June 25th, 2013
09:03 AM ET

How scientists are making ice skating safer

Editor’s note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 29th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of biomechanist Jim Richards.

With only seven months until the Olympic caldron shrines bright on host city Sochi, Russia, athletes are vigorously training in preparation. Competition is fierce and Olympic hopefuls are expected to be faster, stronger and capable of superhuman feats. But one winter sport, known for its grace and beauty, is wreaking havoc on the joints of developing bodies: ice skating.

“We’ve seen skaters as young as 20 who have had major surgeries and hip replacements,” says Jim Richards, a scientist at University of Delaware’s human performance lab.

When Richards decided to pursue a career in sports biomechanics and kinematics, or the study of human motion, he had no idea he would be spending so much time in a damp cold ice skating rink. However, when the university built his lab, they neglected to include one major necessity, and he had to walk through the rink every day to reach the restroom.

After watching elite figure skaters crash to the ice over and over, he thought he could approach their training in a more efficient way.

Richards is one of the first scientists to successfully leverage motion capture data to create 3-D simulations. The models help assess athletic ability and decrease the chance of physical injury.

“The whole point of what we’re doing is to accelerate their ability to learn these jumps,” Richards says, “We’re decreasing the number of impacts which we hope would have an effect on the long-term health of their lower extremity joints.”

Motion capture technology has been used to develop lifelike movements in animations and video games. For skating, 40 markers are placed on the athlete’s body while 10 high-speed infrared cameras record the markers' movements. Richards and his team are doing something other sports haven’t done; they’re constructing models that allow them to play what-if games.

The research is sponsored by the United States Olympic Committee and United States Figure Skating, and while the university has had requests from all around the world, the program is exclusive to U.S. athletes.

It could take up to a year to master aerial tricks known as triple and quadruple rotation jumps. After completing the analysis, one skater landed the perfect jump the same day. The learning curve is drastically reduced and most participants successfully complete the jumps within two weeks.

Nearly 70 skaters have gone through the system and they are blown away by the results.

“This program is going to help skaters for the future figure out how to do more quads, and who knows, maybe quints,” said Alex Johnson, an internationally ranked figure skater and Olympic contender.

Richards envisions the day when he is able to measure motion without markers. New systems in development do not require tracking, which means the analysis could be performed in real time. It opens up an entire world of possibilities. Richards could analyze a fast ball pitch during the World Series, a three-point shot in an NBA game, and a gymnast’s mid-air vault.

Athletes aren’t the only ones benefiting from this technology. Richards spends a significant amount of time working with children whose shoulders are injured during difficult deliveries.

“He has tackled a problem that we have wrestled with for the last 100 years,” says Dr. Scott Kozin, M.D., chief of staff at Shriners Hospital for Children in Phila., Pa.

Approximately four out of every 1,000 births result in brachial plexus birth palsy, an injury that causes nerves in the shoulder to tear during childbirth. Skeletal simulation enables surgeons to measure upper extremity motion without radiation. The long-term goal is to operate on the model and see the outcome on the computer before ever working with the patient.

“It’s fun to work with a population that can do incredible things when it comes to physical ability,” Richards says, “but the reality is if you can play some small role in helping a child walk better or be able to use their arm better, that’s a far more rewarding experience.”

Richards is revolutionizing the way athletes train and he is transforming the way doctors treat children.

You can learn more about his work and the human performance lab on "The Next List," this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on CNN. Please Follow us, Like us, and check out our photos!

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June 14th, 2013
04:56 PM ET

The Right Stuff

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill. 

What is most important to you? House? Car? Clothes? Formal china? Probably not. These things might make your life more convenient. To some extent, they might enable you to do the things that Are actually important. But our stuff, when we think about it, isn’t that important.

What is important to most of us? Our friends, families, having meaningful work, amazing experiences. As I have heard it said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

Yet somehow, when many of us look at our lives, we see a disproportionate amount of time and energy directed toward stuff. We work extra hard so we can make the car payments. We max out our credit cards to keep up with fashion. We move into big homes so we have a place for the hutch that stores the formal china.

In the late nineties, I had the great fortune of selling my startup. What did I do with my newfound cash? Same thing any good American would: I got lots of stuff like a new car, furniture, gadgets and of course a big house.

