September 16, 2010

Revisiting Planned obsolescence, stuff and people

Some time ago, I wrote about planned obsolescence, and the need to change our way of purchasing, consuming, disposing of stuff with short shelf lives - including furniture and home goods.

Well, these check out this very good explanation as to how stuff (including home goods) moves along in the extraction to disposal life cycle.

The Story of Stuff

May 22, 2010

Designer Sidney Molepo

Botswana-born, Canadian-bred Sidney Molepo is a furniture designer and architect who creates work with both structure and design in perfect balance.  I love that his pieces are simultaneously modern and elegant, linear and rough-hewn (think Canadian simplicity). Moreover, he is a bit of a traditionalist, he always starts his design process sketching with a pad and pencil.

Sidney says that his inspiration is very much mid-century modern with added influences of South African design.  As a son of South African political refugees, Sidney and his family emigrated to Canada, and it was in beautiful Ottowa that he eventually earned his degree in architecture.

One of my favorite pieces is his Handle Chair which reminds us of the absolute simplicity and beauty that is great design. I don't want to give anything away, but you'll be seeing more of Sidney's work very soon! (I suck at keeping secrets).

What do you think? Visit his website to view more phenomenal designs.
Handle Chair. Sidney Molepo

May 21, 2010

Great Innovators reaping rewards at BOP

Years ago, during a business school strategy course, I read some works by C.K. Prahalad. From the first lines, I honestly felt as if the skies opened up and the entrepreneurial heavenly lights shone on me. I thought 'wow this is a man after my own heart". The late Dr. Prahalad was a strategy and innovation genius who wrote the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and many other books on strategy, innovation and global markets. He suggested that entrepreneurs and large companies alike find growth through product innovation for the largest (and most ignored) income group within the global population.

The population at base of the economic pyramid are defined as individuals with annual incomes below $3,000. Currently, this total income segment is a $5 Trillion market. The largest segment in the BOP earn roughly $1,500 annually.

While the individuals within this income segment don't have deep pockets, they do provide a petri dish for innovation and huge rewards... if only companies look at the needs of these communities.

As Dr. Prahalad believed, the worlds poor are not to viewed as charity cases. Instead companies should look at these communities for savvy consumers (looking for bang for their buck) with brand loyalty (don't have the $$$ to try every new product or trend that comes along), and unique needs. Furthermore, innovating for this demographic essentially means the creation of products and services for millions of people. While margins may not be high, volumes are enormous and the impact is even greater.

Large and small companies of the world, imagine not fighting for 1, 2, or 5% market share... take an unsexy route, develop a new product for say communities in Kenya, India or Congo. You might have millions of new customers in no time.

I was inspired to write this entry, bc over the last few weeks, I've gotten really excited by so many startups developing technology for the developing world - specifically African countries. A few of my favorite include Ushahidi which uses FOSS to Crowdsource Crisis Information. Similarly, Childcount uses improved sms technology to support child and maternal healthcare in Kenya...ultimately improving response time and treatment. On the finance front, Kenya-based Safaricom uses cell phones to perform wire transfers. Kenya was the first country in the world to offer this service!!! Now, get this, they've taken it a step further...with M-Kesho, Safaricom will offer mobile microfinance, insurance and other products...essentially mobile bank accounts for the 9.4 million M-Kesa mobile customers. How brilliant is that??!!!

What's really fantastic is that these innovations have utility across borders - even in here in the USA.

May 2, 2010

Creating Technology for Africa

My friend and fellow Thunderbird alum Matt Berg is improving health care to 100,000 African children - 1 text at a time.

As the Director of ChildCount+, Matt and his team of 100 community health workers are able to improve child and maternal health. Using sms text messages to register and monitor health of community children, ChildCount+ is able to provide timely and rapid response to health care needs, thus reduce gaps in treatment for children under the age of five.

