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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Signing Off

About two weeks ago, I presented Massport’s Resiliency Website during the CEO’s Senior Staff Meeting.  We got positive feedback and the website is now slated to go live in early September.  The launch of the website will also be accompanied by a press release from Massport.  Although I wasn’t able to see the website go live during my internship (yesterday was my last day of work), I’m excited that the project has progressed this far.

We also held our second Resiliency Speaker Series event yesterday. We welcomed Gina Ford, Principle of Sasaki’s Urban Studio; and Tom Ballestero, Director of the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center.  Gina discussed Sasaki’s Sea Change: Boston project, and Tom talked about community engagement in East Boston and made flood barrier recommendations for Massport facilities.  We had a great turnout, with about 50 attendees, and a very productive Q&A session at the end of the event.


The Resiliency Program’s Speaker Series event on August 18th.

Thanks to the work I’ve been able to do this summer as a Maharam STEAM Fellow, I’ve received an invitation to attend an international symposium on resilience.  The event is hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in partnership with the Center for Resilience Studies at Northeastern University.  I’m thrilled to be included as part of the conference, during which I’ve been asked to document and synthesize my observations.  These notes may be included in the event’s final report.

I’m sorry to see this internship end, but I hope that I’ve completed one out of many future work experiences in the resilience field.  I’m very grateful to RISD and to Maharam for facilitiating this unique internship experience and I intend to continue putting the lessons that I’ve learned to work.



Buzzing about my first demonstration-Blake Hiltunen


As I continue work on the design and construction of the mobile hive, it is necessary to regularly inspect the colony.  During these inspections, I gauge the overall health of the colony by checking the bees for potential Verroa mites (tiny blood suckers that can destroy colonies and have bIMG_3186een linked with the decline in bee populations), by locating the queen to be sure she is still alive and well, and to inspect each frame to see if they have built any new queen cells.  New queen cells are a sign of a potentially sickly or dead queen and can also signal the potential of a colony getting ready to swarm.

IMG_6410This week was the first time I have opened the hive to give a demonstration to an audience.  With children ages 2, 3 and 11, and adults asking question after question, I realized it will be much easier to discuss the intricacies of the colony with the observation hive rather than during a hive inspection.  Beekeeping is a gentle practice.  It is a ritual (the use of the smoker for instance) and a process that requires focused attention and a tuned intuition.  When one is inspecting the hive, disrupting the bees’ work, it is important to be calm.  With an audience this practice can quickly go from quiet routine to distracted management.  Luckily, though the bees were more agitated than normal, their docile demeanor wasn’t compromised and they behaved elegantly with the spectators.


During the inspection I noticed cells being built on the bottom of a few frames as well as one abnormally large (potential queen) cell in the middle of a frame.  I didn’t think much of it as the cells didn’t seem to be the typical peanut shaped queen cells.  Today, however, I noticed increased activity throughout the day.  Around 4 pm there was a large crowd of bees, more than I had seen at the hive before, flying in and out and seeming to be getting ready to swarm.  I called Master Beekeeper Erin Forbes who told me that though they could be getting ready to swarm it was unlikely as it was too late in the day.  Bees typically swarm between 9 am and 3 pm.  She mentioned though that the bees could be practicing for a potential swarm the following day.  What I needed to do was open the hive, find the queen, and remove any cells that could be holding new queens.



After using the smoker, opening up the hive, locating the queen, and removing the potential new queens, I put the hive back together and they seemed to calm down.  I’ll open the hive again in a few days to see how they’ve recovered.IMG_6367IMG_3194


Quality verus Quantity

Many of the issues encountered in the design process are also found in the education system. From developing the most appropriate means to communicate an idea or intention, to the age-old discussion of quality versus quantity. In my experience as an intern, I’ve discovered a common theme among various fields, and have learnt that many of the toughest decisions, especially in education reform, come down to this very concern.

