Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Welcome to SHINE!

(As producer for this year's SHINE, I was asked to write and present a quick handover between the policy events and the unconference true. I'm posting it here because.. well, it's not bad. This is what you can expect if you're heading to SHINE: the Unconference for Social Entrepreneurs this Global Entrepreneurship Week..)

From here the SHINE Unconference launches full force into a packed two days of activities from keynotes to conversations, one-to-ones to panel discussions, pitching for cash to wandering through the social enterprise marketplace.

To name just a few of our amazing contributors, we’ll be hearing from:

Pamela Hartigan, Executive Director of the Skoll Centre at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, who will be talking about creating entrepreneuring teams..

The infamous Liam Black; co-founder of Wavelength, author of “There’s No Business Like Social Business”, and co- founder of the Social Enterprise Coalition, will be telling us how not to screw up our ideas..

Drawing from experience in both the corporate world and conflict zones worldwide, Mark Walsh is here to advise us on staying sane while staring up..

Mark Walton will warn us of the dangers of drinking by sharing his story of how a couple of beers in the pub lead to the creation of start up with a mission to create a 21st century commons..

We’ll hear from former professional motorsport driver, Trudy Thompson, who dramatically changed her career and lifestyle in 2001 when she started adapting to a low carbon lifestyle and taught herself eco building..

And Nick Jankel, former rural African science teacher, come writer for The Guardian and Financial Times, will be sharing how to use Hollywood storytelling techniques to engage investors..

What’s more!

We have panels on the next generation of social entrepreneurs, the debate over diversity, money!: do you need it and how to get it, what we can learn from women in social enterprise, whether social media promotes activism or just slacktivism, and how the fashion industry can play a huge part in better social and environmental conditions for all..

And, don’t forget, we have the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, in the mastermind chair ready to take your questions!

And that’s just what we’re doing. I wont begin to assume I can predict the amazing connections and ideas that will come out of the conversations over lunch or a beer.. so on that note, welcome to SHINE and grab yourself a drink!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

5 Tech Breakthroughs Bringing Clean Water to the Developing World

Mashable (y'know: "the largest independent online news site dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology"..) are currently highlighting "five innovations that are bringing sanitary and safe drinking water to people in the developing world" and, I'm happy to say, we feature at number 3!

Though we get our fair share of publicity, as a bit of a geek myself I'm disproportionately excited by this one. Or maybe it's not out of proportion at all, with more than 20 million unique monthly visitors Mashable is one of the most engaged online news communities out there.. either way I'm thrilled. Check it out!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

So long from Sophie!

In a way it feels like yesterday that I was sitting in Rich Mix café, writing my ‘meet Sophie’ blog with all the zeal and cockiness of a newly-hired recent graduate. In another way it feels like far longer than a year and a bit ago. It’s really only now, as I prepare to move on to new employment, that I realise how far we’ve come as a company since July 2010.

When I started at Red Button Design, there was a Midomo prototype, secured investment, and some pretty impressive awards in the bag. As I leave, there is a deployment of actual Midomo units in Mwingi, Kenya, a designer jewellery collaboration in place that funded them, some exciting high-profile charity partnerships in the pipeline, and the dawning realisation that we may actually succeed in both making money and effecting vital impact to people’s lives.

I’m certainly not saying this was all down to me. I may be cocky and zealous but I’m not delusional! Obviously there is also a long way for Red Button Design still to go. But grant me if you will a small moment to marvel at what Amanda and James have achieved in little over a year, with some help from me, and some from Esme.

And wow, have I learned a lot. I learned that business is difficult, but it’s certainly do-able, with an ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ spirit. I am no longer a ‘networking novice,’ hiding behind my glass and not wanting to disrupt people’s conversations, but instead, I have thrust cards into the hands of Matthew Pinsent, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Doug Richard, and yes, Peter Jones (all of whom were gracious). I can just about get in front of a camera now without being completely trashed.

I’ve also realised the simple fact that good business is all about good relationships. We’re social animals and all, so the trick to getting press, sales, collaborations and stuff done seems to be to just talk to people and be decent and direct. And that can be by email, twitter or even the scary old phone. Getting on with your colleagues also helps the day along and I know this won’t be the last I’ll see of Amanda or James. I owe them much.

And that’s quite enough precocious musing from me for now[1]. If you want me, I’m moving to Knowledge Peers to work with directors of businesses and charities, challenging them to work better. I’ll also be working with Esme, in a new #marcomms team that will never forget its RBD roots.

