Category Archives: Emerging Markets

Trocaire’s approach to Innovation


Helena Carlica Nhunho pumps waterMachanga District, Mozambique. February 2011.

Helena Carlica Nhunho pumps water at a pump funded by Trocaire

Irish NGO Innovation in Third World and Emerging Markets

Interview with Justin Kilcullen, Director of Trocaire –   © Frank Hughes -originally published in pivotdublin blog 2011

Can you list some examples of good and really bad design for third world and emerging economies in key areas  – from smallest scale water provision to work within cities  and shanty towns?

At a small level one of the best pieces of design I have seen in recent years is the production of wood burning stoves in Malawi, which reduce the amount of firewood required by a remarkable level. All of the skills and materials required to make them are available locally and they are manufactured from local clay. The stoves are made using traditional pottery skills and tools and burnt in an easily constructed kiln. They are proving to be a best seller at very affordable prices. Women’s groups are making them and selling them so it is an income generator for women through projects supported by Trocaire.

Too many water projects have failed because they have excluded women from the process. Traditionally it’s a women’s role to collect water but when technology is applied, such as the installation of pumps or using springs to bring water to villages, it is the men who are trained in managing and maintaining these services under the misconception that men are technically more proficient than women. The result is that as men have no role in providing water, they drift away from the project neglecting the system and it falls into disrepair. Will we ever learn?!

In relation to slum areas and shanty towns the best solutions always come from the residents themselves. They can identify the problems and with skillful  facilitation can derive solutions. Given the resources they are capable of implementation themselves. Imposed projects in such areas that don’t involve local communities rarely succeed as they should.

What Role did your design training as architect play in how you approach  the work of Trocaire ?

One of the key skills you learn as an architect is how to solve problems through analysis of situations and understanding desired outcomes. This has stood me in good stead in my role as Director of Trocaire

How does Trocaire as an organisation approach problem solving on a daily basis?

Our approach is about consultation and participation as appropriate, whether it is working with poor communities in developing countries, seeking to help them to resolve the issues they face, or in our own organisation and structures. A recent example is the issue of reducing our carbon footprint with the launch of an eco project with a cross organisational team. Staff were invited to submit proposals on how we can deal with our carbon footprint and a policy was put in place reflecting the main ideas gleaned in the process. We work in 26 countries each with its own operational plan under our strategic framework.

These are put together in consultation with our project partners, the local organisations with which we carry out our work, and with our staff and others. It is largely a bottom up process involving the people we serve combined with the particular organisational insights that we as an organisation can bring drawing on our own global insights. We try to operate a policy of subsidiarity, resolving issues at the lowest possible level within the organisation, delegating to working groups and teams the responsibility to find solutions and solve problems.

Which characteristics does Trocaire  value most in its Staff as creative problem solvers and why?

We endeavour to promote a culture of innovation. For example with the current financial crisis new ways of raising funds have to be promoted. Last year as a result of the work of a number of staff the idea for Trad for Trocaire emerged. A partnership with Comhaltas saw almost 500 trad sessions taking place across the country and as far away as San Francisco to raise funds for Trocaire. It gave the organisation a new, fresh, youth-friendly image and we hope to build on its success in the coming years.

1 Earthquake resistant houses San Cayetano El Salvador (640x480)

Earthquake resistant Housing San Cayetano El Salvador –

How has Ireland and Irish design assisted development in third world / emerging economies?

There is a long tradition in Ireland of providing buildings, roads, bridges and other technical projects that make life so much easier for poor communities, for example, roads and bridges that enable farmers to get goods to market and earn an income. Irish development workers over the years have provided clever, cost-effective ways of providing such basic structures.

At the other end of the scale, the role Denis O’Brien’s company, Digicel, played in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in providing mobile phone technology, that within days was available to those coordinating the emergency response, made an extraordinary difference to the recovery effort in very difficult circumstances. Communications technology has the potential to transform developing countries, skipping not one but two generations and putting them at the leading edge.

Earthquake resistant houses  San Cayetano El Salvador (2) (640x480)

How the design community here might learn from and contribute usefully to the work of Trocaire?

The major challenge for designers training in the Western world in applying these skills in a developing world context is to really learn and understand the reality of communities in the developing world and that the majority of the problems they face can be solved in relatively simple, straightforward ways. For example, an Irish architect is trained to produce a solution in design and built form for a client, such as the National Children’s Hospital. In the developing world the designer has to unlearn this approach of being the trained professional who provides the answer, and rather make his/her skills available to local communities to enable them to design the solution. That requires an element of humility but if successfully achieved can lead to a very rewarding experience for the designer.

