Next, we have Mansour Ourasanah, an industrial designer from Togo. Through products such as Lepsis, a kitchen appliance for harvesting edible insects, Mansour challenges the way we approach problems such as food-scarcity and sustainability.
In a practical sense, Mansour Ourasanah has always been an artist and designer. Drawing came to him naturally, and was a mechanism for coping with the "agony of poverty and the absence of my parents," who left him at two in Togo, West Africa, "in search of a better life in the United States." As a boy, he was already solving problems through design. He made "soccer balls out of discarded plastic bags and toy cars out of discarded aluminum cans." He had more trouble mastering the discipline of study, and this he was taught by the strict aunt who raised him: "How will you explain your art to the world if you can't talk or write?"
At sixteen, Mr. Ourasanah was reunited with his parents, in New York City, carrying off the plane with him at JFK dreams of becoming a cartoonist. But speaking only French and believing he owed it to his parents to be "more than just an artist," he turned to math. He conquered that subject, as well as English, graduated fifth in his class, and won the prestigious New York Times Scholarship. He enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, in engineering, but couldn't silence the siren call of art. In his sophomore year, "by accident," he discovered design. "I knew I was born to be a designer," he says. Yet he struggled, unable to "grasp the concept of American aesthetics and the verbiage to convey the complex ideas in my mind." He credits his senior-year instructor, Ann Marie Conrado, for his breakthrough, which led to the 2007 IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) Midwest District Merit Award and, in 2008, an IDEA (Industrial Design Excellence Award). A job offer followed, from Bresslergroup, a Philadelphia design consultancy, where for two years he developed brand-name household and medical products.
In 2009, he went back to school, at the renowned Umea Institute of Design, in Sweden, where he earned his master's in Advanced Product Design. His thesis, "LEPSIS: The Art of Growing Grasshoppers," an innovative kitchen appliance optimized for neatly breeding grasshoppers and turning them into food, was the expression of his "immersion in the reality he sought to change" and of his desire to design products to "solve problems unconventionally and beautifully," even those as daunting as global warming and world hunger—the latter for him particularly resonant. As a young child, Mr. Ourasanah was one of the two billion people around the globe who consume insects to supplement their protein-deficient diets. Born in Tchamba, a tiny village in Togo—"the type of place civilization seems to avoid"—he remembers "scavenging for grasshoppers and crickets on days when we didn't have enough to eat." LEPSIS was a runner-up for the coveted INDEX: Design to Improve Life Award.
Currently a senior designer at Whirlpool's Advanced Studio in Chicago, Mr. Ourasanah's work has been featured on CNN and in such publications as Fast Company, Wired, Gizomodo, Engadget, Popular Science, and The Guardian. His future goal is "to own a studio in New York where I can design products that improve our human experiences and challenge our sustainability paradigm." He also hopes "to inspire poor kids around the world to change their reality and make a difference through artistic endeavors."