Beyond Providing Clean Water: A Profile of Development Engineer Syed Imran Ali

Beyond Providing Clean Water: A Profile of Development Engineer Syed Imran Ali

By Tamara Straus

Imran Ali PhotoIn August 2010, while floods from monsoon rains covered a fifth of Pakistan, Syed Imran Ali, an environmental engineering PhD student from University of Guelph, sat in a newly built lecture hall at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. Ali was in South India to research safe water systems in slums—and, as is typical in academia, a visiting professor had come to give a lecture and graduate students were expected to fill the hall. The lecture, by a Purdue University professor, was on a stochastic method to predict floods, and as Ali sat there, his demeanor, characteristically courteous, attentive, and collegial, started to shift.

“I started to think: I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think anyone else in this room knows what you’re talking about,” said Ali, now a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies. “Moreover, I began to think: I don’t care. Talking about forecasting floods—when there was a flood next door and people were dying in it—was just untenable.”

Ali went back to his office, turned on his computer, and began calling NGOs, government agencies, and UN offices, offering his water and sanitation expertise to help respond to cholera outbreaks in Pakistan displacement camps. He was told he would need to formally apply, and he was told he would need to be interviewed, and he was told he would need to be approved before being sent into the field. He also sowed confusion when he explained his background: a Canadian engineer, of Pakistani origin, working in India, seeking to go to Pakistan, India’s enemy, to help with the flood.

Finally, Ali got hold of the number for the Pakistan headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) and found himself on the phone with the head of mission, an Italian nurse, “who was totally frazzled.” “He asked me,” said Ali, “whether I could work a water treatment unit. I told him I could figure it out. He told me to send him my CV. That evening, I had a phone conversation with MSF in London, and two days later I was flying to Pakistan.”

Ali’s job was to set up a water treatment unit, to supply safe water to one of the many camps for internally displaced persons in Sukkur, Pakistan. Sukkur had been the third largest city of the Sindh province, but by the time Ali arrived in August 2010 the Pakistani army was evacuating 350,000 people from low-lying areas and bringing them to the higher grounds of what would become a refugee city of half million. Ali was told an experienced WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) specialist from MSF would supervise his work. But the specialist got held back at another camp with a cholera outbreak, so the 26-year-old had to wing it. “It was sort of like Lego,” said Ali of his experience assembling the MSF equipment entirely from manuals. He worked there for five weeks, treating river water and training local staff to operate the water treatment plant.

Since that time, Ali has grappled with what it means to be a development, or humanitarian, engineer. His dissertation, published in 2012, was not typical of an academic engineer. Instead of focusing only on new techniques for efficient and safe water systems for South Asian slums, he questioned the moral and political complexity of their implementation. Ali advocates a “participatory design” approach, in which technicians like himself collaborate with “users” (in his case, slum residents), to come up with sustainable and contextually appropriate solutions to water and sanitation systems.

IMG_7575The impetus for this has come from deep reading of post-colonial scholars like Frantz Fanon and Paulo Friere. It also has come from the four on-and-off years Ali spent in a slum called Mylai Balaji Nagar on the outskirts of Chennai, India. There, about 10,000 residents continue to rely on highly polluted surface water. Ali first showed up in the ramshackle sprawl of a town in 2009, as part of a University of Guelph-IIT project that he started. His goal was to remove contaminants from the water system, which was drawn from a polluted lake and was pumped, often untreated, into standpipes where it was used for bathing, food preparation, and drinking. But the longer he stayed in Mylai Balaji Nagar, the more Ali learned that the residents’ views of clean water did not necessarily cohere with his or his university colleagues.

Through interviews and focus groups, Ali gleaned a couple of key details: that the residents of Mylai Balaji Nagar had been forcibly moved there in 1995 to make way for the city’s railway expansion; that the government had never consistently supplied adequate or clean water to the area; and that residents considered water and sanitation services to be a government, not a community or individual responsibility. Ali also learned that everything that the community had managed to get in terms of education, health, or housing supports—had come from lobbying the government.

“I came to realize that much of my work in Mylai Balaji Nagar was what University of Toronto Anthropology Professor Tania Li calls ‘rendering technical,’” explained Ali. “Residents viewed the water supply as the responsibility of the government and they demanded water and other rights through collective political mobilization and direct action. Often, they won. But we engineers were focusing on doing water treatment with residents at the household level.

“You see,” continued Ali. “I rendered technical the water supply problem at Mylai Balalji Nagar. And in doing so, I submerged the political economy of water in this community’s history.”

Ali defines rendering technical as stripping a phenomenon of its complex social, political, and economic realities and distilling it to just its technical aspects. He said people in international development do this for two reasons: “One, we are technical experts and see the world through the framework of the solutions we have to offer; and two, it gives us something to do.” Ali adds to this list a third reason: human fallibility, especially in crisis situations.

In September 2012, Ali enlisted for a second humanitarian crisis. He joined an eight-month mission with Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan, where the newly independent country was being overwhelmed with refugees escaping years of violent clashes. Ali’s job was to implement emergency water treatment systems in refugee and transit camps, manage water and sanitation infrastructure and staff in MSF healthcare facilities, and lead camp sanitation building projects. He was witness to a severe health crisis at a camp called Jamam on the Upper Nile state of South Sudan, to which 30,000 people had fled. Jamam, which means “swamp” in Maban, was picked in haste by authorities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and in part because it was 50 km from the Sudanese border, a UNHCR requirement. The place lived up to its name. When the rainy season hit in May, the camp flooded and diarrheal illnesses and hepatitis E overwhelmed the refugee population.

Ali and his colleagues worked tirelessly. In a Jan. 29, 2013 MSF blog, he wrote: “I’ve stopped thinking. The last time I stopped to think something out, to parse it, to give it a name, was months ago …. [Yet] I had a home that was not this place, this strange, inhospitable, impossible place that is now home for 15,000, 65,000, 115,000 people, who had to run here, and from where it seems like they won’t leave for a long time still, for the abode of war still reigns in their hills.”

Among the reasons that Ali’s brain was functioning only for emergency purposes was because by January he was also working in a nearby refugee camp called Batil, which had become home to 35,000 people and where a third of the camp had no sanitation services. The result was another large hepatitis E outbreak from so many people defecating outside. “There’s a structural problem in the humanitarian system,” said Ali in response to why the story of aid seems often to be one of failure. “There’s no feedback mechanism. No one in the field has the capacity, because they’re always reacting.”

But Ali has found a way to provide feedback. During his time at the Jamam refugee camp, he realized that chlorination levels for camp water systems were based on standards for municipal water systems with sophisticated infrastructure—even though a refugee camp is radically different from a city. To deal with the daily reality of sick and dying people, Ali began to study how free residual chlorine in water behaved in the refugee camp setting. He soon discovered that it was inadequate—that within four to six hours of collection, the chlorine was mostly gone. He set out to correct this oversight.

Ali’s current work at the Blum Center may very well rewrite the UN guidelines for refugee camp water systems, protecting upwards of 50 million people. “This project will help to build the evidential base for safe water practices in humanitarian settings, something which is almost totally lacking at present,” said one of Ali’s mentors, Ed McBean, a professor of engineering at University of Guelph, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Water Supply Security. “The work will improve best practices for safe water supply in emergencies the world over.”

IMAG1243Last summer, in collaboration with UNHCR, Ali collected chlorination level data at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, and in 2015 he will do the same at two more sites, in Rwanda and Jordan, and take data during the winter to observe any seasonal effects. By 2016, he expects he will have analyzed and generated a revision document for varying refugee camp conditions, which can feed directly into the UNHCR guidelines. Ali does not expect implementation will be difficult, as his work is “an evidence-driven improvement of existing practices.”

When Ali tells people about his discovery at the Jamam camp, they tend to be shocked. How could humanitarian organizations overlook something so simple as low chlorination levels in water? Isn’t chlorine in water the most well-known and well-used means to ensure water is safe to drink and use? “I think it’s been the accidental engagement of academic researchers like myself in the field that have encouraged this,” said Ali. “People in the field have already always known [about chlorination problems], they just haven’t had the chance to study it and push it.” Ali adds that the negative consequence of higher chlorination levels is poor taste and odor. The balance is to have just enough chlorine to protect the water, but not so much to drive rejection of the water.

When it comes to the larger questions and goals of international development—the eradication of extreme poverty, safe drinking water and sanitation for all, universal access to maternal health—Ali’s humanism and historicism seems to outweigh his optimism. “The 19th century Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, once remarked, ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means,’” he said. “Since the Marshall Plan and the early years of the Cold War, I believe that development has become the continuation of politics by other means.” Ali does not believe that international development practitioners are doomed to come up with only short-term solutions that avoid the systemic political factors that underlay poverty. But he believes that they, and he, must tread carefully.

“I understand why we’ve moved away from large-scale development,” said Ali. “We’ve been humbled by the technical failures of the 1960s, by the macro level approach. So we’re now looking at development through a micro level. We can’t change the macro conditions of global health, so we create a device that improves healthcare access to rural clinics. In that way, we’re doing a lot of little things and, especially as engineers, we’re doing these things without any real literacy about the sources of the problems.”

Ali hopes a corrective to this problem—to the problem of “rendering technical”—will come through the new field of Development Engineering, which began offering classes to graduate engineering students at UC Berkeley in the fall of 2014. Development Engineering, he argues, is different from traditional engineering in that the field aims to re-center technical issues, like clean water provision, within the larger contexts of political economy and society.

“Introducing non-technical elements in my engineering training was really difficult at first, but I saw it as necessary,” said Ali. “Working with non-engineers was confusing initially, because I didn’t quite understand their language,” he continued, “but there was something important there that I needed to understand. It challenged me to go beyond my own technical lens and learn to see from perspectives of new fields.

“Working across disciplinary divides requires intellectual humility. But it’s given me ideas about how we can use technical solutions to address development challenges in solidarity with the people we aim to help.”

A Device That Could Change Healthcare

A Device That Could Change Healthcare

By Tamara Straus

Prof. Dan FletcherThere are three innovations without which, CellScope—a breakthrough microscopy project of Dan Fletcher’s bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley—would not be possible. They are also part of landscape of innovations that may revolutionize global healthcare.

