James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

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Level 1 Social Entrepreneur - Gaming principles to solve rural electrification in Africa.

I'm working on a battery charging station social business for rural electrification. A good analogy is that of a water-well. The small utility business (micro-utility) is started by the locals who sell electricity. This serves as the source of electricity (well), which the local community visits with batteries (buckets) for recharging. These battery packs are then taken back home where they can power smaller electrical appliances like lamps, radio, small TV etc.

There's a massive brain drain from the rural areas as young people migrate to the cities where they believe to find a better life. Unfortunately this is not true and millions end in the slums. We have to stop this and I think gaming coupled with social business is the key. If we can make community upliftment projects fun for the locals they will have a higher success rate. Rural electrification fail because there is a lack of ownership and fun. Free electricity does not work. There must be community involvement. Gaming principles might help.

So how can I make this project into a game? I'm hoping you would help me brain storm a bit. Here are some random ideas.
- Get experience points for charging a battery (both for the users and the utility business)
- Achievement for the longest lasting battery
- Once though experience is earned the user can spend points to either get a bigger battery or maybe even his own solar home system.
- Make the utility business money free. Use a trading system as seen in games. Ie. they trade their skills or goods to get electricity. This will help get rid of that notion "I am poor". So put everyone on the same playing field.
- Start organic farm as a source of good to trade. (Goods trading as in WOW)
- Good gathered at the utility can be sold to the cities to stream money back into the community.
- Bring in an auction house so skills can be traded locally?
- Once the rural-utility reach a level they can start another utility. They can maybe share XP as incentive?

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    Apr 13 2013: Hi James - You are onto a great idea to use gaming to address rural electrification in Africa. And I think there is confusion about what games can do and how they do it. When you say make projects "fun" for the locals it sends a message to some people (like the locals) that people think they are children who can be amused by simple toys. Then people feel that games are being used to fool them or manipulate them.

    The real power of games is to bring people together and focus them on achieving common goals by working collaboratively. Jane McGonigal in her book, Reality is Broken, says games have four traits: 1) Goals; 2) Rules; 3) Feedback Systems; and Voluntary Participation. The place to start is to provide feedback systems. Your idea about earning points is a feedback system. Expand on that. Let everybody see the points that people are earning (like a leaderboard) and make sure everybody feels the rules are applied fairly so people actually do the work to earn points and don't cheat. That simple feedback system will encourage more and more participation by more people - assuming they feel the goal is worth their time and they feel the rules are reasonable and applied fairly.

    Then people will start to see how they can collaborate so they can all earn more points and use their points to get things they want. Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, says people like work that makes them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves where they can achieve meaningful goals and get better and better at what they do. Use those drivers. It will be "fun" but will also be more serious and substantial. Jane McGonigal calls it "hard fun".

    I have applied these principles and more to the way we can structure work and I provide specific case studies of this in my book, Enterprise Games. You can get it as a Kindle book on Amazon. You have a good idea. Keep with it.
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      Apr 15 2013: Oh wow! Thank you for the comment Michael. It's great to hear an expert opinion. 1) Goals; 2) Rules; 3) Feedback Systems; and 4) Voluntary Participation. It sounds like common sense yet I've never put the game principles into words.

      Since my goal is to give the opportunities to women only it should create a sense of belonging you described. They need to be empowered to save the world. Then of course you have smaller goals (quests?), each comprising out of common tasks plus a few virtual ones. I think the first objective for me is to make a list of tasks that need to be performed, so I can play with colouring them in. ;)

      I think I'll go get your book. Mind if I pop a question once in awhile?
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        Apr 15 2013: James - please feel free to ask questions. Games can be a powerful way to organize work and motivate people if you do it right. Anyone who reads my book is a scholar - and if you also like my book you are automatically promoted to rank of genius... :-)
  • Apr 8 2013: It's a work in progress.... I'm an avid gamer and the things that motivate me are the possibilities of winning something of worth from my gaming. Sometimes it is just bragging rights. So have a main hub where there can be a tv that everyone contributes to keeping charged and displaying upcoming events to get the whole village involved. Instead of movie night, make it game night. There should be something to earn from not only charging devices and powering their homes but something to keep morale up and create a microcosm of ingenuity amidst the school age children as well. Have some kind of dancing game to entertain them, make some skill games to test their talents, have some level building games to keep them involved over time. Little Big Planet comes to mind as a great game to incorporate innovation and problem solving to people who may not be challenged by even interested in other things.

