September 2012

Injerama: Social Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia (NutrAfrica)

Pennsylvania State University, 2011 - $51,200

Injera is a spongy sourdough flatbread made from the Ethiopian grain t’ef. It is a staple of Ethiopian meals, and it is usually cooked over an open fire, resulting in severe deforestation and poor respiratory health. This project is addressing environmental sustainability and the health of women and children by eliminating the need to use wood for fuel to cook injera. Instead, it will be mass-manufactured in a centralized food processing facility in Addis Ababa using not t’ef but lower cost grains like sorghum, millet, and cassava. The team believes it can reduce the cost of injera while improving nutritional quality. Previous survey evidence shows that because the cost of t’ef is high, many poor Ethiopians are already making and eating injera that is a mixture of more affordable grains. The team is partnered with the African Climate Exchange (ACE) and the Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara and supported in the US by mentors in agricultural products.

Scaling Medical Devices in African Markets

Stanford University, 2011 - $39,677

This team is developing Brilliance, a low-cost phototherapy device for newborns with jaundice in Sub-Saharan Africa. A cross-disciplinary team of Stanford and Northwestern masters level students and faculty are collaborating with the non-profit D-Rev to research the medical device markets in East and Southern Africa, seeking to understand medical device distribution channels for Brilliance and other future products, as well as how sales, marketing, and maintenance might be implemented. They are also seeking to understand how unreliable access to and flow of electricity in East Africa impact the design of the current Brilliance device.

Interlocking Compressed Earth Block Buildings: Low-Cost Earthquake Resistant Construction Using Indigenous Materials (Earth2Block)

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 2011 - $46,983

The need for low-cost, seismically resistant housing in Southeast Asia is compelling for two reasons: the region’s seismic activity and its large, dense populations of low-income purchasers. In order to meet the need for earthquake resistant, inexpensive housing, this team is partnering with a Thai NGO to promote interlocking compressed earth block (ICEB) construction in the area. ICEBs are made by compressing soil with the right combination of fines (silt and clay) and sand with a small amount of water and cement so that they are stable enough to be handled right after pressing and do not erode when they come into contact with water. ICEBs are environmentally friendly and can be made locally by lower-skilled laborers with minimal training.

Specifically, the team is developing manuals for seismically resistant ICEB construction and traveling to Thailand and Indonesia to build a culturally appropriate prototype ICEB structure and ensure its safety. The team’s partner NGO, which has a business model that combines a revolving fund with income from training courses and sales of equipment, is adding this to their product line and taking on responsibility for scaling and implementation in the region.

Affordable Greenhouses: Means for Improved Livelihoods & Food Security (Mavuuno Greenhouses)

Pennsylvania State University, 2011 - $38,950

Food security issues are escalating in East Africa, where over 60% of the population is malnourished. There is broad agreement on the need to help small-scale farmers boost their agricultural productivity, reduce spoilage and provide links to markets. Greenhouses can help farmers increase yields, but the greenhouses currently sold in East Africa, designed for large commercial farms, are too expensive for small-scale farmers and generally do not meet their needs. 

Over the last three years, this team has collaborated with Kenyan and Tanzanian partners in the field to design, prototype, and field-test affordable greenhouses designed for small farmers. The greenhouses cost $200 and can be assembled by two people in two days. Proprietary and technical innovations include modular design, a fastener system, the construction process itself, and the choice of materials used in lieu of glass.

Transforming Arsenic Crisis Into A Technology-Based Economic Enterprise in South Asia

Lehigh University, 2011 - $41,431

Over 200 million people in South and Southeast Asia are routinely exposed to arsenic poisoning by drinking naturally contaminated groundwater. For over ten years, Lehigh University has led an international team in developing, installing and monitoring community-based arsenic removal systems in several Southeast Asian countries. Participating families pay a fee for arsenic-safe water, obtained by using a polymer-based arsenic-selective adsorbent currently manufactured in the US. However, high cost, import duties and uncertainty in shipping due to bureaucratic formalities and customs delays have surfaced as primary obstacles for further growth of the enterprise.

This team has developed an equally efficient, reusable, arsenic-selective adsorbent that will cost 50% less than the current product and will be able to be made in India as opposed to the US, thus eliminating the importing issues. An Indian company, Enhanced Water and Air Pollution Prevention Ltd., has agreed to invest in large-scale synthesis of the material with the goal of providing safe drinking water to high-rise buildings in semi-urban areas, a growing market in the developing world. The idea is that increased revenue from this new low cost middle class market will reduce the risk and enable the serving of more poor people.

Update: The team won a Tech Awards honor (fall 2012), which recognizes innovators and entrepreneurs who make a difference around the world in education, medicine, struggling economies, and social services.

