USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

13 Year Old Innovator Invents Device to Save People in Rural Africa

I know it is not every day that a 13-year-old American boy invents a device to save people in rural Africa.  I often am asked how it happened.

Chase tests out the device. Photo Credit: Rescue Travois

My mom sat my family down at the kitchen table one day and started reading aloud from a news article about the terrible toll of the 2011 Somali famine.

During the famine, hundreds of children who were too weak to walk were left by the roadside to die when their parents could no longer carry them on the long trek to a refugee center.  Parents were forced to decide which children lived, and which were left behind.

When I heard this, I thought no one should have to make such a choice, so I set to work trying to find a solution.  The harder I looked, the more I realized that there was not one yet in use. This was due to the fact that rural Africa has a severe dearth of simple wheeled transportation.

What a few rural Africans do have is a bike or wheelbarrow, neither of which is meant to carry people.

I realized that if I wanted to help in situations like the famine, I would need to come up with a device that would be: (1) simple for the refugees to use; (2) inexpensive so it could be produced in bulk; (3) hands-free so parents could carry children in their arms as well as in the device; (4) collapsible so it could be air-dropped onto the most-used refugee roads; and (5) easily assembled using just visual instructions.

I based my invention on the “travois,” a device created by the Native American Plains Indians to carry their belongings as they moved to follow the buffalo herds.  The travois is basically two poles from a teepee crossed at a main vertex and dragged behind a horse.

I spent seven months prototyping a more modern version that is collapsible, has wheels, and is hands-free.

USAID Innovation Officer meets young innovator Chase Lewis. Photo Credit: USAID

During that time, I was contacted by Meg Wirth, CEO of Maternova (and co-author of the UN’s MDG report on child and maternal health), who told me that the Rescue Travois has more applications than just in refugee situations.  She said it could be used to transport those in need of medical attention, especially women in delivery distress, from small villages to larger ones with doctors (a task often carried out with a wheelbarrow or an old door as a makeshift stretcher).  The Rescue Travois could make the trip both faster and more comfortable.

A friend of mine is a refugee from Chad and knows from hard personal experiences how much the Rescue Travois is needed for medical as well refugee purposes.  He helped me share this reality in a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sirA64d6OVo) as well as in our meeting last week with USAID CIO Dr. Maura O’Neill.

The travois also could be used in subsistence farming or in water carrying.  If the travois were made out of bamboo with simple lashings for the vertices, it would be inexpensive and easy for village carpenters to produce.  The travois would proliferate, potentially revolutionizing simple wheeled transportation in rural Africa.

A team of companies (including a wheel manufacturer), organizations, and individuals are coming together to make the Rescue Travois a reality.  Learn more at: http://rescuetravois.wordpress.com/.

Clean Hands Inc. – 5 Questions with Bear Valley Ventures

Bear Valley Ventures, a grantee of USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program, is investigating how to radically improve hand hygiene habits in India, through product innovation. Bear Valley and partners created Clean Hands Inc (CHI) to develop new products for the urban poor that can be used by households with substandard or no sanitation and constrained access to water. With support from DIV, they have launched their pilot. 

Where did the inspiration for your approach come from?

The evidence that improved hand hygiene can have a positive impact on health is clear and there’s increasing interest globally in promoting handwashing with soap. But in the settings we are interested in – urban slums – there are many practical reasons why soap may not always be the best solution. Reasons like water being a valued resource people don’t want to waste and soaps lack of portability when people go to the toilet outside the home.

Youth in India. Photo Credit: Walter Gibson

What makes your approach different?

Like many with an eye on public health around the globe we want to improve hand hygiene at scale in a way that’s sustainable. However, our approach is different in three ways. First, our products are exclusively designed to get hands germ free post-defecation. Not because other moments like before food don’t matter but because we think defecation is a missed opportunity – what soap manufacturer wants their brand associated first and foremost with defecation! Products for post-defecation need a different functionality and positioning, and we think it’s  easier to target than eating in low-income settings as it can be made more routine. Second, we aim to get to scale through a social business model, which no one else is trying to do in this area. And third, not only are our product formats novel but we have a product ingredient that sets us apart, Byotrol®.