    Sometimes it is something as simple as a custom t-shirt that makes people enter a contest. The whole idea of gaming just to keep things charged isn't enough. There definitely has to be something to keep the people involved and engaged in the project long term. They can submit votes on who made the best level for the week then have a night of show and tell where the creator does a directors Q and A with everyone then they compete to see who gets to have a prize to brag that they were the best at something they themselves had a hand in creating. Work in progress.... Keep on keeping on.
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      Apr 9 2013: I like! I like! Simple virtual prizes. Like you say, give bragging rights. Also to link to you idea about gaming nights... how about earning points for charging/maintaining your battery (or other tasks). These then give you an added handicap while playing the game (special moves or something). Or maybe you get to cut the line if you're the VIP with the most points.
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      Mar 28 2013: Yeah, I know what you're saying. South Africa is very westernized because it's the economic hub of Africa. With that said, the place I'm going is extremely remote and to some extent the culture is still the same. But must of these villages have sons and daughters that live in the city. Western marketing is extremely effective at destroying cultures. I watch a documentary on little-Tibet and how commercialism destroyed their old way of life. I have no doubt that this has already happened to these towns.

      Anyway, I'm going there soon. If you can think of any other interesting things to look out for. Little things maybe.
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      Mar 25 2013: Very good question Carolyn. Thanks for that.

      Site details: The project is linked to a rural school upliftment initiative around the town of Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here's the map: http://goo.gl/maps/OghB6 this will give you a feel for the area. It's quite hilly there and huts/houses are widely spread. I think 100m average but I still have to do a full site survey. There are talks of connecting these areas to the national grid but due to the remote location this process could take years and might not be economically feasible. However, it is important to note that an expectation has been set. People might demand the same electricity that the grid could provide even though the batteries will not be able to run large application like stoves and fridges. Marketing will play a pivotal role. I'm thinking of calling the bigger battery packs "TV boxes" and the small ones "Light boxes" so there can be no confusion on their intended use.

      Scope: 3 rural schools are reported to be without electricity and one of these will serve as the prototype micro-utility. Each school serves 50-100 households, so the utility should cater for that many at least. Basic lighting for student students and school electricity is the primary goal though for sustainability entertainment devices like satellite TV will be catered for too.

      Social: The predominant language in the area is Xhosa and soccer is major sport. I will ask more about woman interests when I go stay there next month. Christianity is the major religion in the area.

      Economy: The main income of the area is agriculture but unemployment is high.

      I truly want this to be a woman empowerment venture and as you mentioned the make a logical choice anyway, but this is a long discussion for another post. ;)

      I could send you my full masters proposal if you want. Note that this is a work in progress. Once I've done the study and written my thesis on the matter I want to gather the funds and make this happe
  • Mar 23 2013: http://deciwatt.org/ perhaps these guys have a good idea in your regard or two, I really think your concept of play, if I get you right,, is great as in making activity attractive to people. But anyway decwatt has a great youtube demo that shows what they're doing in african electrification and seems like been there a bit, check them out.
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      Mar 25 2013: Oh yes! I've seen the gratify light. Very cute! though lighting is critical to social upliftment I've found that it's not the reason people will invest in electricity. it's like a gym membership vs a new iPhone. The gym membership might be better for your health but it will not get you super excited. Lights are needed but they don't get people excited. The fact that they might soon be able to watch TV, now that's getting them excited.
  • Apr 14 2013: Some technical (r)evolution going on (cc. energy sources) that might change the rules of the game...
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    Apr 10 2013: The need for education and jobs are the most reasons for migrating in urban areas, isn't it?

    I think the biggest impact you can ever make to society is:


    Think about how you can bring international standard education to rural areas.
    According to my oppinion with our innovative entrepreneurs and technologies about solar runned pc you are able change it. And if you did it you will have parents and families who are willing to back you with your idea.
    With education, people are able to question things around their environment;western lifestyle, product, etc. whatever.

    Still your approach trying to combine social games and innovations is not bad.

