USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Technologies to Keep Mothers Safe

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 Sunday—Mother’s Day in the United States—will be a day of light hearts and laughter for many. At PATH, we’re dedicated to developing simple, affordable technology to make sure becoming a mother is a time of joy the world over.

Elizabeth Abu-Haydar, right, with a mother in a prenatal clinic in Rajasthan, India. Photo Credit: PATH/Noah Perin

In some parts of the world—notably sub-Saharan Africa—childbirth remains an extremely dangerous time in a woman’s life. Some 300,000 women worldwide die each year just before or after delivery. Excessive obstetric bleeding— postpartum hemorrhage—causes 1 in 4 of these deaths. And mothers who survive aren’t out of danger. Those who live through severe postpartum hemorrhage are significantly more likely than other mothers to die within a year’s time, leaving their babies and families alone.

Elizabeth Abu-Haydar, public health specialist with our Technology Solutions program, looks for ways technology can make childbirth safer. On May 28, she’ll be presenting her work at Women Deliver, an international conference focused on improving the health and well-being of girls and women. To celebrate Mother’s Day, we asked Elizabeth about some of the technologies that hold promise for making childbirth safer.

What will you talk about at Women Deliver?

I’m going to highlight some of the technologies we’re working on to fill a gap that occurs when women experience severe postpartum hemorrhage. There’s a clear protocol that’s followed when a woman starts bleeding after delivery: She’s given medication and her abdomen is massaged, and in 62 percent of the cases, that works to stop the bleeding. But in those other roughly 40 percent of cases, the woman could potentially continue bleeding, and if she’s bleeding severely, even a healthy woman can die within two hours. Most of these women are not as healthy as they could be, and the biggest problem is that many of them are anemic.

Why does anemia make the problem worse?

These women have low iron stores, and the body during pregnancy requires more iron. If a woman starts bleeding and she doesn’t have iron stores, she’s likely to go into heart failure and shock much more rapidly than a woman who is healthy. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 40 to 50 percent of the women are anemic, that’s a huge problem.

What can we do about it?

We’ve been testing a device that makes it very easy to assess whether a woman is iron deficient or not. We call it a noninvasive anemia screening device. The device measures iron levels using a clip that attaches to the woman’s finger. Ideally, you would use it every time she comes in for her prenatal visit. If there’s a problem, you can start treatment and monitoring. The screening doesn’t require blood, it gives a reading in less than a minute, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s visual, so that it becomes a way to talk about iron with the woman. Plus, there are no sharps and no waste and no resupply issues either, which is a big, big deal.

What do you do to stop the bleeding once it starts?

One option is the balloon tamponade. It’s basically tubing attached to a vessel, such as a condom, that is inflated by pumping water into it. It’s inserted into the uterus and filled until it stops the bleeding. It is very effective and it’s very affordable.

Another option is the antishock garment, which looks a bit like a tight wetsuit. Its main purpose is to reverse shock. If a woman has bled profusely and her organs are shutting down, she starts going into shock. That’s when the antishock garment gets wrapped around her in a sequential manner starting from her legs up so that the blood is pushed to her vital organs. You can combine the antishock garment with the balloon tamponade. It’s a beautiful combination!

You sound very motivated—even though developing technologies is a long haul. What keeps you going?

You know, I was in Kenya in August, visiting 13 clinics that were run by midwives—not fancy, these were serving the slums of Nairobi. We talked about the balloon tamponade, and a couple of midwives had used it. They talk about the woman who came in to give birth, and they really thought she was going to die, and there was no way she was going to make it to the hospital, and somebody said, “Why don’t we use this balloon thing they were telling us about?” And they try it. And the woman survives. And she comes back a week later with her baby. That inspires me. That’s very exciting, I think.

Additional Resources

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The Promise of MPTs: An Integrated Approach to Women’s Health

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.

In recent years, the global community has intensified its focus on women’s health and rights. This reflects a universal recognition that women and girls are fundamental to the health and well-being of societies worldwide — and that we still have significant challenges to overcome before reaching essential development goals.

HIV and maternal mortaility, and their frequent intersection, are  among the greatest obstacles to women’s health and development. Together, they consisitute the two leading causes of death among women of reproductive age.

A woman holding a ring. Photo Credit: USAID

Women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS due to a combination of biology, gender inequality and sociocultural norms. In sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, young women are twice as likely to become infected with HIV as young men.

At the same time, a lack of access to modern contraceptives in developing countries remains a major contributor to global maternal deaths. An estimated 222 million women worldwide want to delay or avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Contraceptives allow women to space and limit their pregnancies,  leading to better health, education and economic outcomes for women and families.

Women in areas with high rates of HIV often have the greatest unmet need for contraception. New multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs) now being developed address these dual risks, and may give women tools they can use to protect their health and better their lives.

While existing MPTs such as male and female condoms are extremely effective when they can be used, many women cannot negotiate condom use. New MPTs in development — including vaginal gels, long-acting rings and new types of barrier devices — could expand options for discreet, female-initiated prevention methods. In addition, because women’s perceived risk of HIV is low compared to their perceived risk for pregnancy, and given potential stigma around receiving HIV services, combined technologies may be widely used. As such, new MPTs may also help promote increased integration in health care delivery.

With leadership and support from USAID, the International Partnership for Microbicides is applying its experience in HIV prevention to the development of a 60-day MPT vaginal ring that would offer protection against HIV and unintended pregnancy. Now in preclinical stages, the ring would deliver an antiretroviral drug called dapivirine along with the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel. Clinical studies are planned for 2014.

The contraceptive field has long taught us that no single product will address women’s unique needs and preferences. While some women may prefer to use a gel around the time of sex, others may find that a longer-acting ring is more convenient and encourages consistent use. USAID is working on a number of new technologies to expand contraceptive options for women and couples across the globe. Learn more about these new contraceptives and multipurpose prevention technologies under development in this slideshow.

While at least several years away, new integrated solutions like these could result in significant health gains for women by reducing rates of HIV transmission, STIs, and maternal and newborn death associated with unintended pregnancies. As a result, MPTs could help advance progress on multiple development goals related to health, poverty and gender equality — and give women and girls a chance to reach their full potential.

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

Embracing Innovation and Discovery to Accelerate Global Health Progress

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, serves as assistant administrator for Global Health

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.

Improving women’s and children’s health is critical to the development of successful economies and stable communities. It not only saves lives, but it helps communities move themselves out of poverty. Yet every year, 6.9 million children die of preventable causes and more than 287,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama set forth a vision to, within the next two decades, achieve some of the greatest contributions to human progress in history– eliminate extreme poverty, ensure an AIDS-free generation, and end preventable child and maternal deaths.

To many, these goals seem impossible. They seem like nothing more than a catchy statement, in a political speech. But in reality, these goals are achievable, and we’ve already begun to see tremendous progress.   For example, we’ve supported the scale up of a simplified newborn resuscitation program, “Helping Babies Breathe” through a public-private partnership. The partnership has trained and equipped 100,000 health providers in 50 countries in the last two years. This past year, USAID reached more than 84 million women with family planning information and services. By enabling women to delay and space pregnancy, this helped to prevent 15,000 maternal deaths and save the lives of more than 230,000 infants. These are just a couple examples of the recent advancements we’ve made.

But while we have tools and knowledge that can save and improve lives today, we must also look toward the future. Millions around the globe still do not have adequate access to reproductive, maternal and child health services. There is no guarantee that today’s tools will meet tomorrow’s challenges. We must not become complacent.

USAID and the broader global health community invest in innovation, science & technology to find game-changing solutions. Solutions that will help accelerate the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and creating an AIDS-free generation.

Through the Grand Challenges for Development, Development Innovation Ventures, and the Higher Education Solutions Network, USAID is helping to drive breakthroughs in science and technology that can transform development challenges. Recently, we launched the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact in Global Health to help promote and discover innovative, business-minded approaches to address key bottlenecks in the development, introduction and scale-up of global health technologies and interventions.

And since 2011, Saving Lives at Birth has supported 39 exciting and potentially transformational solutions to women’s and newborns’ health. The innovative ideas include an instrument-free, low-cost, rapid point-of-care CD4 test; a postpartum intrauterine device simulation training model; a counterfeit and substandard drug detector device for use in the developing world; and a low-cost, sustainable health cooperative.

At USAID, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to global health  problems (PDF) and if the global health community can harness science, technology and innovation for the poorest communities in the world, we can leave an unparalleled legacy in global health in this next decade. Over the next few days, we will be blogging about some of the latest cutting-edge solutions that are changing the global health arena. By working together to discover and build new solutions, we can maximize our impact and expand what is possible in development.

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

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

Half the Sky: Building a Movement Through Media & Technology

I remember reading Betty Harragan’s Games Mother Never Taught You when it first came out over thirty years ago. As a woman entrepreneur, that book had a huge impact on me—both in how to navigate at work, a new universe that felt like I had been dropped onto Mars, and how I saw myself as an agent of change.

This was long before cell phones, the Internet, and mobile readers exponentially increased people’s access to information around the world. Today, USAID is working to make sure a whole new generation of women (and men) are exposed to life changing stories and media that have a positive impact for them, but also their families, communities, and countries.

USAID joins Half the Sky, the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change to launch the Half the Sky Movement Media & Technology Engagement Initiative, an integrated media campaign to create behavior change toward gender issues in India and Kenya. Photo credit: Half the Sky

That’s why I’m thrilled that USAID is a part of a new alliance, along with the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change, called the Half the Sky Movement Media and Technology Engagement Initiative. This new alliance builds on an initiative developed with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of another incredibly inspiring book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

If you have not yet read Half the Sky, it shares powerful stories of women who have lived through horrendous but also horrendously commonplace experiences of forced prostitution, maternal mortality, devastating injuries in childbirth, abuse, and extreme forms of discrimination. Yet it makes an equally powerful argument that women can be, should be, and are agents who transform the world for the better.

At USAID, we know that gender equality and empowerment not only advance our development goals, they’re essential to their long-term success. No community or country can realize its full potential without women and girls having the freedom to be all that they can be. However, in many low- and moderate-income countries, women and girls continue to struggle for equal access to healthcare, education, the justice system, and professional opportunities.

In India, one of two key focal countries of the initiative, there is strong evidence of continued son preference. Girls are underrepresented in births and overrepresented in child deaths. Today, the literacy rate for females is barely 50% and men are twice as likely to be employed. India is home to 40% of the world’s people living in extreme poverty—think about how this problem could be eradicated if girls and women were educated.

In Kenya, the second key focal country of the initiative, a 2008 study shows very low female representation in post-primary education, formal employment, enterprise ownership, and political decision-making processes. Kenya is placed well to be a part of the Africa renaissance, but will only succeed if it embraces the power of its girls.

Over the next two years, together with Nick, Sheryl and our partners, we will work to inspire and create lasting change for women and girls in India and Kenya through an integrated media campaign. The campaign will use a combination of traditional and social media, a powerful approach for shifting gender-related norms and behavior.

To get an idea of the kind of messages and approaches the initiative will implement, I encourage you to check out videos released as part of previous collaborations between USAID and Half the Sky Movement partners. One of my favorites is the story of Pooja, who gains her family’s support to defy convention and continue her education. If this young girl can be brave enough to forge a new path, it is the least we can do to support others in following her lead to become part of the movement.

Non-hormonal Methods of Contraception Meet Need in DRC

More than 26 percent of married women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Furthermore, meeting this demand for family planning is not an easy task in the DRC, where deep-seated traditional and religious views exist around family size, gender roles and the use of contraception.

USAID programs have worked to meet the needs of women in the DRC by expanding access to a wide range of family planning choices from short term to long acting reversible contraceptives and permanent methods. USAID has also identified the need to increase access to non-hormonal methods to increase options for women and couples. Since 2003, USAID and its partners have worked to incorporate fertility awareness-based methods into the DRC context, in particular, the Standard Days Method “SDM” (PDF), developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health with funding from USAID. Using SDM, women track their menstrual cycles with CycleBeads in order to avoid unprotected intercourse during their fertile days and by doing so can prevent pregnancy. Based on World Health Organization analyses (PDF), with perfect use, the SDM is effective 95% of the time, and 88% of the time with average use.

Christopher Hook with members of Maman An’Sar. Photo credit: USAID

CycleBeads have a particularly strong acceptance in the DRC’s religious communities. I recently visited the capital city of Kinshasa and was lucky enough to attend a community training of young women on use of CycleBeads. A local Catholic organization, La Conduite de la Fecondité, conducts these trainings twice per week in thirteen integrated maternal and child health clinics all across Kinshasa. It was a moving experience for me as a development professional (even though I did not speak a word of Lingale!). The training incorporated singing, dancing and call-and-response, which created a fun atmosphere where learning could happen.

Later that day I also met with representatives from Maman An’Sar, a Muslim organization who advocates to local Imams to incorporate family planning messages (PDF) into their weekly sermons. Following a sermon, Maman sends out teams of community health workers who follow up with individuals and couples from the congregations to talk about what they heard. Faith-based organizations like Maman and religious leaders have significant potential to influence positive behavior change within communities and disseminate reproductive health messages.

The use of CycleBeads continues to grow in the DRC. Today, SDM has been scaled-up in 278 of 515 health zones, and CycleBeads are available in more than 1800 sites with trained providers ready to assist potential users. Moreover, SDM has been included in all Ministry of Health norms and protocol documents, ensuring long-term host government support of fertility awareness-based contraception as a key component of the contraceptive method mix.

Access to family planning information and services is only one health challenge in the DRC, but it’s an important one. The DRC has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, and enabling couples to determine whether, when and how often to have children is vital to safe motherhood and child survival. Research has shown improving access to family planning and reproductive health services could prevent up to 40 percent of maternal deaths across the world, and save the lives of 1.6 million children (PDF) under the age of five annually. Increasing access not only to hormonal methods of family planning, but also to fertility awareness methods is one way in which USAID and its partners are seeking to meet unmet need in the DRC and across the world.

If you or someone else you know may be interested in using the SDM, please follow this link for the web-based service, and this for the iCycleBead smartphone app.

Educate Girls, Develop Nations

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

As President Obama said, if a country is educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. Education is a silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide.

When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. One extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps moms take better care of their kids.  According to the World Bank (PDF), each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand births.

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. Photo credit: Susan Liebold

These are amazing statistics but I’ve also been fortunate enough to see for myself the high returns to investing in education. While in Kabul I met with an incredible group of young women who were educated entirely in post-Taliban Afghanistan. They reminded me how critically important education is to peace, prosperity and empowerment.

Those young women represent the future for a country that had virtually no girls in school less than 15 years ago.

Today, Afghan girls are more than a third of the students. I am proud that USAID is supporting community-based schools in Afghanistan and that our literacy effort is playing an instrumental role in ensuring these girls get an education; it is an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.

Globally, enormous progress has been made in closing the gender gap in primary education over the last 20 years. In most of the world today, a similar percentage of girls and boys attend primary schools. Yet disparities endure—there are 3.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world. Women still comprise the majority (two-thirds) of the illiterate. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, obtaining an education remains particularly tough for women and girls. The World Bank estimates that half of the out-of-school girls in the world live in Sub-Saharan Africa and one quarter of them live in South Asia.

But it’s not just about access. Compounding the problem is a lack of quality education. For example, in Malawi robust primary school enrollment and matriculation rates are reported. However, a closer inspection of the educational system reveals that many students finish their schooling without being able to read. Therefore, a focus on both the quality of education and enrollment rates is needed.

We know that educating women and girls has tremendous multiplying effects for families, communities, and societies.  That is why USAID launched five leadership partnerships involving universities in the U.S. and in Armenia, Paraguay, Rwanda and South Sudan to promote gender equality and women’s leadership. These programs will promote and develop curricula and opportunities for women in business, agriculture, and education in order to increase women’s access to higher education and advanced degrees, strengthen institutional capacity in research and education on women’s leadership, and promote women’s leadership through higher education extension and outreach to underserved communities.

We are very excited to be collaborating with academic institutions in the United States and abroad to advance women’s leadership. These partnerships offer a meaningful and important opportunity to ensure women are empowered, ultimately advancing economies and societies globally.

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.

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