Where the heck have I been?

I know I’ve been very quiet on the blogging front, and I take full responsibility for this.

Not to make excuses, but I’ve just been insanely busy. Since January 2013, I’ve taken over the helm of a 20-year old boutique architecture firm in Singapore. This was done as a result of my passion for learning about design, really testing my theories of entrepreneurship, and having an impact on the language of sustainability and infrastructure development in Asia. Even though the firm has done extraordinary work over the years and has been a pioneer in design, architecture and landscape architecture, it seemed like it had lost its way, and like SO many architecture firms, had been badly managed for several years. Turning around an established company in an economy that is changing as fast as Singapore’s and Asia’s (where most of our clients are based), is NOT easy, and has taken an obscene number of hours of effort, energy and time.

Credit: http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/growing/stop-bringing-the-laptop-to-bed-20131109-2x849.html

I spend so much time talking to people and on the computer, on email, writing reports and memos and doing powerpoints all day long, that the last thing I want to do is sit on a computer for longer after a LONG day and type some more. I’ve started to compose so many different posts only to wake up two hours later, with a sore neck, a sleeping computer on my lap and three words on my post. Not surprisingly, two minutes later, I’m completely supine as is the computer, with three words still on the post. The next day, new thoughts come in and I do the same ritual everyday. Then I just gave up.

But in late July 2014, I realized that I HAD to make more of an effort. Too many lessons were being forgotten. I had stopped journaling and blogging, and it was affecting the clarity of my own thinking. So here I am, making another feeble attempt. I hope I do better this time!

Innovative Accelerator: Startup Bus

Startup Bus

Startup Bus is an innovative accelerator aiming to build a community of young entrepreneurs around the world, and succeeding in doing so. It started as a joke that became serious very quickly.

The concept is simple. You apply to be a part of one of the various organized bus trips (there are six that traversed Europe in Dec 2012; no plans announced yet for 2013). If you meet whatever they are looking for, you are accepted and assigned to a specific bus. Expect your peers to be from a variety of backgrounds, and hungry to dive into the startup culture.

The bus trip costs ~USD200, and lasts 72 hours. During this time you are encouraged to network and brainstorm and a number of tools are given to you; including talks and workshops. You stop enroute on a “startup tour” of sorts, meeting venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and incubators. By the time you get off, the hope is that you would have the beginnings of a company, with hopefully a couple of cofounders.

In the worst case scenario, you’ve seen Europe (or some other part of the world where the bus is). Not bad, eh??

Interested?? Apply here.

Here’s a peek into what its like:

And for a parody, check this out:

Innovation in Sanitation: Winner of the Gates Toilet Challenge…NOT SO CLEAR

The winner of the Gates Reinvent the Toilet Challenge is…drum roll please…

WELL, not so clear.

(I have a lot of problems with the Gates Foundation including their inability to communicate clearly what’s going on…)

Gates has decided to give money out in the form of grants; and its not clear what happened with any of those grantees. They got the money, yes…but then what?? Have the toilets been developed? Are they being tested? Are they being deployed?? Does the Foundation really care?? Well who really knows…

One of the grantees was the National University of Singapore, a place I was stationed at from 2010-12 and working in the field of water policy (including sanitation) at the time. Even with all my networking, I never heard about the grantees, or the development of the project. So I was never able to follow or support the project as it developed; nor was there any chance of collaboration.

From this article, it seems like CalTech was the winner of the challenge. Their model and development is innovative, effective and deserving, but a little technologically complex. I could instantly see problems with operation and maintenance in the developing world. But I’m not sure again what happened with it.

More results of the challenge are available here.

Innovation in Sanitation: The Man Who Wore A Sanitary Napkin

Arunachalam Muruganatham at his desk working away on his award-winning sanitary napkin machine.

Lack of toilets and water during a menstrual cycle can mean huge drawbacks for women and girls. They can’t travel or get their work done on a regular basis; families that rely on a woman’s income will often starve during those days when she probably needs it most. Young girls often drop out of school because they can’t use the bathroom when they need, and this has lasting repercussions. Sanitary Napkins have traditionally been out of reach and too expensive for the poor.

