Dog poop becomes digital currency

2012-05-26 10:41

Idea can transform SA

Every now and again you come across an idea or concept and wonder why you didn’t think of it first.

Usually the idea sits right under our noses, waiting patiently to be discovered and, eventually, it is, by someone with a radically different perspective on life – or just a lot of spare time on their hands.

Either way, you can’t help but marvel at the simplicity and brilliance of the idea.

One such “aha” moment belongs to Terra, a Wi-Fi provider in Mexico who came up with the ingenious idea of turning dog poop into a digital currency.

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention, and in this case the necessity was to keep Mexico City’s public parks clean.

For a city of 20 million people, these urban parks are a refuge for many inhabitants, a large percentage of which use them to walk their dogs.

Anyone who walks a dog knows that sooner or later, the dog needs to relieve itself (and by that I mean a number two).

Most law-abiding dog owners will clean up after their dogs, but sometimes dog owners become a little more lax.

The stuff is, after all, biodegradable, but that takes a few weeks. In the interim, the park grounds becomes a public space littered with unpleasant and unhygienic landmines for unsuspecting strollers.

So how do you create an incentive for people to clean up after their dogs?

For Terra the incentive was their core product – Wi-Fi.

Free Wi-Fi is becoming the lifeblood of our digitally driven society, and this is particularly true for a younger generation that struggles to function if it is not connected – 24/7.

I recently saw a compilation of video interviews of young people across the globe expressing the need to be constantly connected. Without exception, they all viewed connectivity as “a second skin”, an essential “like the air we breathe”.

So if Wi-Fi has become a digital currency, Terra came up with the following idea: dog owners are encouraged to dump their dog’s poop into a specially designed container, which in turn weighs the bagged droppings and calculates free online time that can be traded in and beamed via Wi-Fi routers located around the vicinity.

The higher the volume of dog poop deposits, the longer the park users are able to access free internet.

Because younger people are more reliant on free Wi-Fi, they have a larger incentive to feed the dog poop scales – regardless of whether they are a dog owner or not. As I said, a brilliant idea and, like all brilliant ideas, the possibilities are endless.

In a country such as South Africa, the variations on this basic concept are unlimited, and the possible social impact astounding.

As with all digital natives around the world, young South Africans rely on mobile connectivity to stay connected with their peers as well as access information.

But the reliance on mobile connectivity in South Africa (and in Africa) is much higher than it is in developed countries because, proportionately, there are fewer people who have access to computers and laptops (and therefore the internet).

Airtime and internet connectivity have therefore become both currency and commodity.

So imagine if we used the same concept here but included not only dog poop but containers that also weighed litter or specifically recycled materials in exchange for free Wi-Fi.

It would be ideal to initiate this kind of trash-for-free Wi-Fi hub at inner-city commuter stations, such as taxi ranks.

There’s not only a lot of litter, but also a lot of people who would appreciate free Wi-Fi access while waiting in queues.

For periurban areas or informal settlements, the access to free Wi-Fi would transform and empower those communities, and the incentive to clean up the surrounding area would also become seamless.

The long-term ripple effect, on so many levels, is obvious.

Just this month the West African Cable System (Wacs) landed in South Africa, promising faster broadband speed and, one would think, lower prices.

Last year the same hype surrounded the arrival of the Seacom cable. We got slightly better broadband, but no real cost reduction.

Internet costs in South Africa are one of the highest in the world, and yet a World Bank study in 2009 found that just a 10% increase in high-speed internet boosts economic growth by 1.3%.

The Wacs connection promises a capacity of 5.12 terabits per second, so think of what that could do for our economy.

So here’s an open challenge to Vodacom, MTN and Cell C (or any other independent service provider).

Isn’t it time to give a little? And when you eventually do, how about considering free Wi-Fi for dog poop? Or a litter exchange?

It may seem like an unfair trade exchange, but the contribution towards growing the economy – not to mention the empowerment of impoverished communities – would be immeasurable.


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