The first is the 3D printer. Before these printers were mainstreamed, students in Professor Fletcher’s lab assembled prototype mobile microscopes from sheets of plastic that had to be cut and glued by hand. New engineering designs usually took weeks and were difficult to modify quickly. With the lab’s Stratasys 3D printer, polished prototypes are now being created in as little as a day.

The second innovation that seeded Fletcher’s leap forward in microscopy is energy-efficient LED lights. Whereas traditional microscopes rely on powerful arc lamps that cost $200 per bulb and burn less than 300 hours, the CellScope uses long-lasting LEDs that cost as little as $2.50 per bulb, provide up to 20,000 hours of use, and function on battery power in areas with unreliable electricity.

The third and probably most important innovation on which CellScope depends is the mobile phone. CellScope has been able to piggyback on tens of billions of dollars of R&D investment by cell phone companies, which have resulted in, among other things, powerful built-in cameras and the mass production of affordable components. As Fletcher pointed out in a Sept 20, 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed:

“New phones with larger screens and better cameras may not markedly improve our lives, but the push for more powerful devices—and manufacturers’ willingness to respond to demand—is on track to improve the lives of millions of people living in extreme poverty. That’s because customers set on having the latest, greatest smartphones are driving a dramatic decrease in cost and increase in functionality that will benefit people whose total annual income is often less than the cost of a single phone.”

Back in 2006, when one-megapixel cameras started appearing on phones, Fletcher challenged students in his Optics and Microscopy class to see if the camera of a cell phone could be modified to capture images of human cells similar to those captured on his lab’s $150,000 research microscope. Continuing the project the summer after the class ended, Fletcher and a group of students attached a standard set of lenses to his sister’s Nokia phone and were able to image blood cells, malaria parasites, and the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. It was one of those moments that scientists dream of.

“We had discussions, during the course, with doctors about how broadly microscopy is used in clinical medicine, particularly in the developing world. I hadn’t realized that basic optical imaging is still so important to disease diagnosis and that the most definitive diagnosis for many diseases is seeing the actual disease-causing agent in a patient sample,” said Fletcher. “That’s when I realized that if we could do microscopy properly on a mobile phone, the device could be very useful.”

Not only was the potential for disease diagnosis outside of hospital infrastructure considerable, Fletcher and his team knew that mobile manufacturers were in a race to integrate phone cameras with computation, SMS, email, Internet access, and friendly user interfaces. In a few short years, this would mean that CellScope could provide diagnostic solutions at pretty much the same rate as any digitally enhanced microscope in a well-equipped hospital.

Peg+Skorpinski+(2)Members of the Fletcher lab could even foresee a time when patients’ blood or sputum smears could be imaged with a mobile digital microscope and then—using a computer algorithm for automated disease detection—proceed immediately to treatment, without the patient stepping foot in a city hospital or medical lab. It would mean, for example, that tuberculosis, which annually kills more than 2 million people and sickens approximately 15 million, could be tackled in places where laboratory facilities are scarce but mobile phone infrastructure is extensive. It would mean that a new point-of-care diagnostic was possible for many diseases that go undiagnosed in many countries, ranging from debilitating eye disorders to chronic blood parasites.

The Fletcher Lab began making its case for the potential impact of CellScope slowly, as it was a side project in a lab focused on making cutting-edge biophysical measurements of cells. In May 2007, CellScope won a Big Ideas@Berkeley award of $8,500, and in January 2008 it received a $100,000 grant from Microsoft Research. By May, The Economist, ABC, Wired, and other media had picked up news of CellScope. In April 2009, the team won another $100,000 grant from Intel’s Inspire-Empower Competition, followed by support from the Vodafone Americas Foundation. And in July 2009, it published its first academic journal paper—in PLoS ONE, documenting how CellScope captured images of the parasite that causes malaria in humans, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, and sickle-shaped red blood cells. The team also showed in a 2012 National Institutes of Health paper how their images of tuberculosis bacteria could be automatically counted using image recognition software.

By 2011, CellScope had raised a total of $500,000, thanks to additional grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Center for Information Technology Research as well as the Vodafone Americas Foundation, and was ready to field test its first device.

Its first large field experiments took place at health clinics in Hanoi Province, Vietnam. In partnership with the Vietnam National Tuberculosis Program and the University of California, San Francisco, Fletcher’s group deployed 15 CellScopes for a full year, to evaluate their uptake and ability to detect TB at health care facilities with little medical or IT infrastructure. The Hanoi Province pilots showed that community health care workers were able to operate the CellScope and that disease diagnosis met the standard quality available at major Vietnamese hospitals. This work motivated development of a second generation device that is being tested in Hanoi.

Recently, another CellScope device was field-tested in Cameroon where the Gates Foundation and the U.S. National Institutes of Health had been struggling to find a way to restart mass drug administration programs to fight the roundworms that cause river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. The problem health workers faced was that patients were at risk of serious health complications, including death, if they were given river blindness medication while co-infected with the Loa loa worm. But to test for Loa loa, health workers needed to draw several milliliters of blood and prepare two blood smears for observation under a traditional microscope—costly and time-consuming steps impossible to carry out across the country. Health programs were basically stuck; they could not proceed with large-scale treatment.

Then in February 2014, CellScope trials of 120 people proved adept at counting Loa loa worms, using only a finger prick of blood and a few minutes of analysis time. The trials also validated CellScope’s automated detection of worms in whole blood, and thus the elimination of time-consuming lab diagnosis. Larger tests involving thousands of patients are planned for 2015.

“The Loa loa trials may be the ones that allow us to bring the CellScope to scale in developing regions,” said Clay Reber, a UC Berkeley master’s student in bioengineering who has been on the CellScope project since 2010. “They could show that the CellScope meets conventional diagnostic methods and will be cheaper and easier to use than current methods. They could enable the much-needed mass drug administration programs against river blindness to restart. Worldwide, there are 130 million people at risk of being infected with the river blindness worms and about 13 million people with Loa loa.”

Another testing ground for CellScope devices is Thailand, where there are only 648 ophthalmologists for the entire country (1.52 doctors per 100,000), with most located in the urban centers of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, which disproportionally affects HIV patients and can lead to blindness, is treatable, but infection rates are high and diagnosis rates are low. Since 2012, community health workers and other non-specialists have a half dozen Ocular CellScopes to test their utility for patients at risk of CMS. Results are forthcoming.

Professor Fletcher admits it’s challenging to address the many diagnostic opportunities that CellScope could address simultaneously. “The key,” he said, “is great collaborators—great clinical collaborators who have embraced the technology, contributed to its design and implementation, and allowed us to plug into existing field studies and test sites with this alternate technology.”

Telemicroscopy+Photo+3With so many potential applications and field tests for CellScope, it is no wonder that the team has at times felt overstretched. CellScopes have been sent and used literally around the world. In Hawaii, the education nonprofit Kahi Kai is using the mobile microscopes to collect data for various water quality indicators, such as plankton. In Egypt, Dr. Annika Guse of Heidelberg University took CellScope for coral reef monitoring. There is even a CellScope in Antarctica, and Parisian artist Geneviève Anhoury is opening a show this December using images taken with a CellScope.

Perhaps the strongest example of CellScope’s wide applicability and embrace is its for-profit spinout, CellScope, Inc. In June 2013, Khosla Ventures invested $1 million in the company founded in 2010 by Erik Douglas and Amy Sheng, two former students of Professor Fletcher’s. Since then, the company has secured additional funding on the promise it will create a “smartphone-enabled digital first aid kit.” CellScope Inc.’s first product is an iPhone otoscope that enables parents and physicians to remotely diagnose ear infections in children, an ailment that results in an estimated 20 million U.S. doctors visit per year. The release date for the otoscope is set for 2015. Douglas said 800 doctors and clinicians have been testing it since last December, and 100 California families have been using the device at home.

For Fletcher, the CellScope represents not so much new science as a new approach to the old problem of disease diagnosis, one that moves clinical microscopy forward by solving integration, implementation, and usability challenges. “I think it’s really exciting to see how a technology that has come from an academic lab, was created on a 3D printer, and is intended for use by minimally skilled healthcare workers can help someone in a developing region receive better healthcare and maybe even help seed an industry here in the U.S,” he said. Fletcher has no objections to the domestically oriented for-profit spinout, but hopes “there is continued attention—and funding—to support solving the often very different healthcare problems of developing countries with these devices.”

Fletcher’s mind tends toward scientific skepticism, toward the need for real-world proofs and repeatable results. But he is willing, after some urging, to forecast his device’s possible impact. “My hope is that CellScope will present a new way of delivering healthcare,” he said. “It has the potential to provide much faster access to disease diagnostic information as well as more regular information about our own healthcare. Our technology is part of a fundamental change in healthcare that will see each of us able to take much better care of ourselves by collecting and analyzing personal health data with devices like mobile phones. And CellScope is just one device in that direction. The mobile healthcare revolution has begun.”

Crawling the Campus for International Development Innovations

Crawling the Campus for International Development Innovations

By Sybil Lewis

Fall 2014 DIL Innovation CrawlA dozen UC Berkeley graduate students eager to learn about different campus initiatives on international development participated in the second “Innovation Crawl” Nov. 20, hosted by the Development Impact Lab (DIL) and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

With the support from the U.S Agency for International Development, DIL hosts events such as the Innovation Crawl and funds projects that are at the intersection of technology and international development. The Innovation Crawl was organized by DIL’s Idea Team—a group of interdisciplinary graduate students dedicated to bringing together students, researchers, and faculty working on international development and promoting cross-campus exchange.

“Top-tier research, professional development, and graduate initiatives in international development are going on across this campus, but the average individual misses them,” said Pierce Gordon a member of the DIL Idea Team and MS/PhD Student in the Energy and Resources Group. “DIL’s Idea Team, which was founded last year, aims to gather the communities passionate about global poverty issues and to introduce the great work being completed on this campus.”

Participants at the Innovation Crawl come from diverse interests, countries, and disciplines. They included Master’s and PhD students in Public Health, Business Administration, the School of Technology, Development Practice, and Public Policy.

“The university, like much of the world, operates in silos. For someone like myself who is on the policy side of social issues, I see the importance of understanding what everyone is doing in different departments,” said Sasha Feldstein, a first year Masters of Public Policy student at the Goldman School of Public Policy.

Inspired by the spirit of “bar crawls,” the Innovation Crawl included a tour of four labs and centers on campus.

