By S. Shankar Sastry
Two thousand and eighteen has been called a watershed moment in global poverty reduction. It was the year—according to two major analyses—that more than half of the world’s population moved into the “middle class.” And it was marked by a billion people moving out of “extreme poverty” in the time period 2000-18.
In terms of the global middle class, Homi Kharas and his colleagues at the Geneva-based World Data Lab have written in a Brookings Institute report that this demographic is defined as households that spend $11 to $100 per day per person in 2011 purchasing power parity. Kharas acknowledges that middle class does not have a precise international definition, but is a way to understand the ability for 3.8 billion people to buy consumer goods like motorcycles, refrigerators, or washing machines, go to the movies or take a vacation—and, most important, be able to weather economic shocks like short-term illness or unemployment without falling into extreme poverty.
The global middle class is predominantly Asian and spread out in China, India, and South and South East Asia, where urban populations have mostly doubled in the past generation. The World Data Lab forecasts the global middle class markets in China and India will grow to 5.3 billion people by 2030 and will account for $14.1 trillion and $12.3 trillion, respectively, comparable in size to a U.S. middle-class market at that time of $15.9 trillion.
That is a remarkable turn of events of great interest to policy makers, corporate leaders, and of course academic researchers at the Blum Center. Questions include: What are the products and services that this global middle class needs and wants? What are the implications for food, energy, and water production, and laterally, for climate change due to this socioeconomic growth? What skills and education are required for this rising population to sustain its progress? How will societal digital transformations, such as AI and automation, thwart or abet the billions climbing the economic ladder? And to what degree is this new global middle class sustainable?
Rohini Pande of Harvard’s Evidence for Policy Design Initiative, pointed out in a recent New York Times article that the decline in poverty in Indian and China “has fed an erroneous belief in the West that economies rising into middle-income status are on track to end extreme poverty and no longer need assistance.” She warns that a “redirection of global aid risks neglecting the hundreds of millions who may never escape poverty despite living in countries that are becoming relatively rich.”
Some of Pande’s analysis is in reaction to the other big global demographic story of 2018, published in the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation’s “Goalkeepers” report, which tracks progress on 18 key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. According to “Goalkeepers,” extreme poverty (US $1.90/day) is on the decline, with 50 million people’s lives being saved due to advances in medicine since 2000. One aim of the Gates report is to warn that extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in Sub-Saharan African countries. By 2050, that region is where 86 percent of the world’s extremely poor are projected to live, with the majority (more than 40 percent) living in just two countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
The Gates Foundation advises: “the world’s priority for the next three decades should be the third wave of poverty reduction in Africa.” It also warns that if large numbers of poor people in the poorest countries are denied opportunities, the result will be “insecurity, instability, and mass migration …. Investing in young people’s health and education is the best way for a country to unlock productivity and innovation, cut poverty, create opportunities.”
As we at the Blum Center mull all this, we are asking: What can be done to sustain global middle class progress in Asia and enable economic and technological development in Sub-Saharan Africa? What can we as stewards of the world’s leading public research university do to improve livelihoods worldwide? How best can we train the next generation of leaders in equality, innovation, and global problem solving? And what are the research areas on which we should make our big bets?
On January 8, 2019, Blum Center faculty and staff met with our counterparts from CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, Haas Institute for Business and Social Impact, and Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation to think through our response to these and other questions. Most of these centers came out of the revolutionary changes that technology, globalization, and engineering advances have brought to high education and society over the past decade plus.
Since 2001, CITRIS has focused on creating interdisciplinary information technology solutions for California and beyond. Since 2005, the Sutardja Center has taught thousands of engineers and scientists to innovate, lead, and commercialize technology within a global economy. Founded in 2013, the Haas Institute for Business and Social Impact has addressed critical challenges facing the world through creative business solutions. Opened in 2015, the Jacobs Institute is as an interdisciplinary hub for learning and making at the intersection of design and technology. And founded in 2006, the Blum Center serves as the campus’ interdisciplinary hub for understanding and acting on devising solutions for global poverty and inequality.
These five UC centers have much in common because of the way they intersect on issues of technology and engineering, business and entrepreneurship, equality and social impact, and design innovation. Because of these commonalities, leadership from the five centers have decided to explore educational and research collaborations. We will be reporting on joint initiatives in future reports.
So please stay tuned, and let us know your ideas and projects that address this pivotal moment in global poverty reduction.
S. Shankar Sastry is Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Bioengineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
A Watershed Moment in Global Poverty Reduction
“Economists believe the best way to deal with poverty is to create prosperity, and that works, but not everywhere. Engineers, by contrast, like to invent things that might help. At the Blum Center we're putting them together; it's a different approach.”
Former Secretary of State George Shultz
How best can we train the next generation of leaders in equality, innovation, and global problem solving?
"What can we as stewards of the world's leading public research university do to improve livelihoods worldwide?"
Fletcher Lab CellScope Is Ready for Scaling
By Lisa Bauer
Nearly a decade ago, more than 80 global organizations came together to sign the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, to control, eliminate, or eradicate at least ten of the diseases by 2020. Progress has been made on “NTDs” (neglected tropical diseases), but they still affect nearly one billion people, reinforcing poverty in low-resource regions.
Since 2007, UC Berkeley Professor of Bioengineering Dan Fletcher has been working to accelerate NTD diagnosis and treatment with a device so ubiquitous it’s probably in your hand: a smartphone. Fletcher, with a group of interdisciplinary scientists from in and outside his lab, have steadily proved that smartphone cameras can be repurposed as microscopes to identify disease-causing pathogens, such as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and the parasites that cause River Blindness.
“Phones have enormous imaging and processing capabilities,” explained Fletcher at a recent faculty salon of the Blum Center, where he serves as chief technologist. “Our work has been to harness these consumer electronics to do the complex imaging and image interpretation tasks. We add lenses and automation to the mobile devices; then we capture, geotag and upload the image data we collect, giving us greater information about the spread of disease.”
By removing the need for a laboratory and highly trained technicians to perform image-based processing, the Fletcher Lab’s CellScope, as the family of devices is called, can dramatically expedite NTD treatment by enabling patients to receive rapid, low-cost, and highly accurate diagnoses, even in remote regions. Fletcher and others believe the device has enormous potential to contribute to NTD elimination efforts, because while the drugs to treat NTDs already exist—an efficient, systematic, and affordable diagnosis and treatment method does not.
“Thanks to the London Declaration, major pharmaceutical companies have pledged to contribute the drugs needed to treat many NTDs,” said Fletcher. “CellScope will help us tackle the missing ingredient: identifying those in need. For effective treatment and monitoring, we must know who’s infected, where they are, and whether there is reemergence. That’s where technology comes in.”