What are the most innovative initiatives you have come across in the different countries using minimum resources to achieve maximum effect?

A good example of this is the design and construction of earthquake resistant houses by Trocaire in El Salvador. Working with local communities, employing traditional construction techniques,

3 Lorenso Mejia outside her earthquake resistant home in Santa Marta, El Salvador (640x480)

Lorenso Meja outside her earthquake resistant home in Santa Marta El Salvador

Trocaire was able to introduce technical innovation to the designs that transformed vulnerable housing into safe homes for communities. Rather than importing a clever design derived in a drawing studio, this was done on a very affordable budget which was of course critical.


Future of Mobile Marketing

Interview with CEO Eamon Hession of Púca,  Irish Innovator company  in Mobile Marketing.

© Frank Hughes -originally posted in pivotdublin 2010



















Tell me about Puca, its origins and its innovations in marketing here and abroad.

I founded Púca back in late 1999 originally as an online community specialist developing and managing web communities. We started integrating SMS as one of the features of our platform so that for example, you got an SMS if someone responded to a post you had made online. We were then asked by an advertising agency to run an SMS competition where people would text a number with a keyword, and that opened our eyes to the whole potential for interactive SMS, where the messages are not just being pushed out, but whereby the messages that are being received can be connected to information, applications and databases. We had a bit of a Eureka moment and decided to ditch the online community stuff, which at the time wasn’t making any money for us, and started devoting ourselves full-time to developing and managing SMS messaging for major brands and organisations. Over time we’ve added additional mobile technologies and capabilities, including Android and iPhone development. These obviously give a lot more richness in terms of the design and graphics possibilities. Although I think there’s still a lot to be said for plain old SMS in terms of its mainstream reach and instant access.

Our business these days involves a combination of mobile apps, SMS services and mobile commerce. Often a project will involve a mix of all of these so we could be developing an integrated PC website, which is also optimized for mobile phones, an iPhone app (and potentially Android, Symbian and other platforms) and an SMS service.

We entered the Chinese marketplace a few years back and we now have a well-established office and team in Beijing serving multinational customers who are seeking a local mobile partner in China.

Our customer base in Ireland includes companies like UPC, the National Car Testing Service (NCT), Meteor, Spar and many others whilst in China we’re currently working with companies such as Accuweather and Grohe. Our Chinese team also worked on the Irish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo developing the whole mobile and web presence that went along with that.

What drives the founders?  Who inspired them most and why ?


Mobile appointment reminders NCTI’m the founder of Púca. Before that I was involved in web development: I set up the Irish web design company Webfactory in 1994, which I think was the first dedicated web development company in Ireland. Before that I worked in the music industry, at EMI records in London. I’m driven by trying to do things that are original and a bit ahead of the curve. I like to be working with something that’s on the cutting edge but it can also be a good business strategy to be positioned early on in a sector that is going to grow. I think its also important if you’re operating out of a small country and a small market like Ireland that you look outwards and create something that can be sold internationally. I think what probably inspired me originally was seeing how people like U2 and their management organization have been able to build a successful international business based out of Ireland built upon innovation and creative talent. There have been many other similar accomplishments in areas like film, dance and theatre so I think those of us working in other industries in Ireland, be it the technology sector or whatever, should be inspired by those people working successfully in the arts and try and emulate them in our own fields.

 Describe  your design process and which part you find most scary and most satisfying ? 

Its very much a team effort in here. What we effectively bring to the table with our customers is a deep knowledge and experience of mobile technologies and what works and what doesn’t on the mobile. Combined with that we have the execution capability from our own in-house software development and design resources and of course our own proven, tried and trusted mobile platform which we have developed and enhanced over the years. We try and make sure that the customer has clearly defined their objectives in advance and we generally engage in a workshop process with them to tease out the requirements in full. For us its extremely important to have all of the specifications detailed in advance as our team is spread between Dublin and Beijing so we have to be very disciplined about making sure everything is clearly defined upfront so we can keep everyone on the same page. Generally we’ll do the front end, user interface designs here in Dublin along with the technical architecture and software design, and then the Beijing team does a lot of the implementation, working closely with our Dublin-based developers. Mock-ups and wireframes are a key element of the process so usually we’ll do that very early on and that’s obviously a key part of the specifications process with the customer. On the graphic design front, whilst we do have in-house design capabilities, we also tend to work with different freelance graphic designers based locally here in Dublin and this I think gives a bit of variety and freshness to the different interfaces.

What do awards mean for your company and the people within it? Do you think Commissioning Clients get adequate recognition for their vision by commissioning innovative work? How might this be improved?