What are the first steps you you’ve taken to get your pilot of the ground so far?

As the funding kicked in, our first step was to fly straight to India to meet with research design agency Quicksand, our partner. Together we checked out one of our products – a foam that doesn’t need rinsing – with households in slums in Bangalore; met experts with whom we’ll work over the coming year on issues like distribution, positioning, and packaging; and re-worked our plan for the year. In parallel we’re working with Byotrol Consumer Products Ltd, our technology partner, on product formulations, which will incorporate their unique anti-microbial technology Byotrol®.

What have your biggest challenges been so far? What will be your biggest challenges in the future?

There are so many challenges it’s hard to know where to start! On the hygiene side we’re trying to innovate practices people do habitually and unconsciously. They are not driven by a belief that if I don’t clean my hands properly someone could get sick or die. So we’re not tapping into a desire that exists and will have to create one. On the product side affordability and distribution are huge challenges. And as a team we have to make sure that we use everything that happens over the coming year – including the set backs, to learn and move forward to achieve our vision of improving health through hand hygiene where it matters most.

 

 

 

 

USAID Brings New Communications Options to Remote Communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

In late April, residents across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were pleasantly surprised to receive phone calls from friends and relatives living in the remote northeastern corner of the country. For the first time, the people of Niangara, in the heavily-forested Haut Uélé District of Orientale Province, have access to a cellular communications network in their isolated community. This breakthrough in communications potential is part of a public-private partnership between USAID and Vodacom Congo to pilot four low-cost and light-weight “AltoPod” base transmission stations that will provide cellular coverage in remote, conflict-affected areas of Haut Uélé and Bas Uélé Districts.

Satellite communications equipment at Niangara cellular tower site. Photo credit: Vodacom Congo

The first Vodacom pilot tower, in Niangara, went live on April 21, 2013, and will be followed in the coming days and weeks by the activation of additional towers in Bangadi, Doruma, and Ango. Each of the four towers, all partially funded by USAID, will provide a minimum of 315 square kilometers of cell phone connectivity to 1,200 mobile phone users. This project represents one of the most technologically advanced communications initiatives attempted in the DRC. While the new base transmission station technology, pioneered by the Ireland-based Altobridge company, has proven effective and profitable for mobile network operators in a handful of areas around the world with similar profiles – low population density and poor infrastructure – it is only now being tested by a mobile network operator in the DRC. Should the pilot project prove economically viable for the company, it is envisioned that Vodacom Congo or other DRC mobile network operators will branch into additional remote regions of the country currently still lacking cellular coverage.

In launching this pilot project, USAID is seeking to increase communications options in isolated corners of the DRC that have been subject to armed attacks. This expansion of cellular coverage opens the door to potential advances in a variety of different domains, including civilian protection, humanitarian response, public service delivery, and economic activity. It is up to the individual community members in each of the target sites to decide how to best make use of this new cellular connectivity to improve their daily lives. From mobile banking applications to the exchange of health-related information to increased citizen communication with government, security, and humanitarian actors – a host of new possibilities are now available for communities to consider.

Video of the Week: Clean Kumasi: Digital Tools to Transform Urban Waste Management

In the fall of 2012, IDEO.org partnered with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor to tackle the issue of open defecation. IDEO.org and WSUP were the recipients of a Development Innovation Ventures  Stage One grant to test a hypothesis that the application of digital tools could effectively change behavior related to the management of human waste.

Building off the lessons learned from rural community-led total sanitation efforts, the team worked to adapt that methodology to an urban context.

The team designed a system that allowed community members to report instances of open defecation by calling them in, in response to signs posted around the neighborhood. This information fed into a database of contacts managed by a community organizer who then called the participants to gather for meetings and clean-ups.