The latest version of CellScope, called LoaScope, has proven effective in Cameroon, where it is being used to combat River Blindness or Onchoceriasis, which is endemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the antiparasitic drug Ivermectin is readily available, treatment via mass drug administration has been halted in some regions due to serious adverse effects caused by co-infection with a worm call Loa loa. Treatment in Loa-endemic regions is complex because if Ivermectin is administered to someone simultaneously infected with Loa Loa, the drug can lead to fatal complications.
To safely relaunch mass drug administration of Ivermectin, Fletcher and a team of medical professionals from NIH in the U.S., IRD in France, and CRFilMT in Cameroon launched a pilot project in Okola District of Cameroon, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Local healthcare workers collected small blood samples from patients and inserted them into the LoaScope to measure the number of parasites; if the number was below a certain safety threshold, then the patient was treated with Ivermectin. Patients with parasite loads above a certain threshold did not receive Ivermectin to reduce the possibility of complications from treatment.
With this approach, 96 percent of the 16,000 people examined in the Okola District pilot study had Loa loa levels below the safety threshold and were treated for River Blindness, while only 2 percent had to be excluded because of Loa loa levels that put them at risk of complications from treatment (the remaining 2 percent could not receive Ivermectin for other reasons such as pregnancy or illness). Findings from the Cameroon pilot were published in 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Cameroon Ministry of Health approved the study and backed the use of the LoaScope technology to restart mass administration of Ivermectin for control of River Blindness. Prior to the pilot study, a public health education campaign to encourage citizens to seek safe diagnosis with LoaScope was carried out— including public testing of the Minister of Health with the LoaScope.
Although the Cameroon pilot was a success, the next challenge is scaling the technology so that the millions of people living in Loa-endemic regions can benefit from safe treatment of River Blindness with ivermectin.
“The problem is no longer that we don’t have the tools. We now do,” said Fletcher. “The problem right now is the funding, manufacturing, and distribution gap—how do we best scale this device and get it to the people who need it?”
Funds are needed to mass produce the device, establish a support infrastructure, and develop an IT system. Yet the cost benefits could be significant. For example, currently the cost of a single capillary for the LoaScope is $2; if the process was automated, the cost would decrease to just 30 cents. A similar reduction in cost of the device is possible.
In addition to River Blindness, the Fletcher Lab has identified five other NTDs for which CellScope could be applied. Schistosomiasis is the next disease the lab hopes to test and treat. Like River Blindness, schistosomiasis is a worm-based disease, but the parasites that cause it are detected in urine or stool samples. Thus, instead of taking a blood sample, CellScope would be adapted to analyze filtered urine and stool that is loaded into the same capillary and imaged with the same device.
“The basic technology—a mobile microscope with image processing capabilities—is already there, and with a few modifications we can adapt it to new diseases,” said Fletcher. “Increasing access to high-quality disease diagnosis is beginning to be within reach for low-resource settings with technologies such as these. But the same challenge remains: scaling.”
Siddharth Kara’s Garment Research Receives International Press Attention
By Tamara Straus
“They work in huts with mud floors, shacks with crumbling roofs, and if they are lucky, a semi-concrete structure that may survive this year’s monsoon floods. They are the women and girls in India who toil at the bottom of global garment supply chains, earning between $0.13 and $0.15 per hour sewing, embroidering, and adding the finishing touches to the clothes we wear every day.”
This is the way Blum Center Research Fellow Siddharth Kara describes the Indian home-based garments workers who are the subject of the recently released Blum Center report “Tainted Garments.” Kara spent the last two years documenting the conditions of homeworkers in India’s garment industry as part of a broader mission to investigate the exploitative labor conditions at the bottom of global supply chains—from electronics to carpets to seafood.
Based on the cases of 1,452 home-based garment workers in and around nine cities across India, Kara and his research team found more than 99 percent of workers who sew for major U.S. and EU brands did not receive state-stipulated minimum wages, more than 42 percent began garment work as children, almost two-thirds began the work under some form of duress, and more than a third suffered severe delays in their wage payments.
Kara underscores that home-based garment work is completely informal—“not one worker had a written agreement for their work, not one worker belonged to a trade union, and only 0.1 percent of workers received any sort of medical care if they suffered an injury during their work. For many of the children, garment work comes at the expense of an education, ensuring that the cycle of poverty is passed from one generation to the next.”
At the February 5 publication launch at the Blum Center, Kara noted that few of the brands or companies who employ these workers are aware that “finishing touches” work is being outsourced to home workers, or of the conditions many home workers face. However, Kara was quick to point out that every supply chain has such workers—often women and children—who are invisible to the supply chain yet who enable the supply chain to function.
For that reason, said Kara, “Companies must become aware of these people and the conditions under which they work and start treating them like employees.”
The report does not reveal the names of the brand name clothing companies that employ the workers.
“That might lead to brands pulling out,” said Kara, “which could be disastrous for these workers and their families.”
Instead, he—and fellow publication event panelists Nina Smith, president of GoodWeave, and Ryan Heman, investments manager at Humanity United—encouraged clothing companies to use their size and leverage with local suppliers to invest in improving transparency and worker rights along the supply chain.
In the first week of its release, “Tainted Garments” received coverage from the New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, South China Morning News, Quartz, India Times, and other publications. Read the full report here.
Pursuing a Career in Engineering Co-Design: A Q&A with Ryan Shelby
By Tamara Straus
When Ryan Shelby left UC Berkeley with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2013, he and his advisor considered his dissertation unusual. Shelby’s PhD research went beyond traditional engineering. It presented design theory and methodologies and was based on his involvement in building sustainable housing and renewable power systems with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Ukiah, California.
“Looking back, I was a bit of an odd duckling,” said Shelby, now a Diplomatic Attaché and Foreign Service Engineering Officer at the United States Agency for International Development in Haiti. “I wanted to do PhD work that was applied and more meaningful in a development context.”
Shelby failed his first qualifying exam. But the setback forced him to delve beyond engineering and become a technology for development polymath. He steeped himself in business, environmental science and policy, ethnographic studies, development theory, information technology, and the history of Native American tribes.
When Ryan was handed his diploma, he continued along this interdisciplinary path. During the summer of 2013, he served as a Science, Technology & Innovation Fellow at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. He then worked in Sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging regions as a senior energy advisor for the U.S. Office of Energy and Infrastructure, taking in 2016 the position as a USAID foreign service engineering officer.
At USAID, Shelby has been developing and managing Haiti’s Build Back Safer II program, for which he recently won an award. Build Back Safer II provides local job training and material sourcing for hurricane-resistant building structures. To date, the program has resulted in 4,000 home roof repairs, the training of over 2,000 people (60 percent women) in roof rehabilitation techniques, and the completion of scores of handwashing and toilet facilities in areas damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Build Back Safer’s II next stage of repairs will focus on microgrid rehabilitation, water point upgrades, and sanitary block restoration in health clinics.
