Ian Moise is the founder of ReUse Connection, a Facebook page and future website dedicated to finding alternative uses for items or materials people might otherwise throw away. For example, do you ever wonder what to do with used plastic tape dispensers? ReUse Connection readers suggested ideas as varied as making candle holders, using them to organize loose pieces of ribbon or embroidery floss, pulling the metal cutters off and gluing them onto a piece of wood to create a knife, using the rolls to store rubber bands, and, of course, recycling them.
By day, Moise [mo-EEZ] is an international development consultant for the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Project (WSP). A returned Peace Corps volunteer, his interest in consumerism and reuse got its start while considering the question of what makes people happy. This is part two of Blue Planet Green Living’s (BPGL) two-part interview with Moise. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What sparked your interest in reuse?
MOISE: I had studied a lot in college about community-based cultures, and I was already concerned about consumerism in the United States. I very much wanted to find out how it was to live in a community-based society, why they bought stuff or didn’t buy stuff, why they were less individual consumers than we were, and so on.
I contacted the Peace Corps, and, because I had lived for a winter in France and already spoke French, I ended up going to francophone Africa. It was a good fit. The Peace Corps is obviously a great experience. You learn tons of things about yourself, about other people, and about your own people.
In Africa, I saw kids running around in scraps of clothes, and people living very difficult lives, yet they were frequently smiling, even at the end of a ridiculously tough day. It didn’t make sense. It got me interested in this question: Why are poor people happy?
BPGL: Children tend to be happy no matter what their economic circumstances. Did you also observe that the adults were joyful?
MOISE: What I saw frequently is women who would toil all day. They would wake up very early in the morning before the light of dawn. To take care of their families, they would start a fire, put water on the fire to make breakfast and so their families could bathe, etc. Then, about the time the sun would come up, they’d pack up their stuff and go out into the fields with two or three or four of their kids, maybe a baby on the back, maybe a baby on the front. They’d end up out in the fields all day under the hot sun, toiling and tilling, usually in groups of women — four or five, maybe more, maybe less.
At the end of a 12-hour day, they’d stumble back home. They’d have these wicker baskets strapped to their backs (like backpacks) that they’d made from reeds or other materials. They would stack wood easily two to three feet above their heads; you can imagine the weight of a stack of firewood. And remember they often had a baby on their front. They’d walk by my house each evening, and turn and wave and smile and keep going. That just shocked me; people didn’t do that where I was from.
This whole dynamic of why wealth didn’t buy happiness was really intriguing to me. What made those women smile at me under such physical demands?
And, I began to think about the meaning of the word poor. What is poor? I have always been struck by our definitions of poor: the West being financially wealthy, but poor in humanity in many ways; impoverished people being poor in finances, but always willing to lend a hand. These are gross generalizations, but they played a BIG role in all this life stuff I’ve done.
BPGL: What did you do after your stint in Peace Corps?
MOISE: After Peace Corps, I went to grad school in an interdisciplinary, environmental studies program at the University of Oregon. My research compared the United States and Zambia. I looked at sustainability outcomes as a function of how people allocate their resources. My hypothesis was, If you spent more money on your friends and family than on yourself, in very gross terms, you would be happier. Conversely, if you spent it all on yourself, you’d be less happy.
I looked at two things: environmental sustainability, using an ecological footprint engine as my measuring stick, and social sustainability, using proxy indicators for happiness and feelings of security.
BPGL: What were your conclusions?
MOISE: What I found — and I think this has been borne out by current research — was that up to a certain level of wealth, money does buy you happiness.
If you can’t take care of your child’s education or clothing needs, or if you’re unhealthy, or if you’re constantly spending all your money, and you’re on a treadmill of living on the edge, then, yes, increases in wealth actually do correlate with happiness. That was particularly true in Zambia, but I think it actually worked as well in the United States.
But, after you reach a certain level of wealth, it no longer correlates with your happiness.
