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Ackeem Ngwenya

MA work

Roadless

The world is in constant motion, whether one thinks of it in terms of drinking water, electricity, the internet, commuting or the movement of goods from one place to another. These motions are organised through networks that rely on some form of transportation, for which we have developed extensive infrastructure, technologies and services that have increased our sharing networks and allow us to communicate, move and trade globally. However, this is not true for everyone; e.g. in Malawi more than three-quarters of the population lives partially or completely cut-off from the country’s road infrastructure, and rely on walking and the head-carrying of goods.

The absence of transport infrastructure is a major contributor to people being cut off from their local economies. In Malawi people can be disconnected from markets and trading centres for up to four months a year during the rainy season. This impacts communities that rely on head-loading goods to access markets to sell their produce. This rural activity generates about 30 per cent of the country’s GDP ($1.3 billion of its $4.3 billion GDP (World Bank 2012)). The impact across Sub-Saharan Africa is also profound, as more than $4 billion in post-harvest waste occurs annually because farmers fail to get produce to markets.

Given that newer technologies or services often rely on pre-existing infrastructure, the inability to provide such infrastructure limits access to markets and services and so constrains economic growth and social development.

The absence of basic infrastructure is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing countries like Malawi. Since scarcity drives creativity, I take the absence as a playground for creative and innovative thinking to develop solutions that bypass the need for infrastructure and mistakes made by others.

I apply this logic to transport problems experienced by rural communities in Malawi. Instead of laying new roads, which is expensive, takes a lot of time to implement and may be subject to corrupt practices and is also unrealistic for remote and isolated rural communities in the short term, my project Roadless offers a solution that bypasses the need to pave roads, with transforming wheels that can be adapted to different terrains. Therefore Roadless can help rural communities have better access to markets sooner and at no infrastructure cost. 

It costs Malawi about $865,000 to pave a 1km stretch of road (Mtawali 2010). At this rate it would cost $8.7 billion to pave the remaining unpaved roads of the country’s designated road network (15 451 km), not including rural feeder roads. This is close to double its estimated GDP for 2012 ($4.5 billion). Money which could be spent on healthcare, education, clean water and other priorities.

If successful not only would Roadless decrease the time travelled and/or increase the load carried per journey, but it would especially have a positive impact on women and young children, whose heads, backs and legs are the most common form of transport.

Info

  • portrait
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Design

    Programme

    MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2014

  • I believe it is a social injustice that some parts of the world remain severely underdeveloped while others are so far ahead in terms of access to basic services such as education, clean water, healthcare and transportation. The inability to access such services can have profoundly negative consequences on the welfare of communities, countries and even continents by constraining economic prosperity and social development. While there is no quick-fix solution to accelerate development on a continental or global level, I think personally not doing something about it is similar to being witness to a crime or coming across an injured person and then simply walking away. And so in the spirit of wanting to make a difference and doing something about it, I have focused my design practice on tackling persistent and crippling problems experienced  by people  at the base of the socio-economic pyramid, where I think creative thinking can have a tremendous impact on their lives.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Jewellery Design, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 2010; Philosophy, Stellenbosch University, 2009, South Africa
  • Experience

  • Director, Roadless Ltd, London, 2013; Co-founder and product developer, Vis, London, 2011; Product developer, Seed Foundation, London, 2012
  • Exhibitions

  • Africa is Now: Design Indaba, Cape Town 2013; Work-in-progress Show, Royal College of Art, London, 2013; Work-in-progress Show, Royal College of Art, London, 2012; Rio-Tinto Sports & Innovation Challenge, Imperial College, London 2012; Seoul Social City Software, Seoul Design Foundation, Seou,l 2012; Outside In, Frank Joubert Art Centre, Cape Town 2011; Dichotomies in Objects: Contemporary South African Studio Jewellery From the Stellenbosch Area, National Ornamental Metal Museum Tennessee, 2011; Dichotomies in Objects: Contemporary South African Studio Jewellery From the Stellenbosch Area, Ohio Craft Museum, Ohio, 2010; Dichotomies in Objects: Contemporary South African Studio Jewellery From the Stellenbosch Area, Velvet Da Vinci, San Francisco, 2010; Gradex’ 10, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, 2010; Aperitif, Zona Tortona Design Fair, Milan, 2009; Sandy Beach, GSG-12, Pforzheim, 2009; Lollypop, GSG-12, Pforzheim, 2009
  • Awards

  • Affilliate, Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, 2014; RCA Overseas Student Bursary, 2012; Business Incubator, Climate-KIC Greenhouse Programme, 2011; Santander Bursary, 2011; AngloPlatinum Bursary, 2011; AngloPlatinum Scholarship 2007