At UC Berkeley, Shelby remains a model for engineering Berkeley PhDs who want to do interdisciplinary research in low-income regions and use their technology skills. The graduate program in Development Engineering comes in part out of his quest to do applied engineering at the dissertation stage.
To learn more about his trajectory as well as his views on engineering co-design, the Blum Center spoke with Ryan Shelby from his USAID office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
How did your upbringing influence your academic and career pursuits?
I grew up in really rural Alabama, in Letohatchee, where there were about 600 to 700 people. My Dad had a farm there. I always liked to tinker—mess around with my Dad’s tractor, take apart my Mom’s vacuum cleaner. Luckily, my parents indulged me and I had a natural affinity for math. They let me to go to Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University, an historically black college that had a very good engineering program. I majored in mechanical engineering with a focus on propulsion systems. It was 2003/2004 when President Bush talked about going after more alternative, sustainable energy approaches. That was pretty exciting to me, but Alabama A & M didn’t have an energy program. That’s when the dean of my university, Dr. Arthur J. Bond, told me about UC Berkeley and Professor Alice Agogino. He made the connection for some mentoring with her, and she encouraged me to apply. She said I could pursue design, energy, and engineering work.
Would you advise engineering PhD students to do applied work while in university?
In academia, there’s a lot of amazing ideas and technologies. But transferring those ideas into a practical technology that can be built and implemented at scale and have impact within a short time horizon—that’s not something easily done. Still, I would encourage people do this in an academic setting, because it’s a lot easier to do theoretical and applied work and fail and learn from those mistakes, as opposed to when you’re out in the policy world or in industry. The more you ideate, the more you fail, the more information you gather. It allows your next version to reach a more optimal solution.
How does USAID view university-incubated innovations?
The applied work university researchers do makes it a lot easier for us on the government side to say, “It’s been peer-reviewed and tested. Now let’s learn from what the Ivory Tower has done and integrate the work into our projects.” That’s how USAID under the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration is approaching university innovators. We realize universities have great ideas; they may be too high risk for industry to fund. But the U.S. government is willing to make informed decisions to invest in these technologies, so we can grow them and integrate them into our work—and ideally leapfrog pitfalls some countries face in their self-reliance and overall growth.
Are you working with universities in your Build Back Safer II program in Haiti?
Yes, we are partnering with the American University of the Caribbean in Les Cayes, Haiti and the Swiss Development Corporation to develop training programs on rehabilitation techniques and housing upgrades for homes and other vertical structures that were damaged by Hurricane Matthew. We identify masons and carpenters and others in the community who have some technical skills and interest in learning new vocational skills, and train them in hurricane repair and making proper foundations. We’ve combined that with vendors in the area, to source the right materials, so they can go out and implement a lot of these repairs—on roofs, water distribution points, and on two solar microgrids in the southern part of Haiti.
What combination of skills did you deploy to develop this program?
I designed this program because of my experience with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation. Coming in and putting in a solution that does not fit the cultural context is not the best way to ensure sustainability and self-reliance. Rather, you need to understand community needs, understand situated knowledge. In Haiti, we want to give community members access to the latest technology and building techniques. For me, this requires learning the Haitian way of building, and co-creating a shared knowledge base of how we can go out and do housing repair work that pulls from these knowledge bases. One the traditional building techniques here is called clissage, where you weave pieces of wood of varying tensions to create strong foundations and vertical structures. What we’re doing is showing Haitians how they can bolt onto clissage more modern and hurricane-resistant techniques for roof design and installations.
Is there a fairly straight line from your doctoral work to your current USAID work?
I told Alice [Agogino] it’s like déjà vu. My work in Haiti is almost a mirror image of the dissertation work I did at Berkeley. It’s still housing, design, and rehabilitation work, and it’s also energy systems to provide electricity to support economic growth. This is the exact thing I did with the Native American tribe. I’m using the same research techniques and codesign methodology with these Haitian communities. If I hadn’t done this dissertation work at Berkeley with Native American communities in California, I would find my job at USAID hard to do. I wouldn’t have the theoretical background or the tangible experience to prepare me for this work.
Which thinkers would you recommend to students in development engineering?
I highly recommend [UC Santa Cruz Professor] Donna Haraway’s work on situated knowledge as a core tenet of co-design and co-creation. Situated knowledge pulls from environmental science policy and feminist theory, and provides an intellectual framework for understanding and utilizing people’s knowledge bases. I also recommend [Harvard Professor] Sheila Jasanoff’s work on the co-production of knowledge and [Rutgers University] Frank Fischer’s work on citizens as experts of the environment. Dr. Fisher writes about how communities work with outsiders to understand environmental impacts and how to try to design and implement solutions.
How has the field of development changing, particularly for the U.S. government?
It really hasn’t changed that much between Administrations. Both the Obama and Trump Administrations have pushed to work with nontraditional actors, including universities. One big difference with development under the Trump Administration is we’ve increased the focus of self-reliance and co-creation.
Our goal is to partner with a host country governments and co-design solutions with them, so that the host country itself can do the implementation work and not have to rely fully on the U.S. government. Under the Trump Administration, USAID is committed to streamlining our procurement approaches and increasing the usage of co-creation design approaches within new awards by 10 percentage points in Fiscal Year 2019. We want to continue to partner with universities, partner with private sector, partner with religious groups, partner with other nontraditional actors—so we can get the best technologies, solutions, and innovations to fit the needs of a host country government and get it out in the field as quickly as possible. The aim is to improve their resiliency and self-reliance and reduce their overall dependency on U.S. foreign aid as well as eventually open up new markets for American goods and services.
What would you recommend to Development Engineering students who want to work for USAID and other governmental organizations?
The transition from a more research background into development or the policy arena can be as perilous as crossing the sea with the sirens Scylla and Charybdis on either side. To navigate this path, I would recommend engaging in more applied research while at Berkeley with professors like Alice [Agogino], Alastair [Iles], Ashok [Gadgil], and Dan [Kammen] to get a better understanding of this space.
Next, I highly recommend that students consider pursuing science and technology policy fellowship programs, such as the Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program at the National Academies, the California Council on Science and Technology, or the Institute for Defense Analyses Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) Fellowship. These programs are designed to help Bachelor, Master, and PhD candidates and recipients to understand how science is utilized in development and policy making. My experience as a Fall 2012 Mirzayan Fellow was instrumental in helping me land my job at the Millennium Challenge Corporation and USAID, as the National Academies taught me how to translate science and engineering speak into the language and format of a policy brief. Moreover, I was able to use my time at the National Academies to conduct informational interviews with development professionals within government as well as in for-profit and nonprofit organizations, to better learn which technology gaps and other seemly intractable problems that were encountering. These interviews and the knowledge that I gained were instrumental in helping me find and land a position at USAID.