Its certainly a very good marketing tool in that it reassures customers that they’re working with the best and there’s definitely a great buzz that the staff get when every time we win an award. But at the end of the day we’re here to just do the work and the success and failure of a particular application or project is not in whether it gets an award but in whether the client’s objectives are achieved. Of course if we can do that AND win an award for it then all the better!

How can the technologies Puca uses solve problems  in emerging markets and third world ?

M-PESA-example of mobile technology  in Kenya (developed by others)

The use of mobile technologies is often more advanced in developing countries. They don’t have the same legacy infrastructure as we do so it’s more of a blank page they are starting from. There often isn’t an existing fixed line broadband infrastructure there and with the cheaper cost of phones versus computers, mobile usually represents the most logical way to communicate information. Mobile solutions often are also the most pragmatic way to solve a particular issue or problem. For example, in extending banking and payment services, in communicating health information, in getting access to market prices – all of those areas are currently being addressed using mobile technology in the third world at the moment – to an extent barely touched upon here. Its not even smartphones or mobile Internet or apps that are most widely used – usually its just two-way SMS as its very cost effective, its available on all handsets and yet it has all of this highly functional interactive capability.

6.       In your opinion which institutions in Ireland – Educational and Enterprise really understand the core dynamics of innovation ? What key recommendations might you make to encourage more entrepreneurship here in Ireland?

talk please

I think there’s different types of innovation. In the enterprise area, it has to be very market driven and it has to have a business case. But it doesn’t – or maybe shouldn’t – have to be the same way as that in the universities, and I think there’s a lot to be said for just pure research. You have to allow for the potential of unforeseen discoveries or outcomes, so I’m not sure that there is the same dynamics between enterprise and education nor that the approach should be the same.

I think there’s plenty of things that could be done to encourage entrepreneurship in Ireland. Firstly, there has to be tax and other financial incentives in existence – just look at how the government was able to inflate the property bubble by its policies over the last ten years. Imagine if all of those incentives and all of that effort into promoting the property sector had been put instead into creating world-beating Irish companies, into creating something that was actually productive, sustainable and useful. Secondly, people have to be inspired by, and want to be, entrepreneurs. They need to see more successful businesses and companies coming out of Ireland and they need to have the role models to emulate.

7.       In the 21st Century what are your predictions for technology in 10, 20 and 30 years and their implications for Ireland ?

I’m not sure I can think that far ahead!! But one technology I believe is really interesting is augmented reality, which is effectively about the intersection between the real, tangible world of physical objects and the virtual, interactive world of information and social networks. I think there’s huge potential in enhancing our real world experiences with interactive ‘layers’. At the moment, we may be at the point in the technology cycle where we’ve gone too far into an essentially superficial world in our online life and connections:  it’s all very ‘inorganic’ – and so I wonder what will happen when all of that gets drawn back into, and blended with, the real world.

8.       What are the traits of your ideal collaborators , in Ireland and abroad?

We’re happy to explore collaborations with companies where our platform and/or our skills can add value. For example, we’re currently working with a company who has a strong web-based presence and a lot of large clients, but no mobile skills or technology. The way we are working with them is to connect our SMS platform and app development skills with what they have. This gives them the ability to instantly provide their customers with an integrated mobile solution which adds value to their offering, and for us it gives us another channel to market.

9.       Are Clients here beginning to understand the beneficial role of technology for their activities or are they very much behind their global competitors?

Yes I think Irish companies may be beginning to understand the value of technology and I hope that they now finally grasp the opportunities that are there. In my opinion I don’t think that its sufficient for Irish companies to only seek to be ‘as good’ as the international average, instead they’ve got to take risks and get out ahead of the curve, not follow behind it. We’re a small island country with a small home market, so we’re disadvantaged in that way – in order to compete internationally we’ve therefore got to do things better than anyone else and part of that is using new technologies in an intelligent way. On the plus side, we’ve actually got quite a technologically advanced home market: for example, we have the highest text-usage per person in Europe and our usage of apps, smartphones and mobile Internet is similarly ahead of international norms. Therefore companies here should be trying out new things with those technologies in a market where there is a ready appetite for them, and that might also give them the opportunity to take those home-grown innovations into other international markets. This is I think an area where the government and public sector could take a lead in introducing and promoting initiatives around some of the key new areas of mobile innovation including for example mobile payments and ticketing and mobile-enabled communication with public services generally.

Weblinks Puca

M-Pesa Mobile Payment Service Technology Kenya – Vodaphone and Safaricom