Thursday, 25 June 2015

Inspiring the next generation of inventors: In Nicaragua, CTI trains students in the art of listening

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Iowa State students  Julia

“How do you find inspiration?”

It’s one of the most common questions we’re asked at CTI, and the question comes in many different forms: “How do you know where the most need is?” or “How do you come up with new solutions to centuries-old challenges?”

Well, today we’re going to let you in on our secret: We listen.

We meet face-to-face with farmers, mothers, and artisans, and we listen to them express—in their own words—their needs and their ideas.

Ok, maybe listening wasn’t a concept invented by CTI, but you’d be surprised how often well-meaning projects fail because they start with a solution in search of a problem. We are committed to changing this mentality, and we want to encourage the next generation of social innovators to see the rural poor not as a problem to be solved, but rather, a source of inspiration. Smallholder farmers are incredibly creative, resourceful, and more dedicated to improving their communities than they’re often given credit for.

This week, CTI Program Director Wes Meier is in Nicaragua mentoring students on key strategies for engaging with rural communities. Wes is working with a group of students and professors from Iowa State University as part of the class, “Human Centered Design in Nicaragua.” This course is an exciting collaboration between Iowa State and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS), one of CTI’s key partners in Nicaragua. The class offers students the opportunity to study abroad and be immersed in another culture, while also teaching them the critical engineering methodology of human-centered design. Human-centered design is an approach that focuses on appropriate and sustainable technologies designed with an awareness of cultural norms and nuances.

Traveling with Wes is Julia Fair, the intern selected for the CTI/Northland College Wendy and Malcolm McLean Internship. After spending her first two weeks in our St. Paul headquarters, Julia traveled to Nicaragua with Wes for the study abroad portion of her internship. Julia, a rising senior, observed:

“I absolutely love it here and I have met so many kind people. Augusto José Cordozo is the owner of the bike shop. His eagerness to learn more about the project and to help in any way possible seems to be a common theme in Nica…This trip was easily one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had.”

Another adventure led Julia and the other students to a coffee farm, where they spoke with the president of the local coffee cooperative and enjoyed freshly brewed coffee which they ground themselves. The coffee roaster they used was designed in collaboration with coffee farmers during last year’s human-centered design course.

If you want to see more, you can check out photos from Wes and Julia’s trip on our Facebook page!

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