Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


As an engineering student we had to design mechanisms that change one input into another output. The teacher called them black box problems. You have a spinning rod going into the black box, design a mechanism that will make the output rod reciprocate (move back and forth) – the answer is a crank.

The idea stuck with me that the role of an engineer is to isolate the users of their creations, from how they work. And in the last 30 years through the boom of manufacturing methods, materials, tighter tolerances and improved quality they’ve become very good at it.

Turn a key in a modern car and it starts. You don’t need to know about the ECU, signal bus, MTTF of the switch mechanism e.t.c. As artefacts have become more sophisticated, so they have become more like mysterious black boxes.

This also means that as a consumer of artefacts, it’s very hard to know, not just what’s in them but how they have been made and the impact they’ve had during their production.

Kaylan from Bangalore has a few ideas on how to change that. After quitting his business consultancy job a few years back he set off to explore India, living frugally and working manual jobs as he went. In India, dropping out of the rat race like this is unheard of.

Thanks to his experience on the journey and also his business management knowledge, he’s designed a set of principles which he wants to apply to retailing, taking the idea of fair trade a step forward. For instance the price tags will have a breakdown of exactly how much goes to everyone in the chain of production, transport and retailing and the shop will be staffed by disabled clerks. These are just a couple of the ideas that “I-Create” has. I share with him my idea that food should be sold next to screens that have live feeds to the farms and factories where they are processed. Imagine choosing battery framed eggs if they are next to video image of a battery farm hatchery.

But these are just a few of the idea for his approach to retailing. He’s also about to start work on his a village development project, Proto-Village, which I think has some really positive benefits over traditional NGO principles.

Firstly the goal is sufficiency, not development; to get the village to a place where they have enough, sufficiency, not growth at all costs.

Secondly it’s a finite project with a timeframe. Most NGO’s have a vested interest in perpetuating the problems they work on. If they drip feed a solution, the problem is still then the following year when they have to beg for funding, Solve the problem once and for all, then the need for the NGO’s existence goes away. The “Proto-village” scheme will be around for 15 years. At the end, if the team have succeeded or not, it will wind up. Again, it’s a nice alternative to the goal orientated approach, which doesn’t always work in the development field for so many reasons.

Kaylan is looking for volunteers to help with the project. They need to have expertise in one of 9 areas which include economics, welfare and education. Experts will spend 5 months in the village understanding how it works, drawing out solutions from the villagers, and applying expertise and access to funding so village life can be improved where it is insufficient.

People interested in opening the black box should visit

1 comment:

What do you think?