The first stop was the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), which focuses on four core initiatives—Energy, Health Care, Intelligence Infrastructure, and Data and Democracy—to address pressing social and environmental issues facing California. Brandie Nonnecke, a research and development manager of the Data and Democracy core, presented the California Report Card, an online platform that allows visitors to grade the state’s performance on policy issues such as immigration and higher education. The report card was developed by CITRIS in collaboration with the office of Lt. Governor Gavin Newson to harness technology for increased democratic participation.

The group crawled onward to the Berkeley Institute of Design, where Mechanical Engineering Professor Alice M. Agonino showed different human-centered, interdisciplinary design projects, ranging from data collection on Massive Open Online Courses to sustainable design projects in Native American communities.

The final stop was at the Visualization and Control of Biological Assembly Lab, also known as the Fletcher Lab, where students got a first-hand look at tools being engineered to improve the landscape of disease diagnosis around the world. Frankie Myers, a research scientist at the Fletcher Lab, presented CellScope, a technology that turns the camera of a mobile phone into a high-quality light microscope to image patient samples and diagnose diseases such as tuberculosis. Ali Mohammed, a Somali healthcare practitioner who attended the Innovation Crawl, said that in his home country devices such as CellScope could be crucial, as many deaths occur from curable diseases that are not diagnosed due to lack of equipment, energy, or trained medical professionals.

The DIL Idea Team plans to have more Innovation Crawls that are tailored to themes such as sustainability and health and that address the changing field of international development.

What Will the Children of Madagascar Inherit?

By Roxanne Rahnama

There is a local Malagasy proverb in the southeast Anosy region of Madagascar that goes Ny fianarana no lovasoa indrindra: Education is the best heritage.

In this same isolated region of Madagascar, a country that ranks 151st (out of 187) on the United Nations 2013 Human Development Index, approximately 90 percent of the population lives in chronic poverty, below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.

Since the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment policies of the 1980s, which drove Madagascar deep into debt and continuous aid dependency, there has been a particularly stark deterioration in the country’s education system, among its other sectors. Some 3,000 communities lack even a basic primary school; 50 percent of school-aged children have never been to school; and in the Anosy region, the literacy rate is alarmingly low at 34 percent.

While the new president of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has pledged to fight poverty and increasingly invest in the education sector of the country, it will require a great deal of political will and commitment to undo the damages of colonialism, structural adjustment policies, and political unrest since the country gained independence in 1960. Furthermore, since the 1980s, Madagascar has confronted a widening range of climate-related challenges, including drought, more violent and frequent cyclones, the spread of malaria, recurrent flooding of schools and other basic infrastructure, and exacerbated food security issues.

During my Summer 2014 practice experience as a student in the Global Poverty & Practice minor at UC Berkeley, I spent six weeks in the Anosy region working on education projects with a UK-Malagasy joint community development organization called Azafady. A particular experience on a sweltering mid-July day remains locked in my memory. A group of volunteers, staffers, and I visited an abandoned primary school in a rural commune called Tsagnoria, for which Azafady is currently raising money so that local children ages 7-16 can regain access to their national heritage. The following series of photographs document that place.

Azafady is currently seeking $8,000 to rebuild the Tsagnoria School and outfit it with 40 desks and benches and a blackboard. For more information and donation opportunities, please visit: http://www.globalgiving.co.uk/projects/tsagnoria-school-building-project/

Winners of the 2014 Global Poverty & Practice Photo Contest

Winners of the 2014 Global Poverty & Practice Photo Contest

Each fall, students of the Global Poverty & Practice minor of the Blum Center compete to win a cash prize for best photography from their practice experiences. Below are this year’s winners.

1st Place: Priscilla Liu, Hariana India

1st Place: Priscilla Liu, Hariana India
In the foreground, a young boy in a migrant camp in Hariana, Punjab tends a water buffalo. Like other children in the camp, he’s kept home from school to contribute to chores like tending animals or sorting trash. In the background, another boy sorts trash to be sold and a woman walks to a forested area in the camp where ditches serve as makeshift toilets.


2nd Place: Roxanne Rahnama, Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

2nd Place: Roxanne Rahnama, Fort Dauphin, Madagascar
A woman brushes her teeth at sunrise, using water from a lake in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, where villagers bathe, wash their clothing, and often openly defecate. Water supply and sanitation are serious problems in Madagascar, where diarrheal disease is a top lethal illness among children under the age of 5.


3rd Place: Thoa Hoang, New Delhi, India

3rd Place: Thoa Hoang, New Delhi, India
Walking across a tight rope in the middle of a busy market, this little girl is earning her keep, working to support her family. New Delhi residents tend to pay her only a swift glance, whereas foreign tourists sometimes drop a couple rupees into her metal bowl.

TechCon 2014: University Innovators Transcend Academic Silos to Present Cutting-edge Collaborations for Global Development

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TECHCON 2014: UNIVERSITY INNOVATORS TRANSCEND ACADEMIC SILOS TO PRESENT CUTTING-EDGE COLLABORATIONS FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Young solvers put theory into action to improve quality of life for the global community

Berkeley, CA (November 10, 2014) – Powered by the idea that science and technology together with academic curiosity can help find transformative solutions to development challenges, over 350 student innovators, faculty researchers, development experts, investors, and thought leaders met this weekend in the Bay Area for the Higher Education Solutions Network’s TechCon 2014.

TechCon 2014, which concludes this afternoon, was the second annual meeting of the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), a program launched in 2012 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and located in USAID’s new U.S. Global Development Lab. Through HESN, USAID has created a network of eight Development Labs that harness the ingenuity and passion of university students, researchers, and faculty to incubate and develop new science and tech-based solutions to global challenges in areas such as food security, health, poverty, conflict, and climate change. One of them is UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab, which the Blum Center founded in 2012 with a $20 million grant from the USAID, in collaboration with the Center for Effective Global Action, the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

This Network represents something new and especially exciting in development—something more than a simple collection of universities. It represents a groundbreaking partnership—one that stretches from California to Massachusetts, from Texas to Uganda, united by a single purpose: to mobilize the energy and ingenuity of a new generation of students, inventors, and entrepreneurs—and harness the power of science, technology, and innovation to deliver transformational results in development. These efforts are ensuring that hungry children have nutritious meals; that rural entrepreneurs have access to power; and that smallholder farmers have strong, resilient harvests,” said Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator.

The three-day summit, themed “Connecting to Accelerate Global Development,” featured an Innovation Marketplace where young innovators showcased their work, a “Shark Tank” styled pitch competition, and keynotes that both challenged and inspired attendees to identify new approaches and solutions to the development challenges we face. The annual meeting also served to further strengthen and cultivate this emerging global network of solvers, all of whom are committed to changing development.

Ticora Jones, HESN Division Chief said, “Bridging the divide between invention and global impact is one of the most challenging issues of our time. It’s like running a marathon, while trying to combine strangers and friends to run with you along the way. Connecting individuals and communities with diverse viewpoints, resources, and skills is incredibly hard, but absolutely essential to cross the finish line.”

HESN’s  eight university-led Development Labs regularly manage projects in collaborations with networks that include other universities, innovators, investors, and institutions in developing countries. Each Development Lab has a distinct focus, ranging from food security to global health. You can learn more about each HESN Development Lab at www.usaid.gov/hesn.

This year’s TechCon also brought together many of HESN’s partners and stakeholder to celebrate their initiatives and contribute to a dialogue focused on creating, testing, and scaling of solutions.  For example:

The Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LIGTT) announced the publication and launch of “50 Breakthroughs” Report, a transformative study conducted over the course of two years that analyzes the problems facing the global poor and identifies where technology can play a pivotal role. The study incorporates input from over 1,000 of the world’s leading experts, and is made possible in part through HESN funding. Find out more at www.ligtt.org.

Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), another flagship program of the U.S. Global Development Lab, announced a $3 million dollar, Stage 3 award to the Zusha! Project. In Kenya, the Zusha! initiative combats road accidents through the simple method of putting stickers in buses, therefore empowering passengers to speak up about reckless driving, for a fraction of the cost of other road safety interventions. The innovation has already had tremendous success and though DIV’s support, will move from a pilot to a solution with potential to reach millions of people, starting with expansion in East Africa. Zusha! is led by researchers from the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development, and Evaluation (gui²de).

To learn more about the Higher Education Solutions Network and the eight Development Labs, visit www.usaid.gov/hesn

Water Comes First: Ashley Miller’s Work To Support Infrastructure in Southern Kenya

Water Comes First: Ashley Miller’s Work To Support Infrastructure in Southern Kenya

By Sean Burns

Celebrating accomplishment. Ashley Miller with Maji Yaje Kwanza community leaders at the new community water kiosk.
Celebrating accomplishment. Ashley Miller with Maji Yaje Kwanza community leaders at the new community water kiosk.

How can a wedding change a village? Sounds like some kind of development riddle, or maybe even a Hollywood screenplay. Not for Global Poverty & Practice senior Ashley Miller.

In the summer of 2013, Miller travelled to Nairobi to participate in a study abroad program at Kenyatta University. As is the case for many students’ international sojourns, Miller’s most transformative experience didn’t occur in the classroom. In the final week of her summer program, Louisa Mwenda, a fellow Kenyatta student invited her to a family wedding in the Kaloleni region of Kenya. The trip would profoundly redirect the course of Miller’s undergraduate education and the entire community of Mihingoni, a sub-county of Kaloleni.

Mihingoni is a 6,800-person village in the southern coastal province of Kenya. Miller and Mwenda made the seven-hour bus ride from Nairobi together through farmlands to the Indian Ocean. During the weekend, Miller found herself in all kinds of engaging conversations. Mwenda’s father, an American R&B aficionado, bonded with her over Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and the global diaspora of African-American culture. But one thread of conversation trumped them all: the limited access to safe drinking water in the Mihingoni village.

For Miller, conversations about water access and public policy were not new. Concern for the political and environmental dimensions of water distribution were part of what drew her to the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice Minor at UC Berkeley and led her to define her own major in Interdisciplinary Studies. Miller’s courses at Kenyatta built upon this interest, focusing on the intersection of resource conflicts with the politics of gender and the challenges of environmental degradation. During her weekend in Mihingoni, she witnessed how everyone depended on rain catchment and, as she began the trip back to Nairobi, filled with the joy and connections of a wedding weekend, she found herself envisioning an ambitious water project with members of the Kenga Family.