This ability to consume was new to me. When I was growing up, everyone in my middle-class, six- child family had everything they needed but not much more. When you’re raised with just enough, you imagine having more than enough will make you that much happier.

But there I was living the American dream–driving a quick car, living in a big house, with the ability to buy more–and I was no happier. What was I missing?

I was missing the fact that no amount of stuff would ever make me happy. I actually found the more things I had, the more complicated life became. There were more things to buy and maintain, more things to keep track of, more things to lose.

A number of events in my life–most notably a serious romantic relationship–made me realize that people, amazing experiences and meaningful work are the real important parts of my life. The other stuff is just stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love objects and architecture. I studied product design in college and have built homes as a carpenter before I got into startups. But my later life experiences made me reevaluate how and why our stuff and homes were designed. I started to wonder why we often ended up living to support our stuff and homes rather than the other way around?

It was with this question in mind that I started LifeEdited. I wanted to help start a movement where our products, homes and the way we live are aligned with what’s important to us.

On a practical level, this meant doing more with less. The average American takes up three times more living space than sixty years ago. Yet we still don’t have enough room for our stuff, evidenced by a $22 billion dollar personal storage industry. Worse still, we have become a nation of debtors paying for our big homes and stuff. Clearly, our lives could use a good edit.

LifeEdited is starting with homes. We help conceive homes around what is important in people’s lives. We are specialty consultants to architects, currently working in cities such as New York City and Las Vegas. Often, the result is a space that is much smaller than the typical American home. My own 420-square-foot Manhattan apartment sleeps up to four, seats twelve for dinner, has a home office and much more. The smaller footprint is cheaper to buy, easier to clean, greener and, even though there’s a generous 426 cubic feet of storage, doesn’t permit me to collect a lot of unnecessary stuff.

Because I have fewer things, the stuff I do have is quality stuff I love and appreciate.

LifeEdited is about freedom, not restriction. We think the less-but-better approach leads to more money in the bank, more time for friends and recreation and less to think about. It’s about including everything that’s important and “editing” out the rest.

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Less stuff, happier life: The philosophy of Graham Hill
June 11th, 2013
05:14 PM ET

Less stuff, happier life: The philosophy of Graham Hill

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill.

Graham Hill is an entrepreneur, designer and environmentalist who started a website called LifeEdited.com. He evangelizes the idea that living a pared down life can make you happier, healthier and wealthier. And that editing down all the unnecessary and gratuitous stuff in your life will give you a smaller carbon footprint and a cleaner conscience.

“Every less cubic foot of air means less to clean, heat, cool, insure and move," says Hill. “The more space, the more complex your life gets.”

Hill says that over last 50 years, average housing size has increased nearly three times while families have gotten smaller, but people are not any happier.

“Living within our means is financially and environmentally good. Having an unorganized life full of crap is not a recipe for happiness,” he says.

To help illustrate his idea, Hill purchased two apartments in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. He launched a competition, crowd-sourcing the design to renovate the first one, which was only 420 square feet. Required for the winning bid: room for a couple, space for a sit-down dinner for 10-12 people, room for overnight guests and a workspace among other amenities. The second apartment is currently under construction.

The result is a design marvel. Sanjay Gupta paid a visit to check out all the bells and whistles, including a movable wall that makes space for two drop-down bunk beds. You have to see it to believe it.

Hill isn’t advocating a monastic existence. Rather, he believes that good design and a system of shared amenities (he calls it a Product Library) will allow for all the creature comforts with a minimum of hastle.

Imagine the Product Library as a way to borrow big, bulky items when you need them, such as coolers, folding chairs, a standup paddleboard, a karaoke machine, a sewing machine. His idea is to design a cost-effective system to access them and reserve them on line.

There is something of a movement to build and design smaller apartments commensurate with demographic trends. San Francisco, Hong Kong, London and most recently New York City have all taken high-profile forays into the micro-unit space.

In fact, in NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a competition in July to design a rental building on East 27th Street that would be 75 percent comprised of micro units, 275-300 square feet.

Hill is involved in a similar project in Las Vegas with Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. Hsieh is moving Zappos headquarters to Las Vegas and investing $350 million of his own money to remake a section of downtown into a hub for high tech and creativity. Hsieh saw Hill's Tedtalk on an Edited Life and solicited ideas to build micro housing for his employees.

Graham Hill is, above all, an environmentalist. His concern for the environment and human impact on it informs everything he does. (He was the founder of TreeHugger.com which he later sold to Discovery.)