Today at lunch, for example, a very popular program came up in our conversation: Science without Borders (or Ciências sen fronteiras, as we say in Portuguese). The program has a government grant to send thousands of Brazilian college students overseas for up to one year. While this program has been largely successful, it is also an ambitious one, costing the government a nice chunk of their education funds. While many approve of the opportunities generated for students who would otherwise not have the means to leave the country, especially during their studies, others argue that the cost-benefit of this initiative is not worth the investment. This is a classic example of quantity versus quality question, and how public policy can be geared toward either side of the argument. The intention is that these Brazilian students return to Brazil after an eye-opening experience feeling empowered, and demand even more from their home institutions. On the other hand, the number of students who are accepted to the program is limited, for an obvious reason of cost.

This question of quality versus quantity is the essence of many decisions in industrial design. How do we create pieces that are unique, yet reproducible? And how do we limit the unavoidable flaws that accompany increase of scale in production? When a piece is produced, an industrial designer’s job includes tracking the production process, ensuring that the product maintains the highest quality with the increase in quantity.

In education policy, we ask questions like: Would it be better to invest this money in a reform that would affect a larger amount of students, or can the education system rely on the students who return from these programs to implement the changes they bring back with them? Measuring these results is among the greatest challenges in education policy reform, and in any innovation. 

Below are a few articles I’ve gathered that address the question of metrics, impact assessment and quality versus quantity in education issues.

Measuring Innovation in Education, from the Center for Educational Research and Innovation

A blog on the topic of innovation

How To Measure Innovation (To Get Real Results), from FastCo.


Activating a space and a community

As I continue my explorations in navigating the streetscapes of Zamrudpur, I can’t escape the garbage problem of the community. While there seems to be a slight improvement in the municipal corporation’s role with our last week’s meeting and the realization of the community towards its power of proactive engagement with the government, and the slight initiative by food venders and shopkeepers to provide dustbins after our weekly community meetings, there is still a major gap in the way the households dispose of their personal waste.

In my master’s thesis, I had explored the potential of urban farming in another urban village of the city involving the strategic reclamation of parts of the Delhi green zone. Though at a larger, more practical scale, I was already warming to the idea of its potential in Zamrudpur. Despite Delhi having a number of optimum conditions for urban farming like the presence of a good soil, adequate sunlight and excess of flat surfaces in the form of waste plots / flat rooftops, not many people are engaging in it.

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Along with all the navigation and attractor strategies in the village, I felt that urban cultivation could be the vital ‘activator’ for the community. Moreover Adhyayan with its students could be the perfect demonstrational and teaching set up to empower the rest of the community to accept its practice. Most households in the village, though live in tiny one-two room apartments, have access of the large roofs of their buildings that are currently used as spillover spaces. Moreover, the presence of a few families still engaging in dairy production provides the community with free excess manure. In short, they have the perfect set up to start growing their own fresh food, a lot, of which they can’t afford to buy too often from the market.

Additionally, some of my earliest exercises in the village with the children regarding mapping of spaces had brought out the jarring absence of a recreational public space within the community. While there was one small fenced green area, it was being used as an open dump by the surrounding buildings and the residents were accessing the neighboring colony’s municipal park outside the community for recreation. One couldn’t fathom why the community wasn’t actively claiming the park. It wasn’t just about cleaning up the space, there needed to be a conscious programming of the space to prevent its degradation into a dumpsite again. I wondered if a community garden could be that activity.

I came to Adhyayan with the basic idea for this project but once on site and with better understanding of all concerned elements, these 8 weeks have seen a lot of trials, errors and rerouting of strategies. The times when I’m not at Adhyayan I’ve been contacting my ex-professors of architecture, colleagues and friends, discussing the project with them and getting valuable feedback and suggestions. Ravi Gulati is the founder of Manzil, an organization working to empower youth from under-privileged communities to supplement their education beyond academia. Amit, the founder of Adhyayan was in fact a student at Manzil himself many years ago and started Adhyayan wishing to pass on the lessons he learned to the children in his village. Ravi has been a wonderful mentor and guide throughout the inception and duration of this project helping me evaluate and overcome many of the hurdles I faced.

