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Stanford Institution Devoted To Developing Products For The Poor Is Profiled

Aired May 18, 2013 - 14:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are innovator, game changers, people pushing themselves, moving us all forward. They are the next scientists, musicians, poets, the next makers, dreamers, teachers, and geniuses. They are "The Next List."

JIM PATEL, STANFORD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: This is not about inventing technology. This is trying to find real world problems we can take a shot at fixing and doing whatever it takes to fix them.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Solving real world problems is one of Jim Patel's many passions. Patel is a professor at Stanford University. He is also one of the founders of the D school or Design School. He is also the founder and driving force behind a groundbreaking graduate class called "Design for Extreme Affordability." Over two semesters the course pits the skills of a few dozen students against some tough global problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a force of nature. From day one I think the students pick up the fact he is willing them to succeed.

GUPTA: Their challenge, to design low cost products that improve the lives of the desperately poor from the bottom up. Some of those products are transforming rural villages and even saving lives. Jim Patel says his challenge is to make sure his students have the tools and confidence to get the job done, and along the way, to give them the experience of a lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was life-changing. Once I took this course I realized this is what I want to do with my life.

PATEL: These students have been together for six days. They met each other Monday morning. They were given a handout saying show up here no earlier than 11 and they had $20 bucks and whatever they could scrounge to build a freestanding device that would capture rain water from a monsoon.

They're thrown it into rapid prototyping.

LILY LYMAN, GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Our group took an approach of trying to do simple elegance and also extreme affordability in the spirit of the class, so we didn't spend any money to build our contraption.

ELIZABETH MARSHMAN, MECHANICAL ENGINEER AND PRODUCT DESIGN: The thing that we learn I think really quick is build early and often, because as soon as you build, you can see whether the ideas hold water literally in a sense.

PATEL: We're trying to get them to know one another as quickly as possible, and also get them into the notion of prototyping and confidence with tools and having some fun competing under pressure.

DAVE BEACH, PROFESSOR, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING: The equipment that the students have designed and build to collect water for the monsoon is probably not tested, so what will happen here is a tremendous amount of learning will go on.

PATEL: The way this is going to go, I will turn it on here and go for five minutes and I will come in and measure how much water is in the bucket. This is about making and getting down and dirty and hands on.

Here we go. Part of it is we put together teams where everybody is from a different department at Stanford.

LYMAN: We have biologists, engineers, designers, and we all have our different strengths and came out even in the first week. So I think when we jump into the bigger projects, month are complex problems, having all of the different skill sets will be incredible.

MIHIR GUPTA, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I learned a lot about design, about what's efficient and what's strong, what kind of building materials to use, and just about working with a team. I think that's the most important element of it.

GUPTA: The monsoon challenge, when you are watching this all happen, what are you looking for?

PATEL: What am I looking for? I am looking for colossal failures. Why? The message that we say at the end is, OK, you have seen all of these things crash down one way or another. If I gave you another 20 dollars and another 72 hours, you would crush this. Many have experienced in this course for the first time that in any human sense of making something. You catch them smiling. There is a grin on their face.

PRISCILLA CHOI, INTERNATIONAL POLICY: I have a background in international policy, so nothing to do with hands on building. So I think that was probably the trickiest part is trying to learn these new skills that I probably never had used in my life.

PATEL: The fact that it stood up to begin with is a shock to some of them.

CHOI: I think our key was simplicity, but maybe it was also our downfall.

GHALIB HAFIZ, GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Yes. We had more time to test it, I mean, our contraption back there made a few waterfalls in places where we didn't want it.

PATEL: Everybody can see ways to make your structure better. We never get it right the first time, but we're going to go through things many times quickly, roughly. Prototyping is a very effective way to make intellectual progress very quickly and the second thing is it is just really satisfying.

This is light-hearted. Later in the course, I mean, the team in Haiti will be dealing with people who are completely disabled with spinal cord damage from the earthquake there. And they're going to be dealing with people in Africa malnourished. Ultimately we look at serious stuff, and a big chunk of this is about teamwork and about getting to know each other and doing stuff that is not easy.

To see the designs and their products coming to life before their eyes induces these students to pour their heart and soul into it.


PATEL: We're asking students, are you willing to take a leap of faith? Are you willing to commit yourself to something for which the solution is not immediately apparent and to take a shot and give it the best you've got? Everybody is bringing their A-game every day.

WHIT ALEXANDER, FOUNDER, BURRO: It presents astonishing challenges.

PATEL: So we start by dealing with real organizations on the ground in developing economies and they give us what we call a wish list of problems.

MICHAEL MURPHY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MASS DESIGN GROUP: In Rwanda, South Africa, other countries we found that hospitals are makes us sicker.

DAVID GRISWOLD: Processes the coffee farmers use hasn't been transformed in decades.

PATEL: We have a problem or set of problems important to them they will implement if we can help them solve them. I say, if we can put two teams of Stanford graduate students at your disposal, what would you have them work on?

