It is always inspiring to see the transformation of nascent ideas into growing ventures, and this year’s Echoing Green Finalists are no exception. Among some of the exciting ideas – including a vehicle designed and produced in Africa called Mobius – are six ventures that began at, or have been advanced at, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here’s a quick summary of these outstanding young initiatives:
- Community Water Solutions. Community Water Solutions is a non-for-profit social enterprise that partners with rural communities in developing countries to establish sustainable water treatment businesses. These businesses are owned and operated by the communities that they serve, and use simple, affordable technologies to enable the treatment, distribution, and storage of clean, safe drinking water. The maintenance and operation of these water treatment businesses is funded by revenue from the sale of drinking water, while the capital necessary to establish them is generated from CWS fundraising activities. Learn more at: www.communitywatersolutions.org.
- Emerge Global. In the summer of 2005, on a Tsunami-relief trip to Sri Lanka, Alia Whitney Johnson witnessed a reality she was not equipped to handle… a reality where young women age 10-18 were cast out of their own families, denied the right to formal education, and locked away for their own protection due to pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. She founded the Emerge Bead Program as a way to provide the tools these girls needed to become confident, respected, self-reliant members of society. Over the past two years, the program has enabled more than 80 girls to express themselves creatively while generating money for their futures. Learn more at www.emergeglobal.org.
- Leveraged Freedom Chair. A lever powered mobility aid for developing countries, the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC) is being developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Mobility Laboratory. Conventional wheelchairs are unsuited for the rough roads and long distances faced by the disabled in developing countries. The LFC’s unique lever drivetrain enables users to travel faster than conventional wheelchairs on tarmac and off road like no other mobility aid available. Learn more at: http://mlab.mit.edu.
- One Earth Designs. One Earth Designs serves as a catalyst for socially and environmentally minded innovation among Himalayan agricultural and nomadic communities. Acting as a conduit through which communities can access technical and business support, we unleash the potential of modern design thinking. Learn more: www.oneearthdesigns.org.
- Sanergy. Sanergy aims to generate renewable energy by providing clean sanitation services in countries that desperately lack both. In the urban slums of Kenya, Sanergy is building a dense network of low-cost franchised sanitation centers that are accessible and affordable to the community. They collect the waste from these sanitation centers at a central processing facility where it is converted into electricity and fertilizer that is sold on the open market. Learn more: http://kenyasanergy.blogspot.com.
- Supply Change. Supply Change is a fair trade, organic fruit company which uses fruit that would otherwise be wasted, processing it into high-value, high-quality products to provide income for farmers and nutritious food for consumers. Their work utilizes high and low tech tools to increase supply chain efficiencies in Paraguay, where investments into the small-scale farming sector simply don’t match investments made into large-scale, monocrop farming. Supply Change is developing cutting-edge cellular and fruit processing technologies to support rural development, combat global poverty, and create healthier food options for all. Learn more at: www.stoptherotnow.com.
One of the exciting details I’d like to comment on is how many of these initiatives have been advanced in ways both small and large through MIT’s growing social entrepreneurship ecology, which includes the D-Lab series of courses, Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development, and the MIT Public Service Center.