Monthly Archive for February, 2012

‎2 DAYS until the next Initial Scope deadline!

All teams entering the IDEAS Global Challenge must submit at least one Initial Scope Statement.

This is the last chance to submit and get feedback from volunteers: March 2 by 11:59PM; details online at http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/competition/how-to-enter

 

Team Profile: Recovers.Org / Developing a New Solution for Disaster Relief

49 teams are signed up to enter this year’s IDEAS Global Challenge. Nick Holden, helping with his knack for writing and interviewing has created a series of profiles on teams.

Last week, he profiled Team Recovers.org who are working to finesse a tool to harness and deploy the power of people’s help after a disaster. I included a snippet of the profile below. You can read the entire profile through this link.

Q. What’s innovative about the solution you are proposing to make an impact on disaster recovery?

A. There’s this huge spike in interest after a disaster. Fifty percent of all web searches seeking to help occur in the first seven days after a disaster.

An affected town loses the potential resources it could get from the initial spike in interest because it doesn’t have the capacity to accept the physical or financial resources. Without the proper technology in place, towns can’t capitalize on that early interest, and they are left without a platform to build more interest and no money for recovery.

Every single community that is affected by a disaster is affected by this technological black hole. For example, FEMA makes aid distribution based upon data it receives from communities after a disaster. That data includes how many volunteers worked, where they worked, for how many hours they worked, and what heavy machinery they used. In the first two weeks after a disaster, towns don’t even know that data needs to be tracked, and they don’t have tools to track it.

We’re disaster experts now because we’ve done this before. What we can do is structure the inputs with really easy-to-use software. We can make a button that says: “Where are you sending this volunteer?” Then we give coordinators this software that allows them to track volunteers. Now, FEMA gets their data, and the town gets more money because of it.

We started going into disaster areas as part of our development. Chris [Kuryak] and I just got back from Alabama. In the course of three-and-a-half days, we were able to set up an online recovery hub for a city that was ravaged by tornadoes on Jan. 24.

Using our website, the community has already flagged tons of cases of fraud attempts — of people going to multiple distribution centers. They’ve collected a massive database of donation items, especially things that are too large for people to bring in and store, but that are going to be needed six months to five years down the road, like china cabinets for people who are rebuilding their homes. It was pretty phenomenal proof-of-concept.

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Keep reading over at the MIT News site.

(Great profile, Nick!)

Embrace and Me: A Follow-Up to ‘Notes “Product Development for the Other 90%”’

By guest author: Hamsika Chandrasekar

I read Bina’s Notes on “Product Development for the Other 90%” and felt a spark of interest when I came across her description of Embrace, a social enterprise that has developed an innovative, low-cost infant warmer to help keep low-birth-weight and premature infants warm. Thanks to the combined support of the MIT Public Service Center, Baker Foundation, and Kelly-Douglas Fund, I was able to spend the last month in India, working to launch Embrace’s infant warmer at the Shamlaji Tribal Hospital in Gujarat.

This hospital is located in the small village of Shamlaji, about two hours outside Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city. It is managed by a husband and wife doctor team, Drs. Haren Joshi and Pratima Tolat, who ensure that the free treatment provided at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital is of high quality. Working with Embrace, I selected Shamlaji Tribal Hospital for my service project due to its focus on rural healthcare and its high numbers of low birth weight infants. When I arrived at the hospital, I found two packages, both marked ‘most urgent,’ waiting for me in the hospital office. I opened one quickly and happily held up its contents: the Embrace infant warmer. Looking back now, I still remember that sense of excitement and purpose I felt when I unwrapped the device. I couldn’t believe that after all the emails, the training sessions, the conference calls, and the planning, I was finally at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, working with an organization I had heard about through a TedTalk and immediately loved.

My first day, unwrapping an Embrace infant warmer

I spent nearly three weeks in Gujarat, conversing with the doctors and nurses and showing them how to operate the infant warmer.

During my time there, nine infants benefited from the Embrace product, absorbing the warmer’s heat and gaining weight during their hospital stay. Together, the nurses and I monitored these babies and collected data on each infant. I was happy to see that the nurses quickly became comfortable with the Embrace product, taking it out whenever a newborn weighed between 1.5 kg and 2.5 kg, the recommended weight range for product use.

A (2.5 kg) infant sleeping peacefully in the Embrace infant warmer

The biggest challenge for me was the language barrier: I spoke no Gujarati and very little Hindi, the two most prominent languages in the region. I worked with the hospital staff via an interpreter, pausing at the end of each sentence and allowing her to translate what I had said. With her help, I also explored some of the other healthcare needs in the area, meeting with the head of Shamlaji Village and traveling out to the Himmatnagar Civil Hospital, to which many patients from Shamlaji Tribal Hospital are referred.

For me, this project served not only as an opportunity to perform hands-on service work but also as a reminder of the realities in impoverished regions and the challenges involved in the improvement of rural healthcare. For every baby born in Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, many more are born at home, never receiving proper care and often dying due to preventable reasons. Parents, desperate to have kids that survive past infancy, pay little attention to established family planning methods. Poor education makes it difficult for villagers to comprehend the dangers associated with at-home deliveries and improper antenatal care. Throughout my time in Gujarat, I was reminded of how much more I – and for that matter, anyone in the world – could do to help.

Hamsika Chandrasekar is currently a junior at MIT and a previous PSC expedition grant recipient. She is double majoring in Computational Biology (Course 6-7) and Neuroscience (Course 9), hopes to enroll in medical school following her undergraduate years, and ultimately wants to pursue a career in global health. 

Tackling the Global Education Crisis, One Innovation at a Time

Whether it’s helping Mexican university students bridge the gap between industry and academia, or providing Ugandan children with basic health education programs, many teams this year have chosen to tackle the difficult problems facing the global education sector.

In recent years, social innovators have joined the ranks of talented teachers and school administrators in rethinking traditional school models, finding creative ways to improve educational quality and access.

A new policy paper by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation might be of interest to those pursuing projects related to educational reform.

How Social Entrepreneurship is Helping to Improve Education Worldwide (available online) highlights the distinct contributions of social innovators in helping to improve early childhood education in low-income communities, creating alternate channels for funding, and providing basic skills to at-risk populations across the globe.

Author Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, draws from several interesting case studies that illustrate the potential for social enterprise to solve issues ranging from poor educational access to the growing achievement gap. The key to the success of these enterprises, Scofield writes, lies in their ability to effectively utilize business practices emphasizing sustainability and scalability – two important attributes of any winning IDEAS Challenge project! Here are a few examples:

In the Bronx, the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) not only runs multiple afterschool programs and summer camps, but has also created hundreds of revenue-generating businesses within the community, helping to ensure the continued success and long-term sustainability of its programs.

In India, where harsh inequities prevail and 90 million women remain illiterate, the Mann Deshi Foundation provides vocational training and financial literacy to women in impoverished communities. It also runs the Mann Deshi Business School, which delivers microbusiness courses in mobile classrooms, and the Mann Deshi Mahlia Bank, which provides loans for its business school graduates to start microenterprises.

DonorsChoose.org is a charitable marketplace where teachers can make simple classroom requests, from pencils to microscope slides, for their students. As of August 2011, the website has generated $85 million benefitting more than 5 million schoolchildren in the U.S. The website notably allows individual donors to contribute to its overhead costs (with 76% choosing to do so), and has established diverse funding streams that include multiple corporate sponsors.

We hope that these examples of powerful — and sustainable — social innovations offer a bit of inspiration for those joining the education cause!