Hill was a crew member on the 2010 voyage of the Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made out of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and other plastic waste products. The crew traveled more than 8,000 nautical miles from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia to raise awareness about plastic waste and its affect on marine life. And to show how waste can be used as a valuable resource.

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June 4th, 2013
02:14 PM ET

Izhar Gafni and the cardboard bike that could revolutionize transportation

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 8th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of cardboard bicycle innovator Izhar Gafni.

For years, people told him he could never do it. But with his own money, resources and what he describes as "guts feelings," inventor Izhar Gafni built a bicycle made almost entirely out of cardboard.

His cardboard bike took four years and six prototypes to make, and when it was finished Gafni's story and Vimeo went viral. Izzy, as he's called, became an Internet sensation. But "The Next List" team wanted to see Izzy in action - actually making a bike from scratch on his own turf.

In a workshop on a small kibbutz on Israel's northern coast, we watched as Izzy, a self-described cycling enthusiast, worked his magic. Using the principles of Japanese origami - literally folding cardboard over and over (with a machine he invented) - and adding a secret concoction of glue and varnish, Izzy, who is self-taught, figured out a way to make cardboard rugged enough for us to ride. His craftmanship resulted in a light, waterproof and recyclable frame capable of holding cyclists up to 500 pounds. A full-size cardboard bike weighs around twenty pounds, and according to Izzy, never has to be adjusted or repaired.

"The tires are made of reconstituted rubber from old car tires so they will never puncture," he says.

Izzy says innovation is everywhere in Israel, but the aftermath, or production phase of an invention, is lacking. He and business partner Nimrod Elmish formed the Israeli company, I.G. Cardboard Technologies, and say they are determined to change that.

"This project, Izzy's cardboard bicycles, is a unique business model, and a real game-changer," says Elmish. "We will build these bikes using all kinds of funding, including government grants and rebates for using recycled materials. This will keep production costs down and will also create many jobs at local factories."

The end result: a bicycle made from $9 worth of cardboard, that will sell for around $60. But Izzy hopes the rebates for using "green" materials will enable them to distribute the bicycles for free in poor countries all over the world.

"The whole concept for these bikes is to build something so strong, you can throw them in a village in Africa, and come back next year to collect the damaged ones and bring new ones," he said.

Mass production of the cardboard bike begins later this year, and Izzy wants to take his technology even further, already working on cardboard wheelchairs and high chairs.

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Filed under: Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
May 31st, 2013
11:28 AM ET

Five things I learned in the ICU that helped me start a business

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 1, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of innovator Francesco Clark.

By Francesco Clark, Special to CNN

1. Show up.

They say “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” When I was laying in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator and dozens of tubes, the most impactful moment was when I saw so many of my friends and family there, sitting just a few feet away. I couldn’t speak. My left vocal cord was paralyzed. My left lung had collapsed. I had inhaled too much water and shattered two vertebrae in a diving accident that became the pivotal instant that changed my life.

What did I have to rely on for those first terrifying hours after? When I felt alone, when the doctors told me I probably wouldn’t survive the night, I still felt at my core that somehow I’d survive. But how can you know for sure when everyone around you doesn’t?

Those are the moments when a well-intentioned note doesn’t matter, but being there does. What got me through was that I felt at ease and immediately comforted knowing my parents, brother, sister and so many friends were there supporting me. It was a testament to how meaningful the unspoken word can be.

The emails were touching but I don’t remember them. What I remember is everyone who was there in person.

2. Live with passion.

In the helicopter on the way to SUNY Stony Brook’s emergency room I finally closed my eyes. The door was open and I could feel the warm wind wafting onto my face but the thought of seeing the ground disappear below me was too much to bear. I was strapped into a gurney, my spine filling with an increasing amount of pressure that felt like it would explode.

For the first time, I didn’t have to reassure anyone I was alive or direct someone to call 911. Those ten minutes of introspection made me realize, “I might not make it through tonight.” None of it made sense. The weather was too serene for something so catastrophic to happen. It was a beautiful summer night with the moon and stars floating in a sky I wasn’t sure I’d see again.

I wanted to live, desperately. My first instinct, in a surge of energy, was to fight to fix what just happened. As it turned out, every part of being in the ICU was a challenge. Relearning how to breathe became the first and most important task of living. With my lungs unable to clear themselves by coughing, my blood oxygen levels were too low to sustain my body. I had to make it better or I’d need to be on a ventilator.