The RAAS Waste and Recycling Program

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011 - $28,272

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Located on the Atlantic Coast of the country, the Southern Autonomous Region (RAAS) of Nicaragua is plagued with the most severe poverty in the country and has very little infrastructure, including systems for the removal and treatment of solid waste. Garbage is commonly dumped in informal dumpsites, creeks, and rivers, or burned in yards behind homes, producing greenhouse gases and emitting environmental toxins that are a threat to public health. Previous attempts to initiate recycling programs in this region have been hampered by the high cost of transporting trash from remote RAAS municipalities to recycling brokers in Managua, located on the other side of the country.

This team is partnering with wastepickers, scrap metal collectors, and a local composting cooperative to develop economically feasible waste sector enterprises that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create income for some of the region's most marginalized families. The team has a two-phased, three-year plan. Phase I focuses on the largest town in the region, Bluefield, where the team will work with locals to develop a logistics plan and build a recycling enterprise, a composting cooperative, and a small scale biodigester that uses organic waste to create biogas. Phase II extends the project to two other towns in the region, El Rama and the Corn Islands. Technical innovation includes the incorporation of slaughterhouse waste with the biodigester (not a typical input for biodigesters in Central America) and plans to design tools (crushing, mixing) to accommodate that waste.

Promoting Entrepreneurial Development and Sustainable Agribusinesses in Rural Western Kenya

University of Hartford, 2011 - $37,061

In Kenya, maize crops, the main food staple, are failing due to disease, climate change, and droughts. Amaranth, a drought- and disease-resistant grain with high nutrient and immunity properties, was introduced to Kenya in 2005 and has shown higher marginal returns compared to other commodities, including maize. This initiative builds on a partnership between US universities and Kenyan institutions to develop market-driven, affordable technology innovations that take advantage of amaranth grain as a cash crop in Western Kenya. The team has already performed fieldwork there, working with farming cooperatives to produce and market amaranth. With this grant, the team is working with farming groups to increase the quantity and quality of the grain, develop the infrastructure and local capacity for large-scale manufacturing of a mechanical seed planter and human-powered thresher, and implement a business strategy with farming cooperatives.


Northeastern University, 2011 - $50,000

Food waste and spoilage is a problem in developing countries, which often lack the infrastructure to preserve food. For example, in Cameroon, despite the fact that the majority of the population farms, many people end up buying long-lasting products like canned tomatoes, bottled spices, chocolate, and coffee at exorbitant prices.

JolaVenture is developing the Solar Food Dryer (SFD) as an effective, low-cost solution to food spoilage in developing countries. Using solar energy to dehydrate fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and meats, the SFD extends the shelf lives of perishable food items, giving users a simple and cost-effective means of food preservation. The team's goal is to create SFD packaging and distribution centers within country farmer's group partners where produce would be bought, dried, packaged, and sold to local markets.

Designing and Constructing a Low-Cost Incubator/Warmer/Cooler/Transporter for Neonates

University of Maryland, 2011 - $49,100

Infant mortality in poor areas of the world remains high, with premature birth and asphyxia two of the leading causes. The well-regulated thermal environment provided by an incubator in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can be crucial for a newborn’s survival, but social, cultural and economic pressures often result in mothers of premature infants in developing countries being forced to leave hospitals as soon as possible in order to resume their traditional family duties.

This team is circumventing the problem by providing a low-cost home incubator kit for in-home care of high-risk infants. The team’s device is a combination transporter (for the move between hospital and home), cooler, heater and incubator. It consists of a heat pipe-coupled evaporative cooler (water-filled clay pot) connected to a pod-like bubble for housing the infant. The heat pipes will allow both heating and cooling. A digital temperature readout is on the front, and a battery and solar panel are provided for off-grid functionality. The team is partnered with General Electric’s (GE) Maternal Infant Care division and a charitable hospital in Southern India. Their one-year goal is to design and test the device; once tested, GE will take over marketing and manufacturing.

Low-Cost Prosthetic Solutions For Above-The-Elbow Amputees Living in Poverty

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011 - $32,700

While approximately 80% of the world’s amputees live in developing nations, only 2% of the people in that segment have access to appropriate prosthetic care and rehabilitation. There are two primary reasons for this: the custom-fit sockets typically provided to amputees are very expensive, costing up to $5,000, and they are not geared toward the agricultural- and labor-oriented contexts of the developing world. Additionally, due to the fact that 90% of the world’s amputees are missing a lower extremity instead of an upper extremity, the majority of prosthetics research has been applied to leg development and not toward arms, thus leaving a gap in upper-extremity devices.

This grant involves three entities in producing an inexpensive prosthetic arm for above-the-elbow amputees in India. The three entities are: 1) a year-long, interdisciplinary, project-based course at UIUC, including international immersion with a team devoted to this topic; 2) Illini Prosthetic Technologies (IPT), a non-profit organization founded by University of Illinois engineering students; and 3) Marketplace Literacy Communities, a non-profit organization in South India. IPT, which grew out of a design course at UIUC, has been working for over three years to develop an affordable and appropriate below-the-elbow prosthetic arm for amputees in Guatemala. This new device will build on this technology, called OpenSocket™, and take IPT in a new direction by exploring above-the-elbow prosthetic arms in a new geographical setting.