A Response to Teichman by Kristy Chiu

PopTech: Starting Small for Big Changes

On November 26, 2012, Sherman Teichman, the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, spoke to our class about his lifelong dedication to education which provides students with the necessary networks and access to the world to help them become globalized leaders. After growing up in a rough neighborhood in Queens, Teichman learned the significance of adaptation and resilience. The Institute for Global Leadership advocates these qualities in students through academic engagement and experiential learning. IGL aims to prepare students to address national and international issues by emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, and multidisciplinary approaches.[1]  Teichman briefly mentions PopTech, an adaptive and resilient avant-garde “global community of innovators” which works towards innovations in various disciplines that will have lasting impacts across cultures.[2] PopTech brings together professionals from various fields to learn from each other while creating socially innovative solutions to address a wide range of global problems including solar energy, climate change, water access, design, manufacturing, and insurance.[3] These social innovations, which have the potential to serve billions of people worldwide, rethink solutions to existing problems in ways which often begin small, but are scalable, replicable, and sustainable.

Amidst a changing global environment, there is a great need to use the vast resources of technology and tools wisely to address the different challenges communities around the world face.  PopTech’s interdisciplinary approach to social innovation addresses the problem of “silos of excellence,” in which positive changes are happening, but hinders the spread of innovations between different fields as “public health experts talk to other public health experts, designers talk to other designers, [and] technologists talk to other technologists.” [4] PopTech believes interdisciplinary work will lead to more efficient, positive changes that will create a more adaptive global community.

PopTech’s “micro-everything revolution,” highlights small beginnings to address issues such as energy, education, healthcare, and insurance. Krista Donaldson of D-Rev: Design Revolution describes her work on designing “hopeful technologies,” such as the Jaipur Knee, in places such as Iraq, India, and Burma to meet the needs of the world’s four billion people who live on less than four dollars a day.[5] Worldwide, there are 30 million people who need prosthetics but 80% of amputees cannot afford modern prosthetics, such as the $20,000 microprocessor knees often used by U.S. veterans, or even the mid-range $1,400 prosthetic knee.[6] D-Rev developed the Jaipur Knee to address the need for affordable prosthetics in developing countries. Some amputees are forced to use bamboo staffs, which leave hands calloused and spines misaligned. The other option is a $105 single axis prosthetic knee specifically designed for the poor, which is comparable to “walking with a door hinge,” with poor stability even on flat ground.

As an architecture student, I was inspired by the way D-Rev approached their design and managed to have a lasting impact on so many lives. D-Rev developed a world-class prosthetic for the developing world, which performs as well as if not better than the other products on the market, demonstrating the adaptive nature of creativity and design to serve the global community. The low cost, but high performing Jaipur Knee shifted expectations of what is possible by performing as well as ”higher-end” prosthetics. I can see the potential of the Jaipur Knee to inform the development of innovations in other fields. If the Jaipur Knee can achieve so much with so little, then perhaps the same can be done with architectural designs. A design which costs less to realize doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. The Jaipur Knee teaches us the value of critical thinking and problem solving over expensive high technology in developing innovations. Hopefully, products such as this will help innovators from different disciplines improve their own ideas and push industries to develop more sustainable solutions which rely more on innovative thinking rather than on costly technology in order make a greater impact worldwide.

[1] Mission Statement. 2011 Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University. Web. 8 Dec 2012.

[2] Teichman, Sherman. “The Institute for Global Leadership.” The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square, New York, NY. 26 November 2012. Guest Presentation for the course S318: The Cooper Union World Forum.

[3] About PopTech. PopTech, 2012. Web. 28 Nov 2012.

[4] About PopTech.

[5] PopTech: PopCasts: Krista Donaldson’s Design Revolution. PopTech, 2011. Web. 28 Nov 2012.

[6] PopTech: PopCasts: Krista Donaldson’s Design Revolution.