Bring in Arunachalam Muruganantham, a poor handyman from a village in India and a high school dropout who was brave enough to take on the project to address the issues his wife was dealing with. It nearly cost him his marriage and made him the laughing stock of his community, but he stuck to his principles. Today, he has pioneered cheap and effective sanitary napkins for the poor in India and potentially the world. Watch his amazing story in his own words here:

Innovation in Sanitation: “She Toilets”

New “She Toilets” are causing quite an uproar in South India

In India, a country with one of the worst sanitation crises, the Hindu (the most respected newspaper in India), reports on a new initiative started by one of the small towns in South India to address the issue for women (women suffer the most with lack of access to toilets).

The “She Toilets”

The smart toilets will clean and sterilise their environments automatically. They have coin-operated sanitary-napkin-vending machines and an incinerator to burn used napkins. The toilets have baby stations to help mothers change the diapers of their children and Indian-style commodes.

Electronic display boards will tell users if the toilet is occupied or not. The toilet operation is remotely controlled. The smart toilets will send automatic SMS alerts to its controllers if the septic tank fills up or water supply is exhausted.

 

There are also security features to ensure the safety of the users. The agency has put up the “she-toilets” as most public toilets lack hygiene and pose health and safety problems to women users. The “she-toilets” have been designed keeping in mind the welfare of women commuters. They will be able to find the location of the nearest public e-toilet by searching on their mobile phones.

 

Sensor systems inside the toilet trigger its cleaning systems. The toilets will have washbasins, mirrors and health faucets. They will have FM radios and provisions to stop intruders.

 

Like everything else in India that is a public entity, I worry about the operation and maintenance, and long term use of this wonderful pilot project.

Sanitation: The Largest Infrastructure Problem in the World

This week is dedicated to sanitation. Around the world over 2.6 Billion people  (that’s almost 40% of the world population today!) lack access to sanitation. The results are catastrophic – high rates of diarrheal disease, typhoid, and other primary water-borne diseases; with numbers of secondary infections (such as HIV and TB) happily taking their toll.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1.6 Million people die every year from diarrheal diseases alone, with 90% of these being children under the age of 5.

The worst part is its preventable. Want to learn more?

Here’s a great video to give you some perspective…

Global Health & Innovation Conference at Yale

The Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale

The Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale

For those interested in presenting, Unite for Sight’s conference at Yale is currently accepting social enterprise pitch abstracts for presentation at the conference.  The registration rate increases after December.

Global Health & Innovation Conference 2013
Presented by Unite For Sight, 10th Annual Conference
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Saturday, April 13 – Sunday, April 14, 2013

http://www.uniteforsight.org/conference

According to the organizers, The Global Health & Innovation Conference is “the world’s largest global health conference and social entrepreneurship conference.  This must-attend, thought-leading conference annually convenes 2,200 leaders, changemakers, students, and professionals from all fields of global health, international development, and social entrepreneurship.”  Register here.

Interested in presenting at the conference? Submit a social enterprise pitch abstract for consideration.

They have a great lineup of speakers, including a lot of stalwarts. Check out their lineup here.

Voronoi Bookshelf, Rocking Chair, and Bug Hotel: A combination of design, engineering and technology

I’m always fascinated by innovative design that is useful, beautiful, and blends science/tech with art in a very unique way.

Recently, I came across a series of projects inspired by the Voronoi algorithm.

This fascinating project started by Stanford Neurobiologist and artist, Alan Rorie, is now on Kickstarter and looks like a winner to me. Building upon the science algorithm, the founder tries beautifully blend science and art to design unique bookcases for customers. Check it out below or here:

 

I figured the algorithm could be used to design more than just bookshelves, and found this rocking chair by graduate student/designer, David Phillips:

Beautiful rocking chair designed by David Phillips (source: davidphillips.us)

But that’s not enough. I also found a Voronoi bug hotel…in response to a competition to build a 5-star hotel for bugs (!!). The story behind that is here:

The five-star bug hotel from Arup Associates. (source: Good.is)