Graduate- Undergraduate Student Mentorships Grow
By Tamara Straus
When Chancellor Carol Christ released UC Berkeley’s strategic plan for 2019-2029, two overarching goals were relevant to the Global Poverty & Practice minor and the Blum Center’s graduate program, Development Engineering.
The first goal was to “empower engaged thinkers and global citizens to change our world." Specifically, Christ wrote: “Acts of discovery—self-initiated projects that create new knowledge—will be a focal point of undergraduate study. Engagement with the world beyond campus, and reflection on the meaning of an education, will also be key to the Berkeley experience. Master’s students will see increased investment in their knowledge and skill-building, and doctoral students will receive added training, mentorship, and financial support.”
The second goal was “focusing on the good: innovative solutions for society’s great challenges.” Christ explained, “Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and our larger community will come together to address the great challenges of our time that Berkeley is particularly well suited to address, including technological change and artificial intelligence; environmental sustainability; the future of democracy; inequality; human health; and the future of public higher education.”
These two goals are already integrated into Global Poverty & Practice (GPP). They also are being exercised in several new mentoring arrangements between GPP and Development Engineering students focused on socioeconomic solutions with community groups and NGOs.
Take the Pinoleville Pomo Nation collaboration. Since 2017, several GPP and Development Engineering students have been working with a Native American tribe of 300 people based in Ukiah, California and an interdisciplinary UC Berkeley group called CARES—Community Assessment of Renewable Energy and Sustainability—to co-design STEM education activities for native students.
For George Moore, a UC Berkeley Mechanical and Development Engineering graduate student, the project has been a means to further educational equity and gain teaching skills. He recounted that both graduate students and undergraduate students, such as GPP student Arielle Dollinger, were able to co-design the 2018 STEM education workshop with community members.
“Among the decisions we collectively made were to teach engineering design through Pomo Pinoleville basket-making techniques and to engage students in 3D printing designs from local art and nature,” said Moore.
Dollinger said the CARES-Pinoville Pomo Nation project was appealing for her GPP Practice Experience because she wanted to work locally and in an interdisciplinary vein.
“It was really up my alley because I’ve taken Native American Study classes and I am committed to environmental justice and social equity,” said Dollinger, who added that the Development Engineering team was “very open to undergraduates contributing input and insights and opinions. We conducted weekly meetings throughout the spring semester, and I felt I was part of the development of the project. Also, just having the opportunity to work with a California indigenous community was a huge privilege and honor.”
Another recent mentoring collaboration between Development Engineering and GPP students involves Visualize, founded by Mechanical Engineering PhD student Julia Kramer. Kramer started the project—a healthcare design and training program to teach midwives in Ghana to screen women for cervical cancer—as an undergraduate at University of Michigan and continued it during her summers at Cal, winning a Big Ideas award in 2015. In the fall of 2016, she decided to connect to a Cal group called Invention Corps, to find project assistants.
There, she met Iris Huo, an undergraduate economics and GPP student, who has since worked with Kramer to iterate on Visualize and, during the summer of 2018, accompanied her to Ghana.
“I understood right away the tangible impact of Visualize to affordably and effectively reduce mortality rates in women,” said Huo. “The work has been the most life-changing experience I’ve had, especially what I learned in Ghana. And Julia, to this day, remains the paragon of mentorship that we have at Invention Corps.”
Kramer—who is mentored by Blum Center Education Director Alice Agogino, a nationally recognized expert in training students in interdisciplinary engineering—has found the collaboration equally rewarding.
“I’ve had really positive interactions,” Kramer said of working with GPP and other undergraduate students on Visualize. “The other part was certainly logistical. I was studying for my quals the semester I started working with them—so the idea of them helping out and being the actual hands that were doing the design work, where I could just do the mentoring and oversight, was really appealing to me. I also felt I had time to meet with them weekly, field questions, and give them more feedback than a busy tenure track professor would have.”
By Tamara Straus
On February 26, 2018, Maria Artunduaga had a eureka moment that medical entrepreneurs dream of. In the office of UCSF Professor Mehrdad Arjomandi, she was soliciting advice about a wearable prototype she had developed to monitor oxygen in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Dr. Arjomandi—a foremost expert on COPD—was telling her about an air trapping investigation he had been doing for over a decade. He was bemoaning the enormous time and expense involved in testing patients with COPD, the third leading cause of U.S. deaths.
Artunduaga knew these problems intimately. Her grandmother had died of COPD in 2013—and over the past decade, the 38-year-old from Colombia had earned a MD, a Harvard postdoc, a Master in Public Health, and a Master in Translational Medicine and had been obsessively trying to figure out a cost-saving device for the 328 million people worldwide suffering from the lung disease.
“Dr. Arjomandi was talking about air trapping, when patients can’t exhale, and how air changes. It made me think about basic physics, literally,” said Artunduaga. “If you remember, when you are emitting energy either through light or air or water, it changes its characteristics because you have more or less of the medium. In the same sense, if you have more air or less air, the acoustic resonance, the wave energy, is going to change. All the sudden, I realized you could assess trapped air with wearables.”
Artunduaga grabbed her phone and called her husband, Ricardo Garcia, who works as a technical lead on the Sound Amplifier project at Google. For years, she has been watching him probing phones for sound and experimenting with microphones, audio equipment, and the like.
“I said to Ricardo, ‘I know you can use your phone’s microphone to capture sounds and signals. But are you able to capture exhaling and inhaling?’ I breathed in and out. He confirmed the resonance was captured. It was a eureka moment.”
Since that time, Artunduaga has been in marathon startup mode. She pivoted her first COPD project, called KnO2 Sensor (which won third place in the 2017 Big Ideas Global Health category) from being a low-cost monitoring and evaluation wrist device targeted to Latin America—to a COPD solution that would be rolled out first in the United States.
Artunduaga explains that the current methods for tracking respiratory disease are Spirometry and Pulse-oximetry, both patient-initiated interventions. They do provide data at discrete points when a patient uses the equipment; yet they often lead to delays in identifying lung function decline in real time. And this lack of timely information often results in expensive hospitalizations from late detection.
