The BBC and Shell World Challenge is calling for nominations for 2010. This is the most interesting annual project, where small projects from all over the world are sent in, ten are chosen and explained, and then you can vote for the one you think ought to win. The projects make life better, safer, easier; they employ local people, they are hugely innovative, they have already started up without a lot of cash and now are asking for the World Challenge prize to take their project a step further.
Last year's winner was Dr Godakumbura of Sri Lanka who designed a safe kerosene lamp in response to the unsafe use of ordinary bottles full of kerosene with a wick. These look remarkably like Molotov cocktails, with similar results.
The Safe Bottle lamp is still a bottle, full of kerosene, with a wick. The bottles however, are locally blown with thick glass, cooled slowly so they are unbreakable and have flattened sides so they don't roll if they are knocked over. They have a screw-on metal lid that fixes the wick securely. They are made for about a quarter.
Money goes a long way in some parts of the world.
Redesigning something that is already in use, just making it safer, more efficient, more ecologically aware, more local seems to be an intelligent use of design skills. It is less about invention that it is about refinement. There is both a humility and an anger in redesigning a lamp made from easily found discarded drinks bottles that works after a fashion, is free, and which sets people on fire.
I hope it is different now, but when I was at school we were taught to invent, from scratch, everything, then refine one's own precious idea to aesthetic perfection and then dream about imposing it on the world. This is not useful. The safe bottle lamp is.