Velovations in Kenya: Co-Development to Sustainable Local Production

Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), 2010 - $47,500

Velovations is a group of roughly thirty Michigan Tech undergraduates, graduates, researchers, and faculty performing testing, research, and development for the bicycle industry. In cooperation with Michigan Tech’s Mechanical Engineering Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program, and led by returned Peace Corps volunteers who have worked in Africa, Velovations has identified a set of bicycle product opportunities particular to East Africa. Over the next three years, Velovations will work with Cycling out of Poverty, the African Bicycle Network and others (including a designer who worked on bikes for the Tour de France and Beijing Olympics) to develop products that meet East African needs and provide opportunities for local production.

Per their market research, the students will specifically look into modifying, accessorizing, or servicing the ubiquitous Tata bike, a brand of bicycle that is omnipresent in Africa. Key issues they identified were large load carrying, a lack of female riders, men being uncomfortable using women’s bikes (conversion kits), and flat tires (the solution is an affordable solid tire).

NCIIA funding will allow for increased product development capabilities, enable travel to East Africa to solidify relationships and find new development and production partners.


  • The team has incorporated as Baisikeli Ugunduzi and moved to sub-Saharan Africa to work on the company directly (May 2012)
  • The team has a new video and a fundraising campaign (October 2012)

Continuation and Sustainability in 2011/2012: The Water, Sanitation, and Health and Hygiene Program (WASH) in Kibera, Kenya

University of Denver, 2010 - $50,000

The lack of hygienic sanitation facilities in slums is a primary cause of 1.5 million child deaths each year. Improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrheal deaths in young children by more than a third. The Kibera Working Group (KWG), a collaboration of University of Denver faculty and graduate students, Nairobi-based water and sanitation company Ecotact, and the Rotary Clubs of Denver Southeast and Langata-Nairobi is working toward the goal of improved sanitation facilities in the Kibera slum of Nairobi.

KWG’s three main objectives are: 1) assist residents of Kibera in improving health conditions by improving the technological innovations and associated processes in the water and sanitation systems; 2) ascertain best practices in facility development and operations in order to create sustainable facilities; and 3) evaluate and refine its model. KWG is nearly finished developing its proposed model; next the model framework will be tested on existing facilities and a full-time project manager in Kenya will be enrolled to oversee the implementation and operation.

Sanergy - Sustainable Sanitation in Urban Slums

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010 - $49,900

Nearly three billion people worldwide lack access to adequate sanitation, and in slums, where over one billion live, high population densities combined with a lack of infrastructure and resources makes the problem particularly acute.

Over the past year, the Sustainable Sanitation in Urban Slums team at MIT, now Sanergy, designed, constructed and implemented a pilot modular low-cost sanitation facility customized for the residents of two slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Two low-cost technologies are the centerpiece: a (<$200) prefabricated ferrocement toilet (versus $25,000 solutions at present) and a bicycle-powered exhaustion pump for pit latrines. These technologies are combined with a holistic deployment strategy: a micro-franchised network of sanitation centers, low-cost waste collection infrastructure, and a centralized processing facility that converts waste into biogas, electricity, and fertilizer that is sold commercially.

The team is partnered with Carolina for Kibera, a US NGO set up specifically in the Kibera slum of Nairobi and Ikotoilet, an Acumen Fund grantee. The NCIIA grant will enable the team to improve the sanitation facility design, establish a fabrication workshop in Nairobi, train local workers, and expand the pilot to validate the program and product.

Updates: As of October 2012, the team continues to reach towards hygienic, accessible, affordable sanitation for everyone in Nairobi's urban slums. In the last month, they have: sold 103 Fresh Life Toilets and franchised to 50 entrepreneurs; created 122 jobs; removed 170 metric tons of waste from the community; and served 1,000,000 paying customers with hygienic sanitation.

