The International Herald Tribune has a piece up on some of the best socially responsible design products. The basic idea is that most products are designed for the wealthiest 10% of the world, and the remaining 90% just struggles to survive. Yet their burden would be much lighter with some simple technological innovation, like electricity-free refrigeration, cheap water purifiers, and cylindrical 75 litre water jugs that can be pulled by a child. As August Pollak says, some of these are "such an obvious design that it's almost painful to consider how no one thought of it until now."
So I was reading through this list, thinking all these ideas were pretty cool when, completely unexpectedly, I found an item I personally helped build (page 13.) The Mad Housers are a group of socially minded engineers who build ultra-cheap houses for homeless people in Atlanta. Each house has a locking door, a loft for sleeping, and a wood/charcoal powered stove for heating and cooking. They cost no more than a few hundred dollars per house. The idea is that many homeless people could drag themselves out of poverty if given some stability and privacy - and indeed most of the people given one of these houses are not homeless for very long. Anyway, I got involved with them during college, and helped build a few houses with them. The house pictured in the article looks exactly like one of the ones I helped build (though it may be a similar different one.)
The Internet is a small world indeed.