The Pilots

Pilot.

Adjective.  Done as an experiment or test before introducing something more widely.

Theory. A set of mini-interventions designed to tests mechanisms for encouraging household adoption and use of improved cookstoves (e.g., finance plans, demonstration and promotion campaigns, and stove types).

Reality. A cycle of endless sweating, brainstorming, training, surveying, stove demonstrations and meetings with no end in sight.

If we could just explain the benefits of improved stoves to households and they would purchase and use the stove – this would be an easy job. However, households have many reasons why they are not interested in these stoves – they can’t afford them, don’t understand why they are needed, or don’t care about them because they have many more pressing concerns.

In order to determine which set of techniques best encourages adoption, we conduct several “pilots”, each testing a slightly different combination of payment plan, promotional campaign, and stove demonstrations. Before the pilots begin, there are weeks of planning. Days upon days are spent sitting in hot offices in meetings, sitting with villagers doing focus group discussions, ordering stoves, training stove sales staff, and planning the field campaigns. After each pilot there are brainstorming marathons to discuss what worked and what can be improved. 

For one pilot, we planned to distribute pamphlets describing the benefits of the improved stove as part of an intensive promotional campaign. Of course, our plan hit some snags. To begin with, the pamphlets were shipped from Mumbai and arrived late. This delay meant that when Vasu and I arrived in the village to confirm that all households had received the fliers, none of the pamphlets had been distributed yet. Instead, we found very young village boys (ages 9-11) sitting and very slowly writing information about the planned stove demonstration that was taking place the following day… and there were still several hundred pamphlets that were blank.  So, Vasu and I grabbed pens and helped fill out the fliers with the necessary information – those years of learning to write Hindi really came in handy! Some of the village boys that were helping us had gone to school that morning, but their teacher didn’t show up, so left the school (and unfortunately common occurrence). We finished filling in the demonstration information after about an hour – and then the village team passed them out to every household.

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Posters promoting the improved stove were hung throughout the village.

 

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Some demonstrations were given to groups of villagers.

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Since households in the village are naturally clustered by religion and caste, we ended up doing a group of demonstrations to many small subsets of villagers. These households lived in a Hindu area in one of the villages…

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And these households lived in a Muslim are of the village…

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We did our best to target the demonstration at the men and women who would purchase the stove – but of course, many children attended the demonstrations, too, crouched at the feet of the adults, and loving the show.

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The Greenway Smart Stove (a natural draft, front loading stove) burns brightly during a village demonstration.

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We also conducted household level demonstrations in some pilots–  neighbors often came to watch, too.

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The point of conducting so many pilots is that we hope to identify the most successful set of intervention strategies, and scale them up across our entire sample. However, the reality of conducting so many pilots is that it often feels like a never ending cycle. Learn some lessons; plan another pilot to learn some more… around and around and around.

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After hard days conducting stove sales in the sun, we didn’t need any pilots to determine our favorite way to relax and cool down – the answer was definitively watermelon! If only our questions about the best approach to stove sales could be answered this quickly (and deliciously).

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Hidden Mountain Bungalows

Vasu and I retreated to an amazing hidden gem for a night after the Mukteshwar Marathon madness. Sonapani is an eco friendly resort nestled on the side of the mountain. Each little bungalow has solar hot water (for bucket baths) and is simply and beautifully furnished. Meals were served in a lovely dining room where we ate on the porch and shared tales with other guests. After the mountain marathon run, my legs were incapable of going up and down stairs, prompting many humorous moments.

 

One of the bungalows.

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These shoes have seen hundreds of miles.

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The best chai – black, with fresh ginger.

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The best cheerleader, Himalayan companion, chaiwalla, and spider remover: lovely lady Vasu.

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*******

This weekend we trekked to the nearby Dak Bungalow, a 110 year old British building that has been restored as a homestay by an absolutely lovely couple. We trekked to the Bungalow for a few hours, passing many trees showing the classic signs of fuel gathering (bottom and easy to reach branches have been chopped and carried away).

 

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These Dak (Mail) bungalows were built ten miles apart by the british. The old signpost still stands (or perhaps leans is more accurate) marking this spot between the outposts at Kathgodom (the modern train station) and Almora, the large town we saw in the distance.

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And then a storm hit. Power was gone for over 24 hours.

Wind blown flower petals scented the air as the first drops fell. The birds fell silent as the rain found it voice. Wildfires stared on the mountain opposite us and raged all night and into the morning; an unbroken circle of flame. Our candles flickered and faltered in the wind.

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In the morning, we ventured out for a hike but kept sprinting to nearby shelter when the rain found us.

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The Dak Bungalow is in the middle of the village Peora, which was one of the villages that we surveyed for our cookstove research project. Over several days last summer, we walked through the entire village randomly sampling households – here’s a view of the village.

 

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We had such a refreshing stay before trekking back to work.

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Marathon in the Mountains

The Mukteshwar Marathon at 7,500 feet. My first half marathon. My fastest! The first 6 miles, all downhill, curving along mountain sides. The second 6 miles back the same route, up sharp turns and past shockingly beautiful vistas.

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Friendly faces all along the route. Chirag volunteers cheered the runners on and offered fruit, biscuits, trays of salt, water and gatorade.

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Many fellow runners were lived in the Kumaon Hills. It was very inspiring to see so many local runners- kept incredibly fit by life here. Several women ran in traditional clothing. Many people ran in sandals or shoes with untied laces. Couples ran holding hands up the mountains. Many Delhi-ites (Delights) were forced to walk; unacclimated. Mountain children often walk over 5k each way to reach their schools; gangs of them showed up to run the 5K, like those below.

 

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I hope I can run next year 🙂