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Learning While Doing

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The advent of Microcredit in developing countries, where the threshold of loan restrictions are low, is giving new entrepreneurs with low credit ratings and minimal or non-existent collateral a chance to apply for small loans to start a business. With the chance to better their families' lives, women are also taking on the role of income providers. However, their place in society is still the caregiver of the family and they must meet their families' daily needs with efficiency to free up a small bit of time to tend to their new businesses.

The Present

Radhika Bhalla is a stand-out student of Product Design at the Art Center College of Design, where in the Design for Sustainability class, her project was to design a  product  that would ease some of the burdens of transportation for women in rural India. She presented her design at the Art Center Summit 2009. The mandate she gave herself encompassed design for the emerging economies that would contribute rather than strip the foundation by replacing centuries old ways of living. From her thesis "By seeking input from the users of the products and services we are designing, designers can improve lives as well as strengthen the economy...The challenge would be to improve the existing environment not architecturally, but by designing new products and interactions for the same space; to create a dynamic experience that would be unique to each user."
Radhika travelled through India during her year with CKS, a new media company that develops for emerging economies - into remote villages and observed that a large fraction of a woman's day goes into collecting firewood and water over long distances. The means of transportation was rudimental at best, one mode of transportation couldn't accommodate the other. Radhika chose for her project to help solve that problem by designing a cart that would transport water, firewood and goods. Radhika named this project Samarth, which is the Hindi word for "empower".

The Samarth

Radhika designed a trailer that hitches onto a bicycle that can be manufactured from local materials and techniques already in use by local women. In the design it has three different functions:

1. Closed to carry water
2. Upright to carry passengers, such as children to school.
3. Open to carry goods and firewood.

The Future

By combining the uses into one mode of transportation, the Samarth can free up to five hours a day for women to pursue activities such as entrepreneurial enterprises or go to school. To borrow Radhika's opening phrase on her presentation "Empowering Women Through Increased Mobility"; it is not just the physical burden she is easing, but the window of time she is giving to the women of rural India to look beyond the present into the future, if a fourth function was added to this cart, it would be "A ride into the future."



Top: Closed to carry water
Middle: Open to carry goods and firewood.
Bottome: Upright to carry children to school.

To read more about Radhika Bhalla go to her amazing and inspiring blog: ideasyncrasy

To read about the Art Center Summit 2009 / Expanding The Vision of Sustainable Mobility
go here.

Photo Credit : Radhika Bhalla

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