-This is the session transcript of my session at the DiF this year. Hope you enjoy it!-
Clean Energy & Education Through the Power of Music
Hello everyone and thank you for joining us in this session.
I am Diana Simpson Hernandez and I am the Head of Design & Product Strategy for Shake Your Power.
We are a social enterprise that creates products for social good and education through the power of music.
I’m gonna take you through a little bit of our journey to give you a better understanding of what we do and why we are here at the Disruption Innovation festival.
Our founder and CEO, Sudha Kheterpal, is a percussionist musician who spent 20 years playing with bands like Faithless, Dido, the Spice Girls, etc. And it was through this experiences in world stages that she had the idea to find a way to use the power of music to create social good.
Sudha approached me after my graduation from the Royal College of Art in 2013, and we began working together to bring this vision to life.
It was the merging of two previously unrelated areas: music and clean tech, that we were able to create a whole new category of products.
Our first solution is SPARK, which is a Maraca that as you play it it converts kinetic energy into electricity.
We designed the products to be used in off grid communities in the developing world, so we took the first prototypes of SPARK to Kenya for our Beta testing. In fact, in Kenya, 75% of the population lives off the grid, which is an astronomical percentage.
The responses were very positive and we determined 3 areas where our work could really have impact:
- Light. Spark is a torch that creates electricity for lighting.
- Education (During our testing we realised that teaching people how they can make their own electricity in a clean way was going to have huge impact)
- Mobile Phone charging. With 75% of Kenyans living off the grid and also 75% of the population have mobile phones. So that 75% needs to charge their phones. Mobile phone access is also vital in order to be connected to services such as MPesa, which is the mobile banking system that has revolutionized the country. (MPesa: allows people to transfer money through their mobiles. like a mobile banking system)
We ran a Kickstarter to help us fund the patent process and some of the initial R&D in June 2014, and then began a more than a year long process of developing the second upgraded version of SPARK which now gives 1 hour of light for 12 minutes of shaking.
A little bit about how spark works:
At the core it uses a very humble technology, namely magnetic induction. As a magnet runs through a copper coil, it produces a current which goes to an internal battery for later use.
It also has a patent pending dual harnessing firmware that allows it to charge up a mobile phone with the use of a solar panel.
So this dual capability is very useful in off grid areas, as it can still provide emergency light during night time. In terms of lighting it has two settings, a 25 lumen reading light one and emergency light setting that allow the shaker to be used for different functionalities.
In terms of the design process I began by taking the idea of power as a starting point. After all I knew that we would provide clean energy for lighting so the idea of power was the focus point. But power can be understood in different ways.
For example, fire is a source of power. The name Spark in itself alludes to that.
Music creates power, through its frequencies. But what most interested me in communicating was the human connection that music creates.
So I looked at the heart as the ultimate symbol of power in our bodies. It keeps us alive pumping blood through our bodies, and its our own internal rhythm machine. Like the human body’s musical instrument.
These two symbols: One one hand a spark that gave us fire (essentially the first source of power that enabled our civilization) so an external reference, and on the other hand, the human heart, which is our internal source of power. An internal reference.
So spark’s design was a blending of these two ideas. A spark and the human heart. I felt that the design would have to relate to the core of the initiative to empower people. Both internally and externally.
The external empowerment was clear through the functionality of the product itself, but we wanted to empower people through education and a sense of possibility. An internal empowerment.
We knew that one of the challenges for us was how to demystify the technology that we used to create energy, so we needed to devise a way to get people and especially young students to learn how to create their own SPARK.
We partnered up with UCL Academy in London to begin the process of designing along with a group of kids, which we called our Bright Sparks, our educational DIY version of SPARK.
We ran a 13 week pilot last year and introduced the students to basic electronics, coding, IoT and sensors, craft and origami, design thinking, how to do research, app design, etc.
The aim for us was to get as much insight into what they connected with and how they were engaging in the learning process, but also to find a way in which we could really get the attention of the girls to get inspired to become inventors.
This program allowed us to understand what are the elements of the original SPARK that we should keep and which elements were important to open up and educate on. Even though the technology behind the generation of energy is simple and wide spread, we felt it needed to be made fun and engaging and emphasize the impact of these kind of technologies in the real world.
The music element and the story of how the product came to life was engaging a lot of people. Music is a force that connects us all, it brings people together, often people that would never be otherwise in the same room. Music creates a space for people to let go of the societal borders and share an experience together. It’s an incredible force for human connection and I think that it is the element that has given us such an open welcoming in diverse sectors. Its a democratic language that everyone can understand. Music is universal. The power that music has to create change.
