It began with a search for the obvious. The Acumen Fund, a not-for-profit venture fund that supports business models for improving global access to water, shelter, healthcare, energy resources and agricultural technology, asked for photos of everyday objects or services that have improved the quality of life. Offerings poured in, from ambulances to chalkboards to zippers. Which might serve as a foundation for problem solving today? A team of experts sorted through the entries and latched onto sewers.
“Sewers are gross! Filled with excrement and stinking to high heaven, we envision dank tunnels teeming with rats. Who could like sewers?” designer Daniel Burka, a jury member, reflected on the project’s website. “But! Sewers make our modern existence possible. Buried under our cities and towns are vast, complex, and hugely important technological marvels that transport and process quantities of waste that are difficult to fathom.”
The problem is that this ancient technology is unobtainable by much of the modern world. Two and a half billion people lack access to basic sanitation, and 4,500 children die each day from sanitation-related illnesses.
“Use your creative genius to show the world that the lack of basic sanitation is one of the most critical issues facing the developing world today,” the Acumen Fund challenges.
Participants are invited to submit “the most retweetable tweet of all time,” “a story or essay that is New Yorker–worthy,” “an iconic print ad or poster,” “guerrilla marketing or public art that commands immediate twitpic or yfrogging action,” “a game-changing video à la The Girl Effect,” or any other form of persuasion. “Go crazy,” the sponsors urge.
To submit, email your name and all links to videos, images and text to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline is November 21 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
Jury members, including Burka; David Kuria, founder and CEO of Ecotact; MacKenzie Fegan, the original sewer concept submitter; Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From and The Ghost Map; and William Drenttel, editorial director of Design Observer, will review submissions. Favorites will be published on Design Observer, Good and YouTube in early December. Winning video submissions will be featured on YouTube’s home page for 24 hours.