“I remember saying to Louisa’s aunt during the car ride: Why don’t we work together to get safe water to Mihingoni? But, at first, she misunderstood me; she thought I was suggesting drilling a community bore hole—a small-scale and short-term water source that is commonly funded by outside NGOs.” What Miller envisioned was more ambitious.

About 1.5 miles outside of Mihingoni, access to municipal Kaloleni water stops. Beyond, there exists no public infrastructure for the distribution of safe, treated water. What Miller and her comrades in the Kenga family began to flesh out—in the weeks and months after the wedding weekend—was a plan to extend the public water main to Mihingoni, bringing safe water to at least 3,000 community members.

Being an entrepreneurial Cal student, Miller sought out the Big Ideas@Berkeley competition as a venue to develop and seed fund the idea. Between the fall of 2013 and spring 2014, Miller, through continual and in-depth communication with members of the Kenga family, created a proposal for a community-built project that, in collaboration with Kilifi-Mariakani Water & Sewage Ltd., the Kaloleni municipal water supplier, would bring safe water to a community-accessible water kiosk located at the central Mihingoni Primary School. The location was chosen for many reasons. First, the school serves more than 800 students; drinking taps and hand-washing sinks would make a significant improvement to quality of life for students and teachers. Second, the Kenga Family had direct ties to the school faculty, and everyone felt that the school administration was well poised to equitably oversee the community water kiosk through a newly created water committee made up of parents, teachers, and the school principal.

When Miller’s proposal won 2nd Place in the Big Ideas @ Berkeley Human Rights category, she knew she had accomplished an important step toward the project’s realization. To complement this momentum, the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) invited her to the 2014 annual conference.  Both Big Ideas and CGIU provided Miller with the mentorship and networking essential to the developing project.

In her lengthy conversations with the Kenga Family, the phrase “maji yaje kwanza” became a guiding aphorism. It translates: water is the first thing or water comes first. For Miller, the phrase struck her as an ideal name for the project.  Much of her undergraduate study has focused on the relationship between water access and broader social justice determinants, including access to education.

“My goal in the project was always about assisting the Mihingoni community in overcoming infrastructural and political barriers to self-determination,” she said in an interview. For Miller and her local collaborators, this decidedly meant working with rather than around local government. “Many of the international nonprofits in Kenya are digging wells for clean groundwater. While this is good and often reliable, it does not sufficiently address bigger systems of inequality,” she explained. Maji Yaje Kwanza therefore is a community project that seeks to hold the public sector accountable to the populations it is underserving.

During a three-week period in June and July of 2014, Miller and her Kenga Family collaborators successfully coordinated the construction of the 1.5-mile extension of the municipal water main to reach Mihingoni Primary School. With essential support from the local chief, a government water engineer, and school officials, the project hired nearly 200 village residences to dig the trenches and backfill over the new piping. For storage and distribution of the water, two 10,000-gallon tanks were installed at the school property, which now lead to washing sinks and drinking taps.

The Maji Yaje Kwanza team handled the budget and payroll, with a total cost of $20,000 largely subsidized through the Big Ideas award, additional Blum Center support for standout CGIU student projects, and a collection of grants from other sources, including the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, and the Shinnyo-En foundation.

Miller is now waiting to hear news of the commencement of water delivery to Mihingoni. While Maji Yaje Kwanza completed the water main extension and water storage aspects of the project, a larger World Bank-funded initiative is necessary to provide sufficient pumping capacity to get the water to consistently reach the village. Once this comes together, thousands of people will have access to the school water kiosk and, over time, to domestic taps along the 1.5-mile pipe.  The school will sell the water for approximately 6 cents for 5-gallon container of water. This price will enable the school to cover the meter costs, with any additional income going toward the purchase of hand soap (for the three new sinks), antiseptic for the pit latrines, and toilet paper for the students and staff.  For Miller, once the water begins to flow, the next steps will be multiple. First, she aspires for all sub-counties within the Kaloleni region to have similar access to municipal water; this means replicating and scaling up the community process just completed in Mihingoni.

While the first phase of this might be community water kiosks, a further step, in the minds of many residents, should be infrastructure for people to directly receive water in their homes and on their farms. Miller agrees, and she has a particular interest in expanding the practice of rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation in agriculture, the predominant industry in the province. In part, her aspirations are informed by international perspective. “There are many other regions in the world more arid than Kaloeni that have the infrastructure of sophisticated, public water systems,” she said. “Think about many areas in the Middle East. Why isn’t this the case in Kenya?”

The answer is not lost on the people of Mihingoni. According to Miller, they analyze the inequities that confront their daily lives within the longer history of colonial exploitation of the coastal regions of Kenya. This history has included land acquisition and forced resettlement by successive waves of Portuguese, Omani, and British control. The Mihingoni are committed, pitchfork by pitchfork, community meeting by meeting, to reverse these colonial legacies.

Sean Burns serves as the Director of Student Programs for the Blum Center for Developing Economies at University of California, Berkeley.

A Contest to Catalyze Literacy Via Mobiles Worldwide

A Contest to Catalyze Literacy Via Mobiles Worldwide

By Andrea Guzman

Mobiles for ReadingA 2013/2014 UNESCO report found that 250 million children across the globe are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills. Of these, 57 million children—a disproportionate number of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, live in conflict-afflicted countries, or are disabled or simply girls—aren’t enrolled in school at all.

Big Ideas@Berkeley and USAID’s Global Development Lab are aiming to change these numbers through the Mobiles for Reading contest category by inviting students to develop novel technology-based innovations to enhance reading skills for youth in developing countries. This new contest category is sponsored by All Children Reading:  A Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.

The creation of the category comes amidst a growing international movement to use mobile technologies as tools for enhancing children’s reading skills. Numerous studies have shown that children who do not develop reading skills during early primary education are on a lifetime trajectory of limited educational progress and economic opportunities. Meanwhile, mobile devices are ubiquitous, even in low-income regions. According to the International Telecommunications Union, 96.2% of people on the planet have mobile cellular telephone subscriptions.

To Rebecca Leege, project director of the All Children Reading initiative, mobile technology can be a particularly effective tool to disseminate local language instruction materials. “Evidence confirms that children best learn to read in the language with which they are most familiar,” said Leege in an email. “However, many children enter schools where they are taught in a foreign language and have little or no access to mother tongue reading resources, making it difficult for them to gain the foundational skills needed to learn to read. This, coupled with low engagement from family or their community to support their learning to read, limits the reinforcement needed to develop a proficient reader.”

Leege added: “A basic phone or tablet can provide new and vital mother-tongue reading resources to engage children’s curiosity and interest in reading in communities with sparse access to books.”

While mobiles for reading remains a new approach, some programs have illustrated promising results. A pilot program for illiterate women conducted by the Afghan Institute of Learning showed that between May 2011 and May 2012 reading via mobile halved the time in which students were able to attain literacy at a basic 2 level. Teachers sent daily texts to students, who read the incoming messages and responded via SMS, demonstrating reading comprehension and writing skills. Researchers found that cell phone texts generated excitement among students, as literacy became not an “abstract skill” of alleged importance, but a tangible skill that could bring the students to “another level of understanding of the world around them.”

Over the past few years, a growing number of NGOs, academic researchers, social entrepreneurs, donors, and policymakers have begun to develop and support mobiles for reading technology. On October 15-16 2014, USAID and the mEducation Alliance held the third annual Mobiles for Education Alliance Symposium in Washington, DC, which brought together 185 participants from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East to discuss trends and topics to advance the field.

Although participants repeatedly underscored that technology and mobile devices are exciting new tools to foster inclusive and quality education, many also pointed out that the human element is crucial. “What matters is the human interaction,” said Brian Gonzalez, the symposium’s keynote speaker and director of the global education sector at Intel. “But not one-to-one, but one-to-many in order to improve the way teachers teach and children learn.”

Leege believes that among the greatest barriers to innovation in mobile reading are access to electricity and connectivity. “To assist those learning to read in low-resource settings, low-cost and open source materials easily maintained by the user are vital,” she said. “We would like to see student innovation that addresses unreliable—or absent—electricity and connectivity in low-resource communities.”

The Mobiles for Reading contest is open to over 500,000 students across 18 universities, from Uganda to Australia (for a full list of eligible universities, visit the Mobiles for Reading webpage.) Students who wish to participate must develop novel mobile technology-based innovations to enhance reading scores for early grade children in developing countries. Alternatively, proposals may use existing mobile-based technologies to improve early grade reading scores by adapting or applying those technologies in new and innovative ways. A five-page pre-proposal is due November 13 to the bigideascontest.org website. Three to to six student teams to be selected to continue on to the full proposal round in the spring. Winners will receive awards up to $10,000 to go toward further developing their idea.

“We hope to capitalize on student’s creativity, knowledge, personal experience of learning to read, as well as their desire to innovate for a better world,” Leege said.

USAID’s Alex Thier on Ending Extreme Poverty

USAID’s Alex Thier on Ending Extreme Poverty

By Abhik Pramanik

Alex ThierOn October 20, the Blum Center for Developing Economies hosted a talk by Alex Thier, head of the Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Entitled “Ending Extreme Poverty: What UC Berkeley Can Do,” Thier’s talk centered around the Post-2015 Development Agenda, USAID’s role in the development community, and the need for bilateral and multilateral donors to partner with innovative entrepreneurs to make a difference.

Thier reminded the packed hall that today roughly 1 billion people, or 18 percent of the world population, live in extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as earning or consuming less than a $1.25 day. Although these numbers may seem alarmingly large, extreme poverty rates are actually down from more than 40 percent in 1990. This reduction represents a fulfillment of Millennium Development Goal 1: to halve the rate of extreme poverty by 2015.

With the imminent expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, the international community is now debating development goals for the next 15 years. Yet one objective is clear: almost every bilateral and multilateral organization, including the World Bank, USAID, the European Union, and the African Union, has set a target of bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to zero by 2030.

Thier argued that the elimination of extreme poverty is a distinct possibility. While some scholars have talked about severe poverty as inevitable, the remarkable economic movement over the past two decades—which saw 700 million people lifted out of extreme poverty—proves otherwise. Moreover, the political will to tackle the problem seems to be growing. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. would band together with its allies and partner to end extreme poverty by 2030. Additionally, both USAID and the World Bank have changed their mission statements within the past year to commit to ending extreme poverty.

