A total of seventy-two designs representing eighteen countries were shortlisted for the prize, from 720 originally submitted. The selected designs concentrated on issues such as air pollution, communication, water shortage, health, environmental sustainability, affordable housing, games, food provision, insect protection and eradication, micro-loans and more.

Pre-selected by an international jury, the prizes were announced on August 28 in the Concert House of the new Danish National Broadcasting Centre. The seventy-two design finalists were on public view at the INDEX:Award Exhibition, Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen.

INDEX:’s CEO, Ms Kigge Hvid, highlighted a number of the exciting designs competing this year, which included a disposable birthing kit for midwives in the developing world; a water-purification system for use in refugee camps; an efficient, safe, low-consumption kerosene burner; Nike’s basketball trainers made from its own production waste; the Magno-radio from Indonesia, made from wood; and the Cabbage Chair made from paper already used in Issey Miyake’s collections.

“At INDEX: we do not confine our focus to form and appearance, but look rather at a design’s context, taking into account its ethical and cultural perspectives, its social and economic impact, paying attention to the need for the design and its sustainability in the environmental sense,” stressed Ms Hvid, emphasising that the INDEX:Award differs in essence from all other design prizes by insisting that design itself should improve human life.

Founded in Denmark in 2002, this year marks the third INDEX:Design to Improve Life allocation of international prizes.

Body Category

The winner of the Body Category was the Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor. Designed by: Philip Goodwin, Stefan Zwahlen and John Hutchinson, South Africa.

Additional credits: Professor John Wyatt, University College London, United Kingdom; Dr Joy Lawn (medical research council, South Africa); Professor David Woods, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Produced by: Ultrasound Technologies Ltd Wales UK.

The Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor works off-grid, where there’s no electricity to support a delivery. The Washington Post reports that some 500 000 women die annually in childbirth, often from causes that could be prevented with basic care. Getting an aid like this into the hands of midwives in the developing world can mean the difference in life and death, both for mothers and infants.

“Freeplay itself is the first company in the world to make electronic products for deep-rural environments,” said John Hutchinson, CTO of Freeplay Energy in Cape Town, South Africa.

“A number of people came to us and said, ‘Why don’t you think of medical products because hospitals in Africa are littered with derelict western-derived equipment. They require disposable or replaceable elements, and they’re just not right for the job’. Africa, you know, is a very harsh user environment. Things break in Africa.

“So I came across a doctor, a guy called John Wyatt, a professor of neonatology at University College of London Hospital. And he’s basically my kind of brother-in-arms on this project, we’ve done it together.”

Wyatt would turn out to be Hutchinson’s way to the support and perspective of the medical community, helping to raise the much needed seed money through the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, a trust with a Christian basis that places an emphasis on awarding work that contributes to the development of body, mind and spirit, a just environment and international goodwill. Through their support, the Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor was able to be developed.

Home Category

The winner of the Home Category was the Chulha. Designed by Philips Design. Design team: Unmesh Kulkarni; Praveeen Mareguddi, India. Additional credits: Bas Griffioen; Simona Rocchi, the Netherlands. Partners: Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI); end-users.

The Chulha is an indoor stove designed to limit the dangerous health conditions caused by toxic fumes caused by traditions of indoor cooking in many rural areas of the developing world.

One of the least-known dangers out there today is the tradition of cooking inside a home. Indigenous populations from India to major parts of Africa and many other parts of the world are inside with their wood/dung/peat stoves – and the fumes. More than a million people are estimated by WHO to be dying annually from conditions brought on by the toxicity of the fumes.

The design of the Chulha gets the smoke outside and cleans it on the way, while respecting the sensibilities and needs of the cultures using it.

Factors such as the seasonal fuel types, cuisines, use of different pots and pans, and cooking techniques all had to be taken into account in the design.

“We discovered a few things about how to enhance the flow of gases and increase efficiency. For example, if you boil water on this Chulha, it takes forty per cent less time to boil the same amount of water on this stove as on others. And it takes forty per cent less fuel,” said designer Unmesh Kulkarni of the Philips Design Team based in India.

“So we feel we achieved something that has high efficiency levels, answers consumer needs of health, and it leaves room to the different communities and traditions.”

What’s more, Philips Design is offering the plans and manufacturing instructions free to entrepreneurs in the developing world, a somewhat ‘open source’ way of sharing the design rather than hanging on to it in traditional proprietary business format.

Work Category

The winner of the Work Category is Kiva.org. Designed by: Kiva.org, San Francisco, California, United States.

Kiva.org is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individual donors to lend directly, as little as USD25, to unique, small entrepreneurs in many parts of the world. Completely non-profit, from the site, people can read about entrepreneurs who need loans, decide what they’d like to lend, then are paid back.

