Monthly Archive for January, 2012

This year’s teams on the field over IAP

Follow the Takachar team ( as they begin research in Nairobi on how improve the sustainability and security of cooking fuel.

Follow Diana Jue from Essmart ( as she tests ideas about technology dissemination.

Follow Greg Tao from ALCAS last year ( as he continues his project:

IAP Opportunities with IDEAS Global Challenge

Check out some helpful events happening over IAP (

Pahoehoe: Do-Gooders Behind the Desk – Thu Jan 19, 12-01:30pm, 1-135


Join us to hear from five MIT staff members who are making a difference in communities near and far. You’ll hear about a rowing program for cancer survivors, cell phone technology for detecting hearing loss in Brazil, athletes who are running to end cancer, and more.

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Answers to your Intellectual Property Questions

January 25 – 2:00pm – 3:30pm, 4-153

Starting a new company? Working on a new technology? Looking to learn more about intellectual property? Come join intellectual property attorney Peter Gordon, founder of Patent GC LLC, for an open question and answer session. RSVP to with IP in the subject

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Starting Up Your Startup
Thu Jan 26, 03-04:00pm, 3-270

Do you have a brilliant idea but no clue on how to take it to the next level? Our panel discussion of Start-Upswill have speakers at various stages in the Start-Up process from sloppy beginnings to smooth runnings. Preregistration requested through CareerBridge.

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(Public) Service Smorgasbord: Eats and Opportunities

Tuesday, January 31 – noon – 1:30pm, W20-491


What type of service do you want to do? Maybe you want to tutor high school students in Cambridge, be paid for public service work with a great organization whoneeds your help, work with a community partner somewhere else in the world, or develop a new solution to deliver impact. We’ll have an open conversation over a smorgasbord of food to share with you the best way to get started on public service or to try something new.

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Design to Scale – Developing Technologies for Global Impact

Thursday, February 2; 3:30 – 5:00pm, at MIT in building 56-114

Working to scale a technology designed for the bottom of the pyramid? Come join for the first of a series of events as we lay the foundation for what to consider when designing for global impact.  RSVP to

Sponsored by D-Lab, IDEAS Global Challenge, International Development Initiative, Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, Public Service Center, SEID.

Ghana’s Growing Pains

By any factual account, Ghana is charging into the 21st century. But if you ask a Ghanaian, he or she will say “we have a long way to go and far too many problems.” This critical self-awareness from many Ghanaians is, itself, just one of many signs that the country knows its potential and is striving toward it.

I’m writing from the bustling neighborhood of Osu, nestled in the heart of Ghana’s capital city of Accra. At first glance, one might fixate on the battered assemblies of metal that haphazardly navigate the streets, or the blue-green sewage slime carrying bags and Coke cans out to sea. On the other hand, Osu’s Oxford Street is lined with electronics stores, mom & pop print shops, banks, internet cafés, and restaurants, all teeming with activity from 7am to the wee hours of the night. And most importantly, it is not the “obrunis” (white tourists) that fill this demand, it is Ghanaians.

The numbers are there to support what I’m seeing: according to IMF statistics, Ghana is the world’s fastest growing economy in 2011. The entire West Africa region, in fact, has tracked at around 5% average growth per year for the past decade. In a recent feature article of The Economist, the message is clear: this is not a short-lived burst, this is meaningful change.

However, as my Ghanaian colleagues keep pointing out, many challenges remain. I’ve been doing a deep-dive into the food processing industry in the country. There are countless producers of shea butter, edible oils, dried fruits, and many other food products (for a first glance, check out West Africa Trade Hub’s website). For the most part, these enterprises produce on a small scale, and have trouble expanding their operations. They cite three major obstacles:

1. Getting financing for capital investments
2. Finding high-quality packaging that can compete on the supermarket shelves
3. Government policies which affect industry development

Some mentioned other challenges, including finding well-trained, globally-minded staff, and meeting the stringent requirements of export markets.

However, if one thing has come through clearly during my research, it is that Ghanaians claim full responsibility for meeting these challenges. In the past Ghana, like many African countries, has been heavily dependent on foreign aid; today, as a staff member of a packaging company told me, “if we want to make this happen, if we want to build a successful industry at home, it is not up to America or Europe or Asia to do it. It is up to us.” This mentality is perhaps best reflected in Ghana’s educational achievements. For example, reforms in the 1980s established additional schools, science centers and teacher training colleges, yet there is still record enrollment every year; girls’ enrollment alone increased 8% from 1990 to 2000. It is this growing class of educated Ghanaians that will shape the country’s future.

What does all this mean? It means we owe Ghana and many of its neighbors a big congratulations, and a little more patience. Everyone has growing pains, and at around age 50, these West African nations are still in their youth.

January 2012 Newsletter

Every month we send out a newsletter on what’s happening in the competition, updates on teams entered into the competition this year and news of alums of the program that are working in the field. If you’d like to sign up for our newsletter, add your email address at: In the meantime, here’s the latest from us.

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Welcome to 2012! And Happy New Year from those of us in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We’re changing up the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge newsletter this year and trying something new.


We’re halfway through the academic year at MIT. We have 34 teams entering so far this year. They range from looking at using coconut oil for fuel to developing a new Braille watch. Teams are working to submit their initial drafts of what they propose as solutions – what we call an Initial Scope Statement. They have four opportunities to submit. We match teams up with volunteer reviewers who meet with teams and provide an external perspective on the team’s work. As is true with any idea, the ideas coming into the competition may not resemble those that come out of the competition.

