Tomorrow in New York City, the Buckminster Fuller Institute will announce the winner of its annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge. The challenge, which has been called "Socially-Responsible Design's Highest Award," provides $100,000 to "support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems."
The four finalists are all, predictably, damn impressive. (Though to be totally honest, I was disappointed that the Global Village Construction Set, a semi-finalist that I've written about before, didn't make the cut.) Here are the four projects that the BFI's jury determined to be the boldest, most visionary, and, importantly, most tangible of them all. Tune in tomorrow to see who takes the prize.
Let's start with a couple stunning numbers about this adult literacy program operating in India. In the past three years, TARA Akshar+ has made more than 58,000 adult women literate. The organization claims that the program is "able to deliver complete literacy and numeracy in just 98 contact hours over a period of 49 days." That's under two months. Seems too good to be true, until you read that independent audits have found a success rate of about 95 percent.
TARA Akshar+ makes this possible by using a creative mix of intense advanced memory techniques and innovative learning methods like animations and games.
The short time commitment and convenient learn centers that pop-up in rural, poor Indian communities are essential to driving participation. Check out this video of the group's work.
This project, run by the Rainforest Foundation UK, "empowers local forest communities to use cutting edge technologies to map their lands and resources and use this evidence as advocacy and negotiation tools."
Forest communities, while often accused of driving deforestation, are much more often victims of the largely industrial practice. Participatory mapping by indigenous forest communities can aid those dependent on the forests in land-rights disputes and make them less vulnerable to exploitation.
Challenge juror Roger Malina believes this project exemplifies a larger citizen science movement that “will change the way we deal with many planetary issues from local perspectives.”
The RFUK's broader mission is to help establish and realize the rights of the traditional and indigenous communities who live in forests. "With secure rights to land and livelihoods," they claim, "forest peoples can effectively manage forest resources and direct and manage their own development." These participatory mapping projects perfectly serve that mission.
Without strong national or international marine governance, many of the world's coastal ecosystems are on a course to destruction, which would be devastating for the vast and poor populations who depend on them. Blue Ventures sees the coastal communities themselves as the best breeding grounds for solutions.
The organization uses an integrated science-based approach to work with local coastal communities to conserve threatened marine ecosystems. All of its decisions are guided by firm scientific discovery and analysis, and then the organization works directly with locals to develop conservation initiatives that provide value—and income—to these communities.
Challenge juror Allan Savory sees this initiative as a model for other environmental challenges because it "integrates the regeneration of the environment, on which people depend, with the stabilization of population and resources."
Photo by Blue Ventures
FrontlineSMS is most simply described as a "free grassroots text messaging platform." It was born of the need to better organize group communication in rural parts of the developing world, using nothing more advanced than simple, widely available mobile phones. The organization explains “provide[s] organizations in remote, rural regions of the developing world with software that turns a laptop into a mass messaging hub, without any need for Internet connectivity.”
The simplicity and flexibility of the platform is also its beauty. Browsing through the case studies you see an incredible variety of real world applications, from providing advice to expecting mothers to diagnosing malaria to monitoring elections.