Artunduaga’s startup, called Respira Labs, relies on a wearable technology that provides continuous monitoring to patients and doctors by detecting the trapped air in the lungs associated with COPD. The invention is very much of the moment: it relies on low-cost audio sensors paired with AI algorithms on a smartphone platform that models and track the lungs’ resonant frequency, flagging any changes in lung function. According to Artunduaga, no one has ever tried to use sound to measure lung resonance entropy. Indeed, Respira’s Freedom to Operate patent analysis performed by UC Hastings College of Law found no similar patents over the past 10 to 20 years for air trapping measurement with sound. Respira filed two provisional patents, in April and November, 2018.
To develop the idea and find funding for it, Artunduaga has been on an innovation contest tear. Respira Labs has been invited to four national innovation challenges, and chosen for Skydeck HotDesk and CITRIS Foundry Founder-in-Residence programs as well as the Y Combinator StartUp School. Respira also was awarded two grants of $25,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and VentureWell in June and December 2018 to further customer research. Also in December, Respira was selected to move on to the U.S.-West regional finals in 2019 Global Social Venture Competition and the finals in the 2019 Big Ideas Contest in the Hardware for Good category.
Some of this funding has allowed Artunduaga and her team to interview over 200 people—patients, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, regulatory and healthcare business experts, medical device entrepreneurs, and investors—to ensure the device meets both patient needs and medical industry demands.
“We spent one hour with each patient,” said Artunduaga. “They had so much to teach us about how their life goes and their medical needs. Many don’t get the testing they need, because they can’t afford the testing and physician visits.”
She added: “The scientific method is very important when you are building a company. People ask me how I’ve been making this work in 10 months. I say, ‘This is science applied to business. You need to ask what is your hypothesis and have a plan for how you are testing your ideas and overriding biases. In 2016, I was so in love with the promise of a patch that was flexible, but in the end after I finished 100 interviews, I realized the technology needed to be different.”
Likewise, Artunduaga’s initial ambition to introduce a COPD solution for the Latin American market got revised after rounds of interviews and research and field visits. One problem was the regulatory environment; according to Artunduaga, most Latin American medical systems are 10 years behind in terms of having the regulatory infrastructure to introduce digital health products. The other problem was funding. Artunduaga says she first believed the best way to address global public health issues was through academia and the public sector. But she soon realized that limited funding to those sectors cripples and delays projects that have the chance for large impact.
Respira’s aim is to target all 700,000 COPD U.S. patients who are hospitalized every year by their physicians. The team, which includes Haas MBA students Nikhil Chacko and Nerjada Maksutaj, has investigated time into market research. They estimate that COPD costs the U.S. healthcare system nearly $72 billion a year—and half of that cost is attributed to emergency room visits and hospitalization. Because COPD is on the rise as a leading cause of death in the U.S. (it increased 44 percent from 1990 to 2015, they believe early detection could reduce the $36 billion currently spent on emergency room and hospital visits.
Artunduaga says Respira’s next big challenges are to validate the acoustic lung resonance measurement, refine the sensor design and the long-term data capture using a mobile device application, and explore machine learning data analysis and prediction. Her team —which is mostly Latinx and half women— includes a mix of seasoned consultants and advisors: Ricardo Garcia, an MIT-trained engineer with 20 years of experience in audio sciences and data signal processing, is the lead advisor for technology development; Santiago Alfaro, an MIT-trained industrial designer with 10 years of experience, is working in wearable design and prototyping; Leonardo Perez, a EU-trained PhD in Mechatronics who is developing the sensing technology; Haas MBA students Nikhil Chacko and Nerjada Maksutaj are leading market research, business development, and fundraising strategies; Selene Mota, an MIT-trained Lemelson Inventor’s Fellow, is the lead advisor on user-centered wearable design; and Luis Serrano, a University of Michigan-trained mathematician, who leads Udacity Artificial Intelligence & Data Science teams, is helping develop the Machine Learning algorithms.
Asked about the significance of being a “minority” founder, Artunduaga is characteristically upbeat and straightforward. “I’m an immigrant, a woman, and a Latina—a triple minority—so I’m always proving myself to other people. That’s the challenge I face every day. But I know I can make things happen. In the past, I managed to build the world’s largest microtia DNA bank, publish in Nature and the NEJM, and become the first female international graduate from Latin America to match into a plastic surgery residency. But I’m not a genius. I’m just very stubborn. If somebody tells me no, I just ask for feedback and I keep looking for opportunities until I make it work.”
Although she comes from a family of physicians —her mother is an ENT surgeon, her father is an anesthesiologist, and her sister is a pediatric cardiac and MSK radiologist—Artunduaga says they consider her choice to be a medical entrepreneur unconventional, because for them, a doctor should be doing clinical work and seeing patients. Yet Artunduaga’s multiple prizes, fellowships and awards—as well as her recent selection as Entrepreneur of the Year in Silicon Valley—is quieting their criticism somewhat.
Artunduaga seems not to be terribly concerned. She is in a race against time and for funding. And she is not afraid to ask questions and make connections.
“Everything here is about connecting with people,” said Artunduaga. “In Silicon Valley, things happen five times faster than any other geography. Yet the culture is amazing. If you have a good idea, you can get 20 minutes with CEOs, founders, regulatory experts, or lawyers. People are willing to help you, if they believe in your idea.”
A Mission to Manage Chronic Lung Disease
By Tamara Straus
When Will Tarpeh was an undergraduate at Stanford University, he didn’t know if it was possible to be a research engineer who works in the developing world. His global interests started in high school, when he learned that more than 2 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. And they expanded throughout college, as he studied chemical engineering and African studies and interned at Sarar Transformación, a Mexican nonprofit focused on sanitation.
“That’s when I got interested in ecological sanitation,” he said, “which is just the idea of using waste as fertilizer.”
Tarpeh, now an assistant professor in chemical engineering at Stanford, says his professional turning point happened at UC Berkeley in 2013, the year the Development Engineering program started. The Blum Center sat down with Tarpeh, to learn more about his views of Development Engineering and how his research combines electrochemical engineering, global sanitation, and resource recovery.
How did Development Engineering shape your academic work in global sanitation?
It was extreme serendipity. Development Engineering started the year I got to Berkeley and made a lot of things possible. It gave me a formal structure—having a chapter in my dissertation that was explicitly about Development Engineering and about my sanitation work in Kenya. If it weren’t there and if I hadn’t gone to Berkeley, I might not have explored this part of my academic identity in as much detail. Now it’s such a crucial part, I can’t imagine being an academic without it.
What else drew you to Cal?
I wanted to work with Professor Kara Nelson, because she has a process engineering focus for achieving sanitation goals. She had a Gates Foundation grant that was part of their Grand Challenges exploration, and she and a post-doc were working on the idea of using ammonia from urine to disinfect feces. I tagged along and went to the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Expo, which was my dream at that time. I got to see all these cool toilets, and realized there was a large community of academic researchers who shared my interests.