The next chance for teams to submit an Initial Scope Statement is January 25. Keep an eye for more teams signing up!

If you’re around during January, come join us for a workshop:


Meet the 34 teams entering this year:

Right now many of the teams are working out in the field – like team Takachar ( working in Nairobi to identify how to improve the sustainability and security of cooking fuel and team Essmart working on how to supply corner stores in India with the latest life-improving technologies (


Through the IDEAS Global Challenge site, teams request help and individuals offer their help. Come help out!

We’re looking for a web coder to come join our volunteer force. Come help us create new ways to connect people to IDEAS Global Challenge and the work teams are doing. Is that you? Drop us a note: globalchallenge [at]

Keen to join us in financially supporting the student-led teams working on new solutions for good? We’d love to tell your more about the opportunities to sponsor an award sponsor, an event sponsor and more. Drop Kate a note for more details: kmytty [at]


Meet this year’s teams:
We blog at:
We share events and deadlines, at MIT and beyond at:
We tweet through @mitchallenge
Email us globalchallenge [at]


Notes from “Product Development for the Other 90%”

Recently, I listened in on a webinar called “Product Development for the Other 90%,” hosted by Engineering for Change. It featured the work of AIDG, which from 2004 to 2010 ran an R&D division with universities and engineering groups, to create products for the developing world. The webinar was presented by Peter Haas, the founder and executive director of AIDG.

With his experience in poverty issues, technology, and entrepreneurship, Peter pointed to 6 innovations that had successful design processes. I hope this helps teams currently working on humanitarian designs!

1. Humdinger wind energy

The designers were trying to make a product that was <$1. When designing for the other 90%, costs become extremely important.

The organization set up a remote monitoring system, which allowed people away from the community to continuously stay in touch and get data in the testing. They could Skype directly with the tower and ask voltage/weather conditions. This is a great model for how to get continuous feedback and communication from the environment that you’re designing for.

2. Embrace

Design That Matters created a Car-Parts Incubator (baby incubator, It was cheaper than the Western incubator, which usually costs $20,000. It seems like a good idea, but…

The folks at Embrace Incubator made one better. They asked, “What keeps the baby warm?” and took the design down to the core, creating a much cheaper final product: a baby blanket.

Peter suggests designers to strip off 90% of the materials, see what you can do.

The good thing about Embrace is that it is dedicated towards commercialization (large-scale, addresses local innovations). Furthermore, the press around Embrace is clear that this is a design in progress, making it clear that there is more work to be done.

Currently: Embrace partnered with GE and is supposedly in production now. This type of partnership necessary for medical devices (

3. Seimens protostove

Created in collaboration with a university professor who’d already been doing testing for 4-5 yrs, and who wanted to commercialize it at large scale. The protostove saw mixed success, and it faced challenges with distribution and production. For example, it needed many parts, and it might’ve been better to be mass produced in China and then distributed.

The good thing about the protostove is that it’s well-designed and beautiful. Peter suggests, “Don’t give people junk” just because they are in the emerging market. If you can design something beautiful, try to design something beautiful.

The look of your product does make a difference in sales.

4. D.light

The good things about D.light are that it adapted existing technologies, had short R&D cycles with clear goals, and brought things to market.

5. IDE Treadle pump

The great thing about the IDE Treadle pump is that it allows small farmers to invest and then make back their investment.

6. DME

This is the stove for Haitian market to reduce charcoal by 50%. It looks similar to the African jiko stove! But the jiko just hadn’t been introduced in Haiti, so the organization brought a near-similar product to Haiti. The cost of production was $7, and the stove sold at $9 (similar to costs in Africa).

The lesson learned is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at what’s already in existence.

Celebrating 2011 in Science

In anticipation of 2012, Nature published its “2011 in review“, highlighting major strides setbacks in science. The past year witnessed several landmarks in pure science, such as the claim that moving neutrinos could surpass the speed of light, as well as noteworthy advances in applied science and in the innovative environment.

In applied science, 2011 saw advances in cost-efficient genome sequencing technology, which will improve diagnostics and provide insights in evolutionary history. More on the medicinal front, 2012 will be able to enjoy new drug treatments for hepatitis C, lupus and melanoma.

More fundamentally, the innovative environment has shifted along with important political and societal upheavals in the past year. As the Arab Spring exploded across the Middle East and northern Africa, scientists considered the coevolution of democracy and scientific research. The earthquake-driven tsunami that devastated Japan spurred worldwide backlashes against nuclear technology that may resonate with 2012’s choices in alternative energy. And the world’s realization of 7 billion came with heightened awareness that we may indeed be living in the Anthropocene, a new geological time period defined by the burden of human population.

As Nature highlights, 2011 leaves many imprints on the upcoming year. While innovation by nature hinges upon the ability to push boundaries, it also depends upon existing structures and precedents. Thus, science will have to wait as the Arab Spring nations slowly solidify their transitions. Clean energy may only grow so far as national communities are ideologically and financially prepared for it.

On the other hand, growing scientific and global awareness of the Anthropocene offers encouraging prospects for 2012. Changing perspectives on human environmental impact may open up new world concerns, new priorities for problem-solving and, ultimately, new pathways for innovation. What New Year’s resolutions can science make for the coming year?