In the United States, it was very clear that the more time people spent with each other, the happier they were. Older people who volunteered more of their time and people who were in community groups or went to church tended to be happier. I think that’s an interesting dynamic. By the way, this is a huge field of research now, much of it stemming from Robert Putnam’s book called Bowling Alone — about the alienation in today’s industrialized world.
BPGL: Were you aware of the consumer-driven society when you were growing up, or did you not become aware until your Peace Corps experience?
MOISE: When I was in college, I kind of got off the consumer kick. I told my parents I didn’t want gifts anymore. I was down on Christmas and birthdays. I didn’t understand why these events were all about getting presents?
It just seemed wrong to me, especially when you think about the back end of the life cycle of these products. Where do they go? It isn’t just in the garbage can. They end up somewhere. Not to mention that Christmas was supposed to be a religious holiday.
In the early 1990s, I was influenced by a book by Paul Hawken called Ecology of Commerce. It started percolating ideas of industrial ecology in my head. Industrial ecology makes the ultimate sense to me: Output here, input there; let’s marry those two things. So, that book stimulated my thinking for a long time.
BPGL: How did you come up with the idea for your website, ReUse Connection?
MOISE: In Africa, I found a lot of utilitarianism. In retrospect, Africans are not utilitarian because they want to be or because they’re environmentally conscious. It’s out of necessity and poverty.
In fact, I see this confusion a lot in the sector. A lot of environmentalists want people and the world to change because of morality, because it is “right.” The problem is, morality doesn’t catalyze change.
I think making and saving money mobilizes people. This is why our site is very much about entrepreneurship. I think that people and industries and businesses are starting to reuse not because it is “right,” but because they are now seeing the value in it… But, I digress…
The idea for the website comes from wanting to connect that utilitarianism with the consumerism and waste of the developed world, and everywhere in between. I’ve traveled all over Europe and Africa, and I’ve seen all these different ideas on how to reuse things, which ultimately reduces waste. It was just natural to me to try to connect those things. My brain is a little bit of a connector.
When I left USAID in mid-2008, I thought that I was going to change tracks and get work in the environmental field, doing what I got my masters in. I ended up unemployed for about eight months. During that time, I delved back into the environmental sector and ended up reading a book called Green to Gold.
Green to Gold was basically about how to create competitive advantage by becoming more green, and why businesses are getting into sustainability. There was an example in that book about disposable cameras made by Fuji and others. An upstart group had said, We’re going to take the disposable cameras and put film in them again and resell them. I thought that was awesome!
Something just clicked there, and I suddenly had the idea. I started chatting it up with my father, who is a software developer. That’s how it started.
BPGL: What is the business model for your website?
MOISE: By early 2009, I had designed the whole website on paper for some business plan competitions I was entering, and my dad was working on the software development.
During development of the business plan, people told me I couldn’t build a viable business model on advertising revenue alone, so I said, Okay, we’re going to do three things. We’re going to build a knowledge-sharing platform first. Then we’re going to build a challenge engine, which is going to get businesses to buy into the concept that instead of paying their own engineers to solve their redesign challenges, they can post challenges on our website, and our community will help solve them. And, finally, we were going to connect businesses with byproducts with businesses that need them as inputs.
BPGL: I saw a video you created for a contest on Myoo Create. You posed a hypothetical question about what a factory could do with paint sludge, then explained how Subaru is already reusing it. Is that the kind of thing you have in mind as a challenge?
MOISE: Exactly. Subaru, in that case, could have partnered with us. We could have posted that challenge (What do I do with paint sludge?), and then someone on the website could have come up what the solution to dry it and use it to make plastic products, and Subaru would have paid them some sum, maybe $20,000 or $50,000.
BPGL: So you’d be conducting contests where people can be rewarded for finding a solution to an engineering problem.
