Author Archive

26Nov

With the help of Professor Manish Raizada from the University of Guelph, we’re excited to be developing a special venture – initially in west Africa through the agricultural outreach centre at the University of Ghana.

The program consists of a special fruit storage ‘baggie’ that contains twenty small colour-coded tubes of seeds and a pamphlet explaining the different plants. The seeds make up a whole portfolio of strong and diverse perennials developed by local experts. With instructions on locating the rows optimally, farmers can get good yield from a diverse mix of nutritional staples, cash crops, medicinal plants and even nitrogen-enriching varietals.

Our SAK initiative combines agricultural science with micro entrepreneurship – because the seeds used are able to be replaced in 12-14 weeks and resold by the farmer in the same clever planning package that guided his professional new system. Yield improvements are as obvious as the farmer’s enthusiasm.

The program is highly scalable, locally-tested and incredibly cheap. Each SAK costs just $0.50 or so and can be resold for $10 again and again.

26Nov

After hiring countless concrete consultants and builders, we’ve eventually formalized and launched an elegant solution to the high cost of building homes for the poor. We’re so excited about this initiative that the foundation bought four brand-new concrete block-making plants. Each plant can produce 12,000 standard 8″x16″ blocks per day (running three shifts of at least three workers each). One plant is now operational in the Bahamas. We’re looking to donate the others and partner in their implementation.

LOCAL MATERIALS: almost 90% of the homes’ structure comes from local sand and aggregate (the small portland cement component is often imported). 12,000 blocks per day is enough capacity to build dozens of family homes per week. The block plant requires a 20kw generator and produces good quality blocks for about 7o% less cost – while creating local jobs.

DRY STACKING: If you’ve ever done any construction yourself, you’ll know that laying blocks or bricks is quite tricky. You have to get the mortar just right. Masonry is a skilled trade rarely found in abundance in the developing world. But engineering research published by the USDA long ago proves that you don’t need to mortar between the blocks. In fact, tensile strength is 6x better if the blocks are merely stacked dry (which is really easy and fast). The same rebar is inside the walls for strength, just like with traditional construction. But a special strong kind of stucco is applied to the inside and outside of the wall to achieve ‘surface bonding’, which happens to also provide an attractive finish.

The combination of cheap local materials and easier installation is a cornerstone of our construction initiatives and a big win for our TownStarter program.

26Nov

We’ve launched our whyalog conversation engine, which is a free turnkey system that lets anyone instantly build and launch their own app to offer a special kind of advice messaging. It’s ideal for teachers, counsellors and anyone who wants to offer ongoing personal advice in a modern way, at scale. Like everything we do, it’s free and is ideal for both volunteers and entrepreneurs. So yes, you can charge clients if you like – for advice services like coaching on weight loss.

A whyalog is a conversation designed to understand, then help. The simple framework is deceptively powerful in helping students identify goals and obstacles then get creative about how to act.

What’s working / what’s not / what would it take?– Starting from these fundamentals, the system offers a library of ‘conversation elements’ you can customize for your needs. Most good advisors re-use the best tips, questions, links etc. Ours leverages this simple truth and bakes it into a messaging platform that lets users engage easily for a back-and-forth volleying that’s helpful in understanding.

Users can respond with gestures (ie swipe right for yes), which helps the system quantify and categorize answers so it can help suggest the next line in the dialog.

It even works with voice responses in 80 languages*, so it allows anyone interested in helping others – through mentorship, coaching, teaching etc.  (*There’s a small fee to Google for use of the natural language API).

The app builder is live now in a fledgling alpha version. So write if you’d like to try it now or in beta.

See more here.

 

TORONTO SUMMIT CONCLUSIONS

With distinguished speakers and a vibrant set of presentations, the Novotel Toronto Summit was a great exercise. Author Robert Calderisi provided his candid insight into Duff's excessive optimism. Robert's book 'The Trouble With Africa' details his concerns of why aid isn't working. The panelists' advice was that the Duff Young Foundation needs to start with a smaller footprint (a couple of tiny structures) in a country that would be easier to launch (than Liberia).

SIMPLER, CHEAPER APPROACHES

-LOCAL food production

-CANNING local fruits and vegetables

-BAMBOO farms and plant nurseries

-GOOD DESIGN sensibility for bldgs

-URBANISM instead of sprawl

-LOCAL manufacturing, local materials