This video shows the IDEO.org and WSUP teams in action – from organizing hackathons in San Francisco to conducting field work in Kumasi, Ghana, live prototyping of the mobile platform and technology, and ultimately to the community gatherings and clean-ups.

IDEO.org’s project is supported by the DIV and Gates Foundation WASH for Life Partnership. Read more about the partnership’s new grantees.

Folow @DIVatUSAID  on Twitter and join the conversation with #DIVWash.

The Road to a ‘Data Ecosystem’ for Modern Abolitionists

In March, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners announced the winners of its Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Campus Challenge Tech Contest– a global call to college students to develop creative technology solutions to help prevent human trafficking. USAID invited some of the contest winners and participants to Washington, D.C., this April to participate in the White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking and discuss their winning concepts with USAID staff and partner organizations – this is a blog about one of the student’s trip to Washington.

I consider it a tremendous privilege to contribute to the fight against modern day slavery. I remember a student conference in 2003, listening to the speaker’s impassioned plea to intervene on the behalf of those in chains, and yet, despite many attempts to get connected to the work of fighting human trafficking, it took the better part of the last decade for me to plug into the field.  Remembering this time of frustrated passion, I am so encouraged seeing initiatives like USAID’s Challenge Slavery invite people into the movement and engage new generations of abolitionists. There is a new spirit in the anti-trafficking movement – perhaps, the simple realization that we can now call it a “movement” captures this sense.

Traffickers have a market worth billions of dollars, and traffickers find it far too easy to collaborate online. We, on the other hand, have to work hard in order to collaborate – for example, the competition for grants in the non-profit world often dissuades organizations from working together. This creates an “anti-market” where information is scarce and people have a hard time finding places where they can help. But this is changing, as evidenced by the thousands of student groups raising awareness about human trafficking on campus and off and the success of consumer apps that target a consumer’s “slavery footprint“. Rather than spending their time trying to find some way to help, this next generation is able to spend their time actually helping.  I believe that technology can help us take this trend to the next level, by creating a “synthetic market” where information flows readily and people can easily get to the right places to plug in.

Toward this end, I believe a “Data Ecosystem” can provide the technical backbone organizations and activists need in order to collaborate – a place where all their systems can talk to each other, basically a common language for the movement. An emergency shelter should be able to send a file to law enforcement if a friend of one of their clients is in danger. A volunteer should be able to link to a website, describe their skill sets, and plug into an organization within the anti-trafficking movement. A local partnership of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be able to link up their networks and analyze the local trafficking situation together.

Technology is really about relationships – it isn’t simply a program or a piece of hardware, but a means for people to interact with other people. The best way that the ecosystem works is by creating efficient collaboration spaces or “shared networks” for partnerships that already exist – like the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition– so that we can amplify and accelerate the good work and best ideas that are already happening. Then, we connect the networks, and from their conversation, we get a grassroots picture of what’s really going on and what we can all do to help. If we get all the really great tech people involved in the anti-trafficking movement in a room together, empowered by their leaders to build this shared space, I truly believe we can make all of this happen.

Virginia Tech Students Fight Human Trafficking, One App at a Time

In March, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners announced the winners of its Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Campus Challenge Tech Contest– a global call to college students to develop creative technology solutions to help prevent human trafficking. USAID invited some of the contest winners and participants to Washington, D.C., this April to participate in the White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking and discuss their winning concepts with USAID staff and partner organizations. This is a blog about their trip to Washington. 

Popular culture has pegged Washington, D.C., as the home of the bureaucrat, a city where red tape rules. Our time in the capital is a testament to the narrowness of this idea. While we don’t pretend that we got a full picture of the federal government during our brief stay, the experiences we shared speak to a government that still has compassionate members and is made up of individuals that see love as “central to this fight.” This was a phrase that Ambassador Luis CdeBaca used as he spoke during the presentation of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships report on “Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery.” This event was one of many meetings we attended during our two days, a time spent better understanding government intervention in human trafficking and developing further the ideas that were awarded first and second place prizes in the USAID C-TIP Campus Challenge.