Thanks everyone,

Stay in touch.

Sophie, FRSA x

(Enthusiasm and idealism still intact)

[1] Save for the job spec to follow...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Winner of the ICADF Raffle is…

At the Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair this weekend, we ran a raffle to win a Midomo Bracelet.

The raffle tickets bought by those who entered have funded a Midomo unit, which will be donated to a family in Mwingi and provide an independent supply of safe drinking water.

There could only be one winner of the Midomo Bracelet itself though, and that person is…. Emily Whitesmith!

We hope Emily enjoys wearing her Alex Monroe bracelet, and using the hand-engraved ID number to track the difference that the donated Midomo is making. If you would like your own Midomo Bracelet, remember you can still get one right here!

Huge thank-yous to everybody who entered; your contribution has made a real and traceable difference to a community.

All the best,

The RBD team

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair

Attention Please! This Fri/Sat/Sun the Midomo Bracelet will be on sale at the fabulous Islington Contemporary Art and Design Fair!

Our bracelet is designed by the well-established Alex Monroe, and so well suited to being exhibited at one of the largest contemporary art spaces in London.

Most importantly, every piece we sell will of course fund the donation of a Midomo water-purifier to a family in sub-Saharan Africa. If you type in the unique serial number into our website, you can track your donated unit and see where it is helping.

Catch us at CANDID ARTS TRUST, 3 Torrens St, London, EC1V 1NQ
between 21-23 October and at the preview evening Thursday 20 Oct (6.30-9pm)

Download the ICADF Flyer

Monday, 17 October 2011

Art for Freedom

Last Tuesday the Red Button Design team attended the very glamorous Art 4 Freedom auction at Notting Hill’s 20th Century Theatre in our capacity as ‘Gold Sponsors’ of the Row for Freedom. The art auction was put on by the Row for Freedom girls as another opportunity to raise money for charities campaigning to end human trafficking, and they did themselves proud; raising thousands of pounds with this enjoyable evening.

We have explained in a previous post why human trafficking is a cause closely linked to Red Button Design, as it is often the long and arduous walk to collect potentially unsafe drinking water that leaves young African girls vulnerable to abduction by sex traffickers. Julia Immonen, Debbie Beadle and the rest of the Row team recognise this connection too, and along with star presenter Sky Sport’s Charlotte Jackson, they were proudly showing off their Midomo Bracelets, knowing that each one provides a family in the developing world with safe drinking water for a year.

The auction itself was conducted by Anthony Weld Forester, Managing Director of Sotheby’s Edinburgh, and included works from Michael Vaughan- former England cricket captain, Charlie Mackesy and Gerard Stamp. Christine Beddoe, director of benefiting charity ECPAT UK, also gave an insightful speech with staggering facts such as the hundreds of sex slaves being kept in secret brothels on our own doorstep. Consequently it wasn’t only the celebrity artworks that evening that were eye-opening.

We thank all the Row for Freedom girls for a fantastic and worthwhile evening, and continue to wish them all the best with the training for their December challenge.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Building Resilience in East Africa

In June we visited the Mwingi district of Eastern Kenya, piloting the first Midomo water purifiers. Mwingi is a few hours drive East of Nairobi on the dusty road to Garissa. It’s a small town of 10,000 people that serves as a service stop for the Somali truckers who race khat harvests from farms in western Kenya over the border to sell fresh in Somalia.

Typical of much of Eastern Kenya, the Mwingi district is a semi-arid rural area with a high level of poverty. Many people rely on agriculture for both sustenance and a daily wage, which leaves families vulnerable to a climate that grows increasingly unpredictable. A recent study of communities in the district found that 80% of people do not use an improved source of potable water and the same proportion do not have adequate sanitation facilities.

Farmers in Mwingi are used to dry conditions, however in recent years rainfall has become even more scarce. Looking out over a depleted watering hole made by damming a small stream with earth, a local farmer told me that the April rains – which usually bring a month of daily downpours – this year lasted just two days. But in Mwingi, despite the ongoing drought crops are still grown with surprising success. Farmers have moved from growing maize (made popular by Western diets) to drought-resistant crops such as green grams, cow peas, sorghum and millet. 6,000 farmers in Mwingi are part of an agricultural resilience programme being run by FARM Africa, which teaches techniques for increasing water efficiency and growing a range of drought-resistant crops. The scheme additionally supports pastoralists by supplying seeds and equipment.

