Prakti, design for rural areas

 Indeed, Pondicherry is not a small village ; as a irrefutable proof, after 4 months living here spending quite a lot of energy to meet local entrepreneurs, I discovered this afternoon a real wonder located south of the city “ring road”, 55 François martin Street, at groundfloor.

Jean-Michel Argouin, a well experienced and so modest French consultant is working in India for about fifteen years in a number of different fields of expertise ; he told me that he will introduce me to active and unusual entrepreneurs. This first contact he gave me does confirm it. About twenty square meters lodge five or six household stove models, a Moroccan entrepreneur who designed products for Motorola, Intel or Boieng when working at Abaqus, a “French doctor” from Médecins sans Frontière in Kosovo and Ethiopia, a Korean consultant expert in associations, three cookers dedicated full time at beta-testing solar stoves… and a number of stories mixing social and economic topics.

The first story is obviously Prakti story itself (www.praktidesign.com). The project rose from Shell Foundation decision to reduce “gaz à effet de serre » emission by implementing field projects in South India. Emission of CO² by wood stoves representing roughly one third of cars emission, improving the stoves energy performancein South India represented already a first challenge. Challenge that Mouhsine Serrar will accept ; the project will constitute the first step of his mission : high level industrial design to make products of quality accessible and affordable to rural population, on a large scale. Mouhsine will build up a team in order to transfer to village “customers” usual expertise of a deign company : constraints analysis, pilot groups, optimisation of costs, … in order to fit to the specific requirements of Indian rural population. His target ?This population wealthy enough to have access to consumer goods but not enough to attract large companies ; more than one hundred million people among the 700 millions indian rural people. From the idea up to the proof of the commercial concept, the pilot test full size on medium series. His field of intervention ? Infinite, from Africa to India, wood stoves to LED lamps Today, Mouhsine concentrates his activity on wood stoves for which he improves safety, economical and thermical performances ; thus, his know-how attracts Indian companies which objective is to catch “Bottom of Pyramid – BOP” market as well as organisations interested in innovations in rural areas. Other wonderful stories revolve round Prakti. For example, to become independant from a Foundation, to look for an ingenious compromise between ploughing back of profits, grants and sustainable involvement of an international team of experts, the result of a group of American hippies who decided to try their luck in India, (very well) succeeding in their enterprise and then wandering what to do, as clever as possible, with this money honestly earned.

Their idea ? A 40 acres farm in Oregon to develop practical education et field research. It was predictable that these two foolish projects would join their efforts. When visiting Prakti team, you do visualize their passion for "beautiful" products, meaning the best products versus usage and cost.. And the obstinate willingness that it will be appropriate to rural world. Few Donors understand that a new set of furnaces require 2 years to be developed and this does not help to administrate properly the project from the financial point of view. And this is why these social entrepreneurs are so interesting trying to trace a path between utopia and cynicism.

 This post has been translated by Hubert de Beaumont, my father, a previous ingeneer who now run an NGO dedicated to south south technological transfert. French people, he also allow you to save your money into a fund that finance small enterprises in Africa (www.tech-dev.org)