When I give money to nonprofits, I look for ones that work like
startups. I recently found one that is like a startup not only in
its smallness, but also in the use of cool new technology.
You've probably read about all the horrible things happening in Darfur
recently. The American Sudanese
Partnerships for Peace is going to try to repair some of the
damage. And they're doing it in the most literal sense: they're going
to help the Sudanese rebuild their destroyed villages, using some
innovative construction techniques developed by CalEarth.
can be built out of nothing more than dirt, barbed wire, and the
same kind of polyethylene bags used to make sandbags to contain
floods. The house will probably last longer if you mix some cement
with the dirt, but it's not absolutely necessary. The bags come
in the form of a continuous tube, and the house is constructed of
layers of dirt-filled "snakes," with barbed wire laid between them
to keep them from moving.
It's 21st-century adobe: faster and easier than traditional adobe
construction, because you don't have to make and dry individual
bricks. This construction technique can be learned quickly by
anyone, and is about the cheapest possible way to build lasting
shelter. But these are by no means temporary buildings; they are
so robust that they meet California building codes.
The ASP is taking the Eco-Dome to Darfur.
I learned about them because Y Combinator's architect, Kate Courteau,
is part of the group. Kate is the reason our places in Cambridge and
Mountain View look so cool. She designed not only the spaces, but
also the pair of identical 30-foot tables
we have in each. If you were wondering about the blur in the
background in the image on our front
page, that's Kate, rushing off to do the next thing on the to-do
list in her hand.
I can't say for certain that this scheme is going to work, but it
has as much as we ever ask for in a startup: good people and a good
If you want to help them, you can donate online. They're
a registered nonprofit, so donations are tax-deductible.