On my mention of my interest of introducing urban farming in the community as another strategy of making them take ownership of their spaces and become an example to the outside city, offering an active and valuable demonstrational attractor, he introduced me to Kapil Mandawewala, founder and CEO of Sanjeev Fresh, an organic farming consultancy service based out of Gujarat, India. One of the key projects that Kapil is engaged in involves educational workshops in urban cities on urban farming. Kapil was kind enough to offer his services to hold a workshop with the students at Adhyayan. I wanted to have these children to initiate the practice in their community and become the tools of teaching the rest of the residents.

A few weeks ago, along with our explorations in way-finding markers and street art we started the process of reclaiming the ‘mandir wala park’ (park next to the temple). I had been in contact with Kapil who was guiding us on how to set up the space and the beds in preparation. Despite being a softscape, the main concern of urban farming here is that raised beds are needed. We procured the soil from nearby construction site’s excavation pit and the manure from one of the community’s cowsheds, all for free. Kapil then came and held a daylong workshop with a few students about urban farming, its practice and benefits.

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One of the most important components of the workshop was the teaching of the compost creation. We are engaging in ‘Anaerobic composting’ of own kitchen waste – composting of household organic matter in the absence of air, in small containers. This allows for households to compost and dispose of their kitchen waste within their own homes as the container sizes are very small, and cause no unpleasant smells as it’s a closed system process, working with an absence of airborne bacteria. Since this was our first attempt, we worked on only one bed to test the outcome. We planned and planted a variety of spinach, red saag, gourd and Indian radish (mooli) in our community lot, and the children took many seeds home to plant on their rooftops. Our choice for round one was governed by choosing nutritious food sources that had the smallest growing cycle so we could see their progress within my stay and amend any errors for the subsequent planting.

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In the following Sunday’s community meeting, we held a presentation and mini workshop for the rest of the community, and handed out different seed packets. Truthfully, I was very pleasantly surprised at the degree of the positive response. There started an interesting discussion that many residents took part in. Actually it shouldn’t have been such a surprise, since almost all the family have rural connections and still have family and agricultural lands that they are connected to outside of Delhi but are separated from in the urban city.



village elders engaged in discussion


post meeting tea in ‘our’ park

It’s been pretty amazing to see our seeds grow so well! This week we’ve started the process of setting up a few more soil beds!


the spinach


compost bins in Amit’s house


- Zoya


Some reflections on synthesis

-Allison Wong

Wow – I can’t believe we’ve made it to the penultimate week of my fellowship.  (What!)  Though it feels like I just started, I’ve been wrapping up my research activities and am starting to synthesize what I’ve been learning into a final report. Since I’m interested in design research – and my project this summer has been focused on research – something I’ve been struggling with is understanding the valley between hard observations / data and meaningful insights.  To me, what’s unique about doing research as a designer is that the results are actionable.  You’re not seeking to build public knowledge, but to help shape future decisions on what/how something looks like, feels like, and functions in the world.  But how do you get there?

All the thoughts! (i.e. my sketchbook)

Because design is so hot now, writings on methods for productivity, how to spark creative thinking, versions of the design process, and the psychology of creativity exist in abundance.  I’ve explored them looking for answers, but I never usually find satisfying ones.  I don’t mean to discount the many tools designers (and people in related disciplines) have developed for synthesizing research.  There is an arsenal of charts, matrices, and maps that visually lend structure and value to research findings.  But I believe there is some element of individual trajectory and intuition that these can’t address, since the creative process is so divinely personal.  Perhaps it can only be honed through practice.  What I really want to understand is how creative individuals create their magic, mojo, secret sauce – what happens between absorbing the mess of everything around them and the action of turning it into something new.

So many tools! (

As a design student, it feels really silly asking the questions, “Where do good ideas happen??”  It feels kind of like watching one of those Discovery Channel TV where a crew of explorers very earnestly goes on an expedition to find Bigfoot.