The project right behind you, Haiti has a very high density of spinal cord injury patients victims from the earthquake, and they are trying to redesign the city and all the structures in it to be wheelchair friendly, a great project for us.

GUPTA: You have a bag here on the wheelchair. What are you doing with this specifically?

KIRSTEN MAYER, GEOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES: The med students doing their research said spinal cord injured patients, biggest problems UTIs and pressure sores. How do you deal with pressure sores? You give people cushions or have them move around a lot. The best cushion is over there, $600. So how can we create a cushion that isn't just a cheap cushion but that uniquely addresses the needs of Haiti?

So this is connected to the wheel. As this wheel rotates, the piston comes in and out, and it pushes air in this tube into the pillow that the patient sits on. So as the air moves through, you move a little bit. That releases pressure sores.

RICK ZUZOW, BIOCHEMISTRY: In Madagascar we're working on silk worm farming. One we haven't done before. The overall goal is to produce some sort of cash crop that requires low investment that relatively unskilled and untrained farmers can create on their own.

PATEL: The end of all this the product of course produces is young men and women who we aspire to be able to drop down into any messy situation and have them land on their feet and make progress.

MAYER: This is the last mile. It is loaded up with like a scooter at one point, beer, a bunch of people, water maybe this far off the edge.

PATEL: A very distressed chicken.

MAYER: Very distressed. And they dump it all on the shore and that is the last mile.

PATEL: In Ghana, most of the emphasis is on agriculture. We're looking at cocoa processing, and the tools that are involved.

Machete sharpener, let me tell you, this is a big deal. People sharpen machetes three times a day when they are doing field work and have stones in the field and stones at their home and spend 10 to 15 minutes each time. If you can get that now in two minutes you can potentially contribute a 1.5 percent productivity if not more to the entire agricultural sector of the nation.

What every team delivers to their partner is ideally a working prototype of the product. They will deliver an implementation plan, and then we try to deliver the customer experience, how will we get it to them? How will they pay for it? How will we service it? If you don't touch all of those bases you leave yourself vulnerable to failure.

We're trying to help solve these problems so they stay solved. The notion that this is not a toy project, this is not an exercise, this is for real, and we're the only design partner they will ever have is motivating to students. I think to see their designs and their products and their services and their business plans coming to life before their eyes induces these students to pour their heart and soul into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You move around in a wheelchair a couple days to get an idea what it is like.

MAYER: The course does introduce the design thinking process in segments and the first segment is empathy work. I thought it was going to be a physical challenge. I think I realized it is much more of an emotional challenge. I see a physical disability and I think that is tied to a mental disability or you must not be as intellectually capable because of that. PATEL: We get a lot of work out of these students and they get swept up in it. If you're going to be part of this, I will tell everybody, pack a lunch. This is for real. And lots of our students spend 30, 40, 50 hours a week on these things, and so do we.

We deal with people desperately poor or desperately sick or both. We deal with situations that make you cry.


PATEL: Over the course of the 10 years we will have completed 90 projects with 26 partners in 18 countries. We're ultimately putting students into hard situations. Students have watched babies die in hospitals and done wonderful things to keep other babies alive.

JANE CHEN, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, EMBRACE INNOVATION: I started a company called Embrace with a team of students from Stanford from Jim's class. A challenge posed was to build an incubator that costs less than one percent of the cost of an official incubator, which is $20,000 in the U.S.

I came to understand the magnitude of the problem in that 20 million low birth weight and premature babies are born every year around the world. And 4 million of these die annually. So what the Embrace team came up with in the class is this product. It's an infant warmer. It looks like a sleeping bag for the baby. The core technology is in the back here. So this is a pouch. When melted, it maintains a constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius or 98 degrees Fahrenheit for up to eight hours at a stretch.

GUPTA: How much does it cost roughly? You said $20,000.

CHEN: We have one that costs about $200, so oen percent of the cost.


CHEN: And one that costs less than $100.

IAN CONNOLLY, GRADUATE STUDENT, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING: We have partnered with a non-profit called Miracle Feet. The challenge we were given was to develop a low cost brace that could be used in the developing world. There are a couple of braces that cost upward of $400 or $500, and we wanted to create something that could be distributed for $20. We designed ours out of plastic to be colorful and easier to use. You can see like the children suffering and really experience the struggles the families go through.

PATEL: We deal with people who are desperately poor or desperately sick or both. We deal with situations that make you cry.

DAVID JANKA, FELLOW, STANFORD D SCHOOL: Pneumonia is actually the number one killer of kids worldwide. The current solution is a nasal cannula that fed into the nose to deliver pressurized air. The problem is the different size nostrils children have would not adapt well. So it would be too small for some, too big for others. Our solution was an adapter of sorts. The idea was to make a generic nasal cannula and custom fit for a baby to give them a good seal in the nose.

