Interview: Scott White, The Kopernik

Claire Sale's picture

The Kopernik is an online marketplace bringing together technology developers, donors and beneficiaries to provide basic necessities through technology to families in the developing world. Online, donors are invited to learn about the new technologies and the communities in need, then donate money towards implementing a specific project. Offline, products and tools created by technology developers and paid for by donors are sent to communities in need. I recently had a chance to connect with Scott White, the Business Development Specialist at Kopernik, to learn more.

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Scott is a Masters student at Stanford University studying Management Science & Engineering, specializing in strategy for high-tech companies entering new markets. Previously, he worked with various NGOs and community organizations in Central America to promote the rights of indigenous peoples and implement energy projects in off-grid indigenous communities. As a career Scott aims to develop companies that incorporate novel business models to use the web for social change.

Q: What attracted you to Kopernik and why did you get involved?

I’ve worked on both the technology development and implementation side of appropriate technology projects.  While working with appropriate technology projects in Central America I became frustrated by the limitations of resources of and channels between each stakeholder in the process.  It was difficult to acquire technologies, create partnerships, and raise funding.  At Stanford, I coordinated a project developing a vaccine storage device and faced similar constraints, difficulty finding beneficiaries, identifying and learning from previous projects, and funding. These constraints are all a consequence of the limited resources available to most organizations and I was looking for an organization trying to solve these issues.  I was recommended to Kopernik by a friend, and after talking with Ewa and Toshi [Kopernik's founders], it became evident that we were interested in solving the same issue and were in line as to how we aimed to do so. 

Q: How does Kopernik's needs-based approach to product innovation work?

Kopernik believes that key to expanding the appropriate technology field is through people.  Those who have already dedicated their lives to creating these products pursue this work because of the impact their products make.  Profiling the needs of communities throughout the world in such a way that there are measurable yet realizable technology challenges puts the work into context.  We believe that the opportunity to see the value in the work will engender the engineer and donor community collaboration on emerging products.

Q. What is your favorite technology that Kopernik is currently using?

I’m a big fan of the AdSpecs, which are self-adjustable glasses. They give the opportunity for someone who cannot afford to see an optometrist to have prescription glasses.  It’s an exciting product because I don’t believe many people are aware of it and it really exemplifies the type of ingenuity required to make innovative products for the developing world.  We hope that profiling these kinds of products on Kopernik will capture people's imagination as to what's possible in this market and ultimately inspire others to develop their own novel technologies. We were also very excited to have the opportunity to successfully complete a project with the AdSpecs when Kopernik distributed AdSpecs to a community in Manado, Indonesia. Here's a short video about our efforts with AdSpecs!

Q. What technology or innovation would you like to see Kopernik using next?

I believe that biofuels and water filtration are the next wave of commercial appropriate technologies.  I would like to see Kopernik catalyze interest and collaboration within the community to innovate in these sectors by using emerging products and demonstrating their potential.

Q. How can technologists offer their products for use in these projects?

Initially Kopernik conducted a lot of research about appropriate technology.  We continue to do that, but now technology providers are reaching out to us.  A technologist can submit a proposal to Kopernik to profile their technology.  We have extensive discussions with each potential technology provider to determine whether we share the same understanding and objective of improving people’s lives through technology.

In order for a technology to be featured on Kopernik it has to:

  • Fall into one of our five categories – Health, Agriculture, Education, Water &Sanitation, Energy &Environment
  • Be affordable
  • It has to be appropriate for a developing country context
  • Have a clear policy on return and refund

As I mentioned before, we also have a very specific feedback on the effectiveness of these technologies, Kopernik gives voice and choice to local communities and organizations – simple elements that are so frequently missed in international development efforts.

Q: How can organizations apply to receive assistance?

  1. Local NGOs apply to register with Kopernik
  2. Kopernik conducts due diligence of the local NGO
  3. Registered local NGOs in developing countries browse the technologies available through Kopernik
  4. They submit a proposal for a specific technology outlining how they will distribute it and apply it to solve development challenges
  5. We post the proposal on the Kopernik website. Visitors to the site then donate towards their favorite proposal. This could be $10, $25 – any amount they wish.
  6. Once sufficient funds have been collected we place an order with the company (technology provider), transfer the funds to them and they ship the technology directly to the local NGO

 

Q. How can everyone else get involved or follow your work?

Kopernik’s success relies on developing community support of appropriate technologies  and to do so requires a lot of communication.  So first of all, I welcome anyone to contact Kopernik, or me directly with any questions, suggestions or comments they may have (my email is scott.white [at] thekopernik.org).  Secondly, follow us on facebook, twitter, or our blog. Most importantly, people can go to thekopernik.org, check out the project proposals, see the technologies we’re using, and support a project with a donation.