My favorite news story from last year didn't get much attention, but it certainly should have.
Every year since 2009, some of the smartest folks on the planet gather for a few days for "Maker Faire Africa," an event designed "to sharpen focus on locally generated, bottom-up prototypes of technologies that solve immediate challenges to development."
In other words, this isn't some hipster-cool conference where guys talk about how they've designed the next cell phone app that is going to change the way people buy groceries. There are no power-points or pie charts. This is where real people with real genius, mostly local Africans, show off new technology that has the power to change the way millions of people live.
Last year, the event was held in Lagos, Nigeria. The breakout stars were four African girls, Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and Bello Eniola. At age 15, Bello is the elder stateswoman of the group. The other three girls are only 14.
Their invention? A generator that uses with something available to all people at all times in all climates in all circumstances -- pee.
One liter of urine is all it takes to produce 6 hours of electricity.
According to the Maker Faire Africa website, the system works like this:
- Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
- The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
- The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
- This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.
Why is this so awesome? Because it's an example of the incredible power of innovation and efficiency that is unleashed when you focus your energy on local people. No one who lives in a Western urban environment would have ever come up with this idea. No venture capitalist would sign on to provide millions of dollars of Research and Development for a pee-pee generator.
Here's a plan for success: Find amazing, smart, local people familiar with a problem because they live with it every day. Allow them the courtesy of coming up with an efficient solution. Applaud. Loudly.