MOISE: Yes. There’s an increasing interest in this type of crowd-sourcing (using an internet community to collectively solve problems), and a number of companies are already doing it.
BPGL: Are you still working on all three parts of the business?
MOISE: As it turns out, in January of 2010, I decided to learn how to use social media to build our community — part one of our plan. And, immediately, I found two companies doing parts 2 and 3 of our plan, which was fabulous. Let me tell you, just developing the first part is way more than I ever imagined. There’s a million ways to go with it.
BPGL: Who are those companies?
MOISE: The company that is doing the second part, which is the challenge engine, is called MyooCreate. I connected with them through Twitter.
One of their first challenges/competitions was called Beat Waste. They encouraged us to enter, and it was a natural competition for us. But more than the Beat Waste competition, what interested me with them was how synergistic their model was with us. If they were building a challenge engine, and we had the user community to solve challenges, it would be a natural partnership.
BPGL: Are there sites that broker industrial waste? Or are you hoping that folks who work at companies where there’s a lot of industrial waste will just ask what ideas you have?
MOISE: That’s exactly what we want to do with the third part of our business. As I said, though, there is a company, Recycle Match in Houston, Texas — that is already doing this. We haven’t had a chance to collaborate with them yet, though.
And actually, when I first entered those business competitions, all the judges told me I couldn’t mix our knowledge sharing and challenge idea (consumer businesses) with this B2B business. They just didn’t accept it as viable.
In my mind, though, people use computers, not businesses. If our community is large enough, then the same people who work for businesses will see it as a resource. Look at how Facebook connected people first, and now they are getting into business services. Again, as I see it, two people sit at computers and make deals — not two businesses.
BPGL: What’s your launch date?
MOISE: June of 2009. [He laughs.] It’s a slow process, but hopefully, by November. I’ve pushed that date back a number of times. It is just me and my ideas and my dad and his software development skills. My sister has helped some and my brother-in-law is helping more and more (he also does software development).
BPGL: Will there be a fee to participate on your site?
MOISE: No. We are not an exchange site; we are a knowledge-sharing platform. Someone can come and ask, “What can I do with packaging?” Then someone else can say, “You can make a piece of art; you can make a dress; you can send them to the Goodwill.”
There are a lot of organizations, like Freecycle, CraigsList, tons of municipality websites, etc., that already offer opportunities for people to exchange things. So it’s a natural union between us and any of these sites.
People can come to ReUse Connection and find out what they can do with rubber gloves, for example. Then, if they need the rubber gloves, or washers, or something else, we can tell them which sites or locations, in their area, that they can find them.
BPGL: How does Reuse Connection tie into your research on happiness?
MOISE: In my view, there is a relationship between our interactions with others and our interactions with the material world.
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“There are 2.6 billion people without access to improved sanitation. And, according to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that’s supposed to be halved by the year 2015,” Ian Moise [mo-EEZ] told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL).
Moise is a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who currently consults on a global sanitation project for the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP). “Our project is one of the many projects working on expanding access to ‘improved sanitation’ for a target of roughly 1.3 billion people,” he said.
In our interview with Moise, he explains how WSP is making in-roads in the developing world and gives advice to people who are interested in joining the field of international development.
This is part one of a two-part series. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll find out about ReUse Connection, an innovative service that Moise began on Facebook, and learn how it fits into his views about happiness. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What does WSP’s sanitation program look like from a practical standpoint?
The first tool is called Community-Led Total Sanitation, or CLTS. From my perspective, CLTS has changed the dynamic of development assistance for sanitation. Development practitioners used to provide money — and even actual latrines — with the expectation that people would use the latrines because they were good for them. That approach basically failed. As it turns out, people don’t use latrines just because you build them.
The CLTS approach actually facilitates a process where people end up realizing that excrement cycles through their community and that they can make changes themselves. During this process, you guide the community to map where people defecate, where houses are, where chickens and goats roam, and where children play.