I’ve been exposed to quite a few different processes while at RISD – and during this internship – but in my experience, it’s not something we actively talk about or reflect on very much on in the studio.  Something that I love about RISD is that we learn how to navigate challenges rigorously through making, building, and creating.  We respond to questions by making.  Yet, I think deliberately reflecting on the process – rather than just doing – is a critical part of learning to craft our own practices as designers.

This has led me to question: What is my personal process?  How have I learned to develop ideas, to synthesize valuable insights?  And how does that relate to what other people do? I don’t think I have an answer to that question yet.  My education has given me a chance to try things out, however, with relatively low risk.  In reflecting on process, I wanted to share a few methods I’ve learned in practice while at RISD:


In a course I took last spring with Cas Holman, we experimented with integrating play into the design process.  Play became a platform to ideate as we engaged in games to spark ideas and conversation.  Moving and doing translated into thinking and making.

Design studio, or recess?

This is a design studio!?

In a project I worked on with the awesome Allison Chen (making us Allison^2) – we did some making to think to get unstuck.  Our project focused on the relationship between gender and wearable technology, and our process took us on a detour exploring gendered toys.  It took hacking at some toys with a saw and screwdrivers in order to get back to our real project: wearable technology.  The toys didn’t really have anything to do with the result of our project, but we wouldn’t have gotten there without some physical creations and a few detours.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t find our actual pictures, but you get the idea.

Sometimes (or often) the process can be painful.  I’ve been in many 3hr+ long meetings with partners and project teams where we seemingly smash ideas together until something happens.  The process is also often obsessive.  In a research project I did with Liz Connolley on aging and cooking, we spent many hours documenting, post-it-ing, mind-mapping, writing, asking questions, revisiting, testing new angles, until we reached clarity on our key insights.

An artifact of an obsessive research process


I realize that in the examples above, I’m lumping together things that seem more like synthesis of research findings and concept generation.  Perhaps it would be more clear if I separated parts of the process in my mind.  Yet, I’ve learned that there really is no clear distinction between research and making, creating and reflecting: the creative process is supposed to be messy.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that the other people I’m working with make a huge difference to how my design process looks.  I’m used to going deep with a team or a partner, so doing the work of my fellowship as a singular designer has been really challenging.  (That is not to say that I don’t have great support in my work!)

My mentors have been encouraging me to be consistently writing and reflecting in order to process what I’ve been seeing, experiencing, and learning.  Reflection has been a big part of this process this summer–both in my housing research and in the broader context of my fellowship–and it’s been great to be given space to think about design on a more meta level.

Although I’m describing this synthesis process as an often painful one, this is what I love about being a design student.  It’s facing that blank sheet of butcher paper head on, learning to be embrace not knowing, and organizing ideas into something elegant.  Something I’m growing into as a designer (and a person) is being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It takes a lot of messiness to get somewhere.

(And hopefully since my last day is next Friday, I will get somewhere!)


Putting Research into Practice: Innovation Center at Vila Nova Esperança

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Mariana, who worked with me at the International Development Design Summit (IDDS), in 2012. Mariana was organizing a workshop in a community in the outskirts of São Paulo called Vila Nova Esperança. The workshop was geared toward teaching basic electronics and soldering by means of a small LED flashlight. At Porvir, I am reading and learning about all these incredible projects and education initiatives, but I was itching for some hands-on work to apply what I am learning. This opportunity came in perfect time, and I hopped on the chance to visit the innovation center.