The mission of this organization is built around five goals:

  • Register every child and pregnant woman
  • Screen for malnutrition every 90 days
  • Monitor for malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia
  • Provide timely child immunization support
  • Record all births and deaths
What's equally great about this model is that the 100+ local workers are trained to ensure the health care of their respective communities.


Time Magazine recently named Matt among their 2010 Time 100 people who most affect our world.

Congratulations Matt!

Can't wait to see how this improves child and maternal health across the African Continent and beyond.

March 24, 2010

UPS International Shipping - the Saga Continues

We left the lamps for shipping on Friday morning. Received an airway bill with tracking number 1zxxxxxxxxxxx to ship to San Francisco.

Well, when I tried to track the darn shipment on Wednesday. (Yes, $600 for 4 day shipping), I got this dreaded message on We are unable to track any shipments with the tracking code you entered. Please enter a different tracking code.

Long story short, UPS Cameroon didn't ship the items on Friday, they shipped them on Monday AND Changed the airway bill and tracking code. Is that even legal? No, Seriously, is that legal?

I'd demand my money back if I had a leg to stand on in this wobbly place of international shipments.

Thankfully, we received the lamps today, Thursday.

March 19, 2010

UPS International Shipping from Developing markets

I got a wake up call at 6:00 am this morning.

One of my manufacturers is preparing a shipment of lamps from Cameroon to our the Design Center Partners in San Francisco. She'd called me twice before I woke (annoyed by what I thought was my alarm clock) and called her back.

She was frazzled.

Stacy, she said, "I am so sorry to have woken you, but I am at a loss, I don't know what to do." Now, that frazzled tone got me into a panic because as a a French woman living in Cameroon for the past 15 years, Camille, is no joke. I think her Frenchness makes her tough by nature, add to that being married to a Cameroonian man and living in a village where they own and manage a 40 person furniture "atelier." I know she's seen it all.

BUT, whatever she experienced at UPS and DHL in Yaounde had her shook.

Evidently, UPS and DHL both quoted roughly 130,000 CFA ($266 USD) to ship this very small package of lamps to San Francisco. However, when she brought in the lamps after packaging, the price more than doubled to 270,000 CFA ($552!!!!). Mind you this is the discounted price after some good-ole African negotiation. I told you Camille was tough.

I'm writing this blog entry at 7 am because I want the world (or at least my small community of blog readers) to know what a major rip-off it is to ship from Africa and I'm assuming this goes for most developing markets. When you add any of the UPS & DHL'ers to the mix, the magnitude of rip-off goes beyond what we can imagine. These characters know that we don't have a choice. Using regular mail is NOT an option as the items would likely be stolen somewhere on the way to the Yaounde Airport.

So, as a fix, I'm absorbing the price differential into my net cost (reducing my already minuscule margin) so that the total cost to the customer is not hugely inflated.

If anyone knows of reliable and affordable outfits shipping from West & Central Africa, please let me know.

December 23, 2009

All I want for Christmas is less poverty

All I want for Christmas is......actually I want a million things, not really for Christmas or for myself, but for the world. At the top of my list is the alleviation of poverty.

I know, I know, that will be a long time coming or "nah soon come" as my Caribbean family would say. BUT, there are many ways that as individuals, we can play our small (or large) part in poverty alleviation - through giving. I love the idea of giving rather than increasing personal collections of STUFF.

With the help of technology, we can easily give to people near and far through organizations like Kiva, Tia Foundation, and Doctors Without Borders, SheaYeleen, ACCION, the list goes on and on...

Each of these organizations provide solutions against poverty or provide access to health care (which is intricately linked to poverty - if you can't work due to illness, then...well you get it).

Kiva for example, offers unique gift certificates which allow the recipient to make a micro loan to entrepreneurs around the world and once repaid your happy giver can decide to lend again and again. What is not good about that?!!?

Find a way to give, of yourself. Personally, it is my favorite thing to do.

Happy Holidays! I cannot wait for the new year!!!