USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

Shared Ag Data is a Secured Future for Vulnerable Populations

In Kahuho village, up on the foot of the Aberdare Ranges, is a potato farmer, Loise Mugure. Loise owns a two-and-a-half acre piece of land but while she could plant it all at once, she only cultivates a quarter an acre each season. She is among the 87 farmers from her village who approached M-Farm for help.

The price uncertainty on agricultural commodities has forced farmers to gamble on how much to plant each season.

Yes, these farmers had learned and embraced good agricultural practices. They have adopted new climate resilient crop varieties, even improved the health of their soils but their problems persisted. They needed information on how the markets behaved.

Local farmer sells potatoes. Photo credit: USAID

At M-Farm, we set out to five markets in Kenya to provide them with real-time agricultural price information. We went a step further and made this information readily available through SMS platform. We thought this was the ultimate solution the farmers needed. There still existed a gap. The farmers wanted to be shown the future of markets. It needed data. The data was scarce. We could only do much with the few months’ data we had gathered.

Working with farmers on a daily basis, I became frustrated too. I could not provide them with the outlooks they needed because I did not have the agricultural data to analyse and present to them.

It is exciting to have the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) dataset on Agriculture available to M-Farm. As a software solution and Agribusiness company focused on connecting farmers, we intend to integrate this dataset into our SMS information platform for our farmers.

We are processing the data to more meaningful information to farmers, then package it to suit their needs. This will help the farmers take important decisions on agricultural productivity.

What is beautiful about the FEWSNET data that the USAID has provided to our farmers is that it is from markets we know and on crops that are our staples. Finding local interpretation of the FEWSNET dataset gives us control of our situation. We can help protect food insecure populations from hunger with this data that has been made open to us.

Agricultural productivity creates benefits for everyone in the community. Photo credit: USAID

With access to the FEWSNET market price data, our farmers are richer with more useful information on the market behavior. The more the data, the more sophisticated the analysis and the presentation tool.

Connecting farmers with the right information and at the right time levels the playing field for them, creates transparency and improves their livelihoods.

At M-Farm the FEWSNET database is not just data, it is critical information that is finding its way into the lives of the primary producers who feed the nation.

“American” Values, Global Service

Right now USAID helps outfit “The Flying Eye Hospital,” a world-class teaching hospital housed in a passenger airplane that delivers cutting edge training to doctors all over the world.

A half a world away, USAID support is helping renovate EARTH University in Costa Rica, which offers undergraduate education in the latest advances in sustainable agriculture to students from Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond.

USAID and community members take care of an EARTH biodigester. Photo credit: USAID

Both of these innovative projects are funded under a USAID office that has supported more than 100 other cutting-edge initiatives spread across 20 countries around the globe. What unites them is a common understanding and appreciation of American ideas and values.

Until I started working at USAID’s American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program myself just a few weeks ago, I had no idea. I joined the team to help manage our global portfolio, and as I’ve been getting up to speed, the diversity, innovation and ambition of our partners has continually surprised me.

From St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Kenya, the first school in the world specifically for HIV/AIDS orphans, to the Tilganga Eye Center in Nepal, offering affordable eye-care to all segments of Nepalese society, we put the best in American values and innovation at the service of local communities in every corner of the globe.

This week, we will be bringing many of our partners together for our Annual Conference and Workshop, where together they’ll discuss their common challenges and triumphs. To help them get to know each other, we’ve asked our partners to send in brief video introductions to their work, which we’ll play at times throughout the conference. As a newcomer, these virtual “site visits” have opened my eyes to the breadth of what “American ideas and values” are helping to make possible globally. The impact of USAID funding at Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras has improved the quality of life for students, staff, and their families. Because of USAID’s support, Zamorano has been able to modernize their research facilities and construct new dorms that have increased enrollment by 50 percent.

I look forward to working with all our partners in the future and learning more about how this partnership between the American people and these global leaders comes to life in their communities.

Watch how USAID funding at Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras has improved lives.

Learn more about the USAID Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad.

Tracking Tigers for Conservation

The days of tiger hunting from the backs of elephants in the shadow of the Himalayas are thankfully over, but after years of overhunting and loss of habitat, the tiger hunt has taken on a new meaning in Nepal. Today, tourists can still head out on elephant back to spot tigers and the endangered rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, but the only shooting done is by camera. And now Nepali scientists, with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, are using genetic research to track, identify and protect the remaining 125 tigers in this region.

