Derek Brine MEng '10, MCP '10: Evaluating Technology for the Developing World

Derek Brine
Derek, left, worked with Pure Home Water
in Northern Ghana.

Northern Ghana is home to some of the most turbid and contaminated surface water drinking sources in the world. Until recently it was also one of the only areas in the world where one could still find the debilitating Guinea Worm parasite.

[Through a DUSP-PSC Internship in summer 2008] I worked with Pure Home Water, a social enterprise that manufactures and sells household scale ceramic pot water filters, to address a difficult, nagging problem they faced: Up to 40 percent of their customers would break or damage their filters inadvertently through misuse or improper cleaning. My task was to come up with a solution to this problem that would not add more than $1.50 to the cost of any filter.

Through many user interviews and by accompanying PHW workers on deliveries, I settled on producing an informational sticker and training guide that would be affixed to every filter distributed that pictorially outlined the proper way to use and maintain the filter. Working with a local graphic designer (and working through seven rounds of revisions!), I ended up with a sticker that cost 95 cents and covered all of the major information one needs to correctly operate and maintain a filter. Being totally pictorial, it is effective for people who are unable to read – a group that constitutes the majority of PHW's customers.

The sticker I developed (or a more evolved version) has been implemented on over 20,000 PHW filters and counting. What's more, six months after the initial implementation of the sticker the sustained proper use rate increased from 60 to 95 percent.

My experience in Ghana left an indelible mark on me and has shaped my career over the past five years. Afterward, I recognized that products designed for the developing world should be easy for users to understand, implement, adapt, and maintain. After coming home from Ghana, and gaining some experience in municipal water engineering in Canada, I came back to MIT to start the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), a $10 million USAID-funded research program focused on evaluating products designed for the developing world. Through CITE I am now exploring ways of evaluating products designed for the developing world to ensure that they are user-friendly and will work within the contexts that they are deployed, much like the PHW ceramic filter.

Further, my experience also inspired me to start my own organization in Africa. I am now working to develop an agricultural processing company in Kenya focused on promoting nutritious, low-cost, local foods and increasing agricultural income.

Without the DUSP-PSC Internship, I wouldn't have had the chance to go to Ghana, understand how people use their products, and be inspired to blaze my own path. Happy anniversary, PSC!

Derek Brine MEng ’10, MCP ’10
Associate Director, CITE