Some of the things we took away were, how students loved to put circuits together and the satisfaction they get when they can see that it works, and there is an interaction at the end of the process, such as a light going on. Once students understand how something works it ceases to be difficult and they know they can have a go at it. This is incredibly empowering.
Other insights we got were the craft element. Students loved putting things together with their hands and the mechanical- spatial challenges of toys like lego, really helped students develop patience to go past the initial frustration threshold of putting something together.
And lastly, the power of good stories. We found that kids really loved to learn through storytelling and through imagining themselves as being the direct players in challenging situations. This allowed them to develop a visualization technique to imagine potential solutions for situations they were removed from, like for example having no access to electricity.
We gave them an empathy exercise, and we asked them to close their eyes and imagine themselves in Africa, in a humble hut in the middle of the hills in Kenya. There is no electricity and it’s getting dark. In some places, it gets dark as soon as 4pm, so the students imagined themselves living in complete darkness. We asked them to describe what it felt like, and what would be life like. The students started asking questions, offering some insights and really immersing themselves in the exercise.
This simple exercise was very important because we wanted our students to understand that to be a good innovator you must understand the problems and needs of people and through putting yourself in their shoes, or even better walking in their shoes, innovation with real impact can happen.
At the end of the pilot program, we then started the development of our new product, which is the low cost, diy version of what we did for Kenya, but this time, we stripped down all the high tech elements, and only focused on exploring 4 areas that we felt were the most crucial:
First, How to connect the dots: essentially, we created SPARK because we joined two areas that hadn’t been joined. So, encouraging students to look for their own idea to develop. We wanted our students to feel like they can do what we did and do something that can have a real impact in the real world. So we spent time with them showing them how SPARK is changing lives in Kenya and what the benefits are for people.
Making it real was very important.
Secondly, to explain in an easy way the basic electronics that go into generating electricity through magnetic induction.
Thirdly, to give them a making challenge so they can have the satisfaction of putting something together. So we created an origami like case for the kit that forces them to think three dimensionally.
Through this making emphasis we want students to pause and step away from the digital world, the world of touch screens, apps and video games and engage with the material world, because we feel this will give them the confidence to become real world problem observers and solvers.
To accompany the kits we designed a comic book style story that will inspire students and especially girls to get into tech and become inventors, scientists and engineers and help solve real world challenges that will help make the world better. So we developed the Amazing Adventures of Gaia: the earth tech warrior and this story lays out the relationship between a very harmonic society that uses nature with respect, harvesting natural processes, and then on the opposite side a society very much like ours where we transform nature to fit our purposes without understanding or respecting the harmony of the ecosystem. So this story was really a nice way to introduce the idea of sustainable living and a harmonious way of living with nature.
The comic is about culture and values and the kits are about STEM, practical skills and the arts. Again, the references to an internal empowerment and also, an external one.
At Shake Your Power we feel that there must be more emphasis on the making side of design and innovation. We are very aligned with the maker movement and want to encourage this specifically to have an impact on social good. We believe that the only way we can serve our purpose as citizens of the world is through doing good with our work and through our actions. This has never been more important than now, when there is so much wealth, and yet so many people die of hunger, where almost 2 billion people have no access to electricity, there is a huge drinking water scarcity, gender inequality, food insecurity, etc. Not to mention all the challenges we are experiencing through climate change.
So there is plenty for us to do to help alleviate this problems. Hence our emphasis on real world design.
So just to wrap up, so we can have some time for questions, I’d like to talk about some principles that we hold close at Shake Your Power:
The first is that the tools of innovation must be democratized, so making products that educate whilst being open source is crucial. Giving access to technologies that are spearheading the manufacturing revolution, like 3d printers. We feel that through educating and empowering young students, especially in areas where there is a lot of scarcity and poverty, we can create real impact in our world, fostering innovation from the ground up, from communities themselves.
Education for empowerment and for entrepreneurship, so focusing on solutions that are beneficial to the communities and the individuals and that ultimately empower people.
The world is changing so rapidly and we are still educating students for jobs that will be obsolete in ten years, so instead, we feel that educating for problem solving, for resilience, for openness and for inclusivity will give them the necessary tools for the future.
Multidisciplinary approach to foster innovation. This is the way we began and we want to encourage this mindset through educating young people. Embracing all disciplines.
We are 90% women at Shake Your Power so supporting Girls in Tech through our products and our communication is very important. Our heroine, Gaia, is a young smart inventor that creates real world sustainable solutions. I am personally very inspired by the character and I think that there is a Gaia in all of us. We all can access the drive to create positive change in our world.
So, that’s in a nutshell our story, what we do and why we do it.
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Head of Industrial Design & Product Strategy at Shake Your Power
Founder of Designers for Humanity
16th November 2016