C-TIP Campus Challenge Tech Contest participants meet with Sarah Mendelson, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Our two winning concepts – AboliShop a web browser application that helps online shoppers make smart choices by alerting them to products that may have forced or exploited labor in their supply chains, and a Mxit trafficking hotline (PDF) that marries Africa’s largest social network with existing hotline technologies – were tuned and refined by a variety of trafficking experts while we were in Washington. This refinement process has seen us through to the other side, where we are now in a position to move toward making these products available for public use in the near future.

During our time in Washington, USAID connected us with a variety of groups, from religious leaders to large corporations to passionate activists, all aiming to end trafficking on a global scale. We saw much of the public sector’s commitment at the White House Forum to End Human Trafficking and the private sector’s commitment at the Google announcement of their Global Trafficking Hotline Network. Our discussions with these groups made a difference in the future of AboliShop and the Mxit trafficking hotline and also reshaped the way we will be involved in the fight on a personal level.

As for the future of our projects, we want to see AboliShop become a common, not a niche, experience for online consumers, which will only be possible with the energy and resources of groups willing to work alongside us. Africa is in desperate need of trafficking hotline resources, as the existing hotlines are both sparse and limited by a variety of factors. We hope that we can be part of the solution to this problem, joining the organizations already working on the ground to grow the African trafficking hotline network. Keep an eye out for news from AboliShop and Mxit in the days to come.

Harnessing the Commitment & Energy of Diaspora Communities to Transform Development

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet a Syrian-American trauma surgeon who told me about the multiple trips he had taken to Syria with other doctors to help remove shrapnel from the bodies of children.

As I listened to him share these devastating experiences, I knew that his story reflected the tremendous contributions of Syrian-Americans to the humanitarian response. Every day, at great risk to their own lives, they were caring for the injured, training doctors in triage and medicine, and helping deliver lifesaving medical supplies throughout Syria.

Whether we’re talking about the struggle for freedom in Syria or the fragile–but remarkable–transition happening in Burma, we know the diaspora community has a uniquely important role to play in addressing the challenges of today and shaping a brighter future for tomorrow.

Last year, global remittances topped $534 billion—more than 5 times U.S. official development assistance. So often the result of long hours and sacrifices, these contributions mean so much more than their monetary value. They mean the chance for a child to afford her school uniform. The chance for a young man to take out a loan and open a business. And sometimes, they make the difference between life and death – when they allow a family to buy food in tough times.

We are determined to work together to ensure the each dollar saved and each dollar transferred can make a lasting impact. Through our Development Innovations Fund, we’re partnering with a major Filipino bank, a Filipino education NGO, and a group of researchers from the University of Michigan to pilot a financial innovation called EduPay. The tool allows overseas individuals to pay school fees directly to educational institutions in the Philippines, instead of channeling the funds through an informal trustee. The tool also goes one step further by enabling you to monitor the student’s attendance and performance so you can be sure you’re supporting a quality education.

Whether saving money to send home, building a business from the ground up, or partnering with us in response to a crisis, the commitment and energy of diaspora communities holds the potential of transforming developing countries around the world. Through a partnership with Western Union, we’re helping support diaspora leaders who have a great idea to start a business, but need the resources to get it off the ground. Since 2009, the African Diaspora Marketplace has provided grants to 31 companies, totaling more than $2.2 million.

At USAID, we’re increasingly focusing on providing a platform to connect problem-solvers everywhere to the greatest challenges of our time. We call it “open-source development,” and it reflects our desire to harness the creativity and expertise of a much broader development community. Through our new model of development, we aren’t focused on our solutions. We’re focused on yours.

To learn more about the Global Diaspora Forum or to learn how to partner with USAID, the State Department, and the private sector, please visit: http://diasporaalliance.org/.