    Good luck!
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      Apr 11 2013: I agree! Education is the key to it all. What you teach of course is just as important. My plan is to keep it relevant so in my case - renewable energy and organic growing. Both are in high demand and can bring income to rural villages, so I'll be teaching that. It can also make them independent from the local / national government. People must be empowered to stand on their own two legs.
      • Apr 14 2013: G'day James, I love your idea organic growing and permaculture. In Australia some Indigenous people are growing lettuce under shadecloth and I believe it is hydroponic as well. It now provides the Capital city of Darwin in the Norhern Territory with most of its lettuce. They also grow (not under shade cloth) fruits that are native to the desert climate around Alice Springs. Australian bush tomato, Kakadu plum, lemon aspen grow very well and are delicious. They now have a company I think it is called Outback Spirit Foods and these sauces, chutneys, and mineral water flavourings sold all over Australia.

        More earnings for better education - Yes

        Solar and batteries - Yes please

        Contraception via micro chip (Bayer) for the ladies. Lasts 5 years and cost has recently been halved to around $8 pp.

        My older brother a scientist was trying to come up with something that was solar driven with a windmill......generate moisture/mist/water where the deserts are cold at night and of course hot during the day a kinda condensation thing. I know with my house airconditioner I collect this condensation/water and after about 4 hours I have nearly 1 bucket 8 liters of water.

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    Apr 10 2013: First I want to ask a question. Why is The Rural electrification failed ? Just because the brain drain ?

    I think the probelm of this issue is the people in rural Africa needn't electrification or more electric .The demand of their smaller electrical appliances is a few . The electricity from the the small utility business is enough for them. They cannot afford the massive electrical appliances so they reduce their need .

    For the losing people and dropping requirement , I think at the first we should let the people realize the benefit of the electrification . EG ,We can transform their transportation like , eletrical car for the village .It can improve their economy and it's cheaper than the regular cars ,it's environmental ,it can rise up the requirement of the electricity.

    And transfer the irrigation regime ,you don't have change thoroughly cause it will take a lot of money . Just change the procedures , making more automated and less manual . Because the automated must be operated by electricity .

    At beginning you can show a mode that a complete automation system of operation as a temptation for villagers as a stimulation .They didn't use the electric because it not important for them . You must make them rely on the electricity then they will be willing to strive for the electricity.
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      Apr 11 2013: Rural electrification fail for many reason but usually it's because they don't get the community involved. They come in and hand out electricity for all and everyone's happy. Until they system installers go home. Then it all falls flat. Go watch the TED talk I link about when NGO's fail. It gives a great practical example of a common mistake by do-gooders. Yiu have to teach a man how to fish and not just give him a fish...
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        Apr 11 2013: I had seen the speech . And i think the gist is the "save probelm ", how to keep the appliances working persistently .Am i right ?
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          Apr 12 2013: Correct. Ownership must be taken of the project. The people who want to make a difference needs to educate those they are trying to help, so they can help themselves in the future without relying on handouts. :)
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        Apr 16 2013: I am so sorry ! I had already read the replied email but there was a brain glitch ... I opened the site but I forget to do what ...

        So you mean the prior job we should do is to improve their edcute ? It a long term plant and though it's essential , it is not connected with your question .
  • Mar 23 2013: Okay techniques like this were used in rural America before the New Deal and widespread rural electrification. To me the population and agricultural poweress of South Afrca would suggest that is the way to go, and green power could be added to the more conventional generators. Sounds to me like a problem with the banking system. Godspeed and I hope you can make life better.
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      Mar 23 2013: Yes you are very right. Renewable energy is abundant in SA so the batteries will be charged by green energy. Hopefully this should slow down the rate of burning trees for light.

      Financing the project is difficult but ill get the funding needed. I just need to show how this project differs from previous attempts. We will provide the micro-financing needed to the community. :)
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      Mar 23 2013: Hi Carolyn
      Of course free electricity is desired but it's not sustainable. It's the difference between giving a fish vs teach how to fish. The talk on when NGOs fail illustrated the problem. Transfer of ownership is vital if a long lasting solution is needed.
      As for the short handedness, I couldn't type anymore. I'm limited by word count. However, click on my name and you can go to my website. There's plenty more info there. :)

      The game theory might be the key to a higher success rate... People want instant gratification which is the core behind the fun of games. If using the batteries and maintaining the system is fun maybe the social business will grow and more can be taught and rural electrification will spread