5 stories on creativity

An Ilonggo councilor has highlighted the need to get out of the mindset that the government is the only entity that offers solutions to the country’s pressing problems.

To drive home the point, Iloilo City Councilor Jason Gonzales  shared five stories of creativity to participants of the Liwanag Worldfest 2014, a three-day conference on creating a solution ecosystem around disaster last March.

“In the United States and the Philippines, street potholes are a problem. The process of identifying where they are and filling them up is expensive because you need to get a team of engineers and some people to go around the city and identify where these potholes are,” he said.

Councilor Jason Gonzales of Iloilo City

However, in Boston, United States, the New Urban Mechanics under the Office of the Boston Mayor, created the “Help Keep Your Street Smooth” project, which makes use of a mobile app called Street Bump.

“Street Bump can be downloaded by anyone. When you go around, you identify the potholes through the app and send the report real time to the government. In just a few weeks, they are able to identify the bumps on the road,” Gonzales said.

“You can help your city in a very simple way. This is micro-volunteerism,” he added.

Gonzales shared that there have been so many garbage recycling campaigns -- not using plastic on a particular day or waste segregation – but these have failed. For example, segregation at home has failed because when the garbage trucks come, they still put the garbage together.

He said that the city council can pass a legislation, which mandates people to recycle if they don’t want to be penalized. “That would cost money and would be difficult to implement,” he said.

But, in the United States, a project called Recyclebank has raised the recycling rate of its residents without the government doing anything, he said.

“Recycling starts in the household. Out of the amount of trash you recycle, you earn points. You will then trade those points for groceries or discounts,” Gonzales said.

Sometimes, there are wounds that do not need personal attention from the hospital. However, since patients do not know what to do, they go to the hospital and then incur unnecessary expenses.

Gonzales shared that Blue Cross Nursing Hotline in the United States, is one creative and sustainable health initiative.

“It is a 24-hour hotline where you can call whenever you have a medical condition.  You tell them your symptoms, take a picture of your condition and send it to them. Then, they will tell you if you need to go to the hospital or not,” Gonzales said.

“The toilet today is a modern day convenience. You sit on it, you wipe your ass and you flush. But for all its celebrated glory, today it does not make sense especially for third world countries because it costs so much to maintain because you need running water,” Gonzales said.

“More than 2.5 billion households all over the world do not have access to sanitary toilets. Many die due to sanitation-related ailments such as diarrhea. Here in Iloilo, 54 percent do not have toilets. Iloilo Province spent P5 million to build toilets. But what is a country supposed to do if it has no money?”

Gonzales said that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had put up “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge”, a contest on designing a toilet. “They got people to do it. They asked everyone all over the world to make a design and the winner is an Israeli company and the prize is $110,000,” Gonzales said.

“Instead of having experts to think of solutions, they asked people to do it. So, they spent less,” Gonzales said.

On the issue of traffic, Gonzales said that conventional wisdom says that we need to build more roads in order to solve traffic problems. “It does not work,” he said.
Gonzales said Zimride, the largest carpooling program in the United States, has successfully connected drivers and passengers through social networking.

The carpooling community was started by Logan Green who shared rides with other people and by John Zimmer who was inspired by the empty seats he saw when he was commuting. Zimmer thought that with carpooling, people can save money and reduce their carbon footprints.

To guide individuals and groups in creating solutions to the country’s pressing problems, Gonzales provided these guide questions:

(1) What is the problem? Think of a societal problem in your area, something pressing.  It can be small but urgent. (2) What are the possible solutions? (3) What are the key processes behind the solution? (4) Who can do them best? (5) What can we do differently? (5) What new currencies can you trade?

To cite an example, Gonzales shared the Iloilo City Community College students’ experience.

The ICCC students come from poor families. While their tuition fees are subsidized by the government and by private individuals, the challenge is: do they have enough money for transportation to school?

Gonzales said, to address this, jeepney drivers’ associations agreed to provide the ICCC students with free ride to and from school, provided they wear their school ID.

Based on the guide questions, the problem is the students’ transportation; possible solutions – finding sponsors; key processes – riding the jeepney from one point to another;  who can do them best  - drivers; what can we do differently – free rides; and what new currencies can you trade – not money but the “feel good” experience of the driver that he was able to sponsor a student.
However, in creating solutions, teams should assume that everyone is helpful and is willing to help, Gonzales said.

With this, Gonzales assured, “There is no human problem that the imagination cannot solve.”/Marie Katherine Villalon


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