My arrival in Vila Nova Esperança was quite a journey. First, I took a metro to the Butantã station, where I met up with Lucas, an engineering student from São Carlos, who was spending his vacation in São Paulo. Lucas had been to the center a few times and offered to accompany me there for the workshop. From Butantã, we took a bus ride through the periphery and got off in front of Jardim Amaralina, a gated community about 20 minutes outside São Paulo. From there, the bus continued on its paved route, and we turned onto a dirt road. As we walked, I began to notice the distance between concrete light posts becoming greater, until about 200 meters into the dirt road, where they stopped completely. From that point on, there were tall wooden posts with dozens of wires wrapped around each one, all guiding our way toward the community. Lucas had told me about the “gatos” (“cats”) before arriving, but when I told him not to be silly, that I wasn’t afraid of cats, he just chuckled. As soon as I arrived, I realized what he meant. In Brazil, “gatos” are a euphemism for illegitimate electrical hook-ups, on which many of these communities depend for electricity.

After about 15 minutes, we arrived at a series of brick houses stacked along the side of a hill. Lucas led me to a half-dirt, half-concrete stairway, which left us at the community’s main road. Along this trek, he told me a little bit about the community, and the people who were living there today. A majority of  the inhabitants of Vila Nova Esperança, or VNE, as it has become, came from the Northeast of Brazil, Bahia, in search of better work opportunities in São Paulo. When realizing that life in the megalopolis was quite a bit different than imagined, there were few options to settle. They began settling on this hill, neighboring an ecological reserve. The location is right on the border between two cities: São Paulo and Taboão da Serra. In Brazil, we say “Quando algo é de todo mundo, não é de ninguem,” meaning, “when something belongs to everyone it belongs to no one.” As a result, neither city takes much care for this land, and people began to settle on it. Now that the community has grown to about 3,000 people, the cities still refuse to provide amenities, as the land was originally illegally claimed. These complications make basic services such as water and electricity a serious problem at VNE, which explains the gatos we saw along the way. Another issue is the lack of bus routes that reach the community, as the roads are not paved. Again, the city refuses to pave the roads so the buses will not make it there any time soon.

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Vila Nova Esperança’s main road

The Innovation Center at VNE is currently housed in the garage of the community’s elected leader, Lia. Lia is a true matriarch, and has been democratically elected as VNE’s community leader several times in a row. While her husband runs a convenience store beneath their home on the main road, Lia is battling at the government offices for public services. The idea for the innovation center first came out of a project from the NGO Teto, which brings volunteers to communities in need and spend a few days building homes together with the people in each community. Miguel participated in a few constructions for Teto at VNE and fell in love with the community.

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The innovation center, currently inside Lia’s garage

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Here I am, inside the center!

Mariana’s workshop was scheduled to begin at 6pm, but we arrived at around 3, giving us plenty of time to prepare and gather our participants. We quickly learned that the best form of advertising was via word-of-mouth and by interacting with people who were hanging out in front of their houses or stores. In doing this, I got a great tour of the community, by a group of young girls who had spent the early part of the afternoon drawing at the center. VNE is already complete with a community garden, playground and a small soccer field at the very top—not to mention the incredible view they have of the nature reserve in their backyard. We arrived back at the innovation center at around 5:30 to prepare the materials for the workshop. At 6, we were perfectly ready to go, but no one was there. At 6:30, still no one. We decided to all go back out and call our new friends we had made during the afternoon. Miguel, who has been going to the community every day for the past year, already knows the “regulars.” With his big friendly smile and irresistible “Fala, broder!” (translated to “what’s up, brother!”) a few kids began to fill the center. Suddenly, we had a crowd of teenagers and even a few moms excited about the flashlights.


Mariana explaining circuits

Mariana began to explain the concept of basic circuitry to our crowd. We soon learned that our role as volunteers would be way more than just helping with logistics, but we had to put our high school physics memories to the test! The assembly kits, which were donated by Olin College of Engineering, required a level of detail that would be hard to explain in the two hours we had programmed for the workshop. With soldering irons sizzling, wires clipping, questions flying, the center was buzzing with activity. Needless to say, we lost track of time and before we knew it, several moms were arriving at the innovation center wondering where their kids were so late at night. When they arrived, the kids were excited to show them their new creations, which would also be used to guide their way home.