The nurses gave me a clear cup with a tube attached to it. The goal was to blow into the tube and make a little red ball float intermittently for thirty minutes. It was the most boring thing I was supposed to do but it was the most important. I needed to figure out a way to get strong enough to breathe. I found a way that was just as effective but all my own.

My sister and a childhood friend, Alex, stopped by my room the next day. They unpacked a disc player and placed it on the table facing my bed. Alex had an ABBA CD with him that he put in the player and said “sing.” For nine days, I didn’t care if I made a fool of myself: I sang so horribly and my lung capacity rose to a normal range. I could breathe on my own, without a machine, and it felt like a triumph.

3. Make a connection

There was a night nurse, Cynthia, whom I began having long conversations with. I’d wake up gasping for air from a recurring nightmare I couldn’t escape. It would play over and over in my head and I’d panic. Imagine dreaming that you suddenly can’t feel your legs or arms, only to wake up and realize that this horrible nightmare is actually reality.

But through conversations with Cynthia I began to feel human again because we’d talk about anything but my injury. That connection to another human being, the feeling of mutual respect, gave me the peace of mind I needed in order to go back to sleep and hold on to hope.

4. Commit to what’s important.

Like most twenty-four year olds, when I was confronted with a big change, there was a two-part reaction. The first was, “how do I deal with this?” and the second was, “what are my other options?” My injury forced me deal with the former on a level I never thought I could.

Many times I’d question whether my nerves would grow. The scientific community didn’t think they would. But it didn’t and doesn’t make sense to me why I can’t get better. I don’t have a disease, and new research is breaking the old boundaries.

I committed to my recovery. By focusing on that goal it became easier to email the leading spinal cord injury researchers and doctors around the world. I moved past the fear of asking a dumb question and learned to be direct and honest. It was easier than I expected and opened a world of possibilities where once there was none.

When I started Clark’s Botanicals, I had no idea what it would mean to run a skincare company. I was only sure of the formulation my father and I had made, and believed in our organic collaboration. The rest of it felt like a world of unknown. At first I thought I had to understand every part of it immediately. Eventually I realized that if I just stayed committed, I’d learn and grow as we expanded. And, like my nerves, why wouldn’t it grow if I were truly committed to it?

5. Realize there is no box.

Everyone has a different story. My good friend, Brooke Ellison, sustained a high-level cervical spinal cord injury when she was a young girl. It disconnected her body from her thoughts and made her dependent on a ventilator.

I often wonder if her brain ever just chills out. I suppose it might not have time to. She emails me while grading her students’ term papers, the ones who are hoping for a passing grade from their college professor. Those pupils probably don’t know she’s one of the first quadriplegics to graduate from Harvard and then become a leading Ph.D. in bioethics.

She’s not the kind of person to mention that because her focus is on something so much more beyond herself—engaging others and explaining the most complex topics in her brilliantly simplified way.

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Filed under: Culture • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers
May 28th, 2013
04:29 PM ET

How Francesco Clark made beauty from tragedy

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 1, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of Francesco Clark.

Madonna and Michelle Obama are self-proclaimed fans. Jane Larkworthy at W Magazine calls it simply “divine.” And Harper’s Bazaar’s Alexandra Parnass says it’s the most innovative skin-care line she’s ever seen.

It's Clark’s Botanicals, which has quickly developed a cult following, particularly among the fashion elite, since its launch in 2005. The secret, according to founder Francesco Clark, is Jasmine Absolute, a blend of essential oils found in all his products. But for some, Clark's unique entry into the world of beauty is at least part of the draw.

This Saturday, June 1, marks the 11th anniversary of the accident that would forever change Clark’s life. He was just 24, enjoying the first night of a summer rental on Long Island, when he decided to take a late-night dip.

“The second I dove in,” he says, “I realized I dove into the shallow end of the pool.”

Francesco was paralyzed from the shoulders down. “You’ll never move your arms,” doctors told him. “Don’t even think about your legs. Don’t even bother.”

Clark never accepted his diagnosis. Not truly. But it wasn’t until his hero, actor-turned-disabled activist Christopher Reeve, passed away that he decided to take full responsibility for his recovery. And for the first time since his accident, Clark looked in a mirror. “I didn’t look like myself.”

