One year building sustainability

English, Updates

Last month marked my first year as a part of The Appropedia Foundation as its first full-time Executive Director. This year helped me find out why Appropedia is one of the largest resources of sustainability in the world and to develop a new vision for the next years.

The year 2020 has shaken our collective worldview in many ways. A growing movement sees sustainability as increasingly critical to our survival. For the rest, the global pandemic is a reminder of how fragile human-made systems are. The message is clear: we need to return to simpler lifestyles with better consumption patterns. As people ask themselves how to do this, Appropedia contains many answers to this question.

This year I focused on three actions as part of my work on Appropedia: fundraising, organizing content, and building a new strategy. These actions will help us connect with a growing movement around sustainability and to build our community. Here are some exciting announcements for you:

1. We are building a short-term vision and doing lots of fundraising. This was possible through initial support from the Shuttleworth Foundation. Last month we received a grant from the Intuitive Foundation. With this, Appropedia will serve as a tool to transfer know-how and practical surgical skills. After this experience, we expect to support other organizations that research sustainability worldwide.

2. We are working on new technical features and a site redesign in the upcoming weeks that will help you engage with your content in better ways: exploring, editing, and learning. Among these, you will see:

  • A new front page design and some minor changes to the site, with better search capabilities, and finally, VisualEditor!
  • Later this year, we will install a new responsive skin. Please let us know your thoughts as we test it out.
  • We are implementing the Open Know-How standard to organize projects on Appropedia with their metadata. We are also planning on documenting hundreds of videos made by our community. Appropedia took part in the development of this standard, and we will continue to expand it as we make use of it.
  • We’re testing a new search tool. This will help you discover projects by keywords, development stage, and the SDG.

We’re excited to find out how these new tools and standards will help you discover and use projects on Appropedia! Let us know your thoughts by posting them at our Village Pump.

3. We have future plans for better project documentation, technical resources, and other types of content. Our goal is to bring new users of Appropedia to engage in new ways, especially in areas where we have worked over the years such as research, education, and international development.

  • Since 2019, Appropedia Foundation took part in developing technical specifications for open hardware as part of a project led by Open Source Ecology Germany with support from the German Institute for Standardization (DIN). DIN SPEC 3105-1 and 3105-2 will allow makers to communicate their projects more effectively. We will start implementing these tools for new projects soon.
  • For over a decade, many schools and universities have edited Appropedia as part of their curriculum. In turn, their work has been of use to researchers and communities around the world. In the short-term, we will focus on improving our education programs, especially for distance learning during this pandemic.
  • Our community has developed projects to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Many we are also studying how appropriate technologies can help families stay at home during the pandemic.
  • In the long term, we want to devise ways for organizations to find projects and replicate them as cheap alternatives to prevent and eliminate poverty. We also want to bring this knowledge closer to communities without a need for intermediaries by creating Know-How learning modules and Open Educational Resources in engaging and informative ways.

Appropedia is a great example of an organic open source community around Open Know-How. Different from Wikipedia and other encyclopedias, we explore solutions to practical problems. Here is what makes it interesting: there can be as many ways to solve a problem as there are problem solvers. For this reason, we are working in making sure that Appropedia becomes a place to come and learn from a wide range of contexts and experiences. This will require an exploration our physical relationship with our environment and our existential aims as humanity.

Having said this, I am honored to be a part of such a great community, and hope to give you more exciting news as we grow together.

Appropedia as a research open-source tool in education

Updates

As many higher education institutions are quickly moving into designing and implementing online versions of their courses for students who are stuck at home, we have also seen the changes that education brings to the table at these times.

This is why I’d love to talk a bit about how Appropedia has managed to engage thousands of students in higher education courses through research and design for more than fifteen years.

Appropedia Founder Lonny Grafman did a TEDx talk regarding his experience as an educator with a hands-on approach. Much of this involved the use of Appropedia with his students.

How can Appropedia help students?

Besides being a large repository of open-source appropriate technology, Appropedia has served as an aid for online learning, for many years. Since its beginning, professors have used Appropedia as a way to guide their students to learn by doing, with a self-guided approach that allows students to adopt an article where they will write during a course.

Students will usually focus on a specific problem such as water quality, food security, sustainable agriculture, or health, working through a process where they learn about past projects and experiences documented on Appropedia while developing literature reviews and moving towards a physical design.

We aim for these open-source projects to be replicated by people who need to solve real, practical problems in different parts of the world.

Our most recent projects have focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have explored, from their homes, how people worldwide be safe, prevent infections, and solve their basic needs with cheap and feasible solutions.

