1. 10 non-obvious assumptions about your target customer or organization that you need to validate.
  • They might be highly capable of operating whatever type of machinery that we put in front of them
  • They may already have another form of income
  • These women may not have all day to work on creating the products that we are thinking about
  • There may not be a market for whatever product we decide is the best for them to start producing
  • There may not be an easy way for the women to get enough plastic to create these products
  • It may be a more laborious process than we originally intended
  • There may not be enough space to collect, produce, and store the products we plan to have the women create
  1. List 10 hypotheses about your project that you need to test during fieldwork
  • The team will have to test and make sure that the women can, in fact, make use of the machinery easily
  • They need to make sure there is a steady collection stream of the plastics
  • Whatever system we decide is easiest to obtain these plastics, we need to make sure it works
  • They need to make sure that the amount of sorting, cleaning, producing, and potentially selling of these plastics and products isn’t overwhelming for the women
  • We need to make sure that this is a program that will not take up too much of their time during the day so that if they have other priorities at home they can take care of those too
  • The team needs to make sure that it is a safe working environment for the women
  • they need to make sure that the women the team will be training think that the products they will be making are a good fit for the community
  1. What do you think you bring to your team? How has your perception of your own strengths and weaknesses changed over the course of the class?

One of the strengths I bring to the team is my research skills, my writing skills, my background in environmental studies and sustainable development, and my past experience in working on projects such as this one.  Since I won’t be traveling to the Philipines with the team, most of the work I am doing is heavily research oriented. I can sit down and find information on whatever is relevant to us within minutes (maybe an exaggeration?).  However, there is only so much research one can do without actually experiencing what the work is like on the ground.  Since I am studying environmental studies and sustainable development, I am looking at this project with a major environmental perspective which is unique compared to all the other members of the team.  In class, I have brought up questions addressing the impact that this project will make on the environment overall.  Even though we are taking plastics out of the environment, are we going to create other toxic chemicals from transportation and processing of the plastics?  Also, since we are so heavily dependent on repurposing these plastics, are we doing anything to solve the root of the plastics problem not only in the Philipines but worldwide?

Last class this prompted a short discussion on having this project potentially change the narrative of single-use plastics in the Philipines. If people realize that the products that the women will be creating are out of recycled plastics, will the population begin to think differently about the plastic products they buy everyday?

Last Weeks Presentation

I found this weeks presentation with Sue Baggot and her husband very interesting and engaging, especially being so late at night.  I’ve never heard about Angel Investors before this meeting, but I definitely think they could be useful when it comes to our project.

Since we are just starting with this project, we will have to maintain funding through either Lehigh or the university in the Philipines to begin our preliminary phases of the project.  However, I think the group who comes in next year will definitely need to actively start reaching out to Angel Investors as well as larger ones.  I think by then after we have had a team on the ground in the Philipines we will have a better idea as to if this machine we are creating will even be feasible and will work for the women at the cooperative.  Finding funding now in such an early stage of the project is difficult since nothing is quite solidified yet.  We are still in the experimental phase and we may even need to backtrack a bit once the team comes back from the Philipines.

As Sue said, Angel Investors are looking for people and teams who are willing to pivot.  We can’t be too set in stone with our original plan especially if we don’t think it’s going to work in the long run.  She also mentioned that they look for people who have failed in previous ventures so it’s important for us to remember that it’s ok to fail sometimes.  If what we initially create and bring to the Philipines doesn’t work the way we anticipated it to, that is perfectly fine.  Flexibility and resilience with projects such as this one are extremely important and will speak wonders when we start applying for funding from larger sources.

I personally am very passionate about the environment, so I want to ensure that we create a product that will be sustainable every step of the way.  I’m not the most talented when it comes to designing products, however, research and planning is my forte.  My design process would essentially revolve around everything outside of the product. The outside forces such as materials, collection, transportation, and distribution.  With our plastics project, I would love to focus more on the ways in which we can sell the products locally and work with the women to ensure that everything is running smoothly for them. I’ve talked about this before in other posts, but keeping our projects environmental impact in mind is extremely important when dealing with this project.  Doing this in a sustainable manner is extremely important to me, and taking into account the cultural impact we will have is major in this process.

I feel as if our project concept is fairly straightforward when it comes to assessing validation.  Reducing the number of plastics put into the environment and re-using them by creating different products from them is always a plus.  The impact that this project will have on the local women in the Philippines will be tremendous as well.  Allowing them to earn their own income and providing them with financial freedom is a liberating thing for some women in developing countries.  One criticism I can see maybe appearing out of this project is the argument that we aren’t truly doing anything to eliminate these plastics from the planet.  If pollution is our problem on this finite planet, shouldn’t we just stop using them all together?  Stop producing plastic products if that’s our problem!  But, we are simply taking the plastics that have already been produced by consumers and re-using them hopefully so more plastic won’t be created for those products we are planning on creating.  It’s difficult to get rid of such important material within any society.  I know in some places plastic bags or straws have already been banned, which is a step in the right direction, but you won’t see a nation or a town turn around and ban all plastic.

