in People

Martin Fisher is my new hero

Martin Fisher

Martin is co-founder of Kickstart (formerly Approtec), an organization designing products for the bottom of the pyramid. As opposed to C.K. Prahalad who tends to describe the poor as consumers (see sachet marketing), Martin views the poor as investors. I met him at the ID Design Strategy conference this past week where he told me, “everyone has the same basic need: a way to make money.” So Kickstart researches what the poor in Africa need to make money. Because subsistence farming is common, Kickstart designed a pump that allows farmers to irrigate crops using nearby streams or wells, dramatically increasing crop output and helping the poor enter the middle class. They’ve created other products to help the poor create bricks, hay bales, cooking oil, and so on. By designing inexpensive products and selling them, it ensures the technology finds its way into the hands of people who will use it, a model sustainable beyond charity.

If design is our attempt to ‘change existing situations into preferred ones‘ then Martin was the best designer at the conference.

  1. Jane Jacobs wrote that improvements in output/productivity of rural agriculture tends to drive more people into starvation than it helps, because all the people who used to do that work now have nothing to do, and because they’re in a backward/narrow economy, rather than a diverse/robust urban economy, there are no alternative ways for them to start providing any value to anyone. A scary thought.

  2. Maybe that’s why KickStart is creating other products as well — e.g. transport bicycles and a brick maker for house builders. I get the impression that they’re taking a big picture view of a region struggling to escape the stone age and finding effecting tactical ways to move them en masse into the iron age.

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