Join conversation on Twitter (@USAID) using #2013GDF.

Video of the Week: Maura O’Neill Previews the 2013 Global Diaspora Forum

Starting today, USAID and the State Department will co-host the third annual 2013 Global Diaspora Forum. The world’s largest gathering of diasporans, this year’s forum “Where Ideas Meet Action” aims to recognize, celebrate and inspire the work of American diaspora communities with roots from around the globe to contribute to the development of and diplomatic relations with their countries of origin.

Learn how USAID continues to expand and strengthen its engagement with diaspora communities in order to achieve development outcomes. Visit the website to watch online.

Throughout the forum, content will be live tweeted from @DiasporaIdea and @USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #2013GDF.

Saving & Empowering Lives through Clean Cooking Innovation

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health.

A major study published in December cited high blood pressure, alcohol, and tobacco as the top three health risks in the world. Could you guess the fourth? You probably did it last night.

The seemingly simple act of cooking a meal is responsible for 4 million deaths each year.

That’s because nearly 3 billion people burn solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, and other fuels to cook every day. When burned in open fires and basic stoves, solid fuels emit a harmful smoke that causes a range of cancers, heart and lung diseases, developmental and neurological impacts, cataracts, and more.

Example of a pine needle powered cook stove. Photo credit: USAID

Inefficient and dangerous cooking practices are also a major cause of burns, and the acts of collecting and burning fuelwood lead to deforestation and the release of climate-changing gases, respectively.

Women and children have the primary responsibility for cooking and fuel collection in developing countries, and are therefore most at risk from the side effects: smoke inhalation, crippling burns, time lost for schooling or work, human or animal attacks during fuel collection, and myriad others.

But, you’re probably asking, how can technological innovation change such a seemingly intractable and global challenge? Enter the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Launched by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2010 with 19 founding partners under the leadership of the UN Foundation, today, the Alliance is comprised of more than 650 partners across 6 continents. They’ve joined the Alliance to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a market for clean, safe, efficient, and affordable cooking solutions. Our goal is for 100 million households to adopt clean cookstoves and fuels by the year 2020.

With our partners, including founding partner USAID, we are taking an all-of-the-above approach to ensure that as hundreds of millions of people enter the global middle class, they no longer cook as their ancestors have done since the beginning of human history:

  • Research: We are commissioning research with cookstove and fuel interventions that will help us better understand how to achieve the cleanliness and efficiency markers essential to save and improve lives and the environment, and to underscore once and for all that this is a major global development challenge that deserves awareness and funding on par with similar crises.
  • Standards: International standards to define cookstove cleanliness, safety, and efficiency had never existed until the Alliance and the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air began working with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The interim system that has been adopted is now in the process of being translated into permanent standards. A tiered system through the ISO will create global norms and strengthen a market for clean cooking solutions.
  • Testing centers: To carry out those standards and further propel local manufacturing and testing, the Alliance is supporting the enhancement or creation of testing centers in 12 countries worldwide. Previously, most stoves had to be sent to North America or Europe to be tested, proving very costly for manufacturers and impeding local growth of markets.
  • SPARK and Pilot Innovation Funds: The SPARK and the Pilot Innovation Funds are part of our plan to increase the level of resources, grants, and investment in the clean cooking sector. Each year, we will support entrepreneurs and innovation through at least $2.25 million. This year’s Pilot awardees were recently announced, and we look forward to announcing the SPARK recipients later this month.
  • Input from consumers: Each of the above steps will be fruitless if we aren’t engaged in dialogue with consumers at each step along the value chain: food taste; cooking style; stove design, weight and color; manufacturing; distribution; purchasing; and adoption. The Alliance and its partners have strong relationships with community associations, women’s groups, and others to ensure we hear directly from consumers about their economic, health, and standard of living aspirations, and then translate that information into action.

