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AU speaker Alan Spybey—helping others help themselves

autodesk university
October 13, 2016

If you’ve ever been to AU, you know that, along with Autodesk, Inc. and the Autodesk Foundation, we support entrepreneurs and innovators who are using the power of design to overcome social and environmental challenges around the world. Alan Spybey of the nonprofit KickStart International is a shining example of just this kind of person, doing the best kind of work. (He also happens to be speaking at AU Las Vegas this year.)

As the Director of Product Intelligence and Development for KickStart, Spybey and his team are helping small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa raise themselves out of poverty. Most of these farmers, who make up 80% of the area’s poor, are only able to plant crops during the rainy season. KickStart uses Autodesk products to design and engineer high-quality, affordable, manual irrigation pumps, which let farmers plant and grow during the dry season too. By going to market when demand is greater, they can get a higher price for their crops. On average, farming families increase their household income by 400% when they’re able to irrigate. Making a profit means they can grow their business by investing in more equipment, more land, or even better education for their children.

A long-time development professional, Spybey came to design and engineering relatively late in his career. His first project in Kenya was in the 1980s, when he started a jewelry workshop for intellectually challenged adults. The workers were assigned appropriate tasks for their varying levels of cognitive ability, and Spybey oversaw the design, manufacture, and export of the jewelry they created. It enabled adults, who were otherwise a financial burden on their family, to become significant breadwinners, earning above-average wages in an economy with high unemployment.

In the 1990s, Spybey joined KickStart, consulting with small tailoring, woodwork, and metalwork businesses to help them improve manufacturing processes and marketing efforts. Eventually he took a degree in mechanical engineering as well as an MBA, and stepped up to run the Design Department. The MBA was important, Spybey says, “because you have to look at the integration of technology and business. Otherwise, you can get too focused on the technology and produce something there’s no market for.”

KickStart has already helped over a million people escape poverty with their 2 existing pump designs. They are currently working on a new model which will cost even less, bringing the ability to make rain within reach for millions more who need it most. It’s truly noble work and we’re proud to support it.

You can support Spybey’s work in Africa by choosing to opt out of your free AU backpack when you register for AU, and instead make a $25 donation to KickStart or to Water for People, the other nonprofit we’re supporting this year. It’s an easy way to make an impact. Plus, the Autodesk Foundation will match your gift, making it even more meaningful.

To learn more about KickStart’s incredible work, be sure to sign up for Spybey’s class at AU 2016:

PD21929: Using Autodesk Software to Create Opportunities for Africa’s Poorest Farmers


The MoneyMaker Max treadle pump. Image via KickStart International.

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