The International Development Design Summit (IDDS) Uganda 2019: Transforming Household Livelihoods took place from August 21 to September 7, 2019, with 28 participants and 18 organizers from 11 countries. Among the organizers and participants were MIT D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith and two D-Lab students, Sandy Walter and Megan Ochalek. During this two-week summit, participants learned about design and entrepreneurship by co-creating a technology and developing business models with community members from Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement.
I just talked to Minha and she feels like leaving the office in South Korea and taking a flight back to Uganda. It’s been about three weeks since our International Development Design Summit (IDDS) together, and the withdrawal symptoms are real. We were on a video conference call with four other participants late in the night and just seeing their faces brought tears to my eyes. They have been my family for the past almost three weeks we were together, and though it sounds short, when you meet people who share the same DNA as you do, that bond takes only a few hours and lasts for a lifetime.
I always thought there was something up with me because I always chose impact over money. People around me wondered: What is wrong with you? Why would you leave a well-paying job to go start up something that requires you to put in everything just for it to be on its feet? Then, on 21st August, I met 25 other like-minded people, and that day marks the most important day of my life, of our lives, if I dare say. We all had some sort of idea of what IDDS is, you know, the ‘DEVELOPMENT’ and ‘DESIGN’ bit of it. Little did we know that ‘DEVELOPMENT’ and ‘DESIGN’ are just a tip of the iceberg (the last time I used that statement, I was writing a high school essay).
That innovator that lies inside each and every one of us could not be contained. We thought we were just solving a problem. We didn’t realize we were part of a network of innovators, ready to change the world, one innovation at a time.
I remember Amy (MIT D-Lab Founding Director and Co-Founder of IDDS) on that first night telling us that this would be the most laid-back day of the summit, and it made little sense to all of us. However, true to her word, the next day, the work began. As she detailed our IDDS history, where it all started, and the vision behind the spirit, our hearts were stirred. That innovator that lies inside each and every one of us could not be contained. We thought we were just solving a problem. We didn’t realize we were part of a network of innovators, ready to change the world, one innovation at a time.
We had to know each other, so we started with the kind of design activity where you learned each other’s strength. With a seemingly impossible task of transferring water from one end of the ‘farm’ to the other, using nothing but two pieces of printing paper, we realized that it was only impossible in our minds.
Every day started with something we all came to love as we waited patiently for Blak’s voice to break through the morning chill: MORNING CIRCLE!!!! It was a good way of starting our morning.
The lessons came in manageable doses, and when the groups felt like it wasn’t working, a dance break had a way of resetting all of us. I came to believe that we were the dancing IDDS: every single person was caught on camera at least once, dancing, some more than others like Mama Cicilia and Abhi.
We started the design thinking process, answering the questions: what is the problem the community is facing at the moment and how will our new technology solve that problem? The PATH/OATH (Problem/Opportunity, Approach, Target Audience, Heart) statement became the true north of every team. Oh, forgot to mention, we were designing 6 technologies: A pedal-powered paste maker, a machine to cut recycled plastic paper bags into plarn (plastic yarn), a machine to make it easier to make simsim sweets, technology to help with irrigation of mushrooms, a machine to make multiple charcoal briquettes at once, and an organic waste fertilizer-maker.
Then came cardboard prototypes, then shopping, then sawing and welding and grinding and drilling and nailing and … whatever needed to get done to make a prototype!
The design process for us produced not just working prototypes but friendships that ran deeper. We became one with our teammates and one with the community, and all we wanted to do was make great machines that would make a difference. When you hear of design especially in this case where we were building prototypes, you imagine that you need to have some sort of background in engineering. Then, as the process goes on, you realize all you need is the IDDS spirit and staying power.
IDDS built innovators out of us: ordinary people doing ordinary things with extraordinary heart, doing our own little thing hoping to change the world in our own small way to make it a better place. That spirit is inside each one of us, scattered all over the world: Syria, India, Mexico (Oaxaca), Puerto Rico, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, USA, South Korea, Pakistan, Botswana… We are everywhere, moving our mountains, building dreams.
IDDS built innovators out of us: ordinary people doing ordinary things with extraordinary heart, doing our own little thing hoping to change the world in our own small way to make it a better place.
Proudly, we worked together every single day, surviving on minimum sleep, for two and something weeks. We lived through pit latrines that we had to fight for space with cockroaches, frogs, and lizards; shared our rooms with bats and crickets; walked in the rain; showered under the stars; looked for the perfect spot under the tree to access network and internet; got bitten by bugs; traveled across the country to Rhino Refugee Camp, a journey that took us close to 15 hours one-way. On September 4th, we presented working prototypes to the community. As we held our certificates in our hands, words failed us, because we knew we had just been given the power to go and carry on what we have been doing: changing the world, lighting the world.
Like a jigsaw puzzle taking shape slowly, we added our pieces to the IDDS family tree, joining an indomitable force, that can only be stopped by our imagination.
IDDS turned out to be that thing all of us needed but didn’t even know. It made me realize that there is a host of other humans just like me out there, and now we are a part of a big network of spirit roaring change makers. May the spirit live on. AHUUUUUUUU!
Faith Kathoka is the founder of Mum Baby and Love a trust in Kenya that works with new mothers to help them navigate motherhood and have a fulfilling motherhood. A mother herself to twi children Mugi (6) who wants to be an astronaut and wishes his sister Maya (3) will be a doctor, started the trust after she had been working with new mothers and decided to take the same information to teen mothers in the Nairobi slums, a step that has seen her do research among young mothers and is coming up with solutions that are making a difference for the young mothers. Her perfect future has strong-minded, socially connected, empowered mothers who have a fulfilled motherhood. She was part of the IDDS Uganda 2019, a summit she says changed her life forever. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, a good book and is always ready for a drive.