Jargon Alert: This piece is meant for a very specific audience 🙂
The past week has been difficult. I’ve struggled with a growing void that’s been gnawing at my soul since we parted ways with the visiting fellows from other campuses at the conclusion of Samagra.
In hindsight, all the chaos and late night caffeine leading up to the conference was worth it. Working with other fellows and the chance to meet an incredibly amazing bunch of people has been a profound and a very defining Melton moment for all of us.
Spread over two days, Samagra, which means holistic in Sanskrit, explored technology’s emerging role in steering the society towards more inclusivity and sustainability through a host of highly engaging springboard sessions on Day#1, followed by a diverse set of Six hands-on workshops, facilitated by six beloved Melton fellows on Day#2.
The opening ceremony was initiated with a soothing chorus of talented members of Ninaad, the eastern music team of BMS, setting the mood for the opening address and the felicitation of the keynote speakers for the day. Subsequent addresses by Dr. Mallikarjuna Babu, principal of Bmsce, Mr. Lars Deitzel and other speakers emphasised the need for social innovation in today’s world and touched upon the concept of global citizenship. SF Jyotsana, Master of ceremony, also brought the audience’s attention to various Melton Projects and stressed that Samagra wasn’t just a platform for transference of knowledge, but also a trigger for inspiring minds.
The audience was then treated to a marvellous display of elegance by SF Vidya Thayoor in the form of a tantalising Bharatnatyam performance distilled over years of effort and dedication, every move executed to godlike perfection and with an unwavering smile reflective of the theme of her dance.
The springboard sessions set the ball rolling with accomplished keynote speakers narrating their journeys, struggles and successes in their respective spheres of influence.
Opening the bonanza was Ms. Jackie Stenson, who took the audience on a journey – her own- of a mechanical engineer backpacking through rural Africa and shared her frustration at finding many brilliant instances of local frugal innovation failing to catch on and reach a wider market, principally owing to poor design. She used these examples to underscore the fallacy of the assumption that a great product always equals great impact. The fun peppered session highlighted the critical need to get products to working dissemination channels- In other words, ‘the world’s essential technologies in every local shop’, an endeavour that her venture Essmart is striving to achieve in rural India. Imparting useful advice, she urged the engineers present to always keep in mind a product’s serviceability and its non-technical design aspects, and to remember that cheaper isn’t always better.
Science grad turned social agent Ms.Poornima A.K from Lumeter Networks, second to grace the dais and exuberating a passion for affordable energy for all, began by highlighting the prohibitive cost of large-scale kerosene use and gave us a firsthand account of the problems of living life off the grid, likening it to a 24×7 blackout. It was heartening to see her describe children being able to study for the first time at night thanks to Lumeter’s ever-expanding mission to bring Solar to the off-grid world. Being a woman fields an additional challenge in her current line of work that involves persuading families, mostly of a patriarchal setup, to incorporate lifestyle changes. She went on to explain how Lumeter’s tech-powered supply chain (somewhat akin to MKOPA’s in Africa) is helping families “climb the energy ladder”. She concluded by reiterating her company’s mission and listed out lucrative possibilities open to the engineering community in the field.
Post High Tea, Mr.Arun Cherian, founder of Rise Legs- a social venture making lightweight and cost effective cane prosthesis, enlightened the audience about his quest to design affordable prosthetics for about 7 million amputees worldwide, which began when he was working with high end wearable robotics as part of his PhD. at Purdue University. He eventually gave up the coveted degree after a nature inspired epiphany and subsequent domestic experiments with cane convinced him of the wonder material’s viability in bringing his quest to fruition. There’s been no looking back ever since as Rise legs has grown steadily and earned the backing of players like MIT, ICRC and the Red Cross. But it isn’t just about fitting cheap prosthesis on amputees and sending them home, it’s also about helping them relive their dreams and so, Rise legs has branched into three sub-programmes- Rise Sports, Rise Dance and Rise Martial Arts.
Mr. Cherian then wowed the audience with a videographic of one of his clients, a 13 year old double amputee reliant on crutches for the past 6 years, showing him strutting around moments after being equipped with Rise legs, and comfortably kicking a football 5 hours later. He’s now raring to go for the 10k Bangalore marathon.
How did he manage this impressive feat? “Involve stakeholders early on, keep the end user in mind, and learn from the people smarter than you..” he says.
M for Menstruation
While the springboard sessions thus far had been highly engaging, the cake goes to the CEO and co-founder of Pasand, Ms.Aunna Wilson for her well-crafted, in-your-face approach for tackling the taboo of menstruation in India. Cultural nuances took a back seat as the audience was shot question after question about menstruation facts and statistics. We got an insight into Aunna’s fierce passion for female hygiene as she recalled her own experiences with puberty and a volunteering stint with a Girls’ home in Northern India.
At the time of its conception, her start-up Pasand (then called PrettyPads), primarily focussed on sanitary pad distribution and product awareness, but initial setbacks revealed the main problem to be a lack of education and autonomy concerning one’s own body amongst adolescents, and this precipitated Pasand’s transformation into a curriculum based personal health and wellness education program. Their curriculum now includes active involvement with adolescent boys, and efforts are on to integrate the girls’ mothers into the process to amplify the efficacy of the program.
Using copious amounts of menstrual references and pictures, Ms.Wilson emphatically championed gender equality, and asserted that the problem permeates economic class borders. She concluded by getting the audience to rise and chant 3 power slogans after her, and drew a raucous applause as she left the stage.
The last in this line-up of sessions was a talk by BMS star alumnus and award winning architect Mr.Rupesh Iyengar. He began with a powerful image of a world map- with twisted borders and some regions bloated beyond recognition- It was a map of worldwide CO2 emissions. He then proceeded to lift the veil off the oft overlooked complicity of city buildings in greenhouse gas emissions. Recalling the humble beginnings of his dream of designing net zero energy buildings in Singapore, he demonstrated his successful projects in China and Bangalore which blended modelling based on wind patterns and ancient architectural cooling techniques. The closing minutes of his talk were dedicated to on-the-anvil AHRAE projects, including a futuristic CO2 absorbing machine for buildings. “Do what you like, Like what you do” was his message to the upcoming generation of engineers in the room.
The synergy of youth, learning and positive energy in the hall finally culminated into a graceful performance by members of Paramvah, the eastern Dance team of BMS. As the day drew to a close, the atmosphere was one of hope and anticipation, with participants and presenters alike looking forward to the much awaited workshops the following day.
click here for Samagra Day#2