Awards 2001 The Worldaware Award for Innovation

The Worldaware Award for Innovation

This award is given to a company or organisation which has developed an innovative idea in, for example, medicine, technology, education or finance, with the proven potential to make a significant contribution to socially, economically or environmentally sustainable development.

The Winner: Motivation


The three-wheeled Mekong, designed for Cambodians who have lost both legs to landmines, typifies Motivation's approach to the problems of people who cannot walk.

Eight hundred Mekongs a year are made by 15 people, mainly disabled ex-soldiers, in a workshop run by the Jesuit Service. It is not an unsuitable imported chair. It uses cycle wheels and, for the frame, locally available hardwood, rather than steel which until recently was hard to obtain. It costs 55 as against 1,200 to 1,500 for a wheelchair in Britain.

It is designed for Cambodians' largely outdoor lives, the single wheel at the front making it superior to a standard four-wheeler for negotiating potholes and rough ground. It has a comfortable rubber cushion. It can have a cycle attachment which users can pedal with their hands. It can be packed flat in a rice sack, making it easier to deliver. And with it comes encouragement to lead an active life.

A therapist from Motivation trained a member of the Jesuit Service in assessing people for their chairs and ensuring they get the right size and fit. The therapist ran training, too, for other organisations distributing Mekongs. Motivation also taught active rehabilitation, so that Mekong-users do not sit around but can get in and out of their chairs, mount or descend steps, and even play tennis or basketball.

Motivation, a charity which has helped 15 organisations in 14 countries to provide wheelchairs, grew out of two students' project at the Royal College of Art. Simon Gue knew from practical experience what was possible in an Asian or African workshop. David Constantine had a broken neck, through a disastrous dive into a pool in Australia. This forced him to think through what a wheelchair-user needs.

He had to get from A to B, but also to get up and dress every morning and go to college or work. "My chair has to fit with the life I need to lead, not the other way round," he says.

David and Simon decided to design a chair which could be made overseas with available materials and a minimum of tools. They won the Frye Memorial Prize, recruited Richard Frost to join them and visited the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, in Bangladesh. They returned there in 1991 to establish a workshop (which makes chairs with rickshaw wheels) and realised they had begun something they could not walk away from.

They set up Motivation to improve the lives of wheelchair-users worldwide by starting self-sustaining, locally-run workshops offering rehabilitation and showing sometimes prejudiced societies that people who cannot walk can still be useful and earn a living. They have also helped people who would otherwise have had to give up work in order to care for a disabled relative. In Russia they helped children with cerebral palsy, designing special seating to support them and allow them to grow properly.

Motivation's work is lifesaving. In many countries, to break your back and lose the use of and feeling in your lower limbs is a death sentence. Paraplegics commonly die within two or three years of their accident, from bladder and kidney infections (unless treated with antibiotics) or from infected pressure sores. These form if they sit or lie for an hour or two on the same area of skin, causing it to die through lack of blood and oxygen. People normally move when they feel sore. Paraplegics, lacking feeling, have to learn to move regularly.

When Motivation staff were invited to Ragama, a spinal injury hospital near Colombo, Sri Lanka, they found that more patients were lying in bed with pressure sores than were needing wheelchairs. They sought to improve rehabilitation before they began chairmaking. A Ragama patient, Priyantha Peiris, who - while studying in Russia - had broken his back when he jumped from a fifth floor window to escape a fire, comments: "Motivation's input, especially active rehabilitation, helped me and many others rebuild our personalities to the extent that we now have our own self-sufficient organisation."

David Constantine and his colleagues have helped 18,000 disabled people in ten years but they know that the number needing such help runs into tens of millions. They have decided therefore on a development of their policy. Instead of having wheelchairs made in small numbers in local workshops, they are seeking to design a range of chairs which, though adaptable to local needs, can be made in factories. David Constantine says that the basic requirements of the design are that it be flatpacked, easy for a technician with limited tools to put together and cost less than $100 when it reaches him. "We are trying to design out any need for repair."

They are working on a prototype for a rural threewheeler while looking for the money to develop it and get what they call the WorldMade project under way. They are also looking for money for MIRO, a database making available on the internet everything that they have learned.

The Judges say

Motivation provides a truly remarkable example of innovative design leading to sustainable commercial processes, which are improving the lives and economies of disadvantaged communities in many countries of the developing world. The company's attention to researching needs analysis, local culture and environment (including the sensitive use of local raw materials) has been instrumental in creating self-sustaining operations in all 14 countries concerned. The result is that individual workshops each have a well-trained, managed and motivated staff, building wheelchairs to meet precise local needs, with each stage of the design process taking account of the age and disability of the recipient in every case. The sense of empowerment and achievement is, we felt, palpable in the company's work, and the contribution towards re-integrating disabled people into society is to be heartily commended.