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Improving Lives One Load at a Time

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Most of you who are reading this wear clean clothes thanks to the invention of the modern washer and dryer. If you lived in Cerro Verde, a 30,000-person slum outside of Lima, Peru, cleaning clothes would be a major time commitment. Poverty has many causes, and one of them that we seem to overlook is time. Time spent on the things we do automatically, that are done for us, for which we have machines or an infrastructure built to serve our developed basic needs.

Back to Cerro Verde. Collaboration and co-invention were not on the minds of Alex Cabunoc and Ji A You, who were part of the Design Matters program at Art Center College of Design in California, a brilliant program that focuses on social innovation. (If you have not had a chance to look at that program, please stop now and find out more about what they are doing. They are a model of what innovation and collaboration can do when they focus on people in the developing world — the people most in need of that energy and creativity.)

Again, back to Cerro Verde. Cabunoc and You were shocked by how much time it took to collect water, water that was used for everything from drinking to cooking to washing clothes. “So much time, energy, and resources are used for basic water chores like cooking and cleaning,” remembers Cabunoc. “It leaves little time for other activities that might help one get out of poverty.”

In particular, they were struck by how much time is spent washing clothes. Between the physically demanding job of carrying heavy buckets of clean water, washing several loads by hand, wringing them out, or finding a way to dry them to avoid dampness and mold, the process can take up to six hours a day. Every day.

Collaboration and innovation often start with a simple question. Cabunoc and You wondered why a manually powered washer or dryer did not exist. Not the kind that existed before the electric washer and dryer, but something that could take advantage of modern engineering, materials, and know-how to solve a problem that had already been solved in the developed world with electricity and modern washers and dryers.

That’s one of the striking lessons from this story. While the developed world has charged ahead, nothing much has changed for the rest of the world’s Cerro Verdes.

So Cabunoc and You collaborated with the people there to see what was possible, and came up with a combination foot-powered washer and dryer they called GiraDora, roughly translated as “spinner” (see image below).

Innovative washer dryer

Their work was highlighted as a notable entry in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design 2012 Awards program. Here’s a description of the GiraDora from the program’s website:

GiraDora is a blue bucket that conceals a spinning mechanism that washes clothes and then partially dries them before hanging them up to finish drying, saving weeks of time over the course of a year. It’s operated by a foot pedal, while the user sits on the lid to stabilize the rapidly churning contents. Sitting alleviates lower-back pain associated with hand-washing clothes, and frees up the washer to pursue other tasks. It’s portable, so it can be placed nearby a water source or even inside on a rainy day. It reduces health risks like joint problems, skin irritation, and mold inhalation. Most importantly, it uses far less water and cleans clothes faster than conventional hand-washing. This equates to more free time, explains Cabunoc, and the opportunity to ‘break the cycle of poverty.’

Time to get out of poverty. We collaborate and innovate to provide ways to free up time, time to do the things people need to improve their lives. Even in the developing world, there are still only 24 hours in a day.

GiraDora. If Necessity is the mother of Invention, then her children are called Innovation and Collaboration.

Source: “How A Foot-Powered Washing Machine Could Change Millions Of Lives,” Fast Company, July 2012
Source: “Safe Agua Peru,” Designmatters, 2011