March 21, 2013
Breakfast consisted of our new usual: a Poptart and malria meds. We missed the bakery in Auroville, but not the beds and showers. I launched right into editing, and Mouhsine and Minh had a lot of work to do, so the four of us chilled in the room swapping internet time as each of us needed it.
We had a noontime stove demonstration to film with Mouhsine, so Matt and I headed for an early lunch at the restaurant that we had our St. Patrick’s Day celebration in on the first night. I had some noodles and veggies, and Matt decided to try out a Cambodian pancake. Imagine a giant, very thin omelet stuff with chopped ramen noodles, ground beef and onions with a sweet spring roll-type sauce. It was actually pretty amazing, but didn’t fill the syrupy-American-pancake-sized hole in Matt’s stomach.
Matt dropped me off at the hotel to edit and met Mouhsine down in the lobby to head for a local restaurant where the stove conference had set up a competition between the companies that were attending. It was set up so that they would all bring their stoves, and the cooks at the restaurant would see them all in action and fill out surveys on them and write down how much they would pay for each of them. It sounded like the perfect thing to fill out our story for the clean cooking stove forum in Phnom Penh. Not much had really happened yet, so some friendly competition seemed like a good thing.
Next thing I knew, Matt and Mouhsine were walking back into the hotel room. It hadn’t been twenty minutes. I told them that I thought that was a pretty quick stove demonstration and was told that it wasn’t something Prakti was interested in participating in. It would be one thing if it were just the local people judging the Prakti stove, but Mouhsine felt like he would be handing over two years worth of research and development to competing stove companies, and felt like that wasn’t worth the information they would gather from the locals. Apparently, there was quite the confrontation in a tuk-tuk which ended civilly, but with Mouhsine and Matt on the return journey back to the hotel.
It raised questions for Matt and I about the idea of social business. Social business is a relatively new term that describes a company that is set-up as for profit, but provides a product or service to tackled a social issue. The values of the company are set in such a way that it makes decisions based off of both profit and the social impact – sometimes decisions that are in direct conflict with one another. Also, as a for-profit business, there are other companies that are working toward solving the same social issue, but depending on how and where those companies are operating, you wouldn’t want to help them out with any developments you’ve made that could hurt your own profits.
So, with the clean cooking stove forum, they’ve brought together all these for-profit companies to work toward better solutions, then run into conflicts between them because companies are recruiting passionate workers from other companies and also wanting to hide their trade secrets, but collect more information that others have figured out with distribution and things of the like. It seems like a nice idea to hold a forum like this, but from my point of view (which holds little weight as an out-of-industry observer) this might not be the best possible way to do it. Or maybe the for-profit side is what would need to change.
Unreasonable holds the belief that only for-profit business is the solution to the world’s problems. If people don’t make changing the world their day job, it’ll always be second priority. Hanging out with Unreasonable for so long and getting so deep into their program, I can’t help but agree, but after seeing the stove forum conflicts, I’m thinking it can’t be as hunky dorey as its made out to be. It’s great to work together until you start giving away profits. The business world is a complicatedly simple place.
Minh, Mouhsine, Matt and I continued our work day in the hotel until the conference-wide stove demos happened at 4pm. This was set up so that people could show off their technologies to one another at the conference. No locals were involved. Prakti decided to participate, but not light up their stoves.
Matt headed out to film and found all kinds of characters: characters in the variety of stove technologies, but also the people who created them. Lots of geeking out which made for cute video. A couple stoves were malfunctioning, so we got some hilarious smoke shots, and one stove, which used the heat energy to light an LED bulb, was destroyed on camera by the demonstrator. “Aw jeeze,” the demonstrator said quietly, “I’ve destroyed it. Yep, it’s destroyed.” He held it out on camera and it was a little melted. Oh, stoves.
Matt and I had found ourselves affected by the street food we’d been enjoying, so we decided to play it safe for dinner and walk down to the pizza place near where we found out tool kit a few days earlier. It was a welcome walk after a long day of sitting and editing for me.
We ordered up the super bacon delight pizza, the seafood cocktail pizza and some onion rings for a healthy change. Our entertainment while we ate was watching the locals at the salad bar. There were little soup bowls provided at a salad buffet, and the locals would stand up iceberg lettuce around the edges, then begin loading the middle with veggies and noodles, then stick long carrots on the outside to support the lettuce. They would build up the salad until it was three times taller than the bowl that it was in, then carefully walk to their tables where they would serve a five-persona family with the salad. We thought maybe you pay $4.50 and only get one run through the salad bar, and that’s why they had to make such epic salads. Or, there’s some local competition and it’s all about showing off. Either way, it’s impressive.
With very full, greasy tummies we walked back to the hotel to keep on editing. Matt and Mouhsine stayed up until about 2am working away, and I faded out to wake up early and finish the edit in the morning.