FARM-Africa is a British NGO founded in 1985 and now working across eastern Africa. It promises to be an extremely good partner for RBD in terms of their approach to the development of rural independence. They recognize that while 80% of Africans survive on the produce of their own smallholdings, it is here – in small, often isolated rural communities – that agricultural development is best directed. Working with smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and forest communities, FARM-Africa aims to develop skills and resources. In so doing, they enable locals to grow more food, keep their livestock healthy, and manage their natural resources in a sustainable way. The dryland farming projects that FARM-Africa are facilitating in Mwingi – including the introduction of drip-irrigation systems and water-saving techniques such as the zai pit – are increasingly important as the climate in eastern Africa becomes ever more unreliable.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

SIX Magazine- ‘Change a life with the Midomo Bracelet’

“The Midomo Bracelet was born out of Red Button Design’s collaboration with jewellery designer Alex Monroe and is a unique piece of jewellery which has been thoughtfully designed to help change lives”

So runs the opening paragraph of an online article of one of RBD’s favourite magazines: SIX. SIX was founded with the mission to celebrate the designers, individuals, independent brands and companies who are creating a more ethical and sustainable future for the fashion industry. The people at SIX believe that all fashion should have style and value, so the Midomo Bracelet, each of which sponsors a Midomo unit, was a natural fit.
At Red Button we hope that the popularity of magazines like SIX is a sign that consumers are becoming increasingly conscientious and demanding ‘value’ for money in every sense. We also think that £275 for a beautiful, hand-crafted, sterling silver bracelet, which also provides an African family with safe water is a pretty amazing deal.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

RBD returns to BBC 2’s “The Dragons’ Den”!

Red Button Design will be returning to ‘The Den’ and your TV screens on Wed 28th Sept!

The new series “How To Win In The Den” will bring viewers up to date with RBD’s progress and showcase the Midomo water-purifiers at their most advanced stage of development. The units will at last be shown out in a community in Eastern Kenya doing what they were designed to do; providing locally managed, environmentally neutral, safe drinking water.

Directors Amanda Jones and James Brown will also be interviewed on the triumphs and tribulations they have experienced along their 4 year journey.

The episode will air in a fortnight: Wednesday 28th September, BBC2 8pm Scotland /9pm England

EDIT: check for regional variations / repeats via the listing

In the mean time, you can catch up with us on
and, for real-time communication, on twitter:
@RedButtonDesign and @MidomoBracelet

Monday, 12 September 2011

Midomo Bracelet on Boticca's Style Hunters' Diary

In our last blog we mentioned how we were receiving quite a run of media attention lately, and this is looking to be more a marathon than a sprint!
Our latest piece of press, however, comes with the added bonus of a discount code..

Boticca is an online boutique for unique jewellery and fashion accessories by the most exciting emerging designers from around the world. Their blog, 'Style Hunters’ Diary' showcases their global inspirations. As their website has a dedicated section for ethical designers, the people at Bottica were particularly taken with the Midomo Bracelet, which donates a Midomo water purifier to Africa with every sale.

To say thank you for telling their huge, devoted following about us, we gave them the discount code, ‘BOTICCA’ for 10% off at

There are some beautiful accessories on Boticca, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. In fact, some of those bangles would complement a Midomo Bracelet perfectly…

Monday, 5 September 2011

Kind words..

The Midomo Bracelet featuring in the ‘Stuff we Love’ section of School for Startups is just the latest in a recent run of media attention for Red Button Design. Here’s our five favourite pieces of current press, for your browsing pleasure.

1. Doug Richard’s School for Startups: The Midomo Bracelet initiative is described as ‘intuitive, ambitious and visionary’ and ‘the perfect gift for an enterprising woman.’

2. BSSEC blog: The Birmingham and Solihull Social Economy Consortium wrote an article on the successful implementation of the first Midomos in Mwingi, which were funded by the Midomo Bracelet Initiative.

3. Director magazine: Red Button’s CEO, Amanda, was interviewed on the topic of frugal innovation. She said of Midomo, ‘everything about it came down to needs, not wants’

4. Trendhunter: ‘The successful Midomo launch in Mwingi, Kenya goes to show that humanitarian product design coupled with grassroots initiatives can have buoyant results without disrupting a community’s livelihood and way of life.’

5. Elevator: Red Button Design in a double page spread that describes Midomo as ‘an extraordinarily effective solution ..that could very quickly change the lives of millions of people,’

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Midomo and the Row For Freedom.