Though naysayers still exist, Thier said he believes that the outcome ultimately rests on choices—at the individual, village, institutional, and country level to fight for economic development. He noted that the biggest obstacles to ending extreme poverty are fragile institutions and weak governance. Citing the examples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, and the Republic of Korea, he summarized how each country took a divergent path since enduring various weaknesses in the 1960s.

Due to rapid industrialization, foreign capital investment, and intensive manufacturing, South Korea is now a high-income country, with a higher life expectancy than the U.S., and it has created its own agency for international development. The DRC, on the other hand, has experienced botched governmental policies leading to debt crises and a bloody civil conflict that has raged for decades. As a result, citizens of the DRC are currently among the world’s poorest. In another example, Botswana has experienced years of high growth followed by sharp economic downturns and even sharper rebounds because of its over-reliance on extractive industries. The lack of economic diversification has hindered Botswana’s development, but the country is still much better off than the DRC. Thier said he believes that the key distinction among these nations’ economic growth is their level of good governance and effective institutional capacity.

As a result of these insights, USAID recently adopted a “New Model of Development,” which centers on leveraging local ownership, engaging in public-private partnerships, scaling up innovative ideas, and using cutting-edge technology to deliver measurable results. To illustrate how this works, Thier talked about two USAID programs: Feed the Future and Power Africa. The former, started in 2009 in response to the global spike in food prices, works with local farmers to increase their crop quality and yields. The initiative currently runs in 19 countries and already has improved nutrition for 12 million children and pushed 7 million farmers out of extreme poverty. Power Africa was launched in 2013 to help the 400 million Africans who currently lack access to electricity. It aims to double the number of people with access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa through the use of innovative financial tools and by applying the lessons learned from the Feed the Future initiative. Within a year, Power Africa has leveraged $25 billion in capital with more than half coming from African nations and the private sector.

Thier ended his talk with a plea to the next generation of problem solvers. He said he hoped UC Berkeley students would heed his call to develop new ideas and technologies to help make development assistance more effective, so that by 2030 extreme poverty could be eliminated. Some of this work is being done by the Blum Center’s Development Impact Lab (DIL), which received a $20 million grant from USAID in 2012 to help transform the way universities source, design, evaluate, and scale up technologies that have a potential to alleviate extreme poverty. Currently, 90 DIL innovations are being tested and scaled in 30 countries, involving more than 500 interdisciplinary students, and over 400 industry, government, and social sector experts.

Generation Innovation: Jessica Praphath on the Realities of Direct Service Work

Generation Innovation: Jessica Praphath on the Realities of Direct Service Work

By Sybil Lewis

Jessica PraphathMany students graduate from Cal intent on making an impact in the world. The reality of direct service work, however, can cause even the most committed to feel discouraged and to question what meaningful and financially sustainable work looks like—challenges that Jessica Praphath, a Cal alumna, faced while working on poverty alleviation in her hometown of Stockton, California.

Stockton was hit hard by the 2007 financial crisis. In 2008, foreclosures soared to 9.5 percent and housing prices fell by 39 percent. In July 2012, it became the largest American city to file for bankruptcy protection.

Praphath, whose parents immigrated from Thailand, grew up in “pockets of poverty” in the predominantly Southeast Asian communities around Stockton, and returned there a week after graduating from UC Berkeley in 2013, determined to work on public health and community issues at the grassroots level. She could have stayed in the more affluent cities of the Bay Area, but after minoring in Global Poverty & Practice (GPP), she said she decided her vocation was to better “understand the systemization of poverty and how I and my community fit into that system.”

Praphath’s first job out of Cal was at a resource center of the Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin, where she completed her GPP practice experience. There, she was in charge of establishing a virtual education program for students in low-performing schools in south Stockton. But when you “work in a nonprofit in Stockton you wear 25 different hats,” she said. She soon became involved with the nonprofit’s umbrella program, Neighborhood University, providing online parenting and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

Praphath worked countless hours to provide ESL, one of the community’s highest demands. Although the first few weeks of classes started off with about 40 people, over time the numbers slowly faded. Eventually, the classes were cancelled due to low attendance. Praphath said she was disappointed to “work so hard and then watch the project fail.”

The failure felt personal. Yet she also knew that the class’s low attendance might have something to do with the culture of welfare in south Stockton. Many people were distrustful of organized social assistance, in part because Stockton’s district lines had been redrawn so that most of the post-crash development money went to renovating downtown rather than to helping low-income south Stockton. Residents became accustomed to social workers using data about their lives to collect grant money that eventually went elsewhere.

Praphath said she discovered that one of biggest problems in development work is to empower a community that has been exploited or ignored. Another challenge is the lack of funding for community members and those who want to work with them. Praphath’s $13 hourly wage did not cover her monthly bills, which include payments on almost $20,000 in student loans. The Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin also wasn’t able to provide her health benefits or employ her full-time, even though she was putting in 40 to 50 hours per week.

After months of exhausting work and financial difficulties, Praphath reluctantly left the family center for a job at the Health Education Department of Community Medical Centers, a federally qualified health center in Stockton. Yet two months into the job, she said she felt something was missing—the one-on-one interactions with people, the community aspect.

To fill this gap, she volunteered for the Reinvent Stockton Coalition, a community-based initiative spearheaded by Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs. Praphath said the coalition has made her rethink what works in community development.  “I graduated from Cal thinking that meaningful work was measured by how many people you can get in a program,” she said. “But in the field, it’s not about that. Being effective is not about 40 people attending your ESL class or health workshop. It’s about whether you can change people’s lives.”

Looking back, Praphath said she thinks attendance of the family center’s ESL classes dropped partly because beneficiaries were not involved in shaping the classes. She is a believer in the participatory development of social programs. Yet she realizes this is easier said than done, especially when there is a “disconnect between professional and college-educated people and community members.”

At Community Medical Centers job, she sits on a bimonthly public health task force that brings together representatives from nonprofits, foundations, and government organizations to discuss plans for public health initiatives. Praphath believes in the mission of the taskforce and sees a strong desire to enforce change, but she notes that a fundamental piece is missing: a community representative. The same was true for the initial planning meetings of Reinvent Stockton. When she looked around the table during those first meetings, all she saw were dedicated people who went to good universities and, like her, returned to Stockton to help improve it.

Praphath has since played a vital part in the Reinvent Stockton coalition’s expansion to south Stockton community members. They helped write two assessment surveys, which mapped Stockton’s “community strength index,” focusing on issues such as education, public safety, housing, economic development, and health. And in July 2014, the coalition launched its first community assessment survey, from which community members and volunteers collected more than 800 surveys.

Praphath, who is collecting follow-up surveys, recalled an emotional phone conversation with a south Stockton resident named Regina about crime and policing. Regina told Praphath that her son had recently been shot and that distrust of the police was high. “I talked to Regina for 56 minutes and 8 seconds,” she said. “I know the exact time because I remember getting off the phone and feeling like it was one of those experiences where you feel so connected to another human being and it helps you understand your purpose and why you are doing what you are doing. All the stress goes away and it all makes sense.”

Praphath said when she first returned to Stockton with her UC Berkeley degree, some people expected her to have all the answers. She made it clear that she was there to learn. “When I meet community members, I let them do a lot of the talking,” she said. “This way, I am seen not as someone who is trying to push knowledge or test out my education, but as someone with a genuine interest in what they have to say.”

A year later, she has come to believe that community members are the ones with the answers. They are the experts—the “think tanks” as she puts it.

What If Everything We Knew About Poverty Was Wrong?

There’s no getting around the veracity of Matthew 26:11. “…For ye have the poor always with you,” as the King James Version has it. But as long as there has been poverty, there have also been decent souls trying to eliminate it.

So how are they doing?  Not very well. According to the World Food Programme, 805 million people don’t have enough to eat. World Bank figures confirm that more than 3 billion people—or somewhat less than half the total planetary population–eke by on less than $2.50 a day, while almost 1.5 billion subsist on less than $1.25 a day. Fully 80 percent of the planet’s people get by on less than $10 a day. In other words, it’s not so much a case of the poor always being with us. Considered from a global perspective, the poor are us. Most human beings live in poverty, and for many the situation is utterly desperate.

Electrification for “Under Grid” Households in Rural Kenya: Five Questions for Ken Lee

Electrification for “Under Grid” Households in Rural Kenya: Five Questions for Ken Lee

By Sybil Lewis

Rural Electric Power ProjectIn the summer of 2012, an interdisciplinary research group at UC Berkeley set out to study the demand for and effects of community-level, solar-powered microgrids in Western Kenya. To the surprise of the members of the group—led by Professors Edward Miguel (Economics), Catherine Wolfram (Business), and Eric Brewer (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)—they could not identify many communities that were truly “off grid.” There just always seemed to be an electricity line nearby.

As a result, the group shifted its focus to populations who were “under grid”—in other words, people whose homes and businesses were near but not directly connected to the grid network. In partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action, the research group began the time-consuming process of mapping out 150 communities in order to gauge each household’s relation to the grid. The census data quickly began to generate a lot of interest from local policymakers and led to the July 2014 working paper “Barriers to Electrification for ‘Under Grid’ Households in in Rural Kenya,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

To make available the significant economics and engineering findings of the NBER paper, supported by UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab, the Center for Effective Global Action, and the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, we asked lead author Ken Lee, a PhD student in Agricultural and Resource Economics, the following questions.

1. What is the main difference between “off grid” and “under grid” electricity connections, and what policy implications does this distinction have for African countries?

The International Energy Agency estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 600 million people live without access to electricity. What follows quite naturally is an assumption that most of these people are “off grid”—or too far away to realistically connect to a national electricity network. As a result, we’ve seen growing support for off grid, distributed energy technologies, most of which are best suited for regions without access to grid power. Yet many countries are expanding the reach of their national grid infrastructure. In Kenya, for example, there has been a recent push to connect all of the country’s secondary schools, health clinics, and markets, suggesting that a large proportion of the population is now within walking distance of an electricity connection.

We are hoping to change the framework in which we view this problem. It is possible that a substantial portion of the 600 million people without electricity are not “off grid,” but are “under grid,” or close enough to connect to a low-voltage line at a relatively low cost, and this is what we illustrate in our research paper. This distinction is important because the policy implications for off grid and under grid communities are quite different. In under grid communities, it may be preferable to focus on supporting policies that will leverage existing infrastructure with the goal of increasing “last-mile” grid connectivity.

