Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Modular Design and Social Innovation: The Darfur Stove Top Example

I absolutely love what Tata is doing with the Nano--cool car; even cooler process. As someone who drives a Hyundai Accent, I have a soft spot for small, fuel-efficient cars that move at ridiculously slow speeds. In all seriousness, I like how Tata is selling Nano kits and training local distributors to build these cars (Hagel and Brown, Learning from Tata's Design Decisions). I agree with Hagel and Brown that Modularity expands the influence and usefulness of products, and I think this is especially true with social innovation. When reading about how this "open distribution" process can better meet the needs of specific communities (Hagel and Brown), I immediately thought of how such a flexible system can apply to a plethora of social innovations. Of note, I think of how my absolute favorite innovation, the Darfur Stove, could benefit from a similar design process.


The Darfur Stove Project came about in response to the danger that women face in Darfur when leaving refugee camps to search for wood to cook. Mega geniuses at Cal Berkeley created a fuel-efficient stove that would help circumvent the dangerous journey that women take when venturing outside of refugee camps in Darfur looking for firewood. Potential Energy, the new organization that oversees the project, already employs some of the efficient supply chain strategies that we learned in this week's readings: ikea-esque "flat-kits" that contain sheets of metal that are put together as stoves when the kits arrive in Darfur from California; and relationships with third parties that are key to making the kits and to building the final product. However, the stove is customized for Darfur and the people in the region who will use the stove (Potential Energy, Our Solution: Sudan (Darfur)). I wonder whether there is a way to maintain the same supply chain process and allow for modularity that will cater to different communities across the world?

I am sure this idea is not new to the folks at Potential Energy. When addressing expansion, the organization notes that they are focused on ensuring that enough people are benefiting from their current stoves--The Darfur and Ethiopia stoves (Potential Energy, About Us: FAQs). My question is whether it is possible to create a system where Potential Energy can actually ship their kits to a variety of at-risk communities and then local distributors can customize the stoves to meet the cooking requirements of clientele in their specific communities.

When Professor Zak talked about the water bottle with a hypothetical "super power add-on," the actual water bottles would all be the same except for a tiny add-on that would be included depending on the customer's super power specifications. It would be great to see the Darfur Stove work the same way, with a general stove shell that can be sent to different countries that also allows for customization during local assembly. In fact, I would not be surprised if the engineers at Potential Energy are already working on it.


"About Us: FAQs." Potential Energy. Retrieved from http://www.potentialenergy.org/about/faqs/.

Hagel, John and John Seely Brown. "Learning from Tata's Nano." Businessweek.com. February 27, 2008. Retrieved from <http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2008-02-27/learning-from-tatas-nanobusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice>.

"Our Solution: Sudan (Darfur)." Potential Energy. Retrieved from http://www.potentialenergy.org/solution/countries/sudan/.

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