In December, the first female crew of 6 will row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness of one of the largest global organised crimes today: human trafficking.

It is estimated that 10 million young girls fall victim to trafficking every year, of which a majority are between 8 and 10 years old. With many of the effects of the water crisis also leading contributors to trafficking*, Red Button Design and the Midomo Bracelet campaign are proud to announce their formal support for the Row For Freedom challenge.

Lack of access to safe drinking water contributes to poverty and disease, impacts access to healthcare and education, holds back gender equality and takes young women outside of the community for hours of the day into potentially unsafe environments where they are at risk of abduction and trafficking.

For many young women, simple water management solutions like the Midomo unit could reduce their risk of becoming victims of trafficking. It is our hope that the strong symbolism of the 'Row For Freedom' venture and the amazing physical challenge to the 6 brave women involved, will inspire others to look at ways they can support the eradication of modern day slavery.

To this end, we're also pleased to announce that the Row For Freedom crew will be sporting Midomo Bracelets, each covering the cost of donating a Midomo to an African community; supporting a young woman and her family out of water poverty and into education and employment.

*For a fantastic and very-readable exploration of how these two causes interlink we recommend:
5 Ways A Lack Of Clean Water Leads To Modern Day Slavery

Monday, 8 August 2011

Social Entrepreneurs Needed!

If you're running a Social Enterprise and can spare 30mins to contribute to Chloe's, LSE-based, postgraduate study - please see the call for interviewees below..

"Participation needed for an LSE-based postgraduate study exploring social enterprise and the varying tactics and connections utilised to carry out development practice. If you are directing, helped found or are setting up an enterprise and are interested in being involved for a short (in person or via skype) interview please get in touch. A copy of the final transcript is offered to participants which can hopefully provide a useful resource;   bringing together development, social interest and the rise of social entrepreneurialism, and a point for comparison with other enterprises"

CONTACT: Chloe Last, MSc Urbanisation and Development, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Elevator Magazine Feature

Red Button Design features in a double-page article in this quarter’s Elevator - Private Equity and Philanthropy magazine.

The piece describes Midomo as ‘an extraordinarily effective solution ..that could very quickly change the lives of millions of people,’

and the Midomo Bracelet initiative as the ‘kind of inspired thinking that makes the difference in getting a project and a product noticed.’

It’s always good to hear such praise about ventures you’ve been working relentlessly on, and when that praise is distributed throughout the UK, USA and Switzerland, and to a global digital readership, it’s especially rewarding.
The full issue is available to purchase online, or you could try and pinch one from a 1st class airport lounge or office waiting room…

Update: You can now read the article in PDF form here

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Introducing a new stockist for the Midomo Bracelet: Ethique.

After seeing the recent photographs of the Midomo launch in Mwingi, more and more of you have been inquiring as to how you might personally sponsor a Midomo into a community. Fortunately, this surge of interest coincides with us teaming up with an independent, but similarly principled, stockist for the Midomo Bracelet… Ethique.

We met Pimmi, Ethique’s founder, at last year’s Ethical Just Got Fabulous event. Back then we were excitedly showcasing the newly launched Midomo Bracelet; designed by Alex Monroe, made from sterling silver, and the cost of each one funding the donation of one Midomo, which could then be tracked online. Pimmi was there to scout talent for the boutique addition to her online ethical concierge service. Whilst chatting, we quickly discovered that the core values underlying both our separate projects were startlingly similar – ‘ethical’ and ‘luxury’ should not be mutually exclusive. It was Pimmi’s aim to help consumers discover what these terms mean to them, and gently introduce them to products that fulfil both criteria. A short while later, we’re pleased to report that the Ethique boutique has successfully launched and the Midomo Bracelet is one of their few, discerningly selected jewellery products on display.

So if you would like to help Red Button address the global water crisis, in a very stylish way, please check out this latest avenue of doing so. There’s plenty of other ethical eye-candy to browse over whilst you’re there too...

Friday, 8 July 2011

Successful launch in Mwingi!

Following on from my last blog post I am very pleased to report that we had a successful launch in Mwingi!

The Midomo units arrived in Mombasa complete apart from steel work and wheels, (though with unexpectedly *bright pink* tap attachments!) We began the local fabrication process in our warehouse in Nairobi moving work into the local community at Mwingi as soon as we'd gauged their capacity. In the end there was very little that James and I needed to co-ordinate centrally. The significant hours of design work we'd devoted to engineering a product suitable for local manufacture / maintenance seemed to pay off; next steps will involve securing a secondary, African, factory site for the tricky process used to mould Midomo's robust plastic tanks... but more on that later.