How did your own research develop?
My first year in graduate school I reviewed journal papers and focused on unanswered questions. That’s when we landed on urine and recovering nitrogen. We chose urine because there were lots of motivations for separating out urine and feces. And from a chemical engineering perspective, we thought nitrogen from urine could be useful because nitrogen fertilizers are central to modern society—they’ve helped feed a growing population. We focused on what we could borrow from other subfields, such as the extraction of nitrogen from wastewater in the U.S., and also on what we could dream up on our own to address sanitation access.
How do you see your academic contributions?
My first paper as a PhD student compared materials that adsorb or concentrate nitrogen in urine. We compared four different adsorbents. Then we took the work to the field and published it in the Development Engineering journal—which meant characterizing the technology in lab, bringing it to the field, and in between looking at the operating and design parameters to show the trajectory as a contribution. Another contribution is in electrochemical nitrogen recovery. Electrochemistry and waste water treatment have met in earnest over the past decade or so. I’ve been part of the first group of people to apply electrochemistry to urine and to extract nitrogen in a new way we call electrochemical stripping. It’s set some records in terms of nitrogen recovery efficiency and resulting energy efficiency.
You said in a previous interview that “a lot of the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems are in the minds of children who are simply preoccupied with survival.” Why are children a place to understand the world’s grand challenges?
Grand Challenges are really interesting because they are descriptive in nature. Through them, academics, UN representatives, and others try to describe a reality that millions of people experience. But I think the expertise really lies in the communities who experience the problems. We as scientists can try to lend our technical expertise in other communities—but the people who live in those communities are the real experts. That’s how I approach my work. This comes in part from growing up in a low-income household in the U.S., and knowing that resource-constrained communities have valuable skills and life experiences to solve their own problems.
How new is the field of Development Engineering?
It’s not new in some ways. People have been doing this kind of engineering for as long as there’s been inequality. What’s new is that we’re studying how we do it and thinking about better ways to do it. Ten years ago, it was news to people that you need to engage the community when you design for it. It really was. We would learn about implementation failures all the time—and be surprised that engineers didn’t remember to ask people about their sanitation needs and, as a result, the new toilets got turned into closets because they had roofs. Now, I see the frequency with which that kind of thing is reported going down, which tells me there’s value in the Development Engineering enterprise. It formalizes things in a way that engineers who don’t focus on development can appreciate.
How important is field work to Development Engineering?
It’s a crucial site of learning. Going back and forth into the field has been extremely valuable to my research. Maybe the traditional model of humanitarian engineering was: you develop something in the lab about a problem in a developing community; you say, I have an answer for that; you characterize it in the lab; and you go out and say, here it is. But then you realize you were designing for constraints that didn't reflect the reality in the community. Development Engineering is about iterating. Over the course of my PhD, I went to Kenya and worked with Sanergy. That’s when I realized they were collecting urine but not yet creating value from it. Then I tinkered in the lab on the urine research, and spent the next four years going back and forth to see what worked and made adjustments, which allowed for the rigorous study we expect in academic communities.
Is being a Development Engineer a liability in academia?
I don’t think it is the liability it was five or ten years ago. It’s attractive now to do Development Engineering because of the huge impact you can have. Another part of this is students are demanding training to try to solve development problems. I have engineers students who say global sanitation really gets them moving and motivated. From a disciplinary perspective, Development Engineering is one of the ways we stay relevant to our students and to the Grand Challenges that people are facing around the world.
Are you seeing more academic engineers like yourself who do applied research in developing countries?
I do feel there’s a generation of professors tying loose ends together and thinking about ways to leverage skill sets that are no longer within one discipline. Alice Agogino always talked about the wicked problems that refuse to be classified in one silo and that demand multiple approaches. Many professors now have multiple skill sets and are oriented toward solving wicked problems. I feel I’m part of this, combining electrochemical engineering, global sanitation, and resource recovery.
Do you think it’s significant that most of your mentors have been women?
Yes, and that was a recent epiphany. After Berkeley, I did a post-doc at University of Michigan, where I also was advised by two women—Nancy Love and Krista Wigginton. Female professors have impacted me, particularly by seeing the extra obstacles they have to go through and the strategies they use to succeed. Being supportively mentored by advisors who are different than me has prepared me to support students from diverse backgrounds in my own career.
How do you advocate for STEM inclusion and equality now that you’re a professor?
I recommend students and colleagues for awards, formally by writing recommendation letters and informally by suggesting people for collaborations and so on. Also, being a black male, I try to serve as a role model for students. At Stanford, I give lunch talks with minority or under-represented students. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it could be a high impact intervention for one of them. I also work to design impactful programs. Kara [Nelson] and I were involved in the Graduate Pathways Symposium at Berkeley for underrepresented minorities to apply to grad school. I also make sure when I work in Kenya, I give author credit to the local researchers on my academic papers.
When will we achieve global sanitation?
There are some estimates that low- and middle-income countries are not going to fully address the problem by 2050. One argument is that we won’t get there because of the barriers to creating centralized waste water treatment facilities. But there are other options, namely resource efficiency. A paper I’m working on argues that if we take resource recovery one step further and bake sustainability into every process we do, we can minimize the inputs for everything we produce. The paper encapsulates the idea of the circular economy, of resource recovery. Of course, being a urine researcher, I believe separating urine has a role to play in that. I believe imagining the future helps us engineer toward that future.
“Imagining the Future Helps us Engineer Toward that Future”: A Q&A with Will Tarpeh
By Lisa Bauer
Founded in 2005 at UC Berkeley, Big Ideas has become one of the largest and most diverse student innovation competitions in the country. The contest supports the next generation of social entrepreneurs—providing mentorship, training, and the diverse resources required to support big ideas from their earliest stages. In 2017, to ensure the contest remains accessible to the widest number of students across UC’s ten campuses, the Big Ideas team designed an Innovation Ambassador program.
Innovation Ambassadors are highly motivated students who have a keen interest in social entrepreneurship and want to support Big Ideas’ mission to help this generation of students develop social impact projects that not only matter to them but also aim to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Innovation Ambassadors are responsible for Big Ideas outreach, event organization, advising, and research on their respective campus. Ultimately, they help aspiring student entrepreneurs transform their ideas into viable ventures. Below are interviews with four current Innovation Ambassadors.
Mekdem Wright is an MBA candidate at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and a social entrepreneur/ intrapreneur.
How do you see the future of social innovation and entrepreneurship?
The future of social innovation and entrepreneurship is all about networks. Today, resources and assets—people, institutions, technology, infrastructure, and information—are in some contexts becoming increasingly centralized, consolidated, or concentrated, while in other contexts they are becoming increasingly decentralized, distributed, or modularized. We are seeing accelerated technological advancements and globalization, and our world is becoming increasingly complex and interdependent.