A large adult male tiger seen in the Terai Arc Landscape. Tiger conservation is a top priority in Nepal, a source and transit point of poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife. Photo credit: Christy Williams, WWF

Over the last two years, the USAID-funded “Nepal Tiger Genome Project” has used an innovative genetic technology to build a comprehensive national DNA database of the endangered Bengal tigers living in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape—one of the few remaining tiger habitats on the earth—by collecting and recording a unique genetic fingerprint from each adult tiger’s scat.  This closely held information is used to identify every tiger and its territory.  The data is used to protect habitat, as well as inform law enforcement and protect the animals from poachers.

The project extracts each animal’s unique genetic code from non-invasively collected scat samples. To date, the project has collected over 1,100 samples from Nepal’s four major national parks. Findings of this research are expected to facilitate a better understanding of the genetic and population dynamics of Bengal tigers in Nepal. With valuable data of this nature, conservation policies and strategies at local, national, and international levels can be greater informed, and therefore, all the more effective.

“This is the first time systematic sampling was used to collect and build a comprehensive genetic database of Bengal tigers in Nepal. Although tiger genetic work has been going on in India and other countries, such elaborate data collection and archiving has not been tried with Bengal tigers,” stated Mr. Karmacharya who is the principal investigator for the project and also heads the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a wholly Nepali-owned and managed by a non-profit private sector institute.

The project is a concerted effort between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, with both Nepali and U.S. scientists involved in collecting samples and conducting genetic analysis. Dibesh Karmacharya and Kanchan Thapa are heading the project in close collaboration with Dr. Lisette Waits of the University of Idaho and Dr. Marcella Kelly from Virginia Tech.

Already, the technology is being replicated and expanded to gather genetic information of other species such as the one horned Asian rhinoceros, elephants and snow leopards, allowing conservation professionals to track, and better conserve, these fragile and endangered species not only in Nepal but in other parts of the world too.

Saving Lives at Birth Innovator Named CNN Hero of the Year

In March, one of Saving Lives at Birth’s innovators, Dr. Laura Stachel of We Care Solar, was named a CNN Hero of the Year.

On her first trip to Nigeria in 2008, Dr. Laura Stachel saw firsthand the power of light.

“I realized that my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless (without) something as basic as light and electricity,” Stachel said.

Midwife in Samaru Clinic using typical kerosene lighting. Photo credit: We Care Solar

Countless numbers of pregnant women would arrive at the local clinic with severe complications. Without adequate light, these women often had to wait until sunrise to be treated or undergo risky procedures by kerosene lantern, candlelight, or even cell phones. Lives of mothers and babies were even more at risk because there was no electricity.

Moved by this experience, Dr. Stachel, with the help of her husband, a solar energy educator, developed a suitcase-sized off-grid solar electric  unit. This “solar suitcase”  is an a simple, economical  technology that provides a sustainable source of power, allowing health workers to provide life-saving interventions 24 hours a day.

So far, We Care Solar has provided nearly 250 solar suitcases to facilities in more than 20 countries. They’re being used in main hospitals as backup systems and in rural clinics as a primary source of electricity.

Through a Saving Lives at Birth transition-to-scale grant, We Care Solar is partnering with AMREF Uganda to ensure 200 health centers can deliver life-saving procedures 24 hours a day. Saving Lives at Birth – a partnership among USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and DFID – seeks to identify and develop the tools and approaches needed to help  mothers and newborns during their most vulnerable hours. In Uganda, an estimated 6,000 women and 35,000 infants die from childbirth related complications each year. This innovative suitcase provides solar power for a fetal Doppler to detect fetal well-being, phone charging to enhance patient referrals, and a computer to for data entry in the electronic Health Management Information system.

The solar suitcase “empowers health workers to provide better care 24 hours a day,” Stachel says. “It motivates staff. It increases demand for skilled care and it saves lives.” And the impact has been proven. In its first year, the Nigerian clinic reported that the death rate for women had decreased 70%. Nurses could see what they were doing and they had power for equipment and procedures. Women received  blood transfusions because the electricity provided power for a blood bank refrigerator. This is the power of light.

Mapping Lebanon

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University.

