquake-proof.

Addis Ababa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addis_Ababa) was founded in 1886 by Emperor Menelik II. It is now host to the African Union (http://www.africa-union.org/) and it is this important role that has architects advocating for a new approach to the city’s development.

Addis is home to some of the highest density urban slums in the world, according to the UN. Some estimates place the population at of the city at 4.6 million people and that it could double by 2020. But its pattern is unusual for an African city. Dirk Hebel of Addis Ababa’s architecture school  (http://www.eiabc.edu.et/managing-board/scientific-director.html) told The Economist it defies the usual pattern of rich centre and poor periphery. Instead, because crime is low and the rich seem to tolerate the poor living among them, the slums are jammed between office buildings and flats in the wealthy parts of the city.

Architects favour smaller buildings that stay true to local stone and traditional guttering to collect the rain. Hebel believes turning local would cut building costs by a third and save on costly imports.

The architecture school has received funding from a technical institute in Zurich, Switzerland called ETH (http://www.ethz.ch/index_EN) to help develop new ideas.

Hebel and ETH’s head, Marc Angelil, have written a book profiling the architectural styles of the city. The city has gone through various phases: during its Marxist period (1974-1991) government buildings mimicked the Soviet Union. During the Italian fascist occupation (1935-1941) they followed the styles favoured by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Political problems aside, the architects believe the Italians brought good planning, allowing streets to radiate out from landmark buildings.

The city is plagued – like so many in the South – by pollution and traffic gridlock. Growth is on projection to be so large by 2050, the country would need 20 new cities of 5 million people each to accommodate it (UN). This is an epic challenge requiring imaginative thinking and new ways.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: November 2010

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.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsnovember2010issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Vietnamese Google Rival Challenging Global Giant

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Information technologies are creating new business opportunities across the global South. As more and more people gain access to the Internet in one form or another, opportunities to offer them services also increase.

A number of key trends show how the Internet’s profile is being reshaped by the growing number of users from the global South. One of those trends is language. English was the first language to dominate the Internet – but this is changing, according to the latest data.

China has the largest number of Internet users in the world (China Internet Network Information Center) and the Chinese language is the second-most often used online, behind English and before Spanish and Japanese (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm).

While most English-language users turn to the giant Google search engine to look things up on the Internet, Google also has many rivals chasing its tail. In China, Baidu (baidu.com) offers searches in Mandarin using Chinese characters, making the Internet easier to navigate for Mandarin speakers. Elsewhere, Arabic language Internet users are being offered new services and urls using Arabic characters.

In short, the Internet is becoming multilingual, customized and local, and creating new opportunities with it.

One new business in Vietnam is challenging Google with its own locally tailored search engine. Called Coc Coc (http://coccoc.com/) – Knock Knock in English – it has already spent US $10 million to hire 300 staff at its Hanoi base, according to the Associated Press. Whether Coc Coc is successful or not in the long term, it is clear as a business it is already helping the local economy by hiring so many people and investing in Vietnam. Google currently does not have any staff in Vietnam because of its concerns about legal conflict with the government over censorship of content on the Internet, AP reports.

Coc Coc believes it has developed a system that better understands the grammar, syntax and nuances of the Vietnamese language. Another advantage it believes it has over Google is its large presence on the ground in Vietnam. With a headquarters in Hanoi, it can quickly make marketing deals and agreements with content providers. To further its local advantage, Coc Coc has dispatched camera crews and photographers to film and photograph streets and log the details of shops, cafes and businesses – all to make search results more accurate and richer in detail.

The headquarters is spread out over four floors of a downtown office block in Hanoi, and according to the Associated Press has a relaxed atmosphere similar to that found in many places in California’s technology start-up culture.

Coc Coc is a joint Russian-Vietnamese venture and is hoping to ride the fast-growing Asian Internet market by offering a search tool that understands the nuances of the Vietnamese language online. By using algorithms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm) it promises to give a faster and better search experience to Vietnamese-language users. It also uses its knowledge of the local scene to  tailor results to users’ needs.

The plan is to spend US $100 million during the next five years to lure 97 per cent of Vietnamese Internet users to make the switch from Google.

“When I came here, I had some understanding why Vietnam was a good market to beat Google,” said Mikhail Kostin, the company’s chief search expert. “But after living here for one year, I understand the language and market much more deeply. I’m sure it’s right.”

Having a local search engine tool can be a successful approach. The Yandex (http://www.yandex.com/) search engine in Russia beats Google in the Russian-speaking market. In South Korea, there is the Naver (naver.com) search engine.

Google battled it out with the Chinese search engine Baidu in 2010 before leaving the country when Google refused to abide by government censorship guidelines. Baidu in the meantime has become the number one search engine in China and is planning to expand to other markets throughout Asia.

“Google is a foreign company, and they are not here,” said one of the three founders of Coc Coc, Nguyen Duc Ngoc. “We can serve the interests of the local market better.”

Vietnam has been experiencing rapid economic growth since the introduction of the Doi Moi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doi_Moi) economic reforms two decades ago in 1986.  Vietnam is fast becoming an Internet success story, with a third of its population of 88 million (World Bank) (http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/vietnam) now online. Many are accessing the Internet through their mobile phones and electronic devices.

Vietnam connected to the Internet in the 1990s and the infrastructure was built up in the mid-2000s. A national plan that kicked off in 2005 accelerated take-up of the Internet in the country as more and more people accessed the Internet through mobile phones, often at home, rather than just in public Internet centres. One study found 71 per cent of users in major cities were accessing the Internet at home (https://opennet.net/research/profiles/vietnam). One in three people in Vietnam now has access to the Internet. Significantly, the Internet has been an overwhelming success with youth in the main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where 95 per cent of people in the 15-to-22 age group has Internet access.

Optimists point to Vietnam’s large youth population, fast-growing economy and its modern Internet infrastructure as advantages that will boost its Internet economy. This is attracting entrepreneurs and investors from across Asia and around the world working in the field of online content, e-payments systems and other online services.

With Vietnam’s Internet scene on fire, many people and companies are piling in to come up with the Next Big Thing online. Many have failed, but the same is true in every other country where new information technologies have been introduced. The nature of information technology innovation means ideas quickly rise or die depending on whether Internet users find the innovation useful or attractive. Despite great ideas, there are often far too many factors at play to guarantee any one person or company will have a success on their first try. As has happened elsewhere, ideas hatched by small start-ups, if good, are gobbled up by larger companies. Talented and skilled people usually find themselves being chased by other companies.

Resources

1) Techinasia: “Vietnam is Asia’s New Tech Manufacturing Hub”. Website: http://www.techinasia.com/vietnam-asias-tech-manufacturing-hub/

2) Allo’ Expat Vietnam: A list of Vietnam’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Website: http://www.vietnam.alloexpat.com/vietnam_information/internet_service_providers_vietnam.php

3) Telecommunications in Vietnam: A quick explanation from Wikipedia on the state of play in Vietnam. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommunications_in_Vietnam

4) Vietnam Women’s Innovation Day 2013: Theme: “Women’s Economic Empowerment”. Website: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/03/13/vietnam-womens-innovation-day-2013-launched-themed-womens-economic-empowerment-8221

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022