April 28, 2012
E4C connects leading innovators in Washington, DC
contributor: Rob Goodier
We held Washington, DC’s most appropriate-technology-friendly meet-and-greet of the year at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Atrium this week. Solar light bulbs, ram pumps, open-source text-messaging tools and a rice planter shared the elegant space at E4C Connect. Our latest networking event brought together thought leaders in international development technology with the field’s rising stars and other experts and friends on the East Coast. We co-hosted the event with AAAS on the closing day of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s eighth annual National Sustainable Design Expo (see our coverage of promising new tech for developing countries at the design expo here).
Lessons from the field
We heard solid advice from our three-expert panel. A common theme was the high value of the customer, the person who uses and even co-creates technologies that we build in developing regions. Bill Ball, Associate Director of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, shared insights from his work in irrigation on small farms in South Africa. JHU’s Engineers Without Borders-USA chapter put highlights from their irrigation project on YouTube.
Steve Katsaros, founder of the Nokero solar light bulb enterprise gave practical tips for start-ups. This gem of sometimes-forgotten logic was among them: Set a price, deliver at that price and then make sure you get paid.
And Saul Garlick, founder of ThinkImpact, led us on a role-reversing thought experiment. Consider a team of Kenyans who land in Texas on a three-week trip to solve problems that face Americans, he said. Then he made up two terrible ways to solve the problems of obesity and the lack of a sense of community. The upshot, he said, is that the problems that Kenyans deal with are as complex as those that people in the West have in our own backyards.
Technology on display
DC hosts some of the world’s leading innovators in technological solutions for problems in places where resources are scarce. We were proud to invite experts from d.light, FrontlineSMS, the Solar Electric Light Fund, Drexler University and others. These are the amazing problem solvers that shared their work with us.
Short for no kerosene, the Nokero solar bulb is a hassle-free light. It’s useful in households and outdoor spaces anywhere, and it can be essential to clean indoor air, good grades and later business hours in off-grid communities.
This international social enterprise offers the Innovation Institute, which immerses participants in eight weeks of entrepreneurship training for Africa’s markets.
Working with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, the non-profit healthcare organization Jhpiego is developing a low-cost antenatal screening kit. With the kit, community healthcare workers can easily screen for pregnancy complications such as eclampsia, urinary tract infections and gestational diabetes.
fhi360’s multidisciplinary staff of experts in health, education, nutrition, economic development, environment and other fields work to solve development issues in more than 60 countries.
Greenstone Cement / The Thai Harvest Initiative
These two projects spring from Alex Moseson and other researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Greenstone cCement is alkali-activated and avoids up to 97 percent of the carbon dioxide released in the production of ordinary Portland cement and costs 40% of the price. And the Thai Harvest Initiative is designing low-cost rice planters and weeders to streamline the work of rice farmers in Thailand.
This notable organization manufactures solar lanterns for off-grid communities, making its mission to serve the 1.6 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to electricity.
Frontline SMS produces free, open-source software that for creating text-messaging services. It turns an ordinary computer and a mobile phone into a communications hub that large groups of people can use to send and receive text messages. Applications for the technology have included market-price information for farmers, weather updates, mobile education and many more.
Solar Electric Light Fund
SELF designs solar solutions for people living off the grid or otherwise without access to adequate electricity.
Engineers Without Borders-USA
EWB-USA’s Johns Hopkins University student chapter and Washington, DC, professional chapter shared highlights from their work in developing communities worldwide.
We’re hosting E4C Connect events like this around the United States. The last one was in Denver, Colorado, and we’re on the lookout for the next city where we can again bring together technology leaders to learn and share our accomplishments.