Your work entails putting together a hazard map of Lebanon for earthquake-induced landslides. Why is this work important?

Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University. Photo credit: Grace Abou-Jaoude

Lebanon is a country that is located in a relatively active seismic zone. Its rugged topography makes it vulnerable to earthquake and landslide hazards. Astonishingly, records from 303AD describe the destruction of houses, cities, and monuments. Although Lebanon has not experienced any major earthquake since 1956, the recent discovery of an active thrusting fault close to its coastline has significantly raised its risk of being hit by a high magnitude earthquake. Unfortunately, no effort has been done to assess the impact of a seismic event on the risks of triggering landslide hazards in the country.

The goal of my project is to produce an earthquake-induced landslide hazard map of Lebanon that clearly shows the critical areas prone to earthquake-induced landslides. The map will be used as a reference for anyone concerned with public safety, urban planning, and disaster management.

Describe your own career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

Science and math were the main topics that interested me during my school years. There was one particular female math teacher who highly influenced my interest in mathematics through her teaching style and devotion to her mission. I knew I wanted to become a civil engineer help design and construct the amazing structures I’d long admired.

After receiving my Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering (with distinction) from the American University of Beirut in 2001, I worked at one of the largest consulting companies in Lebanon. I found myself eager to learn more about design, construction, and geology. I pursued my graduate studies in geotechnical engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana in 2002, where I obtained an M.S. and Ph.D in Civil Engineering from there in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

I returned to Lebanon in 2007 and took a faculty position at the Lebanese American University (LAU), in Byblos, where I have been an assistant professor since 2007. Today, I’m a registered member of the Order of Engineers in Lebanon, an associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineering, and a member of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering.

Why do you think it is important for women across the world to be involved in science?

Women across the world have a great potential to excel in science and there are many examples of the contributions females have made to science throughout history. Women have surely faced many obstacles and barriers along the way, but that never discouraged the female achievers from reaching their goals. I believe it is very important to maintain constant support and provide encouragement to female students interested in pursuing careers in science and engineering.

Cultural expectations and social restrictions on women, combined with outdated stereotypes of women’s roles and abilities, often dissuade girls from considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as professional options. Challenges of combining responsibilities for a household and family with a professional career also present a major constraint. Women who keep challenging these long-held stereotypes by holding careers in fields of science and technology are vital to encourage the new generation of female students to be involved in fields of science and engineering.

 

Young Albanian Women Set Sights on IT

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

“We weren’t aware of how huge the event actually was until the day of the competition. When I saw the people and how important it was, the energy was overwhelming and I knew this was something I wanted to do again and again,” explained 20 year old, Egi Shijaku, about her experience at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15.

Egi Shijaku at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15. Photo credit: USAID

USAID was one of the main organizers of the 2013 Microsoft Imagine Cup which brought together 15 university-level teams to present their IT projects to judges. After the competition, USAID’s enterprise development project is providing technical assistance to the 2013 winners to help them commercialize their winning ideas. In addition, qualified businesses and organizations are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 to introduce business technologies or innovations.

Shikaju was part of a three person team from Epoka University who competed in this year’s competition of innovative software applications. Her team submitted a mobile software application that allows users to upload photos and GPS data of garbage and waste in order to notify local government authorities responsible for clean-up.

“Garbage collection is really a problem that worries us all. Tirana and all the cities in Albania have the problem of waste that isn’t thrown in the right places and at times is thrown in public spaces.”

According to Shikaju, the key was to build something that was user-friendly and beneficial. Her mobile solution makes it easier for local authorities to monitor environmental hotspots and gives citizens the option to simply click and report. Just knowing how easy it is to report would serve as a deterrent.

While her team placed seventh this year, Shikaju is already thinking about next year’s competition and will participate in “Start-Up Week” in April. As a second year student studying Business Informatics, a new degree program which combines Computer Science and Economics, her future in IT, and that of many young girls like her, looks bright.

“I see business informatics, computer science, IT being a trend in Albania for young girls,” said Shikaju. There are currently 23 students in the program, half of whom are women.

“Right now there are a lot of systems being developed in Albania,” explained Shikaju.  “All the systems in the government are being transferred to computers. Businesses are looking for ways to transfer their business to the Cloud, so that is a sphere as well. I am always surprised with how huge this market is even as small as a country like Albania.”