Of course, this was not all so easy. The assembly kits were quite complicated for an introductory workshop, and each participant demanded more attention than we could provide. Many of the flashlights didn’t work on the first try, and the younger kids grew frustrated with their failed attempts. This is where something I learned at a workshop back in May (mentioned earlier in this blog) kicked in: Failure is only when you quit. The kids knew this and wanted to keep on trying, but the hungry and tired volunteers needed to pack up. In sticking to my belief that you should’t quit something when you want it to work, and seeing how dedicated the workshop’s participants were about making the flashlights work, I offered to continue the workshop on a different day. We scheduled a time for the following week when I would return to VNE, on the condition that those who didn’t get a chance to finish would bring a friend or two to the second workshop. For this one, I would plan an even simpler circuit, and would play around with the workshop’s participants in assembling the LED connection. I didn’t know what I was in for.


LED flashlight assembly kit, created by Olin and assembled by Mariana and Marité



The first completed flashlight, assembled by Tempei, the innovation center’s only full-time staff

Since then I have returned to VNE about twice a week, learning so much with every visit. Right now, I am planning a new workshop which will encourage participants to draw and use visual documentation as a learning tool. Saturday is the second part of a photography workshop led by a friend of mine, and we will combine a part of her program with the drawing course. My experience at VNE so far has taught me a lot about the meaning of “innovation,” which I have been struggling to define over the past few months. An innovation is not something necessarily revolutionary or technologically advanced, but yes a new approach at an old problem. The flashlight workshop was a tool to inspire the community at VNE to use their own resources toward solutions to daily issues. Since the city doesn’t provide electricity, the streets at night are dark. With their new flashlights, the kids could have a safer walk home, and feel empowered to find resourceful solutions. Our hope is to leave a permanent stock of the tools necessary to build the flashlights, but also for those who wish to explore more electronics to play with.

Below are a few photos from the first workshop.

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Navigating physical streets and bureaucratic dialogues

After the setback of last week’s attempt at generating way finding clues within the village, we took a step back to evaluate what were the key issues important to us, the children and Adhyayan, and what strategies could we realistically implement in our limited time without unnecessarily antagonizing the community.

All these past weeks of interactions with the community and specially the kids, it’s become clear that Adhyayan, the organization and the space holds a special place for them. They like to spend their maximum time after school within its environment. With the lack of recreational public spaces in the community, this offers a safe and comfortable environment for them to hang out.
We decided to try reinforcing its presence as the ‘heart’ of the children and the community. This is also helped by its physical location, though deep within the neighborhood, but at a prominent square.

Though, being old, organically grown communities, there mostly exists a mixed land use. However there are many lanes deep within the village, which are purely residential. This led to the question of distinguishing between the public and the private, how deep within the community would they like outsiders to enter. Thus a decision to work on the movement through the streets having mostly commercial ventures and institutions was made.

We tried to delineate the streets throughout the community through color.
There are 5 different entrances into the community, each from a prominent point on the periphery of the neighborhood like a metro station, next to major city school, and near the surrounding residential communities offering a different meandering path to reach the small square “choti chawk” at which Adhyayan is situated. Some of these streets are lined with commercial ventures; another passes through the neighborhood cow stable, while the others are residential lanes. I decided to highlight these different paths with different colors to make color-coded way-finding clues. The younger kids had been feeling a big left out these past few days when we were working on the community map, and I thought it would be a good idea to get them involved in this project. We started hand printing the walls of these different streets, with each path being distinguishable by its own color.

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It was really interesting to witness the residents’ reactions to a bunch of kids parading up and down the lanes hand printing different surfaces. Even more interesting was the dialogues that this initiated. Many adults have started recognizing me as the ‘teacher’ to their children at Adhyayan or from our weekly community meeting and take whatever we seem to bring to their streetscape in a positive light. Many times we as designers come up notions of how certain things should be or how they should be read by the others without realizing that not everyone is so intuitively immersed in design thinking. It was a reading of the markers’ seeming success that most people’s immediate response to our “we’re just hand printing these streets” was “Oh! To make different lanes distinguishing by color? That would make giving directions so much easier!”

