Greenhouses can help farmers increase their yields and improve their livelihoods while reducing spoilage and furthering food security. When used correctly, and by timing the market, greenhouses can increase annual yields tenfold while reducing water consumption by 30% to 70% compared to open-air farming. Most greenhouses sold in sub-Saharan Africa are designed for commercial farmers and are too large and expensive for smallholder farmers and small agro-enterprises. Such greenhouses are metal structures with typical dimensions of 8 m × 15 m and cost upwards of $3,000 (in East Africa) or $6,000 (in West Africa). In 2010, in response to several requests from farmer cooperatives and agricultural research institutions in East Africa, HESE students and faculty set out to design AGs that can be built by two people in two days with materials costing less than $350. These AGs are made from locally-sourced materials with the exception of the glazing (a specialized plastic that covers the structure), which needs to be imported. The target return on investment was within two crop cycles with appropriate market timing.
After field-testing approximately ten greenhouses in different climatic conditions and supply chain scenarios in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, the technology was licensed to a for-profit company in Kenya (Mavuuno Greenhouses) in 2012. HESE teams helped Mavuuno Greenhouses establish and streamline operations as well as establish partnerships to facilitate access to capital and agricultural extension support. Subsequently, in 2013, the technology was licensed to a social enterprise in Cameroon (Greenhouse Ventures, Ltd.) with six neighboring countries in its territory. In 2014, in collaboration with World Hope International, and with funding support from the USAID Securing Water for Food (SWFF) Program, a social enterprise called GRO Greenhouses was established in Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and Zambia. Efforts are underway to establish similar enterprises that manufacture and sell greenhouses in Cambodia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal in 2016.
The Ukweli Test Strips team (literally “truth” in Kiswahili) is developing low-cost, diagnostic test strips that screen for Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) by identifying biomarkers in urine. One of the biggest problems in treating UTIs within the developing world is the degree to which the disease goes undetected, leading to further serious health complications. At the core of Ukweli is a common, household or small-office inkjet printer that has been repurposed to manufacture diagnostic test strips. Using an inkjet printer to lay down layers of biomedically active chemical reagents provides an opportunity to manufacture test strips at small scale, in quantities as needed, and locally. Our strips provide easy-to-interpret results in under 30 seconds while costing only 1/10th the price of current screening methods. Finally, the test strips are distributed through Community Health Worker (CHW) networks, thus providing them an income generating opportunity while bridging the last mile challenge and letting people get screened in the comfort and privacy of their homes.
Mashavu (“chubby-cheeked” in Swahili) is a telemedicine system that connects medical professionals in developing countries with individuals living in rural areas. Using relatively simple yet innovative technology, Mashavu sends a patient’s medical history and vitals to a nurse, thus completing a process, which currently involves up to two days of travel and hospital wait, in less than twenty minutes. By bridging these geographical and social gaps, Mashavu provides dependable healthcare access to people in rural and impoverished areas in Kenya.
SolStar has created a solar panel rating system designed to increase the number of quality solar panels reaching market, to raise awareness about solar power in Burkina Faso and the African continent as a alternative energy solution, and to ultimately improve access to electricity. We offer a series of tests that certifies the quality of a solar panel. This certification carries with it the credibility and trust associated with well-known universities, Penn State and 2iE. In addition, we conduct training sessions with retailers to improve solar panel sales in the region. This venture is still in the early-stage validation stage!
Our venture was created to educate, recognize, and connect both families and the aiding organizations with one another around disabilities. We are mapping out the ecosystem of NGOs and local volunteers working within the scope of disabilities in Sierra Leone. Families and community members will be educated by the figureheads they trust most: their health care workers. Giving a name to the disability allows the unknown to be known to increase understanding and awareness around these issues. In addition, their quality of life is greatly improved by showing them that these issues can be made easier to manage with a few actionable techniques. We are creating a training module on Disabilities for the National Community Health Workers of Sierra Leone, not just a company. Instead of founding another NGO we are currently working with NGOs across the country to develop a process that will be distributed widely. A beta version of our application is currently underdevelopment by our in-house team. We are currently in talks with World Hope International and a few other non-profits organizations that operate in Sierra Leone and have a history of funding initiatives similar to ours.
3D Prosthetics: Printing Hands for Amputees
The burden of disability is felt strongest in developing countries, where access to services and rehabilitative devices is limited, particularly in rural areas. In regions where manual labor is the basis for economic productivity, amputations can have debilitating effects at the individual and family levels. While some in developing countries may gain access to a prosthetic device donated from a developed country, these are not well suited for the terrain and everyday lives of a user in developing countries. Therefore, can a device be designed specifically for this context and the particular needs of the developing world user? What are the challenges and opportunities? Is 3D printing the answer?
The 3DP venture seeks to address these questions through four targeted areas: (1) An analysis of the upper-limb prosthetic devices currently designed for the developing world context. (2) An exploration of manufacturing methods to determine the ideal method for a prosthetic hand, such as e-NABLE’s Raptor Reloaded. (3) An assessment of the range of tasks that can be successfully accomplished using the Raptor Reloaded. Would these address the likely needs of developing world users? (4) An overview of the community of organizations, clinics, and hospitals working in Zambia to provide prosthetic services. If a prosthetic device is available, how does an organization actually get it to the end user?
While 3D printing is a promising manufacturing method that enables customization, printing times are significant, creating a problem for amputees that must travel long distances. Incorporating injection molding may increase speed while maintaining some of the benefits of 3D printing. Although the current design of the Raptor Reloaded has limited functionality, key design alterations may increase its applicability. Finally, significant challenges preventing widespread access to services lie not with the device, but with the system–the lack of trained prosthetists and difficulties accessing rural amputees. As such, what are the opportunities available to overcome these key bottlenecks in the distribution chain?