Durian development – a pungent manifesto

Welcome to Durian Development – the blog. In this blog I want to highlight the ideas and the innovations, the changes and the challenges that I am excited by in international development. This is as much for my own record of the ideas, references and resources I come across, as it is to share it with others.

This blog is called durian development because durians are found in many of the places I have worked up until now in humanitarian response and international development. Durians are also a controversial fruit, loved by some, loathed by most – perhaps a description of international development. And while not all ideas and innovations highlighted in this blog will be to everybody’s taste, I expect that these unique and pungent flavours will inspire new ideas – even if it is to throw the first idea away in a tightly sealed plastic bag.

I’m very much interested in the opportunities that new technologies offer to developing countries. I have an interest in livelihoods, private sector engagement in development, in financial inclusion and the opportunity for people living in remote places to use the interweb to give their ideas voice and their produce a virtual market.

And likely I will spend a large amount of time making links to drones – both the mechanical and the biological kinds. I’m a buzzing apiculturalist,  and not afraid to wax lyrical about how sweet the rewards of having a hive. All puns intended. And mechanical drones are cool. Annoying as fuck if you are not flying them, but still cool. And potentially helpful. We shall see.



Moist innovations


I had heard a while ago about the development of mist nets to collect rain water in places that was absent of drinking water. Probably in one of those other innovation blogs I read so religiously. A quick You-Tube search found a 2012 video on nets in Peru. And judging by the number of other references, this is not a new innovation (they even have these great promo shots available online), even though it is a pretty cool one.

Anyway, I was writing a WASH proposal recently and in researching current practice by Laos-based organisations, I found that Child Fund have trialled these mist nets up in the mountains of Laos. So I watched their video and was impressed with the alleged results of 18 litres of water in a night. I noticed that this video was completed a while ago, so I will endeavour to ask them about the results since then. It seems their nets were much smaller than the Peru nets and others I have found online, which was interesting. I’m not sure why the Laos nets were so small. Surely scaling it up is not the issue, nor trialling if it has existed for so long.

As much as this tech is clearly site specific, I like that too. Why not have location specific low-tech developments? Misty mountains may be few and far between in hot deserts but in many other tropical countries with elevation beyond a zip-line, they are frequent enough for this innovation to be fairly useful, especially if it is low cost, made from local materials and can be maintained. If you have ever seen the hill-tops that many people live on in remoter locations, you would appreciate the awesomeness of collecting night moisture, as opposed to walking down and up steep hills.

I was also interested in the global solution-generation approach that Child Fund used (mentioned in the video). I have experience with something similar a few years back and it was less successful than I had hoped. But it depends on how wide it is used and who is connecting too I imagine. I think I might look at a future blog-post for this topic.

In the meantime, enjoy the video of night-moisture aggregation. And let me know what you think about it.

Dog whistles and boomerang aid

An interesting article from the U.K. Guardian, calling out their government’s aid policy of boomerang free trade dressed up as aid and for-profit companies being paid hundreds of millions to make developing countries privatize their public assets. 



An interesting article from the U.K. Guardian, calling out their government’s aid policy of boomerang free trade dressed up as aid and for-profit companies being paid hundreds of millions to make developing countries privatize their public assets.

UK peddles a cynical colonialism and calls it aid

I found the article a bit confusing to read, mostly because the arguments of pro and con were mixed together. But there were clear facts and the key message was in the headline: Misuse of aid to further domestic business profit is unethical and not the goal of aid. Unfortunately, it’s become a common refrain around the world for governments to ask “what’s the benefit to us to give aid?” And it’s likely you remember the parody (not really) video that tested this simple question. However, sometimes in our efforts to make aid sound relevant we have used the argument that it creates global security and better markets, on top of reducing poverty for human beings (as it does in the video). Unfortunately some people have decided that the poverty part isn’t so important, but the direct improvement of markets to profit from and security (to profit from) aren’t such bad uses of aid after all. This is a dog whistle for large multi-national companies to gain lucrative contracts both through aid contracts and expanded business internationally. Not that there isn’t a role for business in poverty reduction – just that there are real risks of focusing on the profit, and not the goals. Similarly, “what’s in it for us?” is a dog whistle for those in developed countries who feel disadvantaged in some way (often legitimately) to complain that they have needs too and they should be given that international aid money.

I won’t pretend there are easy answers, and I am likely preaching to the choir to say here* that we need to look at impact over dollars, and consider the greater good for humanity, not just our short-term needs or profits.

*I’m preaching to the choir because literally no one has read my blog besides me so far.

Dog boomerang photo from awesomeinventions.com

There is no i in innovation

Photo: Atlas network

A blog about a blog. But a pet topic of mine – innovation. 

I read this article in Devnet and I admired its attempt to review where the whole innovation thing is at. 

Are Innovation labs delivering on their promise
The title is a bit click bait in its suggestion of a buzzword pile on, but the review of what is complete ngvout of this opportunity for donor accepted ‘research and development’ is interesting. The references to ‘more than drones’ and scale is worth noting. I’d probably add a few things:

Innovation = risk. Innovation is trying new things that are not yet tested and will need refining before it is clear if this will work. 

Secondly, failure doesn’t always mean no useful results. As in science, if ‘innovation’ is done well, it will help build knowledge about what doesn’t work that can be used in the future both to avoid the pitfalls but maybe tweak to make it work in a different context. 

A third thing I would add is that innovation is an approach. It can’t be lumped together to say “all innovation labs have failed”. Some things have worked. Others won’t – although as mentioned earlier, failure does not mean lack of learning or success. But more importantly, the willingness to think creatively and try new things is always important. Both for the potential improvement, and the focus new things can bring to old issues. Aid and development get a bad rap for not solving poverty. New approaches can show where it’s not aid as usual or the definition of insanity – though to those who use that alalogy I say “come up with a better idea people”. There is no option to stop, so we gotta try. Criticism doesn’t get skin in the game. 

And a final thing – while I agree that innovation in development often means technologies that are processes, drones are cool and I refuse to rule them out just yet.