From this week, a few volunteers from the neighboring college who want to work with Adhyayan on this “art” project join us. Usually whenever an outsider comes to the NGO (including myself), one of the kids always comes out to one of the entrances to guide us in, it even took me a couple of days to find my way in one go. To test out our markers, instead of going to receive the volunteers, we’ve been telling them to follow a particular color depending on where they inform us that they’re entering from and no one seems to have got lost so far! (Or maybe most people just have a better sense of direction than me)




As a possible critique of this experiment and on further development, we’re toying with the idea of adding the NGO’s logo or something, as I’m still not convinced about its success or access to an accidental outsider or someone who isn’t invited in. I’m hoping that our next step of installing installations and murals as “attractors” in lanes that seem more narrow or unfriendly might affect the general foot traffic in the village.


Though we’ve been working our hardest at making the streets more “navigable” the daunting problem of the excessive trash on the streets would deter anyone, outsider or otherwise to wish to traverse the lanes of the village. Though we clean all the areas where we make an intervention, its not a sustainable step as the it requires a multi-tiered addressal from concerned government departments and conscious efforts by the residents. While we are targeting the community awareness through our weekly meetings and personal interactions, we’ve been having meetings with the sub-departments of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in the past weeks. This Tuesday after weeks of attempts, we finally managed to hold a meeting with the Chancellor for the zone within which our neighborhood lies along with his officials to discuss the policy changes that need to be implemented for communities like these urban villages. Communities, whose narrow streets do not allow for larger municipal trucks to operate in and who require a greater attention by the personal working with smaller equipment and on foot. This also, allowed us to create a bridge of dialogue between the community and the authorities that had been lacking and made the residents take our work and us in their community in a more serious light.

Though seemingly a promising series of conversation, existing as a part of the (in)famous Indian bureaucracy, we will need to maintain constant pressure on the MCD, the scope of which will extend way beyond my stay with Adhyayan to see a concrete impact. However, getting the dialogue started was a huge step and I will make sure to maintain the pressure for however long I can.


- Zoya


In the apiary

This week Master Beekeeper Erin McGregor-Forbes invited me to her home to confer on the plans and details of the mobile observation hive.  The original intent had been to build the structure on the back of a small tow-a-long trailer, however, after our conversation it seems the better approach will be to construct the hive inside a larger, covered trailer.  This trailer can be outfitted as not only a place to view the bees, but also a place to sit, relax and read about them…more like a little room.  A bee room.


Honeybees, much like many social insects (ants and termites for instance) operate as a super-organism.  A super-organism is a group of individual organisms who not only could not survive without the colony but also have a complex social hierarchy with highly specialized divisions of labor working in concert for the health of the whole.  This basic recognition is an extremely important concept in understanding the workings of the colony and fits nicely in parallel with their necessity to pollinating the flora of their surrounding landscape.

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Erin also has a few queen-rearing colonies; colonies that produce queens that can be used to re-queen queen-less colonies.  Finding the queen can be a chore being that there can be 20,000 to 100,000 bees in a mature colony depending on the season.  


To make things easier, beekeepers will mark the queen with a small dot of paint.  To do this, once the queen is found, she is placed in a small plastic container with a small wooden plunger.  The plunger has a soft end and is used to push the queen gently against the screened end.  Here the queen is stuck and can be easily painted with a paint pen.

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Lemann Foundation Conference …and feedback

Today, the Porvir office had a different kind of morning. Every August, Fundação Lemann, a Brazilian organization that addresses issues in education, and is a close collaborator of Porvir, hosts a seminary on education and innovation, called the 3rd International Seminar on Entrepreneurship and Education in Brazilian Education. In addition to founding the Lemann Center at Stanford University, the Lemann foundation provides valuable learning tools such as translation of online courses, and scholarships to a Brazilian audience.

