Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - Visitor Center

We Can Make a Difference Now

Every person deserves the chance to live a health, productive life.
Arrive curious. Leave inspired.

These are statements from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center. The visitor center is a place where you can find out about the history, work, and mission of the foundation. I was walking by the other day and stumbled on the visitor center. If you are in the area (downtown Seattle and in particular near the Space Needle), it is worth a stop. If you can’t make it to the visitor center, you can try the audio tour using your phone and the map shown below which gives a good overview or visit their website.

The visitor center is laid out linearly with four big spaces: voices, family & foundation, partnerships, and innovation & inspiration. The four spaces build up naturally so that in the last space (innovation & inspiration) you, the visitor, are asked to solve problems and provide ideas that could make a difference. This is where the image at the top of this post came from.

The visitor center is an interesting fusion of technology and natural materials - mainly wood. When you push a lever, move a roller, or push a button to activate or change a display, you are usually touching a soft, friendly wood object. After a few moments, the change you made is reversed and quietly the display goes back to its previous state, ready for the next visitor. There is a picture below of a lever that controls two videos. When no one is controlling the video, the lever moves slowly between the two videos. At any time you can take hold of it and slide it around. Another picture shows blocks with dates (fact blocks) that you push to rotate and see facts on the other side. After a few seconds, the blocks turn themselves back around.

The Reinvent the Toilet Fair took place August 15 and there were a couple of interesting artifacts left over from that including The Earth Auger Toilet: Innovation in waterless sanitation (el taladro de la tierra) and samples of Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae that are used in another toilet design. The BSF are “voracious eaters of faecal waste and as pre-pupae can be turned into revenue-generating products like animal feed and biofuels.”

After an hour plus of reading, walking, and interacting with the displays, one question kept coming up in my mind and it is this: how is it that we have the situation where we need something like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its unprecedented money and scope to solve these problems? Has something gone wrong? Is this the natural state of human society?

I think the question is interesting for the following reasons. Chances are that you and I will never amass the wealth that has enabled the foundation to undertake its mission. This is not sour grapes, but is stating the obvious. Given this, what is it that you and I can do in our everyday lives? To this end, there is in the visitor center what I’ll call a pledge tree (see photo) where visitors commit to taking action. But, beyond this pledge tree and more importantly, what is it that you and I could do as a citizen when it comes to voting for systems of governance and law? What things should we be weary of that cause problems that we end up having to solve later? As a consumer, what habits do we have that, again, cause problems we have to solve later – be they local or in some other country? That is the essence of the question that was in my mind as I left the visitor center. Is this something the visitor center should discuss? Perhaps not. This kind of “education” is hard, doesn’t have any easy answers, and is controversial to boot. (I did not search extensively on the foundation’s website to see if these issues are covered in there; I am only commenting that I did not see these issues covered in the visitor center.)

Arrive Currious. Leave Inspired.
Arrive Currious. Leave Inspired. Arrive Currious. Leave Inspired.

Gates Foundation Visitor Center – Two DisplaysGates Foundation Visitor Center – Two Displays Gates Foundation Visitor Center – Two Displays

Gates Foundation Audio Tour Brochure
Gates Foundation Audio Tour BrochureGates Foundation Audio Tour Brochure

Gates Foundation Visitor Center Brochure
Gates Foundation Visitor Center BrochureGates Foundation Visitor Center Brochure

Pledge Tree – What Can You Do? 
Pledge Tree – What Can You Do?

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