In addition, you take them on a walk through the village to see each of these areas. At some point in the process, people suddenly realize that excrement cycles through the community: The chickens and goats walk through the areas where people defecate, and then they walk back to where people are; kids walk all over the place and put their hands everywhere; etc. The flies can also transport germs by landing on the excrement in the open. And the flies come and land on food.
In the end, the community sees that when people defecate in the open, it is eating its own excrement. When people in communities see that, they get charged up. It mobilizes them in a way I have not seen in many years of development efforts.
The second tool, Sanitation Marketing, recognizes that just because people feel mobilized to do something, that doesn’t mean they’re going to carry forward with it.
BPGL: How do you market sanitation to people? Are you talking about holding classes, or putting up billboards, fliers, social networking…?
MOISE: Sanitation marketing takes a lot of the principles of social marketing and applies them to sanitation. It’s quite new. CLTS is more established.
Theoretically, there is a sanitation ladder. At the bottom is open defecation, where people squat in the open. You can move up the ladder to a hole in the ground, then from a hole in the ground to maybe a slab over the hole in the ground, and then a superstructure, and incremental improvements.
It doesn’t quite work like that in reality, but the concept is that people, no matter their socio-economic status, can enter the sanitation game at some level. The idea of sanitation marketing is to provide a market that reaches all segments of the population with different products at different costs.
The basic strategy is to do market research on likes and preferences for sanitation goods and services. Then you develop a mass communication campaign based on people’s likes. For example, if people like sitting down instead of squatting, then maybe you would market a sit-down latrine instead of a squatting one.
Sanitation Marketing also looks at the supply chain and tries to facilitate the provisioning of materials to masons and vendors so they can fulfill the demand created by a communication/marketing campaign.
BPGL:Who developed these approaches for sanitation? Are these recent approaches?
MOISE: Kamal Kar and Robert Chambers are the main figures behind the CLTS approach.
International development has been going on since the 1950s or so. A lot of it was — and still is — top-down. That’s the nature of how money flows out of one person’s hand into another (i.e., from one country’s coffers to another’s).
People who give money often want control over it. It’s somewhat natural. It is hard to let go of that control and let people spend money in the way that they think is appropriate, where you may not share the same value or decision-making principles. But that is what participatory development is about – empowering people.
Robert Chambers is actually best known in international development circles for developing participatory rural appraisals, where you do mapping exercises with people and facilitate their own development. Participatory approaches such as these are utilized in the CLTS approach, which was pioneered by Kamal Kar.
BPGL: How do CLTS and Sanitation Marketing fit together?
MOISE: WSP’s program is one of the lead efforts in bringing these two approaches together. The program works with host country governments in India, Indonesia, and Tanzania to develop and implement marketing campaigns for sanitation. At the same time, it trains CLTS facilitators to catalyze, or trigger, community demand for sanitation and masons to build sanitation products.
CLTS is a great manifestation of what happens when you put development in people’s hands and facilitate that process. That’s why it’s game changing in many ways. And yet, it’s not the panacea. It’s not the silver bullet. It doesn’t make everyone suddenly have a toilet and use it and clean it and have their children use it. There’s still a long way to go.
At WSP, we feel Sanitation Marketing offers a great complement to CLTS. And it’s gaining a lot of currency not just in WSP, but with other partners as well.
An overly simplistic way to describe the combination of the two goes something like this: Mobilize people to want to change with CLTS, i.e. create demand for sanitation. Simultaneously use Sanitation Marketing to market the various sanitation options to them and build up the supply of these options.
On our website, www.wsp.org, you can learn more about both CLTS and Sanitation Marketing.
BPGL: Who provides the money for CLTS? And does the money go directly to the villages?
MOISE: One of the major tenets of “pure” CLTS — that changes significantly from previous approaches — is that it is a no-subsidy approach. The idea is that people have money, and it’s a matter of priorities on where they choose to spend their money.