Ameyali handwashing station design, an approach to cheap handwashing in the developing world by Fátima Landáver, Andrea Pinzón, Génesis Tenorio and Jorge Mira. https://www.appropedia.org/Ameyali

As students turn in their work from home, designing and implementing open-source solutions is a good way to contribute to a more sustainable future for their own communities.

In memory of Paul Polak

Updates

Last month, we received the news of Paul Polak‘s passing, an entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience supporting the underserved. We send our condolences to his loved ones and hope that his legacy lives on for the community to create a more sustainable world.

Paul Polak and his role in Appropedia

For many years, Paul worked on developing and selling products that were cheap, durable, and usable for people at the pyramid base. He also supported us during the creation of The Appropedia Foundation, for which we are deeply grateful to him. We feel honored to have him as an ally of our work.

A couple of years ago, Lonny had the opportunity to record a series of interviews with Paul, speaking about his experience alleviating poverty through appropriate technology. Watch the interview below:

–Emilio Velis

New Executive Director Appointed!

Updates

Dear Appropedians!

Three years ago, we announced our search for a person to take over our ever-growing community’s operations and repository projects. Today we are happy to announce that we have finally found that person, and he began his work on June 20th. Please join us in welcoming Emilio Velis as our new Executive Director.

About Emilio Velis

Emilio developed his previous professional career over the past ten years on volunteer management and fundraising, most recently at Habitat for Humanity El Salvador. Emilio supported the design and improvement of service-learning and ethical volunteerism programs and other areas such as innovation and social resiliency.

At the same time, he founded and developed Red de Acción Comunitaria, a technological initiative of sensors and communications to empower rural communities in areas vulnerable to natural disasters. More recently, Emilio has focused on design and community engagement as the basis for collaborating in research for a wide variety of subjects such as citizen science, education, and violence prevention.

For the past few years, Emilio has participated on different networks that focus on openness and collaboration, such as Internet Society, the Fab Lab Network, and Creative Commons through local and international projects and governance. His work has opened the doors for him to collaborate on many different projects to explore the use of technologies for solving social problems in North and South America.

Our Board of Directors was very impressed with Emilio after seeing his experience, dedication, and track record on how technology and communities can build sustainability through well-focused programs of design and participation.

He has also shown his commitment to not only making open works more accessible to people who need them but also to learning how to best provide communities with the tools to make and share as equals and co-participants of the commons. Now that we have met him, we are very hopeful for the future of Appropedia and unanimously and confidently appointed him.

What will he bring to the table in this new role?

As the new Executive Director, Emilio is eager to work closely with the community to learn what motivates individuals and communities to document their local projects and find avenues on which these initiatives take life through replication and growth. As Appropedia grows and develops new ideas, he is committed to creating an open space for different groups that benefit from the thousands of articles and many experiences created by the community.

We believe that having a new Executive Director dedicated to the site’s operations and the execution of the many ideas that Appropedia has built over the years will open the possibility for the community to grow even more. He will base his work in San Salvador, from which he will find new opportunities for social change through the Appropedia Foundation.

The Board of Directors and the community warmly welcomes Emilio into Appropedia.


Thank you,

Lonny, Chris, Curt, Andrew & Kiva

Thoughts on appointing an Executive Director

English

Message from the Directors of the Appropedia Foundation:

In April 2016, Appropedia will celebrate its tenth birthday!

One decade since its launch and over 75,000,000 visits later, we can celebrate the wonderful work of the many thousands of contributors to Appropedia from around the world. With tens of thousands of articles – edited over 300,000 times – on solutions for building rich, sustainable lives, Appropedia has become a vital resource for international development, sustainability, education, research, making, and sharing.

The Appropedia Foundation has been privileged to support the development of Appropedia. We have, we think, developed a culture and an approach that has worked well and gotten us this far. But we now want to go further.

Appropedia has now grown to the point where we think that new levels of commitment and investment are required to enable it to grow further. To reach more people. In more languages. With more content. With more quality. With the latest tools. And to bring its users together more.

The Directors of the Appropedia Foundation would like to hear your opinions on how we should invest and support Appropedia over the next ten years. While we remain committed to the mission and values that have guided Appropedia from the start, we want to explore how we might change our structure and how re-energize our engagement with the wider world.

We think that the Appropedia Foundation should recruit its first full-time Executive Director to oversee the development of Appropedia. This would take a fairly traditional structure for a non-profit, with the Executive Director reporting to the board and with responsibility for fundraising (including, initially, for their own salary). They would not necessarily need to be an expert in web technologies, but would rather support and develop a team to work on Appropedia.