While I was very excited to hear from today’s guest speakers, whose papers I had been reading for the first half of the summer, I was also a bit apprehensive about the panels. In my own quest to define the term “innovation” (more on that later), I am coming to the conclusion that there is no definition, and that this research is almost in vain. At the start of my project this summer, I thought that in doing research about innovation in education, I had to first define the term itself. Over the past few weeks, I have realized that innovation is not a single action, event or piece of technology, but a combination of factors that make sense when applied together in a new way. With this in mind, my focus in the innova+ project has shifted toward a better understanding of what we are looking for in our publication, and thus, describing the project to our partners has become much more natural.

So, back to this morning’s event. We all met up at Espaço Manacá, on the busy Avenida 9 de julho, for a half-day conference on education reforms, the role of innovation in education, and a presentation of the results of recent policy changes in education. Among the speakers at the event were Paulo Blikstein, creator of FabLab@School, David Plank, a policy analyst and professor at Stanford, Martin Carnoy, researcher on the relationship between development and education, and Eric Bettinger, associate professor in the Stanford University School of Education and researcher in “the economics of education.” The panels were a way for each professor to share his work with a Brazilian audience, and to engage the audience in debates on the various approaches to policy changes, despite the time crunch and limited time for Q+A at the end.

What struck me most from all the panels was Professor Bettinger’s, presentation on the statistics of Brazilians studying abroad. He showed that a significant majority of Brazilian students who study abroad return to Brazil after their studies. In his discourse on the question of education across borders, he asked whether sending Brazilian students to study in other countries was a brain drain or a brain gain, to which the answer will only be determined in the next few decades, if ever. Throughout his presentation, I began to think of my own experience with studying internationally. While my entire academic life has been in the United States, I feel very much that I have been educated by my two countries: Brazil and the US. I continued to think of the challenges as well as advantages of an international education, and the new culture of “global citizens” that is beginning to form.

Throughout his discourse, I also thought of the work I am doing here at Porvir, and how, methodical our approach has been up to this point. We outlined our goals: to make contacts, get input, sort out the entries and publish the document. From my first day here, I was growing increasingly frustrated with the factors that were limiting our very clear outline and pushing our deadlines back each and every day. When working with partners, our dates and meeting times depend on a larger variety of factors. I had an “AHA!” moment when I realized that the solution to this was approaching the process in a different way. Understanding the obstacles of working across continents and timezones, we had to accept that our process would not be linear, but more like a series of waves, in which we have a ton of deliverables from one day to the next, and then await feedback from the other side of the Atlantic. The process is much more malleable and should have room for new input all the time. Just this notion has been a huge learning experience for working internationally, and with some of the bureaucracies of the non-profit world.

I left the conference feeling ready to take on the next stages of innova+ project, and having made many contacts to connect with for input in the next few weeks!

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Selfie with my conference nametag!


The move north

This week the colony that will occupy the observation hive was finally moved north.  The hive had been building strength and population in North Hampton, NH for the first two months of the summer and Monday night made the move to the shore of Sebago lake in Raymond, ME.


It is best to move bees after nightfall as all foraging bees have gathered back at the hive for the night.  Though they are still active, they are more tranquil than during daylight hours.


A trick I discovered during the move was to use an uncapped LED lantern.  The light attracts the bees that manage to escape while strapping the hive together and blocking the entrance with a strip of wood.  An LED bulb is cool enough for them to land on and the clear plastic lens contains them nicely.  These half dozen bees that had escaped stayed perched in the lantern for the duration of the two hour drive to the lake and were happily returned to the colony when we arrived.


Seeming to be healthy and strong, this week was about making sure the bees were settling in comfortably.  Though this is the weakest of the three colonies, it seemed the best to move as it is the smallest as the colony still filling in the bottom hive body.  In fact, the colony is much busier in their new location than they were in New Hampshire even after re-queening.  They have been foraging, coming in with red, green and yellow pollen, as well as rearing new brood.


During the hive inspections, it was clear to see the waggle dance they perform to communicate food sources.


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