Grassroots Innovation | The dichotomy of societies and their choices at different economic development stages

Same mode of transport, oceans apart, similar purpose, different meanings.

Farmer in Sumatra transporting palm dates on bike to the palm oil plant. Photo: Reuters

Bicycle Coffee Co, a new San Francisco start up delivers fresh ground coffee to clients in San Francisco. Bike mode is the only way they deliver. Photo: Lianne Milton


I find it fascinating that in the developed world the movement to go green is essentially going back to where emerging economies are. Take the bicycle for example… in emerging nations it’s the mode of transport because it’s the most basic affordable means of getting goods and people from point A to B, while in the developed world, it’s pursued (read: back in fashion) for its eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle values. People in emerging nations, with their high growth economies are fast climbing the prosperity ladder, and DESIRE the material things that developed nations have; fridge, motorized vehicle, bigger house, American fast food, luxury brands… an urban lifestyle.

Another good example is organic food. For the longest time, food in emerging nations WAS all organic, as that was how everything was produced, as agricultural technology was still limited. Food was fresher, food distribution network much narrower, meaning that farm to market was probably faster, hence fresher food. And processed food was limited.

This is of course a very simplified equation and by no means does it work that way… for the simple reason that even within emerging economies there are pockets of advanced economies already operating in the urban cities. So – for examples – in cities like Jakarta, with its infamous traffic congestions, there’s a “back to bicycle” move, driven by the urban middle class. For a number of mixed reasons; some for the environment (bike to work), while others simply to show off a new lifestyle, since cycling is in vogue.

Regardless, all this reminds me of my younger days in Jakarta, when food items like: salt, coffee, tea and fresh produce. were delivered daily by food vendors on tricycles. Plastic bags were non existent, instead it was banana leaves. Coffee was sold as whole beans, lose tea leaves, salt blocks… all wrapped in brown wrapping paper. The scene of daily food vendors navigating through Jakarta’s neighborhoods still exists, but their days are numbered.

It is for this very reason that I find these two pictures tell the story vividly. Ironic indeed… beautiful, nevertheless. Morale of the story: mankind will continue to evolve, better their lives, and continue to innovate, optimizing all the resources at their disposal – whether natural or manmade. And ultimately, we WILL take better care of planet earth, because it’s the only PLANET we GOT!! That’s my hope and conviction!

A cyclist who makes a living from transporting goods to Burundi's capital Bujumbura. Photo: The Majalla

Bicycle Coffee exclusively roasts organic, fair-trade, hand-picked, and shade grown Arabica beans, and delivers on bikes to San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Photo: Bicyle Coffee Co.

Inspiration: BBC, Bicycle Coffee Co., Majalla

About dianhasan

Brand Storyteller, Travel Writer, Speaker, Creative Writer & Thinker - avid observer of randomness in everyday life - Sustainable Business, Eco Matters, Sustainable Urban Issues, Architecture, Heritage Conservation, Innovation & Brand-Strategy, Cross-Cultural Communications, Travel, Tourism & Lifestyle.
This entry was posted in BoP (Bottom of the Pyramid), Brand-Building & Culture, Burundi, Grassroots Innovation, Indonesia, Sustainable Solutions, USA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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