2. Your research showed that despite Kenya’s strong push for rural electrification, national electrification levels remain below 30 percent. What have been some of the biggest challenges in effectively connecting rural communities to power grids?

The most important barrier to grid connectivity has been the high price of an electricity connection. Currently, the price of a household connection is $410, which is incredibly expensive even by American standards. In a country where gross national income per capita is $1,730, this price is simply unaffordable for poor, rural households. There are several other barriers to electrification as well. For example, even if the price were lower, it may still be necessary to provide households with an option to finance their connections, so that they could pay back the principal amount over time. Finally, rural households in Kenya tend to be spread apart and there are few straight lines through which one could easily run a power line. This makes it challenging for electricity planners to build out cost-effective low voltage networks, particularly when they are unable to connect all of the neighboring households at the same time.

3. What effect does reducing energy poverty have on other aspects of development, such as income, well-being, and education?

There is no question that access to modern energy is a key input for economic development. For example, electricity opens up the possibility for households to extend their lighting hours, changing the way that people use their time, and allowing children to (hopefully) study later at night. It also allows households to engage in all kinds of new income-generating activities. In one of our study sites, we met a woman who had already begun selling cold fruit smoothies to her neighbors, within a month of gaining an electricity connection.

Given the high cost of rural electrification, there is a need to rigorously document the socioeconomic impacts of modern energy. There is also a need to better understand how newly connected households will consume energy moving forward. Our research team is currently implementing a randomized evaluation of grid connections in Western Kenya, and through this project, we hope to shed additional light on these questions.

4. What are the options available to poor rural Kenyan households to finance electricity installation and continued use?

Currently, the options available for households to finance installations and appliance purchases are limited. Although the national utility had offered a financing plan in the past, the program encountered many challenges. There is, however, high demand for financed energy solutions. The recent success of the “pay-as-you-go” solar home system offered by M-KOPA provides an interesting example. Households are paying as much as $200 over the course of a year to finance a limited solar home system product. What makes their financial model work is that the daily payments can be processed through the M-PESA mobile money platform. So while there is a general need for additional financing options for grid connections, the example illustrates that there is an equal need to develop innovative billing and collection technologies for financed grid connections that will incentivize both lenders and borrowers in a sustainable way.

5. How can governments in Africa design projects to improve national electrification levels? 

Our study region in Western Kenya has high population density and extensive grid coverage, making it an ideal setting in which we would expect to observe rapid rural electrification. Yet the vast majority of the 15,000 rural households and businesses that we document remain unconnected despite being located within connecting distance of a power line. So the real issue is not the lack of an electricity supply, but the fact that both the price of a connection and the cost of supplying that connection is prohibitively high. It just doesn’t make sense for a utility to spend lots of money to connect a single household in a remote, rural community, even if the grid is physically present.

The most promising strategies for improving national electrification levels will vary from country to country. Wherever there is grid coverage, however, governments may wish to consider policies that will leverage existing infrastructure, while taking advantage of the economies of scale in supplying last-mile connections. Connecting multiple households at the same time would not only reduce transportation costs but also would allow utilities to plan local distribution networks that minimize costs. Coordinating these connections poses the collective action problem that would need to be solved through a government policy, such as a mass connection program. The idea of subsidizing last-mile electricity connections to households is, of course, nothing new. This is how many developed nations, including the United States, reached universal electrification.

Generation Innovation: Sergio Venegas Marin’s Quest to Influence Public Policy

Generation Innovation: Sergio Venegas Marin’s Quest to Influence Public Policy

By Andrea Guzman

In 2010, Sergio Venegas Marin, an ambitious student at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, was aiming to transfer. He looked at eight universities, and settled on UC Berkeley because of its Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) minor.

Born and raised in Cadiz, Spain, Venegas said the GPP minor attracted him because poverty and social problems were part of his everyday life. The youngest of three children, he was raised by a single mother who worked several part-time jobs.  Venegas said it seemed unfair that his mother had to work 20-hour days sometimes in order to provide basic necessities for her children.

“It was complicated to make a living,” Venegas, now 25, said. “It was difficult and it didn’t feel right that it was that difficult.”

In Spain, Venegas’ family and many of his neighbors relied on social assistance programs to make ends meet. But when more conservative political parties took office, the programs were cut, school dropout rates increased, and many youth became involved with crime and drugs. Cadiz, a southern port city that has long struggled with high unemployment, is now experiencing rates of 40 percent. Venegas said his old friends from Cadiz are living “completely different lives”—marked by low job prospects and economic struggle.

When he was 17, Venegas’ life changed. He followed his mom and dad to Sacramento, California, where his father’s family lived. There, he learned English and enrolled in community college.

At Cal, he majored in economics and took as many classes with a development focus as possible. He said the GPP minor enabled him to channel his passion for social and economic justice. He found like-minded fellow students—people with similar experiences and interests and who sought to use their education to reduce poverty and inequality in the United States and around the world.

After graduating in 2012, Venegas searched for jobs and discovered that many social sector positions were unpaid. Frustrated and worried about money, he applied to investment banking and private sector jobs. But at the interviews, he realized those jobs were not for him. Seeing the lack of minority professionals reminded him of the social problems that need to be addressed. He decided to turn down a $75,000 job offer, and worked part-time as a campus host at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and as a part-time instructional assistant at his community college in Sacramento.

“I was very frustrated, because I felt every opportunity in the development field was open only to people who didn’t need to be paid, who already had an economic advantage,” said Venegas.

But he soon landed a job as an analyst at a consulting firm called Mission Analytics, which evaluates and provides technical assistance to government social welfare programs. Venegas not only found a way to influence public policy through the job, he opened the door to fellow GPP students to do the same. Two other members of the Mission Analytics team are GPP alums. He said the firm chose to hire the GPP students because of their unique skills and education.

“I think it’s the ability of looking at a problem from different standpoints,” he said. “GPP students have a way of mixing everything they have learned. They are able to care about the methods but also the end goal we want to accomplish.”

In the future, Venegas intends to get a Master’s in Public Policy and return to Spain to help create a more participatory democracy and a stronger welfare state. He advises students still in the GPP minor to get involved in their communities and pursue their passions before and after graduation.

“Instead of wasting your time and just wanting to graduate, you should get involved,” Venegas said. “Being passionate prepares you to take on the world.”

A New “OnRamp” Class for Social Innovators

A New “OnRamp” Class for Social Innovators

OnRampBy Tamara Straus

Some people have called it the personalization of higher education. Others see it as the natural evolution of pedagogy at a world-class public research university. Lina Nilsson doesn’t disagree with either of these interpretations, but she definitely sees on-campus, in-class social impact work as “the changing face of education.”

“Connecting academic learning to real-world issues and problem solving is something that students are demanding,” said Nilsson, director of innovation at Blum Center for Developing Economies. “And students can’t be expected to pull together all the pieces needed for their ideas to have impact. In addition to subject-matter expertise, they also need coaching and mentorship. They need to learn by example. And there’s no reason that can’t be made available to them at the university.”

These are among the reasons Nilsson launched a new Blum Center-sponsored course this fall called “Social Innovation OnRamp.” Created in part to provide a space to accelerate the projects of UC Berkeley students who have won the prestigious Big Ideas@Berkeley contest, the course provides an overview of a broad range of skills for the creation, evaluation, implementation, and growth of early-stage projects that serve the public good. The course also comes with an OnRamp website that provides resources for budding social innovators to find funding, startup and training programs, and recommended reading.

In its very first offering, the OnRamp course quickly oversubscribed. In October, UC Berkeley’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation awarded the course a teaching grant. Several of the students, such as Political Science Major Michael Alexander Clark, have unabashedly said, “It is the best class I’ve taken at Cal.” Part of the energy in the class comes from Nilsson herself, who while a post-doc in bioengineering at UC Berkeley, created a startup called Tekla Labs, which provides guidelines for medical professionals in developing countries to build lab equipment using locally available supplies. For this, Nilsson was named a MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35. But Nilsson herself admits that she and her Tekla Labs colleagues “could have done a lot of things better, if we had learned a few things earlier.” This need to learn from both successes and failures has shaped the theory and the practical drive of the OnRamp course.

The OnRamp’s high-energy atmosphere also comes from the students themselves. They are a mix of graduate and undergraduate students representing departments as diverse as business, political science, computer science, psychology, information management and systems, mechanical engineering, applied mathematics, anthropology, environmental economics, energy resource, and peace and conflict studies. Some projects focus on mental health; some on agriculture; others are pushing along ideas that might “innovate” or “disrupt,” to use the parlance of social innovation, student career support and homelessness. About half the student teams in the class are focused on U.S. social impact, and the other half on developing countries.

Along with Nilsson, Course Facilitators Kate Fenimore and James Roditi, and a dozen guest speakers serve as both cheerleaders and cautioners for student innovation. “What we try to say is: ‘Here’s a scaffold of skills and insights you need to master and evaluate if you want to have meaningful impact as a social entrepreneur,’” explained Fenimore. The course presents 12 such scaffolds, including: framing and pitching ideas; developing a theory of change; identifying, understanding, and communicating with stakeholders; understanding, maximizing, and measuring social impact; network, outreach, and communication; social impact concepts; product/service prototyping and design; execution and logistics; business models and legalities; and knowing when to pivot or quit. Every week, a practitioner engages the students in an hour-long discussion on these scaffolds, with the possibility of additional mentorship.

John Romankiewicz, a dual master’s degree student at the Energy & Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy, said he enrolled in OnRamp to move along his idea for The Food Bikery, which seeks to deploy a low capital, low footprint alternative to food trucks. He reasoned that food trucks, which are now a $1 billion industry in the U.S., may not be as green as many people think. They cost about $50,000 to outfit with a kitchen and generator, whereas food bikes cost around $5,000, and generate much lower emissions, take up less space, and serve as a more affordable pathway for budding chefs to showcase their talents. Eventually, Romankiewicz would like to see co-ops of food bikes in relatively flat, temperate cities like Berkeley and Austin that could share food storing and prepping facilities.