Over the next four weeks, we would like to hear your thoughts on the idea of recruiting an Executive Director. What do you think of this idea, please? You can leave feedback here, on Appropedia, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.

Once we have considered your feedback, we will make a decision on how to proceed and may come back to the community for input into the priorities of the Executive Director.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and, indeed, for all your contributions to Appropedia. It literally wouldn’t exist without its users!
-Lonny, Chris, Curt, Andrew & Kiva

Student peer review

English

One of the powerful ways that classmates collaborate on Appropedia is through student peer review.

For example, Las Malvinas community center shade describes a student project to provide a community center in the Dominican Republic with durable shelter from sun and rain. Click the “discussion” tab and you arrive here, to see critical and constructive comments from two fellow students. Clearly they’ve followed useful steps they were given at well at using their own insights.

I don’t know which of our academic contributors began this practice, but I love the power of it. It gives students more chances to learn and to improve their work, to help each other to learn, while learning team skills of collaboration and constructive feedback.

Milestones of 2013

English

We’ve had a lot of news that we haven’t trumpeted, so here’s a partial rundown of 2013:

  • We passed 50 million pageviews since Appropedia began in 2006.
  • We’re merging with Ekopedia! Ekopedia is a multi-lingual sister wiki, with a couple of thousand pages of sustainability information in French, and hundreds of pages in other languages. The merge is planned for coming weeks.
  • We’ve been allocated a small grant to develop an input tool for projects from Engineers Without Borders Australia – which will also involve the UK and NZ organizations, for their “EWB Challenge” student projects. This will also enhance indexing, and it’ll help us in improving the site overall. Work planned for approx Feb 2014.
  • A recent and long overdue upgrade means we’re now ready to take next steps in site development – including the Ekopedia & EWB work mentioned above.
  • Michigan Technological University’s Professor Joshua Pearce got a bunch of publicity for the Open-source metal 3-D printer. The Appropedia page describing it got almost 70,000 views in a short period. This is one of the many pages Joshua and his students have produced on Appropedia. (Great work, Joshua!)
  • We have a book deal! We’re putting together a collection of work on the theme of “Water” – drawing from Appropedia and soliciting original contributions from experts and those with significant experiences in water.
  • Lonny presented at TEDxYouth, talking about “a better education” – all the projects he described are documented on Appropedia.
  • University classes continue to be a major contributor, with a stream of new articles developed by students each semester on a wide range of sustainability and development topics.
We have challenges as well. We need to communicate a lot more about the awesome things this community is doing. We need to get our volunteer/intern program moving. We need to raise funds. Plans are coming together, but we’re also looking for new energy.
Do you see a role for yourself with any of these? Please get in touch – leave a comment.
Thank you. I look forward to sharing 2014 with you.

Sustainable community action

English

Phil Green started the Sustainable Community Action wiki in 2004 – it’s about:

Information and knowledge sharing, but with a focus on what might be useful to community groups and active citizens interested in taking action to make their communities more sustainable and in support of environmental, social and economic wellbeing,

For some time he’s been looking for a new home for the wiki, and he’s decided to work with Appropedia. We’re very glad to have him Phil, and look forward to working with him.

Phil is now adding pages to Appropedia about locations around the world and their community actions – hundreds in total – which he has consolidated from over 2600 pages on the original site. Some of these form new pages (see the Sustainable community action category) and others are being merged with existing pages.

This builds an important area in our sustainability knowledge bank, and I hope we can find a powerful synergy.

How on Earth do we create a better world?

English

The Post Growth Institute is raising money to create a book, and (at the time of writing) they’re less than three days away and at 87% of their goal.

Donnie Maclurcan from the Post Growth Institute is a personal friend, and a friend to Appropedia. He’s also an engaging and provocative communicator, and I’m happy to see this book going ahead. He and Jen Hinton write:

Imagine waking up in a world where you feel good about going to work, no matter the nature of your job. You feel positive and motivated, knowing that your work provides you with a livelihood that also contributes to the wellbeing of others in a way that respects the ecological limits of the planet.

Welcome to a not-for-profit world, where businesses can still make profits, but any profits are always reinvested for social or organizational benefit, rather than being accumulated privately by individuals. This world emerged because, around 2013, a large number of people came to the realization that any economic system that centralizes wealth and power is, ultimately, socially and ecologically unsustainable.

People were fed up with excessive executive salaries, a financial sector divorced from the real world, corporations with more say than people, endless spin from politicians and entrepreneurs about the latest technological ‘solution’, and the trappings of mindless consumption.