And that’s true. I’ve lived in villages. When there’s a funeral, there’s plenty of money flowing out of the village to make a nice headstone and burial for the deceased. So, it’s not a question of whether there’s money. It’s a question of whether there’s will.
Think about it. People all over the world buy cell phones and fashionable items. They make choices to save up and purchase these items. The challenge is creating the conditions where they prioritize sanitation as a place to spend their money.
All the past 30 or 40 years of handing out subsidies or handing out latrine slabs has failed. The inverse of that is not subsidizing anything and putting the burden of change on the people themselves. You put the responsibility and ownership in people’s hands.
Of course, there are cases where incentives have been found to work, but the major idea is to create ownership. So, the people build what they can afford — and then they own it and care for it.
BPGL: Who pays for the work you do?
MOISE: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have led funding of the WSP work, along with Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and the World Bank, though many donors and practitioners are interested in these techniques.
BPGL: Go over the bigger picture with me for just a minute.
MOISE: The big picture: We operate in three countries: India, Indonesia, and Tanzania. We have teams in each of those three countries.
The program works through governments, so it’s really an effort in sustainable development.
The conclusion for reaching large populations is that you have to use host-country human resources. We leverage host-country governments and nongovernmental organizations. Basically, WSP, in partnerships, has developed the tools and techniques, especially for Sanitation Marketing, and we’ve refined CLTS.
Our country teams then work with the government. That means using the various ministries or departments in the government, down to the district level, whether it’s through the health-care system or through the Ministry of the Environment, etc.
We do a lot of training using a cascading model, where we train a national training group, or a national NGO. Then they go to the district that’s been selected by the government, and they train people at the district level. The people trained at the district level are then responsible to go to the community level and facilitate various processes that ultimately lead to these communities improving their sanitation status.
BPGL: How far along is the project?
MOISE: Our initial project goal was to reach 4.5 million people with improved sanitation, and we are on track to surpass that goal. The project is supposed to end this year.
BPGL: That is phenomenal. Are that many people actually using toilets rather than open defecation? Or did you just expose them to it?
MOISE: Monitoring is a big challenge, especially when you try to monitor 4.5 million people. We usually use the government’s monitoring system, while also trying to get independent verification.
One interesting thing about this project is its impact evaluation. It is the largest impact evaluation of its kind in the sector, to my knowledge. So, to answer your question, we can wait for the impact evaluation, which will be out in a year or year and a half. We are all very optimistic about the outcomes.
BPGL: We see a lot of young people coming out of college who want to travel internationally and do something good for the world, similar to what you’re doing, but they don’t know where to start. How can someone get started in this kind of development work?
MOISE: I’ve spoken with a lot of people coming out of college, too, and a lot of people are interested in international development, public health, whatever. The best thing I can recommend is to just go overseas.
Peace Corps, which is how I got started, is a great way, because they take care of things for you. You get training, and you get money, and an assignment. It’s not an easy thing to do, and there are lots of personal growth opportunities and challenges, but it’s good, because it is a pre-packaged affair.
There are always jobs overseas too, and if that’s what you want to do, sign up with an NGO that’s doing what you want to do, and start networking with them.
There are a number of different development websites that post jobs. Some of them are in water and sanitation, and some are not. There are a lot of resources on the web, as you can imagine. DevNetJobs.org has general development jobs. Another one is ReliefWeb.int. It’s more focused on relief and disaster response.
There’s a book called Alternatives to the Peace Corps. It lists hundreds of ways to go overseas and volunteer your time (e.g., Doctors without Borders, UN Volunteers, etc.), anywhere from a week to a month or a year. There are all kinds of different opportunities. I would suggest picking that up.
BPGL: Any last words on your international experiences?
MOISE: Working and traveling internationally is an amazing experience, and I encourage everyone who is considering it to do it. It is never too late. You cannot replace the value of learning how to see things through other people’s eyes.
End of Part 1
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