To put his idea into action, he and Jason Trager, a Cal mechanical engineering PhD student, built a prototype in 2013 made from recycled materials for a 150-pound, two-wheel trailer. They outfitted the trailer with a griddle and propane tank and rigged it to a standard street bike. Romankiewicz, who goes by the moniker “Sustainable John,” began to show up at parties and make Jian Bing, a Chinese egg crepe garnished with green onion and cilantro that he mastered while living in Beijing. He wrote a proposal for The Food Bikery, entered it in the Big Ideas contest, and won a $2,000 prize in May 2014. Two weeks later, he won another $2,000 prize from a food company called So Delicious, which was running a small sustainability grants competition on Twitter. “I have a minimum viable product,” he said. “I know it works. What I don’t know is if I can get around the regulatory issues.”

That’s where the OnRamp course comes in. Romankiewicz said the OnRamp has forced him to refine his pitch, research the regulatory hurdles for food bikes—which like food trucks would need to meet health and food sanitation requirements—and analyze the financials. He estimates that food bike owners could sell 30 to 40 meals per shift, taking in $200 to $400 in revenue, which, he said, “would come to about $25/hour, well above the minimum wage earned by kitchen workers.” Right now, the project’s greatest hurdle is refrigeration and sanitation. “Nobody wants to carry a refrigerator on their bike or drag a generator through the streets,” he said. So he needs to argue to city and county officials that food bikes should have a four-hour operation window, during which time a bike cook could load his trailer, arrive at his location, cook his meals, and call it quits before any food spoils.

The OnRamp class has served a similar prod for Tchiki Davis, a NIH-funded doctoral student in psychology. She has been working with her father, a software engineer, on a series of online games that train young people to focus on positive information. Davis is among a growing group of psychology researchers who believe that happiness, much like math or music, is a skill that can be learned—and that positive cognitive stimulation, such as looking repeatedly at a sea of smiling faces, can reduce stress. Her Lifenik games are based on peer-reviewed papers by psychology scholars like Derek M. Isaacowitz of Northeastern University and Mark W. Baldwin of McGill University, who have conducted repetitive visual training tests that have been shown to increase self-esteem and reduce stress.

“So much of our behavior is socially engineered in negative ways, but we can change our engineering,” said Davis. “Most people know that if we can retrain ourselves to regularly exercise, then we will improve our physical health. But it is also true that if we retrain ourselves to regularly think about the world in more effective ways, then we will improve our emotional health.”

Like Romankiewicz, Davis is a Big Ideas contest veteran seeking practical guidance. “I have the research training,” she explained, “but not the business training,” adding that what she has found in the OnRamp classes is quite different from for-profit business workshops. “My greatest hurdle is not necessarily understanding the market for the games,” she said. “It’s making sure the games are psychologically effective. It’s balancing the social impact and scalability aspects of the project.”

Davis is currently applying for a $450,000, two-year NIH grant to help build and test Lifenik games. Like her teacher Nilsson, she doesn’t intend to use her doctorate to pursue a tenure track academic career. “I want to turn research findings into actionable, user-centered products, tools, and interventions that improve people’s quality of life,” she said. “Right now, this project is my passion, and I intend to pursue it.”

#Global POV: Can Experts Solve Poverty?

Generation Y is on a mission to solve global poverty. A group of professors at the University of California, Berkeley is on a mission to stop them. It’s not that these Berkeley academics are not dedicated to alleviating poverty and inequality — in fact, quite the opposite. It’s just that they want students first to study and think about the history of attempts to solve, alleviate, and even understand poverty.

The Challenges of Development Economics: An Interview with the Blum Center’s Kweku Opoku-Agyemang

The Challenges of Development Economics: An Interview with the Blum Center’s Kweku Opoku-Agyemang

By Tamara Straus

Kweku Opoku-AgyemangKweku Opoku-Agyemang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Blum Center, believes that one of the greatest downfalls in the field of international development is detachment.

“Training in development is often solution-oriented. It involves implementing projects,” the 34-year-old Ghanaian said. “This may be why it’s easy to be detached from people and places. But detachment can have bad outcomes.”

Opoku-Agyemang has been subtly underscoring this point in his UC Berkeley course, “Poverty, Technology, and Development.” During a recent lecture, he told students the case of the Lake Turkana fish processing plant, a $22 million project designed in 1971 by the Norwegian government to provide jobs to the Turkana people of Kenya. The idea was to get the Turkana to run a fish processing plant for export, but the Turkana are nomads with no history of fishing or eating fish. Furthermore, the plant operated for only a few days, because running the freezers and providing them clean water in Kenya’s northwest desert were just too costly.

The field of international development is strewn with such stories of ineffectiveness or, to use Opoku-Agyemang’s word, “detachment,” in all its cultural, psychological, sociological, and historical variations. “About half of World Bank projects fail, costing billions of dollars,” he reminded his students—before launching into the larger question of the course and his current research: whether the current wave of technological advancement can alleviate global poverty.

“That’s an ongoing discussion,” said Opoku-Agyemang. He is measured in his opinions, perhaps from a decade-plus of education and research, in which he earned a doctorate in Development Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. in Economics from Ohio University, and a B.A. in Geography from the University of Ghana. “It depends on the example. There is a lot of excitement about technology and development now, but I think it’s too early to tell how successful the results will be.”

Still, Opoku-Agyemang is not waiting on the sidelines to find out. He is among a new generation of international scholars using interdisciplinary approaches from political economy, development economics, behavioral economics, business economics, and applied econometrics to understand the effects of technological advances, particularly mobile banking and communications, on poverty alleviation. Already, he has designed several applied research projects that document, through both qualitative and quantitative methods, how best to both formulate and evaluate development projects.

According to one of his mentors, Jeremy D. Foltz, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at University of Wisconsin, Madison, Opoku-Agyemang’s doctoral thesis was a standout because it provided new insights into informal finance, particularly in savings and credit markets. Opoku-Agyemang’s thesis looked at Ghanaian susu collectors, who work out of marketplace kiosks and through whom rural earners without bank accounts deposit and access their own money. Susu collectors are one of the oldest financial groups in Africa. For a small fee, they will hold onto people’s money and enable savings. But Ghanaians who deposit money with susu collectors do not establish formal credit worthiness with banks, even though their savings rates can be relatively high. Opoku-Agyemang’s question was why—and, in turn, what does credit worthiness really mean?

In the summer 2010, he conducted a survey to explore how small entrepreneurs use susu collectors. Some made daily or twice daily deposits; others parted with their earnings twice-weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. What he found from collecting questionnaires from 400 clients confirmed a hunch: the more frequently a person deposited money with a susu collector, the higher that person’s credit score would be in traditional finance. Banks took note. Rural banks in the Central Region of Ghana even used Opoku-Agyemang’s credit worthiness measurements to expand their customer base.

“Kweku gained exceptional access to local bank officials in the Central Region of Ghana, where there is a banking sector project to scale up micro-lending and do mobile banking,” said Professor Foltz in an email. “In the space of one summer, he was able to collect the best most comprehensive dataset on susu banking in West Africa that I have seen.”

Opoku-Agyemang has been pleased to see the results of his research: More Ghanaian banks now work with susu collector unions to mobilize funds to their best clients. But he wonders whether some entrepreneurs’ savings rates will change as they enter the formal banking sector. “Working with a susu collector is very social,” he explained. “One of the shortcomings of formal banking is that it’s relatively impersonal.” In other words, there may be less motivation to save when you give your earnings to a machine as opposed to a person who can commend your will power to save rather than spend.

Opoku-Agyemang’s current research is looking at the role of mobile technologies in Ghanaian activism and political reforms. He explains that a decade following the reforms of the 1990s, which led to new constitution and a multiparty system, Ghanaians’ confidence in local government has dipped—in spite of a robust national democracy. Especially in rural areas, many Ghanaians are politically disengaged. District and town meetings are badly attended. Even the strong Ghanaian tradition of using radio shows as means for citizens to complain directly to elected politicians, seems to have waned. “People used to line up around the block to call into the radio shows. It was a very influential way to be heard and make change,” Opoku-Agyemang said.

His current study, like his previous one, is based on a hunch: people will become more informed and politically active if they have an easy mechanism to voice their opinions—particularly to those in power. To test this, he designed a field experiment in five languages for Ghana’s Central Region that randomly varies access to politically participatory radio shows and enables more call-ins through mobiles and voice messages. Opoku-Agyemang plans to see if those who call in more often are more likely to vote in local elections.

Opoku-Agyemang, who grew up in the historic trade city of Cape Coast, does not think he necessarily has an advantage being a Ghanaian studying Ghanaian and African development issues. “I am only one person,” he said. “I tend to be very hesitant if someone is generalizing about a people or a situation. Ghana is a nation of 25 million people.”

This preference for individual perspectives may have something to do with Opoku-Agyemang’s early education and family background. Unlike most academic economists, he grew up on literature. Opoku-Agyemang read Shakespeare as a teenager. He penned short stories in college. Literature is also the Opoku-Agyemang family business. His father, Kwadwo, is an emeritus professor of literature at University of Cape Coast, an expert on African oral literatures, a poet, and a novelist. His mother, Jane Naana Opuku-Agyemang, is a literary scholar as well, an internationally acclaimed expert on the African diaspora, and Ghana’s minister of education. Even Kweku’s siblings have felt the strong tug of books. His sister, Adwoa Atta, is a graduate student in French literature at University of Toronto; and his brother, Kwabena, is a graduate student of English literature at University of West Virginia.

Opoku-Agyemang explains his break from the family business in a matter of fact way “Mathematics is a language, too,” he said. But he admits that economics has appealed to him “because it tries to provide solutions. It provides me with a way to think about poverty as lived experience and as a public policy problem.”

Opoku-Agyemang said the experience that confirmed his interest in political economics occurred after he graduated from college. In Ghana, all public university graduates are required to spend a year working for the government. Opoku-Agyemang got assigned to the HIV/AIDS Secretariat and to a project aimed at lowering infection rates. Although there was public awareness of the disease, by 2005-2006 rates were rising. One of the results was that Ghanaians with HIV dropped out of basic school. The HIV/AIDS Secretariat decided the best approach would be reinvigorate the curriculum and set out to work with the Teacher’s Union. They decided that to reach students, all taboos should be on the table for discussion.