One of the side effects of his spinal-cord injury was he could no longer sweat. “I had acne everywhere, but it was unreactive to any $500 cream, $3 cream, prescriptions, over-the-counter," he said. "Nothing worked.”

Eager to reclaim the friends and colleagues he’d neglected since his injury, he turned to his father, a doctor trained in both homeopathy and Western medicine.

After setting up a lab in the kitchen, Clark and his father investigated 78 botanical ingredients before landing on Jasmine Absolute, the unique blend of essential oils that solved Francesco’s skin problems. Today it’s used throughout the Clark’s Botanicals skincare line, sold in stores from New York to Hong Kong.

But far more important than the line’s success is the role it’s played in Clark’s recovery.

"It was the first time I saw the power of the beauty industry," he said. "A lot of people think it's just about the way you look. For me, it's about the way I felt."

Bolstered by the renewed sense of purpose his company has given him - and his aggressive pursuit of spinal-cord injury treatments - Clark has defied his doctors’ diagnosis. He now has partial use of his arms, wrists and hands. And as his company continues to grow, so do his dreams.

“You know, I’m very impatient and I want to do more," he said. "I want to be more independent, using my hands. And I plan to walk again in the next three to five years.”

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May 23rd, 2013
11:31 AM ET

Asteroid Hunter seeks out asteroids hurtling towards Earth

By Ed Lu, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and current founder and CEO of the B612 Foundation. His mission is to build the world’s most powerful asteroid tracking system to find asteroids on a collision course with earth. Watch his full story this Saturday at 2:30p ET on CNN’s “The Next List.”

Next week on May 31, 2013, a 1.7 mile wide asteroid, 1998 QE2, will fly past the Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles.

If this asteroid were to hit the Earth (don't worry, it won't this time), it would be the end of human civilization.  Think about that.  Not only would it kill billions of people, but it would take with it our very history. Gone would be our cities, our culture, our languages, our art, our music, our scientific knowledge - everything that we as a species have built up during the past 10,000 years. Gone in an instant.

Asteroid impacts are the only global scale natural disaster we know how to prevent. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot deflect an asteroid that we haven't found yet. This is why the B612 Foundation is building the Sentinel Space Telescope, the world's most powerful asteroid detection and tracking system, to see the millions of asteroids we can't see today and could pose threats to our planet.  The B612 Foundation is a nonprofit organization, dependent on private donations for our mission. We welcome you to join our efforts at the B612 Foundation and help protect not only our planet, but our future.


Filed under: Future • Innovation • Science • Space • The Next List • Uncategorized
May 17th, 2013
01:41 PM ET

Stanford's unique approach to teaching problem solving

Editor's Note: Jim Patell's full 30-minute profile will air on CNN's "The Next List" Saturday, May 18th, at 2:30 P.M. ET.

By James M. Patell, Special to CNN

Last week, at the invitation of my niece Alexis, I video chatted with a sixth grade class in the South Jefferson Middle School about a unique course I teach. Design for Extreme Affordability is a graduate-level course at Stanford in which interdisciplinary teams design new products and services, together with the associated implementation plans, for the world’s poor.

The class, offered jointly by the Graduate School of Business and the Mechanical Engineering Department, is now finishing its tenth year; by this June, we will have completed 90 projects with 27 partners in 18 countries. Cumulatively, these projects were conducted by 365 students from 27 programs across Stanford, including all seven schools: Business, Earth Sciences, Education, Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, Law, and Medicine.

One thing the middle schoolers wanted to know was why we had chosen to mix students from various fields to work on the projects instead of limiting it to just engineers.

They aren't the first to wonder. Conducting a truly interdisciplinary course is challenging for the instructors and for the students. The various schools have different grading systems, different registration systems and so on. Even the simple logistics of finding a class time-slot is difficult, because each department has its own norms that dictate which times of which days are reserved for required courses and other mandatory tasks. Why bother?

Having fresh eyes and child-like curiosity is important. Seeing the world through different lenses also is important. Our engineering students recognize systems of forces and flows, while our business students see intersecting webs of potential consumers and producers. Medical students envision vectors of transmission for disease or treatment, while our international policy students identify competing interest groups. The different frameworks that they use to model causal relationships, and the different “mental filing systems" and vocabularies they use to store and express their impressions, allow us to gain “3-D empathy” for our users, before we conduct the first brainstorm or build the first prototype.