“I was a computer programmer and I took a trip to Arica,” said Matt Flannery, “and when I came back, I found that I cared so much about it in my heart.”

Flannery was so profoundly affected by what he’d seen and heard in African villages – cases in which a few hundred dollars could vastly improve the quality of life for many people – that he pursued with his new wife Jessica Jackley almost a year of planning and research on what they then called Kesho.org, Swahili for ‘tomorrow’.

In early 2005, exhausted from what Flannery terms nine months of “asking permission” to make their dream a reality, he and Jackley decided to, as any good Californian would put it, “just go for it”. They built a website.

A change of name to Kiva.org – and the trade of his electric guitar for a logo – and Flannery and Jackley were ready to ping their wedding invitation list with requests to fund their “dream team” pilot group of seven entrepreneurs in Tororo, Uganda. A weekend and USD3 500 later, they knew the plan would work.

Today, Flannery leads Kiva with Premal Shah, formerly of eBay’s PayPal – which to this day processes the online financial transactions of the site’s success.

“I was totally surprised how successful it was even at the beginning. One decision we made was to focus on the people, first and foremost.” At this point, Kiva.org has processed close to USD75 million in loans.

Playful Learning Category

The winner of the Playful Learning Category is Pig 05049. Designed by: Christien Meindertsma, the Netherlands. Additional credits: Julie Joliat.

When Christien Meindertsma spent three years researching all the products made from a single pig from a farm in the Netherlands, this Rotterdam designer found 185 products contributed to by the animal. She published her findings in a book titled Pig 05049.

“This was a pig, a meat pig, that lived on a farm here,” Christien Meindertsma sounds almost affectionate about ‘her’ pig, now immortalised as ‘Pig 05049’, it’s ear tag number.

“I wasn’t allowed to see this pig because at the time there was some disease issue. But I was sent a picture of the pig, and an ear tag, so I would know this was a real pig.”

That “real pig” went a long way when Meindertsma traced its commercial uses to products including ammunition, medicine, photo paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, cosmetics, cigarettes, con-ditioner and biodiesel.

Collagen, derived from the pig’s skin, is used for beer and aspirin. The designer points out that the same pig who gives you a headache after drinking that beer, delivers those aspirin to you the next day.

“Even though the combination of bullets and beauty injections is food for thought, collagen is processed in the manufacture of both.”

Meindertsma is working next on what she describes as a series of colouring books for young people, the intent of the series is to illuminate the workings of different types of farms.

“Each book is about one farm. All the machines, the people, the animals.” In September, her second book of this new series will come out. “That one is on a tomato farm. After that, probably a potato farm.”

Meindertsma self-publishes her books, and they’re sold on Amazon.com.

Community Category

The winner of the Community Category is Better Place. Designed by: Better Place Inc, Palo Alto, United States. Additional credits: NewDealDesign LLC (design strategy and industrial design); Nekuda DM Ltd. (Product Development).

The vision of a universal switch from ‘gas-guzzling’ petrol-powered vehicles to more energy-efficient electric ones can’t become reality, many say, until electrical charging is as easy to access as your local filling station. Better Place has designed a systemic concept for a vast network of power supply and other services.

“Think about it as a holistic approach to the problem of providing an electric car with energy. That basically entails every system, every part that connects with energy – a car’s battery, the electrical system that manages your battery, some kind of software to connect your car to the electric-supply grid, a user-identity card, and then the charging location or battery-switch system. These are all connected to a control system that will allow you, the user, to decide how, when and where to replace energy.”

From his offices in San Francisco with his design firm, NewDealDesign, Gadi Amit is describing something that goes way beyond the simple question of “Where do I plug it in?” for an electric car owner.

In fact, if you ask him if electric charging facilities could ever be as pervasive on the developed world’s landscape as petroleum-based products ‘filling stations’ are today, Amit will tell you that he and his partner, Shai Agassi, from Better Place of Palo Alto, California, intend to go even further.

“I’d say you’ll see a lot more spots for Better Place around the world than gas stations. You’ll have one at home, you’ll have one at the shopping mall, you’ll have one in just about every parking lot, and when you go on the highway, you’ll see the larger switch stations.

A city-wide roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure will take place in Australia’s capital, Canberra, in 2011-2012.

“Canberra is a great city to start deploying our vision of zero-emissions mobility,” said Agassi. “Canberra has a mobile population that demands a viable alternative to allow for both short commutes and longer trips.

"There’s proven demand for EVs in Australia and the people of Canberra are ready for a more sustainable future. That future is electric. From Canberra,” said Agassi, “we will then begin to roll out across the whole country.” 

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