With all of that, comes opportunities. We have powerful new tools and capabilities that, if leveraged effectively, will enable us to achieve heightened levels of efficiency and productivity. If those resources and assets can be properly arranged into a healthy ecosystem, they can act as catalysts to move beyond incremental change and activate exponential change.
That requires social entrepreneurs, and the organizations in which they are working, to foster relationships, establish partnerships, and build coalitions across sectors, industries, and disciplines to engage all stakeholders in pre-competitive collaboration and cooperation, share learnings, and standardize best practices. It requires building the foundations and structures for networks to emerge, grow, and thrive, and developing models and frameworks within which to organize and coordinate activities. The solutions to most challenges lie in the collective knowledge of our global community. Solving the big, wicked problems of today requires stakeholders to break down silos, provide open access to information, connect, and engage—they are too urgent to double efforts and keep reinventing the wheel.
How does participating in Big Ideas affect students’ professional development?
Lectures and classroom exercises just can't compare to this sort of hands-on, "learn-by-doing" experience—something I think we need much more of in our education system. Social entrepreneurship contests like this teach students much more than just how to start their own venture. They teach relevant, practical skills like critical thinking, research skills, analytical problem-solving, articulate communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, and leadership—all necessary for any professional. They foster confidence and intrinsic motivation. They bring like-minded students together to work on a self-guided project, which they get to define, design, and manage themselves. In today's increasingly uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, we should train students in an environment that is similarly so.
UC Davis is a powerhouse for producing cutting-edge research and high-caliber students in the science and engineering disciplines. There are a wealth of ideas born here with great potential for positive impact. Contests like Big Ideas help students to build their own capacity to bring those ideas to life and reach their full potential.
What has been your most interesting experience as an Innovation Ambassador?
My favorite part of being an Innovation Ambassador was getting to interact with so many smart, passionate individuals and support them in their ideas. Getting a big-picture view of the entire network of innovators on the UC Davis campus was also eye-opening and inspiring.
Thomas Lenihan is a junior studying biology and environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara.
What drew you to Big Ideas and being an Innovation Ambassador?
One of my close friends introduced me to Big Ideas several years ago. I was initially attracted by the program's accessibility for students without much experience in entrepreneurship or social impact. Big Ideas helped me hone my ideas and focus in on an area where I could make an impact, and provided a new learning experience. Similarly, the Innovation Ambassador role was unfamiliar territory for me, but this uncertainty made the position all the more rewarding as I learned effective strategies to connect with and engage other passionate, forward-thinking students on my home campus.
What are society’s most pressing challenges and solutions?
The threat of climate change will bring with it a host of negative impacts on human societies. However, I also see current patterns of human consumption—from the ubiquity of planet-clogging plastics to the devastation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems as we log, mine, and harvest unsustainable surpluses—as the more pressing problem of our time. There is much work for entrepreneurs to do when it comes to diverting and restructuring this damaging pipeline of extraction to production to consumption to waste, and I believe the most effective products and programs are implemented on scales small enough for Big Ideas to have a significant impact. The mantra of thinking globally and acting locally is an important one: the primary way for businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprint is to ensure they know from where, and how far, the raw materials for their products are traveling. Ultimately, we must drastically reduce our natural resource consumption, both on an individual and societal level, and this cannot be done without alternative products and services, which are created with this goal in mind.
At UC Santa Barbara, what are some of the social issues students are exploring?
Our proximity to the ocean has a pull on many students, and a lot of prospective applicants want to address social problems that are in some way related to water. It was interesting to see among the Big Ideas proposals how many of the students gained their initial inspiration from ocean ecosystems or the human communities that relied on them. One thing you can get everyone to agree on is that our ocean is an invaluable resource, and it deserves protection. For many people, this means finding ways to minimize human impact on this environment.
Amy Lui is a graduate student at UC San Diego earning a Master in Biology. She is the founder and CEO of Partners in Life, which uses mobile technology to connect pregnant women to doulas.
What excites you most about being a Big Ideas Innovation Ambassador?
I started my own social venture, Partners in Life, because I noticed while serving as a volunteer doula at UC San Diego Health System that many expecting mothers weren't getting doulas despite requesting them. I also discovered that this situation disproportionately affected disadvantaged mothers. This led me to try to find a way to connect mothers to doulas. I discovered Big Ideas in founding Partners in Life. Being an Innovation Ambassador has allowed me to be more involved with the campus entrepreneurial ecosystem and meet other like-minded individuals. I have also also able to connect with different networks on campus, and expand Partners in Life to rural villages in Nigeria and China.
What are some challenges that students face in innovation contests?
Telling a good narrative. Some students have difficulty cohesively expressing their ideas and sometimes that overwhelms them. This can discourage a lot of students from applying. Attending storytelling classes really helps; I highly recommended my students attend the workshop held by Big Ideas.
What’s the most valuable experience you’ve had as an Innovation Ambassador?
My most valuable experience was interacting and being more involved with the advisors, staff, and administration at UCSD. Through them, I was able to spread awareness of Big Ideas on campus, reach out to many students, and make our community more aware of social impact ideas.
Parul Wadhwa is a MFA Digital Arts and New Media student at UC Santa Cruz. She has been a Big Ideas finalist twice, in 2017 and 2018.
What drew you to Big Ideas and being an Innovation Ambassador?
I was moving from art to social entrepreneurship when I came across Big Ideas. My social venture was a finalist in 2017, and I learned about the contest through that opportunity. Big Ideas’ mission and scope has aligned with personal trajectory as an artist and entrepreneur, and that was a huge draw for me to take on the Innovation Ambassador role. As an IA, it’s been exciting to connect with budding UCSC entrepreneurs and hear bright ideas for social impact.
What ideas and issues particularly attract UCSC students?
Many UCSC students are interested in art and social change. I’ve also noticed an increasing number of students interested in technology innovations due to UCSC’s proximity to Silicon Valley and its influence on the new wave of students.
What’s the most valuable experience you have had as an Innovation Ambassador?
My most valuable experience was working with and learning directly from Big Ideas Director Phillip Denny. I was able to strategize my role effectively and make sure students leverage the contest’s opportunities. The experience nurtured my interest in advising and mentoring undergraduates for social entrepreneurial paths. I’m grateful for this learning.
Big Ideas Innovation Ambassadors Nurturing Ideas into Enterprises
By Lisa Bauer
Ann Mei Chang, former chief innovation officer at USAID and former senior engineering director at Google, thinks that mission-driven organizations should act more like Silicon Valley startups. At a January 29 presentation at the Blum Center, she outlined her recent book, Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good—which builds off Eric Reis’ best-selling Lean Startup, a veritable bible for iterative business development.