The main impediment to growth of the IT sector, particularly programming and developing software, is lack of qualified applicants. As Albania’s IT sector expands, young women like Shikaju are jumping at the opportunity to get involved.  Shikaju said she surprised how in interviews with people, particularly after the Imagine Cup, there is significant interest in her, not because of her gender, but because of what programming language she knows.

Paying It Forward – How Education Can Create a Better Environment for Future Generations

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with  Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, is a professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at Asian Institute of Technology. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

How would you describe your work on emissions impact to an audience unfamiliar with this field? Why is this work important?

My research focuses on air pollution and its effects on public health, crops, and climate. Air pollutants are released from a variety of sources – stoves, indoor heating, vehicles, and heavy industry.  Outdoor fires such as burning of household trash or agricultural wastes in the field, like rice straw, also contribute. These pollutants directly affect our health. They may also be toxic to food crops, affecting the availability and price of the food we eat.

Some small sources of pollution can actually be quite significant. For example, smoke from indoor cooking and heating contains many toxic pollutants, including fine particles, gases such as carbon monoxide, and many carcinogens. Women and young children, who often stay indoors, have a higher chance of contracting respiratory diseases due to inhalation exposure.

Cleaner cooking stoves emit less smoke and have more effective ways to vent the dirty smoke out of kitchen than traditional cooking methods. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations are now working to produce and distribute cleaner and more effective cookstoves throughout the world.

Describe your career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I am grateful to my mother.  Although she did not get a chance to attend school formally, she understood the value of education, and always encouraged her children to study. She believed that with education we would have a better life. That has certainly been true for me and my siblings.

Prof. Kim Oanh training her students in a modeling class. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

I received my first engineering degree in meteorology from Odessa Hydrometeorology University, Ukraine.  After that, I came back to Vietnam and became a lecturer at Hanoi University. I was given scholarships to pursue my Master’s and PhD in Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), which presented a great opportunity for me to further advance my scientific training.

Now, as a professor at AIT, I enjoy educating young people about environmental research and encouraging them to use their knowledge to work for a better environment for us and for future generations. I particularly try to encourage female students to be confident, and to believe that, with dedication and hard work, they can excel in their research. Women have just as much potential to achieve scientific success as men.

The Transformational Power of Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Christa Hasenkopf, NSF International Research Fellow, affiliated with National University of Mongolia and University of Colorado.

Can you describe your work and why it’s important?

I have been conducting research on air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which has some of the highest measured pollution levels in the world. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar, and over half of that city’s population of 1.3 million lives in the ger district, which is a mixture of traditional felt tent housing, as well as wooden homes. The ger district is not connected to the city’s central heating system, so residents must use other methods, such as coal-fired stoves, to keep warm through the long Mongolian winter.

Christa Hasenkopf (third from left) with PEER group at an air quality monitoring station in Ulaanbaatar in 2012. Photo credit: Christa Hasenkopf

Ulaanbaatar’s position in a valley, as well as certain meteorological conditions, trap smoke from these stoves (and from coal-fired power plants) near the surface of the city. In the ger district, daily wintertime smoke levels get so bad that it rivals the conditions firefighters experience fighting a wildfire! Consequently, the pollution has catastrophic human impacts: it’s estimated that 10-25% of deaths in Ulaanbaatar over a given year are pollution-related. Pollution in Ulaanbaatar costs the country over 500 million USD per year.

There have been many different efforts to mitigate the pollution, but there is not a strong, sustained long-term program to evaluate their effectiveness and share results broadly with the public. With support from USAID’s PEER Program and the NSF’s International Research Program, I have been collaborating with Professor Lodoysamba, my Mongolian research partner, to identify the sources of the pollution, and monitor changes over time.

We are also working to spur public engagement on this critical issue. We have launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to share air quality infographics, current data, and opportunities to get involved with air quality issues in Ulaanbaatar.

Describe your own career path – How did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I fell in love with science, specifically astronomy, when I was a child. I adored books by Carl Sagan, and how he connected big picture topics like the Universe with the activities of tiny humans residing on a speck of dust orbiting a run-of-the-mill ball of gas. During my career, I have studied objects outside of our galaxy, then moved to worlds within our solar system, and now work to better understand issues affecting the atmosphere – and the humans existing in it – here on Earth.

