A Positive Consumer for a Positive Future

Series 8/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/3: Sustainability in Practice – The series researches the values and practices which lead to grass route social innovation.

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One of the drivers behind the industrial revolution was the developments in the farming industry; this enabled labourers to move to the city and work in new jobs which created large scale economic growth moving society away from extreme poverty. The wealth we experience today is largely due to the ability of the farming community to use new techniques and methods to increase the yield of the crops. The development of new agricultural techniques is therefore important in meeting demand. The issue comes from the development of productivity techniques which are unsustainable and exploit the natural resources of the land. Returning to basics is about using a product which sustainably meets the needs of the community. The steps to achieving this simply require us, as consumers, to value and support sustainable commerce. Throughout the trip to South East Asia I met many social enterprises and they all struggled to engage the consumer, there was however once entrepreneur who was building up an impressive campaign to change public attitude.

Anukool Saibejra is a social entrepreneur with a heart for social change and the courage to go against the grain. Anukool believes that food security cannot be achieved by creating the perfect grain of rice. Instead Anukool promotes the return to a variety of grain; through a large variety in product the market will be more resilient to risks. Raised in a farming community, Anukool is well aware of the challenges of modern farming. His parents invested in his future providing him with an education to get him into a stable career. Anukool didn’t just use this opportunity for himself and instead build up a social enterprise going against the grains of society in order to make a positive difference in his community. After creating communities of farmers who believed in his idea Anukool had to work on changing public attitudes in order to change the consumers behaviour; “Behavior and attitudes consumption […] affects the decline or extinction of genetic local rice”. In order to achieve this Anukool set about creating a product design to engage urban communities with the rural environment. Anukool developed a kit in with which you could grow your own mini rice field and find out about the different types of rice and the challenges facing the rural communities.

Anukool challenged my understanding of sustainable development, presented with the same facts I would push for a large scale solution using innovative methods. This challenge grew as I met the different social entrepreneurs; they were not searching for the perfect scalable solution but a solution that would work in their community. These designers are not searching for recognition in their designs instead they pursue a passion to make a difference on a human level. As a designer I often pursue innovation, searching for a solution that brings about real shift in the design process. The difficulty with innovation is as a designer I get lost in the wonders of creative engineering, pursuing innovation instead of impact. Innovation in design is great but we need to ensure that this is led by a passion for people rather than products. Maybe the radical shift in sustainably consumerism needs to be led by the design community and how we express ourselves; we need to genuinely communicate what inspires us, what we are passionate about and what challenges us. This will enable us to better connect with the consumer and design a product led by the principles of Human Centred Design.

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