Chang is in a unique position to analyze how and why innovation works across sectors. In addition to working at USAID and Google, she has served as chief innovation officer at Mercy Corps, senior advisor for women and technology at the State Department, and director of product development at Intuit.
“Lean Impact is a strategy for maximizing social benefit in the face of complex societal challenges,” she said.
Chang presented three guiding principles for change-makers, nonprofits, and social enterprises to achieve social innovation: 1) Think Big—set an audacious goal to achieve exponential growth; 2) Start Small—run fast experiments to accelerate the pace of learning, save time and money, and minimize risk; and 3) Relentlessly Seek Impact—fall in love with the problem, not the solution, and accept failure as a natural part of the process.
For each principle, Chang provided examples from her book, which includes interviews with over 200 leaders of successful nonprofits worldwide.
Chang highlighted NexLeaf Analytics, a nonprofit that builds and deploys wireless sensors. NexLeaf’s goal was to increase the use of clean cookstoves to reduce harmful emissions in rural parts of India. To do so, the nonprofit installed sensors on the cookstoves to measure usage and found there was no correlation between self-reported usage and the actual usage; users had both underreported and overestimated their usage.
Through this example, Chang stressed that observing user behavior is far more accurate than asking hypothetical questions and talking to focus groups, as users will often say what they think you want to hear or inaccurately predict their own reactions.
Chang also highlighted a Kenyan company called Copia Global, which set out to make affordable consumer goods accessible to remote villages in Kenya. To get the company off the ground, the founder began testing what low-income villagers most wanted to buy. He asked: Would they be receptive to ordering from a catalog? What goods would they want? Which agents would be most effective? Though a series of iterations, the founder determined that people would order from catalogs, determined the most popular products, and identified the most effective selling agents. Copia Global now calls itself “the best of Amazon plus Fedex plus a healthy dose of emerging market expertise for underserved communities.”
Chang emphasized that scaling a social innovation is not easy. But she assured the audience that big goals and continual iteration are key.
“Be ambitious,” she told UC Berkeley students. “Don’t be afraid to set an audacious goal and relentlessly seek impact by falling in love with the problem.”
Ann Mei Chang Advises a Lean Innovation Strategy to Maximize Social Impact
2018-2019 Big Ideas Contest
The Blum Center-incubated NGO We Care Solar has won the 2019 Zayed Sustainability Award for Health, beating out 2,000 nonprofits. The $600,000 award will be used to advance the organization’s international Light Every Birth campaign, working in partnership with Ministries of Health, NGOs, UN agencies, and donors to eliminate energy poverty in maternal health centers in countries with high rates of maternal-newborn mortality and low levels of electrification.
Blum Center Innovation Fellow Rachel Dzombak was awarded a 2019 Presidential Chair Fellows Curriculum Enrichment Grant with colleagues Sara Beckman, Lisa Wymore, and Angela Marino for their collaborative curriculum project exploring the underpinnings of discovery and learning and how they might be leveraged to create a variety of interdisciplinary experiences for undergraduate students. The curriculum aims to develop students who are more able to tackle complex, real-world problems, more aware of who they are and how they can contribute, and more competent at collaborating or co-creating with a diverse team of others.
The Blum Center’s Big Ideas student innovation contest was covered in the Times of Israel for providing funds and support to students with ideas for social and entrepreneurial impact on 13 campuses, including Hebrew University. Annette Blum, who highlighted past winners Back to the Roots, We Care Solar, and The Somo Project, wrote: “Since the program’s inception in 2006, over 6,000 students have participated and over 250 teams of innovators have received support. Big Ideas recipients have evolved into social enterprises, businesses, and nonprofit groups ranging from local to international in scope.”
Blum Center Affiliated Faculty Member Ashok Gadgil and his Blum-Center supported ECAR (Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation) technology for removing arsenic contamination from drinking water was covered in an Better India article, which noted that since 2016 Gadgil and a team of researchers “have operated an ECAR based water treatment plant out of a government school at Dhapdhapi village in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, delivering arsenic-free drinking water.” The success of the effort could spread to six Indian states considered arsenic affected by the Central Ground Water Board: West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Chhattisgarh.
Richard Baldwin, Professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and President of the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, presents from his new book The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work, which argues that exponential growth in computing, transmission, and storage capacities is creating a new form of “virtual” globalisation that could undermine the foundations of middle-class prosperity in the West. February 14, 3-4:30 p.m., Haas School of Business, Spieker Forum, Chou Hall. Register.
The Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC) is holding its 13th annual BERC Energy Summit, February 21-22. BERC is a multidisciplinary network of UC Berkeley students, alumni, faculty, industry professionals, and advisors who seek to turn world-leading research into world-changing solutions by tackling tough and timely energy and environmental challenges. This year’s theme is “Bringing Energy Communities Together for Innovation,” with a keynote from Kevin de Leon, President Emeritus of the California State Senate.
The Subir & Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies, with support from the Blum Center, will hold the LSE Bangladesh Summit 2019 on the topic "Reimagining Health Empowerment and Sovereignty," February 22, 9:30 am-5:30 pm. B100 Blum Hall. Details.
Industry Advising Clinic (February 27 | 4pm PT | B100 Blum Hall)
Come meet one-on-one with expert advisors from the Big Ideas network to discuss your innovative ideas and critical guidance and constructive feedback.
Full Proposal Editing Blitz (March 4 & 5 | All Day | 120 Blum Hall)
Want last minute feedback? Sign up for an appointment with an advisor for final advice and fine-tuning.
Legal Entity Workshop (March 20| 5:00pm PT | B100 Blum Hall)
Is your social innovation project interested in taking the next step and registering as a legal entity? Are you unsure about the benefits and drawbacks of registering as a 501(c)(3) or a for-profit? Join Big Ideas and Startup@Berkeley Law for an introductory primer that will discuss your options and help you think critically about which model is best for your social venture.
In the News
“The Blum Center for Developing Economies may well be the finest program of its kind in the world. It turns out legions of young graduates who are well prepared with the expertise, humility, purpose, and a pragmatic optimism for combating poverty in the US and globally.”
President Jimmy Carter
The University of California, Berkeley has a vital role to play in finding solutions to complex problems that require the collective expertise of many disciplines and the energy of committed individuals. The Blum Center for Developing Economies leverages the talent, enthusiasm, and energy of the University community to address global poverty. Our interdisciplinary problem-solving approach draws on students and faculty dedicated to tackling inequities through innovative technologies, services, and education.
Blum Center for Developing Economies
The University of California, Berkeley
Blum Hall, #5570
Berkeley, CA 94720-5570
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