The biggest obstacles I have faced are a lack of self-confidence in my ability and fear of standing out too much. Throughout high school and my undergraduate studies, I would be too afraid to ask a question in class or to speak up with my own ideas. Those sorts of fears keep you from truly learning and engaging with others, which are vital for becoming an expert at anything! These fears can also affect how high you set the bar for your career goals.

Where do science and development intersect?

Science has been transformative for the human condition. For example, in 1850, 25 out of 100 American babies died at birth. As the medical community developed a better understanding of how germs spread, it instituted simple interventions, like hand washing and instrument sterilization, and infant mortality rates plummeted. Today, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is less than 1 in 100, and the world average is around 4 in 100. We have scientific progress to thank for that.

And yet, such a small percentage of the world’s population has the opportunity to pursue a career in science. A 2010 UNESCO study reports that 75% of peer-reviewed scientific papers – the primary vehicle through which science moves forward – are done by those in developed countries, which only represents 20% of the world’s population.

Eighty percent of the world’s population – those in developing countries – experience major barriers to contributing to the scientific community. We’re missing out on a ton of brainpower to help solve some big problems like the inter-related issues of climate change, energy production, and population growth that will require scientific and technical solutions. That’s not just a loss for the developing world, that’s a loss for the entire world.

D-Rev – Where Design and Function Meet Need

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Krista Donaldson is CEO of D-Rev. Photo credit: Krista Donaldson

1. D-Rev was recently named a “Most Innovative Company” by Fast Company. What makes the organization and its work so unique?

D-Rev is a non-profit product company that designs and, with partners, delivers market-driven products that improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day. What’s unique about D-Rev is that we start from strong values and an obsession with impact. We believe that products can be world-class and affordable at the same time, and we believe in designing for the context of each environment and user, rather than taking a Western product and trying to make it fit where it doesn’t.

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves “Why?” and “How?”  Why can we design artificial limbs sophisticated enough for the Olympic Games, but amputees in India are stuck with prosthetic legs that are so unstable they wear them in the locked position, like a peg leg? Why can we design devices that save babies born months too soon in the West, yet the only treatment for severely jaundiced babies at one of Uganda’s largest hospitals is placing them out in the sun?

We believe that all people deserve products that can improve their health and lives. The desire to spend one’s money on a product or service that brings value and is beautifully designed is universal. We want to revolutionize healthcare in low-income regions by designing products that provide treatment on par with or better than the best products on the market, are context-appropriate, and are radically affordable, costing one-tenth or less of the price of comparable devices.

Finally, we take a globalized approach to design, working with the best partners around the world. We view our local partners not as beneficiaries, but as partners. For example, our partners in India are experts at local distribution channels and supply chains, whereas we bring new technologies (e.g. like the latest LEDs) advanced modeling techniques.

2. You have argued that high-end innovations and technologies should be made accessible and affordable throughout the developing world. Is it possible?

I believe that high quality innovative products can be designed to be affordable and accessible throughout the developing world – so that social impact happens because a customer chooses, purchases, values and uses a product.  Most of the medical devices we see in public hospitals and clinics in low-income parts of the world are donated or heavily subsidized; very few truly meet the needs of the users.  When they break or need repair, they are likely to end up in the corner with a “Broken” sign. We see this time and time again in hospitals around the world. Typically no one in that hospital chose or paid for that device, so there is not much commitment to these donated devices – especially if the product doesn’t meet their needs. I’m also a true believer that beautiful design, functionality and usability doesn’t need to cost extra. Doctors like this design ethic and our approach.

3. What role do women play in the uptake and application of new technologies and innovations?

Women tend to be pragmatists and result-oriented. We see that women are the primary caregivers to the sick and people with disabilities. Among health professionals, we also see a high percentage of women doctors in public hospitals and clinics that serve our target populations.  While obviously the roles of women vary by society, we have observed that women – whether they are doctors, nurses, the patient’s family or even policymakers – tend to focus on end result, not on the latest innovation or product.  The women know that we need healthier babies or we need to help this young amputee get back to school so they only consider and back a product if they believe it will achieve that result. When they see a device like Brilliance or the ReMotion Knee, they grab it because they can envision how this gets them quickly to sending a healthy baby home from the clinic with a new mom, or seeing an amputee earning a paycheck again.

Women Working in Innovation is Not Rocket Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.

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