NED TOZUN, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, D.LIGHT DESIGN: So it turns out there is about one out of every four people in the world doesn't have access to reliable electricity. They either burn kerosene lamps for late or candles or go without light at all. It turns out kerosene is really dangerous, dim, and very expensive.

These are solar powered lanterns. Basically you charge them in the sun during the day, turn it on at night and you get light.

PATEL: One of the comments I sometimes have to field is, so you're making a profit off the poor? But our notion is that treating the poor as customers is very leveling. It is very equalizing. Our job is to delight them. Our job is to deliver something of sufficient quality at a low enough price that they will buy it. And our job is to deliver a product that they love.

DOROTHY KING, FOUNDING DONOR, SEED: To me he is the real deal. And he really provides hope, being able to visit his class and see the energy that has been created.

ROBERT KING, FOUNDING DONOR, SEED: This guy is really engaged, and deeply engaged.

PATEL: We met Bob and Dottie three years ago. They started coming to the events and. Their gift was $150 million to found an institute at Stanford, the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies. SEED is what we call the institute.

ROBERT KING: The experience is a real building block for SEED. Our plan with SEED, we're going to establish these innovation hubs in country. Our first one, the plan we have is to go to Ghana in west Africa. We would like to change the lives of a billion people. The objective is to change their lives with a level of dignity by helping people help themselves creating scaling businesses.

PATEL: Beginning a year ago, for the first time some money from SEED made it possible to take projects that run six months or nine months and add another nine months for those students.

GUPTA: Do you have any idea how much they're being used now?

CHEN: We helped over 5,000 babies so far. We hope to save many, many more babies. We helped a baby at an orphanage. When they found him he weighed less than two pounds. They found him on the side of the street. They took him in and kept him in our product for 30 days. He just turned one a few months ago and most recently was adopted by a family in America that sent us a thank you not, saying thank you for giving us this life.


PATEL: So our process is making you creatively accident prone. It is not if I just squint and concentrate that idea will come to me. It's I don't have that idea now. I don't have that insight now. But I can go through a set of activities that I can execute when I want to that enhance the probability that the great idea is going to occur to you.

We talk about talking to strangers, letting your mind wander, jumping into the deep end of the pool and playing with sharp objects, all the things your mother told you not to do because you will have an accident. And we convert those into a design process where you talk to strangers, meaning you treat your customer as someone who you don't know and who you really need to find out about. You don't make assumptions about them. You jump into the deep end by gaining deep empathy with them, and you let your mind wander in the sense that we try to teach some good brainstorming technique. And you play with sharp objects, meaning we prototype.

JULIAN GORODSKY, PH.D., TEAM PSYCHOLOGIST, STANFORD D SCHOOL: Jim in particular is a devoted teacher, just an absolutely devoted teacher.

ERICA ESTRADA-LIOU, GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: They say when you come to college, really try to get to know your professors. I never could do that. I always felt intimidated. Jim was the type of person that will see the gift in whomever he is talking to and know how to nurture it and make it grow and make that person be really successful.

JANKA: I got a taste of a new way to make impact and a new way to and collaborate with people and can improve health.

CONNOLLY: It was an absolutely amazing experience, and most importantly the opportunity to work a real problem in the real world and leave a lasting impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he really, really cares about people who are on the lower part of the economic pyramid.

PATEL: I am the professor, but he's teaching you.

The people we deal with are in tough situations. Who are soldiering on nonetheless and taking care of their kids nonetheless, who are making lives out of nothing, and often are the most gracious, thoughtful, thoroughly decent people who deal with.

BEACH: He collects, supports, celebrates, connects people from all over the world, and his selflessness in doing that, I don't know where it comes from. It is wonderful.

PATEL: Do something you really love doing and find a way to make a living out of it. We really enjoy this and they're finding a way to make a living out of it. So we're lucky.

I have the best teaching team that anyone could ask for. I genuinely enjoy their companionship, their collegiality, and we find ourselves in some truly crazy situations.

GUPTA: Your background is business and engineering. Do your colleagues in those schools say Jim has that crazy D School thing he is doing?

PATEL: Sometimes they are less complementary than that.


GUPTA: But do they get it?

PATEL: I guess I have reached a point in my life where sentences that start with the phrase "Life is too short for" are starting to have real traction with me. To give you a more serious answer, I am old. I am mature.

Why not at this point do something engaging on a day-to-day basis and I get to work with people really passionate about what they're doing? And we get to do cool stuff. We get to blow things up and break things. We get to make things. We laugh a lot. People look at us like we're just a little strange. And that's good. And I hope that we have a culture where everybody enjoys coming to work in that.

GUPTA: Jim Patel and his team have developed a truly innovative approach to teaching real world skills. With passion, commitment, and hard work he is planting the seeds of success in the hearts and minds of his students and helping to change the lives of the many people they touch. And that's what has earned him a spot on "The Next List."

Thanks for watching. I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Hope to see you back here next week.