As the mainstream attention on the Occupy movement faded, protesters even started to question whether being fed up was worthwhile.

Then a real alternative emerged. The people already had a business structure that wasn’t centered on creating private profit and concentrating wealth and power; all they had to do was grow the not-for-profit sector, shifting power away from the for-profits.

A not-for-profit economy changed the game by decentralizing wealth and power, while maintaining incentives for innovation and increasing people’s desire for meaningful work.

Before 2013, when for-profit enterprise was the main business model, it was contributing to financial inequity and vested interests. This had led to an increase of status anxiety due to drastic differences in material wealth. The majority of people often felt that because they didn’t have as many material possessions as the wealthy classes, among whom the money had been concentrated, they couldn’t be as happy.

For some people in the lowest income brackets, this inequality not only meant status anxiety and shame, but even a lack of consumption choices, affecting diet and health. For many, the solution was to consume more of whatever they could afford.

On the global level, this overconsumption went hand-in-hand with production practices that exploited workers in sweatshops to make cheap and plentiful products, while decimating key natural resources. This was clearly unsustainable. As more and more people realized that all forms of capitalism and socialism – grounded in a growth mentality – centralize wealth and power and are therefore unsustainable, they also began to see how a not-for-profit economy offered a way to decentralize power, whilst maintaining innovation.

When a critical mass of people reached this realization and accelerated the shift to the not-for-profit business model, everything started to change for the better.

How on Earth could that be possible?

This scenario of a not-for-profit world is closer to the present reality than you might think. Across numerous countries, the economic contribution of the not-for-profit sector has been on the rise since the late 1990s. In Canada, for example, not-for-profit institutions now contribute 8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

This is possible because not-for-profit does not mean ‘no-profit’ or ‘can’t make a profit’. Not-for-profit actually means not for private profit or not for the primary purpose of making a profit. Across most countries and jurisdictions, not-for-profits can make as much or as little money as they want, they just cannot provide payouts to private individuals from any surplus.

The pioneering work of not-for-profit businesses, from sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, banking, hospitality and healthcare, suggest that innovative, sustainable economies, with high levels of employment, can exist without the private profit motive.

Many not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy). Take, for example, BRAC, the world’s biggest not-for-profit organization.

Since 1972, BRAC has supported over 100 million people through its social development services, but almost 80% of its revenue comes from its own commercial enterprises, including a large-scale dairy and a retail chain of handicraft stores, all of which are run according to a holistic vision of sustainable business.

More importantly, not-for-profit enterprises could regularly out-compete equivalent ‘for-profit’ businesses in the near future, based on a combination of factors, such as:

• not-for-profit enterprises better utilizing the benefits of the communications revolution on reduced organizational costs;
• an increasing awareness of the tax concessions and free support available solely to not-for-profits;
• the trend in consumer markets toward supporting ethical businesses and products;
• the ability of not-for-profit enterprises to survive and even thrive during years of downturn, given their sustainability does not rely on making profits and that profit margins will continue to get smaller as resource constraints impact business costs.

How on Earth can you help?

Here at the Post Growth Institute, we are writing a book: How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050. This will be the world’s first book to explore the prospect of not-for-profit enterprise becoming the central model of local, national and international business, by 2050. It will also outline practical steps that you, as a member of the public, can take to fast-track this evolution to a sustainable economy.

We have created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to gather the financial support needed to finish researching and writing the book, as well as the funds to publish, print, market and distribute it. You can help by contributing money to the crowdfunding campaign here and spreading the word about this project and crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as possible.

For an outline of the book’s main ideas, see this 2012 talk by the book’s lead author, Dr Donnie Maclurcan, at the Environmental Professionals Forum.

Saturday is Free Money Day

English

Around the world this Saturday, people will be handing out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time, and asking the recipients to pass half on to someone else. This is Free Money Day.

The impact? A lot of positive confusion and questioning, the kind that leads to a rethinking of values. One example: A couple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, inspired by Free Money Day, declared they were “giving away half of our small land holdings… to begin a land trust for up and coming permaculture farmers”.

This action is organized by the Post Growth Institute, a thoughtful and provocative network of people around the world whose motto is “The end of bigger, the start of better.” When I first encountered them I was skeptical, but they’ve been encouraging people to question our unsustainable, GDP-focused status quo, and they deserve applause for that.

Do something you wouldn’t normally do – give out change to random strangers. Find out more at www.freemoneyday.org – and see the Participate page.

Here’s one of the great videos from the Post Growth Institute’s YouTube channel: