Spring Pitches – Join a team

Last evening we had our Spring Generator Dinner. Over 140 people joined us to hear from three past winning teams – Recovers.org, EyeNetra, Leveraged Freedom Chair (GRIT) and OpenIR. 13 individuals pitched ideas and their skills. Below are the slides from the evening, if you’d like to reach out to anyone who joined us. Thanks so much for all who joined us.

A few key next steps:

  1. If you’re entering this year, submit a Scope Statement by February 27.
  2. If you’d like to help a team or join a team, check out the Help Wanted or fill out a Help Offered.
  3. If you’re still looking for help, fill out a Help Wanted.
  4. If you’re trying to recruit teammates, fill out a problem page about the idea you have.

Offer your help + meet our 39 MIT student-led teams

[This is the latest newsletter from MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. If you'd like to subscribe, add your name and email here.]

Happy New Year from Cambridge, Massachusetts!

So far this year, 39 teams are entering; teams are currently working to develop their ideas like a hand-powered centrifuge that aims to improve the diagnostic capabilities in India’s medical clinics to water distribution machines who’s goal is to reduce bottled water consumption by 90% on college campuses within a year.

There are 70 requests for help at the moment – teams are looking for people to help with business models, design questions, market research, programming and much more. See if you can help: http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/help/wanted.

We welcome you to log into globalchallenge.mit.edu, get to know the teams entering this year through their profiles, offer your help and feedback to teams.

@ IDEAS Global Challenge EVENTS

Generator Dinner: Last October, we hosted 200+ people at our  Generator Dinner as a space for people to gather and learn more about IDEAS Global Challenge, for people to join teams , and for teams to pitch about their projects and recruit team members. More than 30 people pitched an idea at the Generator Dinner and you can read more about their ideas by clicking here. If you’re in the Boston area, join us for the next Generator Dinner happening on Thursday, February 21 at MIT.

Bose Mentorship Night: We were thrilled to bring together our MIT student-led teams and Bose senior management and employees, who served as mentors in helping the 19 participating teams develop business plans, marketing strategies, and more. For the MIT News Office’s coverage of the evening, click here. We’d love to explore similar opportunities with other organizations.


…and much more. To read on more updates and news on IDEAS Global Challenge teams, click here.


Join us at:

  • MIT Scaling Development Ventures Conference: Feb 8-9 @ MIT — We are thrilled to be part of a group of centers around MIT that are hosting the first MIT conference that explores the growth of social ventures in developing regions. We’ll be live-blogging the event and send out the link later. Stay tuned.

Get involved:

YOU CAN HELP TEAMS through the IDEAS Global Challenge site. Teams request help and individuals offer their help. Come help out! http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/help

YOU CAN HELP IDEAS GLOBAL CHALLENGE! Our work this year wouldn’t have been possible without our enthusiastic volunteers. If you’re interested in helping us plan and run events, reviewing proposals, and more, email globalchallenge (at) mit.edu.

We are part of the MIT Public Service Center.  Meet this year’s teams: http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/teams. We blog at: http://mitpsc.mit.edu/globalchallenge. We share events and deadlines, at MIT and beyond at: bit.ly/tzkMJm. We tweet through @mitchallenge. Email us globalchallenge (at) mit.edu


Mass Customization in Prosthetic Care

We’ve been up to a lot here at The BETH Project. Thanks in part to the support of the IDEAS Global Challenge and MIT Public Service Center, we’ve been busy prototyping, testing and talking to patients and prosthetists.

The BETH Project team first  came together at a MIT H@cking Medicine conference in early 2012, gathering around Asa’s proposal to leverage desktop 3D printing technology to respond to the need of low cost prosthesis in developing countries. Early on we identified that the challenges in providing prosthetic could not be simply solved by reducing existing device cost to increase availability. We began to investigate how the system of care was limiting affordable healthcare and mobility solutions for the global population.

A central problem to addressing the developing world was the lack of trained prosthetists, which essentially creates a bottleneck to meeting the demand for prosthetic care. Even today’s most advanced sockets are made using a half-century old iterative artisanal process that can take weeks and requires expensive specialized machinery.  The limited labor force in combination with the overhead costs results in care facility consolidation making it even more challenging for patient with limited mobility to access the care they need. The World Health Organization estimates there is a shortage of 40,000 prosthetists in the world today and at the current rate it will take 50 years to train another 17,000. This insight led us to design our solution from the ground up instead of trying to attach our ideas onto the existing fabrication and care paradigm.

As with many personal medical devices, understanding the challenges requires getting up close and personal with the problem. Unless you are close to a loved one who wears a prosthesis or you work in the industry, you would not be aware of the daily routines and maintenance that comes with using an artificial limb. After speaking with amputees who have worn prostheses from anywhere from a few months to sixty years, the one concern that came up over and over again was comfort. The difference between comfortable and uncomfortable is quite subtle and a common means to adjust for greater comfort is to grind the hard socket as shown in the image below.

The socket is the core component to a comfortable fitting prosthesis because forms a crucial interface between an amputee’s residual limb and his or her prosthesis. Structurally sockets are unique in that they are required to carry heavy loads and function as an  extension of our skeletal structure, but at the same time provide a comfortable interface where contact is made with an amputee’s soft muscle and skin tissue. Our goal of providing a comfortable fit with a simple fitting process led us to explore socket material alternatives. Conventionally, this is the rigid composite receptacle that is attached to the top of lower-limb prostheses. Unlike the rest of the prosthetic limb, which is generally a standardization part, the socket must be custom fabricated for each individual then painstakingly fitted, adjusted and replaced over time. Ill-fitting sockets are common because of the natural volume changes in our bodies which leads to and uncomfortable fit and if not adjusted, sores that can lead to infections that ultimately compromise amputee health and mobility.

The BETH Project is focused on addressing these challenges with an adjustable socket design that provides the ability to accommodate natural volume changes and reduce pressure on sensitive areas to promote faster healing of sores while extending the usability of a prosthetic limb. Our chosen material provides the opportunity to tap the benefits of mass manufacturing rather than local fabrication, thus lowering costs for all care providers and creating a consistent quality standard for sockets. In places where trained personal and facilities are a premium we hope to relieve care providers from the complexities of socket fabrication, and in some cases providing the opportunity for physical therapists who have transferable skills to fit and provide rehabilitative care to amputees.

Teams looking for teammates / Ideas pitched at the Generator Dinner

Twice a year we have a Generator Dinner to create a space and gathering where teams can form, people can meet and hear more about the IDEAS Global Challenge. This year more than 30 people signed up to pitch their ideas to recruit team members.
Here’s the list of ideas pitched this year and a link to the presentation. If we can help you connect, let us know at globalchallenge(at)mit(dot)edu. Next steps:

To simplify the sorting process, we categorized the topics by subject/sector. Below you’ll find:
  1. Water and Sanitation
  2. Education
  3. Food and Agriculture
  4. Community/Civic
  5. Health/Medical
  6. Business/Entrepreneurship/Finance
  7. Energy and Waste

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Jonathan Abbott
“Inside the Box”
In Mexico, promote awareness and education using the inside of vending boxes targeted at Mexico’s children, women, and young adults on the streets.

Visit: http://web.mit.edu/jabbott/www/mexico.html.

Recruiting needs:
- Partners who understand the context of Mexican Street Vendors
- Partners with business experience.
- Team members interested in participating in the project.

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Jason Gonzales
I’m developing a pay-per-use water purification and dispensing station for use in high density urban areas (subways, shopping districts, transportation centers) that will disrupt the bottled water industry and provide purified and mineral enhanced water to people in cities around the world.

Looking for: I need a team of MEs and EEs to help me build our first prototype and deploy it here in Cambridge/Boston.

- – - – - – - -
Clara Liu
Team Showergy! Bringing showers and cleanliness to slums in Kenya. We have a team of enthusiastic and motivated production and marketing team in Kenya.

Looking for:business people interested in applying their skills to benefit the people in the developing country.

- – - – -
Ahmed El Mahi
I am working on developing an ultra-affordable mobile enabled water dispension unit that will improve access to clean water in communities not served by the water grid.Need people with a passion for increasing water access.

- – - – - – -



Sergio Marrero
1 million HS graduates CHOOSE not to go to college every year, because they don’t have the funds or see the value. Caminos aspires to give every student access to low cost quality education through a mobile platform.

Looking for: We are looking for designers and developers. Caminos. Pathways to excel.

- – - – - – - -
Benjamin Wildrick
Deliver teacher training in rural schools in Zimbabwe.  CITW, a non-profit with offices in 7 southern African countries, is developing an Eco Club model to promote stewardship and environmental awareness among students and teachers.  Zimbabwean and Zambian school teachers will need to be trained in the delivery of this new curriculum.

- – - -
Alice Huang
Connects Chinese students pursuing an American education to current students at top universities in the US. We seek to develop an online tool for students to organize their college application materials with their Mentor’s guidance. These relationships can blossom into a global network for the future generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.

Looking for: We are actively seeking a Lead Technological Coordinator to be part of the founding team to develop and lead a team to create the online tool. I’m full of energy especially when working on a project I care about. I have a lot of experience in developing curriculum and working with schools for various education services. I’m also interested in product design especially for the developing world. I have strong communication skills, including fluency in Chinese, and love understanding and connecting with the people the product is designed for.

- – - – - – - -
Sohail Ali
Saath Saath- Labors and Small Businesses United
Small business enterprises (SBEs) are major employers in developing countries. In Pakistan, SBEs employ 78% of the non-agriculture labor force. These semi-skilled workers are generally employed at minimum wage and have poor access to health, education, and other services. Our aim is to facilitate a mutually beneficial relation between SBEs and their employees which will provide an opportunity for upward social mobility for these low income families and develop a socially responsible community.

- – - – - – -
Madeeha Ansari
Want to look at incentives to increase retention for children in nonformal schools in urban slum areas in Pakistan. Know a network of eight schools, catering to working/ street children. Need people who can process data, like kids and enjoy creative adventures!

I enjoy writing. Actively enjoy it. Looking for innovative education sector interventions.

- – - – - – -


 Greg Grinberg
A distribution platform dedicated to making healthy eating convenient, accessible, and affordable everywhere — by finally taking online grocery shopping to the mainstream.

Our shopping app serves not only as a buying tool but also a virtual nutrition coach, to help consumers make the best food decisions based on their current health status. Our logistical approach reduces carbon emissions from food-related personal transportation by about 90%, brings a full selection of fresh produce to food deserts, and enables direct-sourcing from small/midsize farms at a price that is fair to both grower and consumer.

Looking for: We’re technical founders, and we want to build a team of highly capable and committed programmers.  The kind of team that shares a singular focus on building the best possible product, and who instinctively knows what needs to be done to build it.
- – - – - – - -

Catfish and poultry farming
The fastest growing business in Nigeria is catfish and poultry farming  because of is  emerging industry that has not reached its peak or full potential, so all you need to do s look for a region with a growing demand that haven t been covered by a major player and situate your business there, a team would need my service because of the quality will be added to their establishment, I am created to develop a career that will  enable  me to subdue more challenges opportunities, to  be the best of whom  am created to be, a solution to the world’s problem and  blessing to my country via profession, also i want to work in a  milieu where the  ultimate utlization of my acqured knowledge and potential will be realized.

- – - – - – -

Kwami Williams
MoringaConnect is about enabling subsistence farmers growing Moringa to capture more of the value they produce by equipping them with affordable processing technologies that allow them to extract and sell the high value oil contained in Moringa seeds.

Recruiting Needs: We need people who:

  1. Like writing (blogging, grant proposals, etc)
  2. Like to design and refine technologies
  3. Like exploring business & market elements of a project

- – - – - – -



Ali Kamil
Many crimes in the developing world go unreported to become anecdotal. At CRIMEO, we’re working alongside the MIT Media Lab to create a self-reporting application for incidents, empowering constituents and creating a geographic heat map for incidents.

We aim to solve the problem of unreported incidents by empowering people to report crime. A built in notification system alert others within a local vicinity to avoid precarious areas upon input. Crime reporting at a grassroots level has not been dealt with in this manner.

- – - – - – - -
Amy Robinson
I am organizing TEDxMIT and would love to recruit a team to help make this happen!

- – - – - – - -
Araya Santisan
“Pink HHH”
My team name is “Pink HHH”  coming from the words; Happiness Happen Here in pink color.  I would like to make a community art starting from MIT community. It is a new pink art sculpture in the garden or on the wall- a place people could interact to, enjoy with, and be themselves. A man standing in the art will turn a blank space into a production for others to see.

- – - – - – -
David Kuguru
Sustainable Community Africa Partners (SCAP)
Kenya’s 1950’s mindset on architectural design, construction technology, and building material perpetuates a 150,000 homes shortfall per year. Sustainable Community Africa Partners (SCAP), a not-for-profit social enterprise, will catalyze strategic global and project partners’ expertise and resources for sustainable housing integral to healthy communities and future vitality of Africa’s cities.
12+ years experience in entrepreneurship, social impact advisory, social enterprise management.

Worked with Government of Kenya in collaboration with US and European Investors on an international tender to develop 1,000 homes for civil servants. Launched and managed social enterprise in Kenya creating 1,000 jobs through innovative micro-retailer distribution channel.

- – - – - – - -
Bryan Mezue
Roundtable (http://roundtableapp.com)
A web app that allows you to find partners for student projects in Art & Design, Film & Photography, Technology and other areas.

- – - – - – -
Jean Marechal
The Whistle Journal Project
Distributing journals, implements (and whistles & enrollment in self defense classes) to homeless women for them to write/sketch about their experiences, with the aim of a later art exhibit of the results (with some of the work out-printed or adapted further for viewing accessibility).

Recruitment needs: grant/corporate sponsorship proposal research/development; outreach to homeless community for sign up & distribution of materials and access to classes; possible site procurement for corresponding creative time sessions; coordination/production of art exhibition w/ printing, marketing, mailing & art adaption facilitation.

- – - – - – - -
Eugene Feldman
Rallyt is a new startup out of the MIT Beehive Accelerator Program that is redefining the way people seek and achieve social and political change. It is an innovative social media platform that allows organizations, grassroots campaigns, and individuals to mobilize and engage supporters through collective actions, collaborative social tools, and learning mechanisms.

- – - – -
Esther Jang
IDEiA- Internet for Development, Education, and Information Access
To develop a sustainable economic model for delivering and maintaining Internet access for rural educational institutions in developing nations. The cost-effective technology has been developed and deployed in one location; now we must devise ways for the institution to pay for continued service, cut input costs, and add value to the community.

Needs: Someone with knowledge of economics, someone with experience with mobile/wireless/radio technology, someone with experience with solar technology, someone with experience working with rural communities in developing countries (especially schools), someone with experience fabricating parts (preferably in developing countries)

- – - -  -


Dmitri Boulanov
euMetrica (Mozilla Ignite project)
The holy grail health IT app — taking in diverse sensor data, analyzing it in real-time using cloud resources, and providing real-time decision support to people and their health care providers.

Looking for: venture partners (technical co-founder(s)). Looking for coding skills – Android, Java, machine learning who have spare time. [http://project.eumetrica.com]

- – - – - – -
Edward Comeau
Designing better smoke alarms

Fires kill a disproportionate number of elderly, young, poor and African American. Smoke alarms are disabled or missing in 66% of fatal fires.  We need to have a better smoke alarm design that people will use, cannot be tampered with, and will work when it is needed to save lives.

- – - -
Daisy Chang
Manual hematocrit centrifuge
Anemia affects 1.62 billion people worldwide, more than 1.2 billion of whom reside in developing nations. In developing countries, about 20-40% of maternal deaths during pregnancy may be attributed to anemia-related causes.  Unavailability of appropriate diagnostic equipment is a primary factor underlying delayed treatment and misdiagnosis.

We have developed a low-cost portable manual centrifuge to address this need using power and manual drill parts. Our team is looking for a wide range of skill sets, but particularly people who are more business minded.

- – - – - – -
Laura Stilwell
GlobeMed at MIT
We are recruiting to create a mobile technology for community health workers in Northern Togo to improve the efficiency of their systems.

Looking for: We are looking for computer programmers and those familiar with mobile technology.  We are also looking into other projects to improve the technological capacity of their health care clinics.

- – - – - – -


Philip Obi
Flenjo is an online ticketing platform and mobile payment system. We are seeking anyone with expertise in mobile payment industry

- – - – - – - -
Kristin Kagetsu
Inspired by Nature
Inspired by Nature aims to work with organizations around the world that make natural dyes and pigments and use them for various crafts whether it’s producing textiles or candles or other products.  The goal is to work with them to develop new natural products using base ingredients that are found locally.

- – - – - – -
Layla Shaikley -  MIT Graduate
Kevin Hu — MIT Undergraduate | Physics
Project: Our goal is to create a visually stimulating online platform for a user to buy and sell items within his or her own local neighborhood. We aim to establish a garage sale on demand, elongating the lifespan of stuff. Users can search by price range or aesthetic.

Looking for: We are looking for people with a background in front end web developing and business/marketing.

- – - – - – -
Sampriti Bhattacharyya
Lab-X foundation: make, break, innovate.
Inspire research, innovation and entrepreneurship in developing countries through innovation based challenges, competitions and internships.

- – - – - – -
Laura Hogikyan
My idea, “Spaces,” is an on-line resource that helps businesses share space in beneficial ways (live/work, work/work, etc.), thus lowering barrier to market entry and mutually profiting.

Looking for: I am looking for a programmer to code who is interested in this idea too!

- – - – - – - -

Enrique Bay
Project: what I want to do is to partner with SME merchants in different cities, and offer their products local to low-income consumers. I will offer these consumers an easy to follow goal savings plan, and give them incentives to keep saving (cash, movie tickets, etc)

Need: tech co-founder for platform development

- – - – - – - -

Ezekiel Odiogo
Developing business and technology parks across Africa to help entrepreneurs

The cost of starting/running a business in Africa is astronomically high and challenging due to lack of Infrastructure and support services to leverage entrepreneur/SMEs growth. SMEs face stiff challenges to scale, innovate, and link to market. Proposed project would develop/operate viable Business/Technology Parks across Africa. Pilot country – Nigeria/Ghana.

- – - – - – - -

Joanna Zhou
Lallitara – Creating Value from Waste through upcycling and reselling discarded sari fabrics and mill scraps. Developing upcycled second-hand Indian saris into chic apparel and accessories.

Looking for people with web development savvy! Link: http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/teams/view/334

- – - – -
Mercy Wakweika
My name is Mercy and I am co-founder at Envy. Envy caters to the middle class Ugandan by supplying trendy and affordable ready to wear clothes. To address the unusual retail cycles, we have come up with a new retail model. In this model, we will maintain a retail store and an export center that will supply inventory to other retailers also unable to source inventory in manageable quantities.

Looking for: We are looking for people to brainstorm with.

- – - – - – - – -

Jag Gill
Sustainable luxury fashion
Sustainable luxury fashion sourced in india; innovative technology interface and profit share with local artisan communities

- – - – - – - -


Yuchen Feng
MIT Lenana Project – “Pass the Gas”
We will implement a sustainable waste-management solution for Lenana using easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain technology with easy-to-observe benefits. In January, we will implement composting and a small-scale biodigester. From January to May, Lenanans can learn the mechanics and benefits of both technologies. In June, we will implement a larger biodigester.

- – - – - – -
Daniel Heyman
Summary: household level solar distribution company for West Africa, starting in Sierra Leone.

Method: we will bring existing technologies that couple solar with mobile technology to remote control electricity flow from East Africa to West Africa. This creates an enforcement mechanism for asset financing.

Recruitment: anyone interested! Electric engineers!
- – - – - – - -
Caroline Howe
Team Name: NewCycle

Project Summary: Creating low-cost equipment to turn non-recyclable waste into building materials for low income communities in the global south

Recruiting Needs: MechE and Building Technology students, business students, and those working on development

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Essmart: Building a channel through which products can sell

It has been a busy few months for the Essmart team. After the encouraging results of our pilot in January 2012 and the support of organizations like the IDEAS Global Challenge, we returned to India to launch our enterprise in August.

For the past two months, we have been focused on doing – on building our distribution network and getting essential technologies into local shops. We found office and warehouse space in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, India. We brought on board our Director of Field Operations and a sales agent. We built relationships with 20 retail shops, and then cut this down to the 12 most promising shops. We started marketing our catalogue of essential technologies to shop owners and rural households. We tested and added a few new products to our catalogue. We have sold over 50 units through our retail shop network, and we are bringing on two new sales agents in the coming week to start expanding our reach.

It has all been very exciting, but in the midst of all this doing there has been little time for thinking. We have been focused on building relationships with shop owners so that we can sell products and get our business off the ground. But it is important for us to remember that our mission is not, in fact, to sell products. That is the task of our partner retail shops. Our mission is to build a channel through which products can sell.

To this end, we would like to forget all of the numbers for a minute and focus on our process. At the heart of our channel are retail shop owners, and we have been learning a lot by watching them over the past few months. First, we are learning about how crucial it is for shop owners to understand our product catalogue. It is not enough for shop owners to want to sell the products for profit; they must understand and believe in each product before they feel comfortable marketing it to their customers. Our demonstrations in shops have been critical in building understanding and confidence in our products. We’ve watched the comfort levels of our shop owners increase over time, to the point where they’re ready to take over the marketing.

Second, we are learning how important it is for shop owners to trust and believe in Essmart. The effort that we put into our relationships with shop owners far exceeds other distributors’. In rural India, companies come and go, taking advantage of the locals. As an enterprise based on a social mission, we take a different approach. We’re in this business for the long haul, and we need to build up our presence and brand. This begins with gaining the trust of the shop owners, who are more willing to sell our products when they know that we’ll be around to service them.

Each shop owner is different, which brings us to our third lesson learned: How much structure is needed to help our enterprise scale while also giving us the flexibility to cater to each shop? This is more of a question than a lesson learned, as we’re still trying to figure out the answer ourselves. We’re aiming to strike a balance between flexibility and structure as we’re creating this channel that facilitates and supports the flow of information and goods.

Despite lots of doing in the past few months, we still have a long way to go in building a sustainable, scalable channel for technologies that will change the lives of people in rural India. Some of this will be accomplished by doing – by repeatedly testing new ideas, increasing product sales, and marketing and servicing the products that are sold. But a good chunk will come from focusing on relationships with shop owners and end users, information exchange, and customer feedback. In a sense, these are non-tangible items that are not reflected in the numbers that we post. Yet although they don’t contribute to the nitty-gritty building of Essmart’s channel, they ultimately inform the shape of it.


Written by Diana Jue and Jackie Stenson with Essmart Global, a 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge award recipient.

Essmart creates a marketplace for life-improving, essential technologies in places where people already shop. www.essmart-global.com

Changing attitudes about recycling in Lagos

In August, after months of market research, partnership development, fundraising, and planning, the Wecyclers team left Cambridge for Lagos, Nigeria. We want to improve urban environments in low-income areas by empowering communities to tackle the problem of unmanaged waste. Our solution is to offer convenient recycling services paired with a rewards program. We knew that seeing our program in action in Lagos would be a true test. We were ready to send collection bikes out into the community to collect materials and reward redeemable points. But we wondered, exactly how would households react to us. Would the excitement that we heard in early customer interviews translate into practice?

Our first collection bike in action.

Our first day of collection was August 24th, 2012.  To prepare for this day, we held a community recycling awareness day in partnership with the city government’s waste management agency, we did outreach in the neighborhoods, and we held mini-workshops to describe exactly how the collection program would work. We had signed up 107 interested households who agreed to start separating their recyclables for us. Still, on that first day, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We ended up collecting 32 kgs of plastic and aluminum from 16 different houses and the excitement we had hoped to find was clearly there. After all the talk, people were delighted to see that our collection bikes actually existed. And not only that, people were amazed to find that they did receive SMS texts with their rewards points within 24 hours after their recycling pick-up. We were starting to gain traction.

And our momentum has only grown since that first day. Everyday we sign-up new households and we’re collecting more material each week. Our average collection is now over 100kgs per day. We’ve hired three local staff members and we’re building trusted relationships in the communities where we work.

Wecyclers subscribers showing their recyclable materials.

The most rewarding aspect of this work though, is seeing the true change in people’s perspectives and behavior around waste, especially among the youth. Parents have told us about how their kids are vigilant about separating out their recycling at home. One 12-year old boy always has his eye-out for recyclable materials, even in unlikely situations. One day, his family held a graduation party for him and after the formalities were finished, instead of dancing or chatting with his friends, he went around from table to table to collect the empty plastic bottles so that he could recycle them with Wecyclers. Another 8-year old girl has led her family to be one of the highest Wecyclers points earners in our network. Seeing that level of engagement motivates us to keep expanding our fleet of bikes so that we can continue to expand the households we serve.


By Alex Fallon with Wecyclers.

Hitting Backspace – Recovers.org Focus on Preparedness

After winning the IDEAS Global Challenge, our team took a hard look at our project’s mission and vision. One of our greatest strengths as first a student group and then a company has been that we never assume we are doing the right thing. I can imagine nothing less helpful to disaster recovery than to build a complicated pack of tools and try to force people on the ground to use them. For this reason, we develop by constantly flying into disaster areas and checking our development against needs on the ground.

It was during this same process of boot-on-the-ground testing, we realized that our favored method of dropping out of the sky to deploy software was not best way to help communities recover. In fact, we realized that much of the work needed to increase community resilience must be done before the storm.

Morgan and Dave flew to Florida in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby, only to find that no one they spoke to in the communities they visited seemed to realize how important it was that they begin taking in some of the aid being offered. After a frustrating week, they left (read more about the trip and our lessons here: http://recovers.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/slow-burn/). Eventually, a local organizer using Facebook to scrape together volunteers would take over use of the platform. Under her watch, the software has helped build a community of volunteers that not only responded to Debby’s damage, but also sandbagged homes to prepare for Hurricane Isaac.

Preparedness: the missing ingredient

Whoa, hit the backspace key. We’re talking about two very similar disasters in two very similar communities. What made New Port Richey, FL after TS Debby different than Northfield, VT after TS Irene? It wasn’t our ability to reach the community. We arrived at roughly the same time post-storm. It wasn’t the resources available on the ground – both areas were being served by a multitude of national and regional aid organizations.

It was preparedness.

Suddenly a lot of pieces fell into place. A group of four flying into disaster areas to save the day, while a cool plot for an action flick, is not practical or what is needed. A team of four focused on building tools that will prepare a community to recover, and distributing them before  a disaster is infinitely more useful. We’ve pivoted accordingly, licensing the software as a preparedness tool to interested communities.

Back at the drawing board, we took a more critical look at the “community facing” side of our software. Small things, like an easy sign up process, a way to keep involved after signing up, preparedness tips and integration with existing social media chatter, are just as important as volunteer tracking features. It doesn’t matter if we have the best hours logging program in the world if the community isn’t aware they can volunteer.

We’ve swung our focus to getting these tools in place ahead of a storm. We can keep our team small and focused, build faster, and provide better service if we’re in place when things hit the proverbial fan. We’ve also realized that it is much more economically sustainable to charge a small fee for preparing towns than it would be to somehow find a sponsor for recovering towns.

We’re on our way – with this new list of priorities, we’re able to narrow our focus and devote more time to the features that will have the greatest impact upon recovery. We still fly into disasters to test things, but we’re building a sustainable business around being there before that.

- – - – - -

Written by Caitria O’Neill with Recovers.org, a 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge award recipient.

Recovers.org provides easy-to-use tools to help communities efficiently structure volunteers, donations and information. http://recovers.org.

Lemelson-MIT Award For Global Innovation

Masters Class Taught By UC Berkeley Professor, Ashok Gadgil: June 21st 2012

“Technology Innovations for the poorest 2 Billion On The Planet”

Professor Gadgil spoke in front of a mixed audience in the Ray and Maria Stata Center this morning. Gadgil, a world-renowned inventor, professor, and scientist received the 2012 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. This $100,000 award recognizes individuals whose technological innovations improve the lives of impoverished people in the developing world.

Gadgil has been involved with numerous projects and inventions throughout his career, but he chose to focus on his most recent: Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR). Which is a technology designed to reduce the Arsenic levels of groundwater in undeveloped countries, by removing Arsenic at the molecular level through a chemical reaction that attaches the Arsenic particles to particles of Iron and then filtering them out as a compound.

Arsenic poisoning has been called “the largest mass poisoning in the history of mankind” by the World Health Organization, and is a serious problem throughout the globe, but especially in the developing world.

Gadgil used Bangladesh as his primary example for Arsenic poisoning. Estimates cited in Gadgil’s presentation pegged the number of people with some form of Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh at somewhere around 70 million! Today, around 20% of the adult population in Bangladesh now dies from some sort of Arsenic-related cause.

As Professor Gadgil said earlier today, “ECAR is a high performance system that reliably and affordably removes Arsenic” The barriers to solving the Arsenic problem were both socio-economic, and technological. Gadgil and his team of interdisciplinary partners developed a sustainable and scalable solution for the vast complications that prevented systems like ECAR from taking hold in the past.

When asked to elaborate on some of the lessons he has learned from past failures, Gadgil offered three pieces of advice. First, never cut off the research component of new technological innovations. Second, real-world problems are complex; working with people who are great at what they do will give you greater chances for success (no one ever succeeds on their own). And lastly, always be extremely persistent, while making sure to learn from your past failures. As professor Gadgil put it; “fail smartly”.


By: Nathan Birnbaum: MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Intern

Pitches and Posters: An Evening of Ideas

By guest author Vijay Shilpiekandula, Volunteer for MIT IDEAS

Lights, camera, action! The stage was set and the players – MIT teams, armed with posters showcasing their ideas — thrived in the spotlight. The MIT Stata Center saw a flurry of activity on April 30, 2012 as 37 teams led by MIT students pitched their projects to an expert panel of judges at the Poster and Judging session. This year’s teams spearheaded a wide array of projects involving product design, business innovation, and sustainability, all aimed to meet global community needs.

Grooming Innovators

Building the workhorse of innovation is more of marathon than a sprint. Long hours, late night discussions, and last minute debugging of models and plans were the norm. For some, it started from introductory meetings with others in the MIT and Greater Boston community, through multiple IDEAS Generator dinners organized over last fall and this spring. For others, it started from brainstorming with passion in their dorm rooms and department labs.

Over different phases of the competition, the teams wrote project proposals that went through multiple rounds of review and revision. Meanwhile, the teams made connections with the communities that would directly benefit from the team’s idea.

“It started as a small idea, [but it] grew organically,” said Kevin Kung, one of the participants whose team is composed of MIT graduate and undergraduate students, as well as volunteers, mentors, and community partners.

Passion Shows

“This is great evening… for the commitment you [students] show to the community,” said Professor Amy Smith, who had founded the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge 11 years ago and, more recently, the MIT D-Lab. She continued with advice on pitching to the expert panel of judges, a team of 40 formed from MIT administration, government, industry, and academic professionals from all over the world. “Tell [the judges] your idea,” Smith said, emphasizing the need for teams to voice their experience with their projects, how they toyed with the idea, what worked, what did not, and what lay ahead.

As judges and audiences came by to the posters, each team employed a variety of tools ranging from slideshows and prototypes to business models and lessons learnt from actual field trials in the communities they targeted.

“They [judges] asked me very intriguing questions,” said Srikanth Bolla, a student in MIT Sloan, who spent the last few months honing his team’s proposal, and more than a year laying the groundwork that helped his team tackle the judges’ questions. Along with Bolla’s team, which targeted education, training, and sustainability, the IDEAS teams this year came up with innovative solutions to challenges in fields such as water clean water, healthcare, mobile devices and communication, housing and transportation, disaster relief, finance and entrepreneurship, and agriculture and processing.

The Awards Ceremony: a shout out to Innovation and Public Service

We look forward to celebrating the investments that went into this year’s projects. On Thursday May 3, 6-9pm in the MIT Stata Center 32-123, the IDEAS Global Challenge will be announcing the winners and showcasing the student enthusiasm for the world at large. There will be a lecture by guest speaker Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, and a special toast to the students!

MIT IDEAS Global Challenge now on Pinterest

All IDEAS entrants, if you have visual content you would like to display to generate publicity for your team as public voting goes on, there is now a Pinterest board dedicated to showcasing all teams in the Global Challenge, MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Teams.  E-mail yangbodu@alum.mit.edu with your Pinterest username so that you can be added to the list of collaborators who can post to the IDEAS Board.  If you are not on Pinterest yet, you may request an invite via the site itself or by e-mailing the same address listed prior.  Happy pinning!