One of the founding tenets of the d.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford) is human-centered design. Rather than beginning with shiny new technology, we start by trying to establish deep, personal empathy with our users to determine their needs and wants. We must fill in two blanks: Our users need a better way to ___ BECAUSE ___. The because portion is a big deal.

We are working across cultures, across geographies, across political systems and across myriad differences in the contexts of daily life. The hardest lesson for designers to remember is that we are not designing for ourselves. We must listen carefully and we must watch carefully. We must ask polite but probing questions about those elements of our users’ lives that strike us as "curious.”

We cannot assume we understand their preferences. We cannot assume that they can articulate those preferences in terms we will understand. We cannot assume that our users will emphasize elements that are so deeply ingrained in their daily existence that, from their perspective, "go without saying." And we cannot assume that they are aware of the full menu of possibilities from which they could be choosing new ways of doing and living.

Getting interdisciplinary teams to work well is not easy. We try to model the behavior we need in the teaching team, which consists of a business school professor, a mechanical engineering professor, a business entrepreneur, a practicing clinical psychologist and a recent graduate of the medical school.

I am the Business School representative. My colleague Professor David Beach is a revered teacher in mechanical engineering and the patriarch of the Product Realization Laboratory - the "machine shop" in which our teams' physical prototypes become real. Mr. Stuart Coulson is a high-tech serial entrepreneur who founded and sold two companies before volunteering to join the teaching team five years ago.

Dr. Julian Gorodsky has been a psychological counselor to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and companies for several decades, and previously served as a field assessment psychologist for Peace Corps trainee groups. Dr. David Janka took the course as a fourth-year medical student two years ago, and then joined the teaching team as a design fellow, the sixth Design for Extreme Affordability alum to do so. Ms. Joan Dorsey and now Ms. Rita Lonhart have been the coordinators who keep the course on an even keel.

As with the students, even finding a time we all can meet is a challenge, but we have come to appreciate the different perspective that each member brings in selecting course partners, deciding which students to admit, determining where we need to up our game as teachers, and especially in counseling teams who are struggling.

We have a straightforward mission statement: every student deserves a great educational experience, and every course partner deserves a great new product or service. We are convinced that interdisciplinary teams, of both students and instructors, give us a better shot at achieving those goals.


Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Social change • The Next List
May 14th, 2013
10:42 AM ET

Addressing tough poverty problems with innovation and design

Editor's Note: Jim Patell's full 30-minute profile will air on CNN's "The Next List" Saturday, May 18th, at 2:30 P.M. ET.

Few people in our lives are as influential or important as teachers. The truly great ones not only educate their students, they infuse them with excitement and inspire them to make an impact on the world.

Jim Patell is one of those teachers. For the past 10 years, he has given his students a unique opportunity to learn real-world skills and use them to improve the lives of the desperately poor.

Patell is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is also the founder and driving force behind a groundbreaking graduate course called Design for Extreme Affordability. The course, offered at Stanford’s d.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), is part education, part adventure and part entrepreneurship.

Over two semesters, Patell and his team challenge the students to design low-cost products that can solve tough problems in the developing world. Forty students from across Stanford’s schools - engineering, medical, business and others - pair up with global partners who have concrete projects to tackle. The goal is to deliver nuts and bolts solutions, a way to implement them, and the means to sustain them over the long haul.

“We’re asking students, are you willing to take a leap of faith?” says Patell, “Are you willing to commit yourself to something for which the solution is not immediately apparent and to take a shot, to give it the best you’ve got.”

So far, the "Extreme" students, as they are known, have taken on 90 projects with 26 partners in 18 countries, and the results have been spectacular.

Here are some of their innovations:

Embrace blanket - It’s a kind of sleeping bag for premature infants equipped with technology that helps them maintain normal body temperature for up to eight hours. The company has been in India for four years with pilot projects in nine other countries. They say they’ve saved 5,000 babies so far.

d.light solar lanterns - These lanterns replace kerosene and candle light in villages with no electricity. D.light’s president says the product has “enabled 10 million people worldwide to upgrade from kerosene lamps to solar lighting.”

AdaptAir - A new device to help treat childhood pneumonia. A team of Jim’s students invented an adaptor for a nasal cannula (a plastic tube for delivering oxygen) that provides a custom fit for babies and children of all sizes. Getting the right fit is critical to treating pneumonia effectively.