Being able to engage with everyone involved with this project is essential to the success of it.  We cannot simply think solely about the product and the product design.  We have to think about who is going to be using it and the impact it is going to have on the community as a whole.  If we create a plastic cup made out of recycled materials and sell it in a shop next to another plastic cup, what’s going to make the consumer buy our cup over theirs?  We have to take into account the design, the size, the price point, and where we are going to sell these products in the first place.  Even if our intentions behind producing the cup are good, that doesn’t immediately mean that someone is going to buy it.  We have to be in tune with the current market and understand what is in high demand and what is going to best help support these women.  Working within the community and talking to our partners may help us with this process, as we can get a sense of what is really needed and what will draw people in.  If we make larger products we might have to start thinking about marketing strategies.  Aspirational marketing is one great way to help sell a product.  You want to make and advertise something  that people aspire to be.  Something that is ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’.

We can look to nature for so many solutions to our everyday problems as we learned in Janine Benyus’ TED Talk.  When it comes to our plastics project in the Philippines, we should try to not only look to nature when thinking about ways in which we can re-use these plastics but understand how we will also affect nature in the process.  The creation of plastics is already harmful to the environment, from the chemicals that are used to create the product to the actual manufacturing process.  Even before plastic products are placed on the market, they are affecting the environment in so many negative ways.  If one of the purposes of us re-using this plastic is to get the products out of the environment, we should repurpose them in a way that would require as little excess environmental damage as possible.  Our environmental impact with this project doesn’t stop when it comes to re-purposing the plastics and removing them from the environment.  We have to take into account our solutions entire carbon footprint in order to consider this a truly sustainable venture.  The distance these products will travel from its original source, to where we re-purpose them, to their final destination however far that may be.  These all need to be taken into account.  We should think about the environmental impact of the ways in which we will alter these plastics– will they be melted, cut, or smashed?  What kind of waste will be produced and what would we do with that waste?  Thinking even further ahead, what is going to happen once the end user is done with this product?  Will it end up in the landfill once more?

Depending on what we decide to make with these various plastic products, our designers could potentially use biomimicry to ensure that they are strong and durable products like Benyus discussed in her TED Talk.  It’s important that we make sure that whatever we produce that its high quality and extremely sustainable.  It wouldn’t be ethical of us to introduce this repurposed product to a developing community that doesn’t last as long as whatever the regular product would.  I personally don’t know much about this part of the project since I’m not an engineer, but that would definitely be something that the engineers and designers in this group would have to consider.

Life’s five principles reminded me about so many things about life on earth, but the one that resonated with me the most that actually connects to this project was the fourth principle.  “Life inhabits the same space where it synthesizes, uses, and disposes of chemicals or toxins.”  Everything we do on this planet, everything we create, everything we dispose of, remains on the planet.  Even if it is something that is out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  With our plastics project, we can help bring light to this (even though it isn’t a new phenomenon) and maybe get people to think more about sustainability in developing countries like the Philipines.  It may only start with our final product and whoever the final consumers are, or it may begin when we start outreach and asking for funding.  No matter what, what we are doing will begin a dialogue and remind people that it’s important to look at the products we use every day.

Research Week!

This past week we were asked to research more information regarding woman’s cooperatives in developing countries, so Bridget and I decided to tackle that part of the coursework.  From our research, we dug up a lot of interesting information about cooperatives primarily in Africa.  I thought it was really interesting the amount of support that co-ops provide for women in a variety of cultures.  I love the sense of community that the co-ops provide for the women, which in many developing country cultures, a community is important for many women.  It also provides a sense of economic security for these women who may not have a steady source of their own income.  These co-ops often promote furthering a woman’s education so that they can contribute to society at large.

However, through our research, we also discovered some barriers that many of these women face when it comes to operating and participating in these independent cooperatives. In many cases, cultural norms prevent many women from being able to work outside of the home.  There is a heavy patriarchal system established in many developing countries, where woman are expected to control the household while the men go out and work.  This leaves the women involved in co-ops with mountains of housework to balance once they get home.  Because of these cultural norms, it can be difficult for the women running the co-ops to receive state funding so they heavily rely on outside donors.

Going forward with this project, we need to be aware of where the funding for this project is coming from or if there is none we need to find reliable funding for these women.  Depending on the cultural norms of the Philipines, will the government be willing to donate money to this cooperative? And are the women running their households as well when they get home?  Gaining a cultural perspective when it comes to initiating projects such as this one is very important to take into consideration.  We have to ensure that we aren’t organizing a system that would either go against the cultural norms of the community or create any extra stressors in the women’s lives.  It’s difficult to do this research in such early stages of the program, especially since we aren’t on the ground interacting with the women we will be supporting.

Another source of funding we could look to consider would be funding directly from the United Nations.  In the past, they have been known to support a variety of cooperatives in developing nations.  We would obviously have to be farther along with a project proposal before moving on with a step as large as that.