The Alliance and its partners strongly believe that cooking shouldn’t kill, and because you are reading this blog during USAID’s Global Health Month+ series, I suspect that you do, too. Find out about all of our market-enabling activities and join us at www.cleancookstoves.org.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Using Technology For STH Control

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

This originally appeared on the InterAction Blog.

I consider myself extremely fortunate and even spoiled in this 21st century with smart phones and so much mobile technology available. If I ever feel there is a need to make my life more convenient with technology, chances are I can go to the app store to download some utility that will help. And, even if it’s not 100% satisfactory, by virtue of having asked the question or conducted the search for this app, some techie out there is likely monitoring the query and I can probably be assured that in weeks, if not days, something better will be created.

So as I wrangle with the question of how the Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) community can more effectively and efficiently manage our disease control and elimination programs around the world, I hark back to how we can leverage the fact that almost 75% of the world have access to cell phones. The NTD sector should be paying close attention to the opportunities presented by the proliferation of mobile technology.

There has been interesting progress in the use of mobile technology, like this smart phone, in the fight against NTDs. Photo credit: InterAction

In April 2012, attendees of the Ninth Global Health and Innovation Conference overwhelmingly agreed that a key to transforming global health is to push the development of social enterprises toward mobile technology. The reach of mobile phones into even the poorest and most remote parts of the world has shown these devices to be the tool of choice for civil and social transformation.

Those working in the HIV sector were some of the first to leverage the utility of mobile phones to check on people living with HIV. As a substitute for home visits, which are expensive, time-intensive, and far from discreet, mobile technology became a key factor in dealing with the stigma of HIV. Mobile phones have also been used to send reminders to patients and caretakers to improve adherence to antiretroviral treatment regimens. Another Johnson & Johnson supported mHealth program, MAMA, is bringing health information to pregnant women in more than 40 countries.

Considering that more than two billion people worldwide are affected by NTDs, the development and use of mobile technology for preventing and controlling NTDs has lagged. However, one bright spot for the NTD sector is the development of mobile technology tools to report on the global prevalence of trachoma. Using data collected through surveys leveraging smart phones and SMS, comprehensive prevalence maps of the disease have been developed, which will greatly improve the tracking and treatment of individuals infected with NTDs. As noted by Dr. Simon Brooker of the London Center for Neglected Tropical Disease Research in The Guardian earlier in the year, “maps are important to the control and elimination of NTDs … [and] only now are we starting to develop this blueprint.”

Mobile technology can be used in many other facets of the control and elimination of NTDs, for example, informing communities when and where treatments will be distributed, sharing messages about the causes of infection and how to prevent them, and collecting and reporting treatment data to health centers.

Recently, there has been even more interesting progress in the use of mobile technology in the fight against NTDs. Isaac Bogoch and other researchers innovated a way to turn the lens of an iPhone camera into a field microscope to detect intestinal worms in childrens’ stool samples. This is particularly timely because the global health community is ramping up the administration of medicines donated to treat infection with intestinal worms, also known as soil-transmitted helminthes (STH).

The increase of treatments globally will mean a greater need for diagnostic testing to monitor the impact and effectiveness of the programs. This concept of converting a phone to a field microscope would reduce the cost of the testing by eliminating the need for desk top light microscopes. It will also allow for images to be saved for enhanced analysis later or sent to a central repository for batch analysis almost instantaneously. In addition, as the increased use of anti-parasitic medicines will result in an overall decrease in the number of STH in the infected populations, a more sensitive and robust diagnostic tool is needed. The authors noted that this is, indeed, the first generation of the mobile phone microscope for resource constrained settings, but that newer technologies are certain to come along to improve its sensitivity and specificity.

These recent developments in mapping and diagnostics reassure us that mobile technology for control of NTDs is gaining traction. With two billion people on our planet at risk of NTDs, there is a market for mobile technology to eliminate or control the NTDs. There is clearly still much to be done. The NTD community must encourage and leverage this potential to maximize the health and development gains that can be made using this technology in all aspects of our work. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

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