For now, I don't want to say much more - pictures, 1,000 words, all that - so I will leave you with some of the stills we captured from the day the units arrived, and will shortly be uploading some of the video footage and interviews with members of the community at Kavoko and with Farm Africa, our NGO host.

In the mean time, we'd welcome your thoughts and feedback either via the comment function below or, if you're that way inclined, on our facebook group itself :)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Midomo units to reach Mwingi, Kenya - this week!

I write this cautiously, from a pleasingly well tech-ed up Methodist education centre just outside of Nairobi.

Cautiously, not just because of the number of keywords this network will flag as inappropriate (I’ll be watching my language for once!), but because after three years of development and, more recently, what amounts to months of frustrating delays* we’re about to introduce the first batch of Midomo to a community in Mwingi.

If you were one of our Midomo Bracelet customers prior to the end of March, then it’s your units the community will be receiving this week! Read on with pride! If you’ve yet to discover our collaboration with jewellery designer Alex Monroe .. we’re really proud of it; check it out.

Mwingi is an Eastern province of Kenya about 3 hours drive North East of Nairobi with a population of 304k, 79% of which do not have access to safe drinking water.

The main source of drinking water (accounting for about 69% of users) is surface water and you’ll easily see from this photo we took last week why it isn’t considered to be safe. In addition, with 66% of the households reporting that they did not treat their water before consuming it, irrespective of the warning signs, it isn’t surprising that at any given time around 1 in 8 of the population is suffering from a water related illness.

Midomo is ideal for this community; not just because it’ll take the water from the dam and make it safe to drink but because, like many similar communities, water is collected from many kilometers away from the home. In Mwingi a majority of households (65%) take more than an hour fetching water, with the average time estimated as 1 hour 44 minutes.

You can imagine carrying 20 or 30 litres of water this far in the African heat and humidity is hard work, and we saw in Mwingi many of the innovative ways the women used to make this task easier - including using wheelbarrows to carry the full jerry cans! With existing habits like that we already know that Midomo will fit in well here, so we’re thrilled that Farm Africa got in touch and have been so supportive and informative in our visits. Part of Red Button Design’s ‘Design Against Dependency’ philosophy is not to introduce anything unnecessary into the community, be that materials, products or skills, and Farm Africa have been invaluable making sure that everyone possible, from our translators to steel fabricators, were members of the local community.

I’d say we’re excited, and to a degree we are of course, but as many of you will appreciate this has been a long time coming(!!) and with every new setback, be it an hour, a day, or a week, the tension mounts.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, we’re taking with us a film crew for some BBC 2 business show we just can’t keep away from ;)

So I’ll leave you on a cliffhanger..
Pending any more delays, they should be on site by next week! Stay tuned!

*(everything from the Mombasa Port Authority’s computer system ‘going down’ for 10 days, to stocked trucks getting locked in warehouses over the weekend!)

**source: KNBS / Unicef

*** more pictures!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy 2011 one and all!

Apparently January is meant to be about austerity, gloom and greyness, yet over here at RBD we’re all pretty cheerful. The reason for this out-of-season elation (aside from the bottomless Haribo stash) is that the Midomo Bracelet Christmas campaign was successful enough that we’ll be sending our first full crate of Midomos to Africa very shortly! This means that over 250 people who were previously without, will now have access to safe drinking water in 2011.

To anybody who received a Midomo Bracelet this Christmas, we hope you’re loving wearing it and are looking forward to the first tracking email regarding your sponsored Midomo. To those who were not so lucky as to receive the ‘ultimate Christmas gift’ we have some more good news…

Thanks to the good will of Alex Monroe, and the support of so many individuals, we’ll be extending the initiative until Valentines Day! Hopefully with a bit of luck, this means that a second full crate of Midomos will be being sent out to where they are needed, within another month.

Valentines Day has a bit of a bad rep as a Hallmark holiday, but we think any excuse to send a beautiful love-token can’t be that bad. When that token is a designer charm bracelet that funds clean water for a family in Africa, there’s really no reason to dislike Valentines Day at all (even if your Valentine is your gran)

So here’s to a productive January and a Lovely Feb,

Onwards and upwards
Sophie x