Over the years, Jim Patell and his team have developed a kind of formula for success - a way for his students to become what he calls creatively “accident prone.”

“It’s not, if I just squint and concentrate, that idea will come to me,” says Patell. “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 enhance the probability that the great idea is going to occur.”

By gaining deep empathy with their customers, brainstorming with partners and team members, and producing many prototypes quickly, students learn what works and what doesn’t.

Ultimately, Patell says, “what the course produces is young men and women who we aspire to be able to drop down into any messy situation, have them land on their feet and make progress.”

Jim Patell and his team and his students put their hearts, souls and backs into designing "just right" solutions to enduring problems for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. He is not only helping to transform the lives of the sick and poor but giving a many of his students the experience of a lifetime.


Filed under: Education • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
May 10th, 2013
12:28 PM ET

Green power for all

By Yosef Abramowitz, Special to CNN

The world, especially the developing world, has an acute need for food, water and energy. Israel happens to have terrific innovators in agriculture and in water technology, which, if exported, could provide food and water security to the over billion people who are vulnerable.

I’m a solar energy guy. Actually, I’m a trouble-maker, former anti-apartheid and human rights activist who stumbled into the solar world the second my family and I arrived to a remote desert kibbutz to begin a two-year escape-from-suburbia sabbatical.

Sometimes you get lucky, which is what I consider myself for having met at Kibbutz Ketura Ed Hofland and from New Jersey, David Rosenblatt. Together we formed the Arava Power Company and fought the good fight and eventually won the battle to bring commercial-scale solar power to the Jewish state. We also pioneered in Israel, thankfully with success, the concept of Impact Investing—doing good while doing well.

There are 1.6 billion people on the planet who do not have any electric power, despite the fact that the sun shines on them all. We learned some valuable lessons along the way in Israel that, with some luck and hard work, could be brought to Africa and elsewhere.

The UN Secretary General has launched a new initiative called “Sustainable Energy for All,” to provide green power to everyone by 2030. While we support this idea, I believe that we can supply green power to everyone by 2020. The 2030 goal is ambitious with a
world-view focused on raising non-profit, non-governmental funds, which are limited. I think the 2020 goal is ambitious and do-able, since we have developed a way to mobilize nearly unlimited for-profit funds to accomplish a similar goal but faster.

While solar energy is also a business I see it as a human rights campaign. The UN Declaration of Human Rights guarantees lots of things that poor people don’t have: education, health care, and jobs. None of this is really possible in a world without electricity. In the best of scenarios, however, when a poor country begins to provide power to its people, they are hooking up polluting and dirty diesel generators. So some of the poorest people are the planet, as they try to work their way out of poverty, end up becoming part of the climate change problem rather than part of the solution.

I want us all to be part of the solution to climate change and global warming, while also accelerating developing of poor countries. So we started a second company, Energiya Global Capital, to do just that.

While we can’t do it alone, we do want to supply green power to 50 million people by 2020, which is about 10,000 megawatts—about the size of Israel’s energy market. And to give investors the opportunity to invest according to their values while creating value in the developing world.

Time is against us.

For the planet to be in balance, we need carbon dioxide levels to be at 350 parts per million. Today, we are at 392 parts, and accelerating quickly. According to some estimates, by 2017 the planet must level off any growth in greenhouse gas emissions in order for radical climate change to not be irreversible.

Since 9 percent of the planet’s electricity is produced from burning diesel oil, we can do something historic by zeroing it out. Not only taking out the carbon footprint of that energy, but also cutting the cost of power in those markets. The price of solar panels has dropped so drastically in the nearly seven years that we have been working to bring solar power to Israel that our costs are sometimes about half the cost of diesel. And solar power has none of the volatility, pollution or money going to autocratic regimes that produce most of the world’s oil.

I think what we have learned in our struggle to bring solar power to Israel can now be applied worldwide. And not to do so would be selfish. Just like with agriculture and water, Israel, through our efforts, has something to contribute in the realm of green power for the people. When President Obama was in Jerusalem last month, he singled out Israeli innovation in the field of solar energy, with its potential to help the world.

This is our journey. We have succeeded in Israel to begin our solar revolution. We cannot afford to fail to spark a solar revolution in Africa and elsewhere.

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