Sustainable Manufacturing in Kenya: Collaborative Design of an Agricultural Utility System

Pennsylvania State University, 2006 - $47,900

With this grant, the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) service learning program at PSU will work to improve rural Kenyans’ economic well-being by addressing challenges of low agricultural productivity of Kenyan farmers due to their use of simple instruments and tools. HESE service learning program-enrolled PSU students will work with students from the University of Nairobi and Moi University to design a variety of agricultural devices (both manual and powered) to significantly improve productivity of the farmers.   It is expected that, as farmers' incomes increase through the use of the improved manual devices, they will be able to purchase an engine and appropriate attachments powered by the engine, thus increasing productivity even further. Examples of potential devices include water pumps, electric generators, posho mills, decorticators, tillers, and power tools.

Summer 2009 update: By June 2008 this team designed a water well utility rig and rock crusher. By October 2008 they had designed and constructed a utility cart and sisal decorticator.   In July 2009, after travel and consultation with local businesses and entrepreneurs, university partners and local communities, the team decided to focus all of its efforts on the development of a water well drilling rig and related business opportunities. During the Fall 2009 semester design teams at Moi University, Jomo Kenyatta University and Pennsylvania State University will design and test the drilling apparatus with business plan development to occur during Spring 2010.  Field testing will be undertaken in May 2010.

Design and Construction of a Hybrid Energy System in Kenya: The Precursor to a Manufacturing Capability

Pennsylvania State University, 2005 - $12,000

As part of the Engineers for a Sustainable World program at PSU, this course involved students in creating a hybrid solar/wind power system in Ngegu village in the Division of Rangwe, Kenya, with particular emphasis on water pumps to provide clean water. Currently, residents have to travel a few kilometers to retrieve water that is often polluted, or, worse, has dried up, leading to waterborne disease and high mortality rates. The team also designed a sisal decorticator--a machine that more efficiently harvests the fibers of the sisal plant. Currently these fibers are harvested using a painstakingly slow process that requires entire families to be engaged in harvesting throughout the day.

This project was worked on by four institutions at once: a PSU team of engineering students designed a windmill in conjunction with an engineering team at the University of Nairobi, who initiated the project; a team of business students enrolled in the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) developed a business model for generating funds to support the project; students from all three institutions formed an entrepreneurship team that continued to engage in fundraising and developed a business model; and the Kochia Development Group, an organization of Kenyan businessmen and women who actively seek projects to improve rural Kenya, provided mentoring and feedback to ensure the project is socially and economically feasible.

Grantee update: The right tools for the job

The Penn State Agricultural Utility System team, a Sustainable Vision grantee,  recently returned from another trip to Kenya where they are developing agricultural tools such as a water well drilling rig and a sisal decorticator.

Here's the drill in action.





Technology in Africa: Check these grantees' blogs

A couple of our Sustainable Vision grantees are active in Africa: read their blogs!

The Global Network to Support Sustainable Information and Communication Technologies Entrepreneurship project in Senegal. Read the blog.

The Mashavu project, a healthcare network based in Kenya. Read the blog.

Mashavu: Networked Health Solutions for the Developing World

Pennsylvania State University, 2008 - $46,850

Mashavu enables medical professionals around the world to connect with patients in the developing world using modern technology and communications infrastructure. The goal is to bring basic medical care to people in developing countries, using laptops, cell phones, innovative software and simple medical devices.


Trained operators at Mashavu stations in developing communities collect essential medical information including weight, body temperature, lung capacity, blood pressure, photographs, stethoscope rhythms, and basic hygiene and nutrition information for each patient on a regular basis. Web servers aggregate this information from various Mashavu stations over a cell-phone link and provide it on a web-based portal. Medical professionals can view the patient’s information and respond to the patient and the nearest doctor(s) with their recommendations. Validation efforts have shown that numerous entities are willing to purchase Mashavu stations. They can charge customers a small fee, thereby making Mashavu economically sustainable and creating an additional revenue stream.

Students and villagers working at a Mashavu station.

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