The creation of the teaching guide took six months of continual student-teacher workshops and a year before a final document was published. “The experience put me in touch with basic technology adoption—understanding how many iterations and modifications are required and how long it takes,” said Opoku-Agyemang. The experience also led to results. HIV infection rates fell from 3.6 in 2003 to 2.2 by 2008, and in 2013 only 1.3 percent of the Ghanaian population had contracted the disease. “I think it would have been very easy to quickly write up a teaching guide, give it to teachers, and be done with it,” Opoku-Agyemang said of the project’s success. “Instead, we realized that there needed to be as frank discussion as possible, that teachers and students would have to make themselves vulnerable.” In other words: no detachment.

Development experts around the world are now using psychological insights to inform social and economic policies—sometimes with results like one Opoku-Agyemang experienced at Ghana’s HIV/AIDS Secretariat. “Behavioral economics has become popular because in the past economists had a limited view of how people acted,” he said. “There wasn’t enough attention paid to basic human behavior, to procrastination and forgetfulness. What I like about behavioral economics is that what looks common sense is only proved after the fact. Common sense before a rigorous study is actually not so clear to pinpoint.”

UC Berkeley Professor Ananya Roy, who serves at the Blum Center’s education director, views Opoku-Agyemang’s work as part of an interesting moment in development studies and especially development economics. “On the one hand, there is great interest in specific methodologies such as RCTs [randomized control trials], as well as in the technologies that can be used to perfect such methodological approaches,” she said in an email. “On the other hand, economics is returning to broad questions of political economy, tackling the puzzles of capitalism and persistent poverty and inequality. What is inspiring about Kweku is how comfortably he inhabits both worlds. He thinks like a political economist, recognizing the need to have a global, historical, and critical understanding of development. But he is able to act alongside the practitioners of development economics and the advocates of poverty action. In this sense, Kweku represents the best aspects of the amalgam of approaches and worldviews that make up the academic programs of the Blum Center, notably the Global Poverty & Practice Minor and the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering.”

Learn more about Dr. Opoku-Agyemang’s work in this video, “Mobile Democracy in Ghana.”

The Blum Center Postdoctoral Fellowship is supported by the Development Impact Lab at UC Berkeley in partnership with USAID. The fellowship aims to support research and teaching in a wide range of interdisciplinary fields and on a variety of subject areas relevant to poverty, inequality, and poverty action. 

Engineering Improvements for the World

(Published in the Washington Post) By Lina Nilsson and Shankar Sastry In labs around the world, a new generation of engineers is emerging. They are men and women concerned by the gulf between rich and poor and by environmental changes and resource depletion. They are what we call “development engineers” — engineers (and often economics, business and social science majors, as well) who are dedicated to using engineering and technology to improve the lot of the world’s poorest people.

Free Speech Movement Legacies and the Promise of Community Engaged Scholarship

By Sean Burns

While the 1964 Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley focused on one central demand—the freedom of students to openly speak about and engage in political advocacy and organizing on campus—the many months that students dedicated to winning this struggle was nourished by much broader discussions about the nature of higher education and the role of the university in a democracy. This week’s 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley marks an opportunity to reflect on these broader discussions and their legacy. Specifically, as a student advisor and faculty member affiliated with the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice Minor, I want to offer a few thoughts on the meaning and challenge of “community engaged scholarship” in higher education today.

For those of you new to the phrase, community engaged scholarship is a set of educational practices and principles that fits within a much larger civic engagement movement in higher education. While community engaged scholarship has many roots (some of which go back to the 19th century), it’s fair to say that the Sixties’ era student appeals for political relevance in their education was a historical milestone. Certainly here at UC Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement must be seen as the fountainhead for contemporary social justice struggles faced by students today.

In the fall of 1964, through countless meetings, rallies, and protests, the students of the Free Speech Movement built a culture of social transformation. At the heart of this culture was a dedicated passion for dialogue and debate on the pressing issues of the era—most notably, the persistence of white supremacy in 1960s America. As students shared their concerns on the steps of Sproul Plaza, in dorm rooms, dining halls, and occupied administrative buildings, they began to increasingly ask why their college courses were not taking up such issues. In short, they began to ask fundamental questions about the relevance of their schooling to the urgent social issues of their day. Today, those of us committed to community engaged scholarship—students, faculty, and citizens in general—continue to ask these questions.

At the most basic level, community engaged scholarship is about invigorating the public and democratic character of education by linking up classroom learning with the efforts of communities (both local and international) to address the social problems they face. While this might sound a lot like the popular, educational practice known as “service-learning,” community engaged scholarship projects are often conceived as efforts to remedy some common, problematic features of service-learning. Rather than discuss these problems abstractly, I want to talk a bit about two, complementary programs I am involved at UC Berkeley and how these programs approach community engagement.

Founded in 2007, the Global Poverty & Practice Minor aims to support students from all disciplinary majors who seek to understand why high levels of poverty persist throughout the world. Born at a moment when the “Millennials” began arriving on campus, the Minor sets out to examine and complicate a number of contradictory features of the era. On one hand, the 21st century has seen a proliferation of concern for injustice. It is no longer the task of a small collection of international agencies to solve famines, mitigate sprawling urban slums, and tackle new epidemiological crises.  Rather, all of us are called to take action. Well, at least certain kinds of action: to run races to support the homeless, to shop to fund education, to party to reduce infection. Sound familiar? Students are especially recruited into this alluring logic. An enormous industry exists through which they can “make a difference” during their education, be it through volunteer-centered spring breaks, semesters abroad, summer trips, or co-curricular programs like ours.

So how does our program try to navigate this climate of what might be thought of as the neoliberalization of social action—where efforts to change the world are so often channeled into individualized and monetized activities that more or less reproduce social inequalities (or, at worst, aggravate them).

To start with, the Global Poverty & Practice Minor aims to work with students in understanding global problems through historical and critical examination. Critical here means: rigorously investigating the assumptions through which we see problems. When we ask a specific question about poverty, we also ask what are the political ingredients of that question? If we find ourselves desiring to take up action in specific ways in specific communities, we ask what are the ingredients of those desires? (Many examples of faculty demonstrating this kind of thinking can be found in our #GlobalPOV social media project.) Our program, as such, isn’t framed in terms of impact, but instead is focused on the kind of study and reflection that we feel is requisite for making any meaningful, long-term impact.  We see this humility as vital in light of the long history of Western higher education’s implication in colonialism, empire, and environmental destruction. Our intentions are not to stifle student action; the world itself provides enough obstacles in this regard. Rather, we aim to inspire a certain kind of reflective action that can guide them throughout the course of their lives. As GPP founding professor Ananya Roy eloquently states, we seek to open up a space for students “between the hubris of benevolence and the paralysis of cynicism.”

Crucial to this space is a vision of working with communities rather than serving them, as “service” is often heard as a paternalistic term—expressive of the attitude that when university students engage with communities, the student is there to give, while the community is there to receive. In our time of such profound poverty and inequality, certain kinds of service provision are undoubtedly necessary. My point is: they are insufficient. Food pantries are not a substitute for food justice. Homeless shelters are not a substitute for establishing housing as a right. Tutoring in prisons must be seen as one node in a web of activity to dismantle mass incarceration of poor communities in the United States. A primary learning objective for our program is that students gain tools for thinking, strategizing, and innovating at this systemic scale, and, in terms of how we seek to relate to community efforts, solidarity has become a cornerstone concept in our program.

Now, even if we set out to partner with communities in their work in a spirit of solidarity, that doesn’t end the challenges. In fact, it really just begins them. Students and faculty who aspire to engage with communities in a manner that is reciprocal and mutually beneficial have to grapple with a range of tensions. First, we all know that systemic social change takes a long time—certainly beyond the time frame of a student’s college years. So an important question we are sitting with (along with many others engaged in community engaged scholarship) is: how to build community partnerships that last and that can incrementally build a more just society? Second, the framework of partnership is an ideal. Contained within this ideal are the realities of building relationships across space—from campus to community, from community to campus—when these relationships are mediated through complex, historical issues of power, knowledge, and representation. The points of encounter between powerful research universities and marginalized communities are not innocent spaces. Precisely for this reason, the transformative possibility for all involved is immense. Free Speech Movement students like Mario Savio who participated in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer knew this edge of peril and promise, and so do, perhaps better than anyone, today’s first generation college students who often arrive at Berkeley from these marginalized communities.

To speak to these challenges and possibilities of partnering, I want to reflect a bit on a course I teach through the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship program called “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory.” The motivation for the course stems from two basic observations I’ve made in my 20 years of social justice education in the San Francisco Bay Area. One: students have little awareness of, let alone contact with, the dynamic and diverse population of social justice activists in our area. Two: these community organizers so often have insufficient time to document their work; the immediate struggles are too pressing. Therefore, the course trains students in methods of community history and social movement scholarship and links them up with community members to document important social histories of the Bay Area. We do this in collaboration with a respected community history organization called Shaping San Francisco and make the collaborative research available through an online wiki-based archive “Addressing Injustice: Bay Area Social Movement Histories.” Because the course foregrounds the analysis and experience of community activists, it illuminates the benefits of what might be thought of as an important form of “public education.” The impact on students is profound. Intellectually, it makes all the difference when the questions that shape the class are not emanating solely from the professor or “the academy” but rather from dialogue with communities. This makes deep impressions on the students about what voices matter, who speaks with legitimacy on what topics, and what democratic education can mean. On a personal level, the results are even more telling. Students have told me (and community members) time and time again how their visions for their future are altered by building relationships with these activists and the movements they are committed to.

The key word here is relationships. Nothing meaningful in the development of community engaged scholarship can happen without committing significant time and energy to building campus-community relationships. If we at Cal want to truly honor the legacy of Free Speech Movement on this 50th Anniversary, we have to recognize the need to embolden our commitment to this public purpose. Many other research universities are doing just this, and the results are significant: in terms of the quality of student learning, the direction and scope of faculty research, and, in the most fundamental sense, the blossoming of our commitment to a just and democratic society.

Dr. Sean Burns, who serves as the Blum Center’s Director of Student Programs and lectures in International & Areas Studies and Peace & Conflict Studies, has recently been awarded an Impact Award for his Bay Area focused course on “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory.” Awarded by UC Berkeley’s American Cultures Program and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, this honor recognizes Burns’ efforts to deeply engage Cal students with regional community members around issues of social movement history in a way that publicly disseminates student work. In spring 2014, he received the Chancellor’s Public Service Award for Faculty Civic Engagement. Burns’ course is offered each spring as IAS 158AC / PACS 148AC.

Makerere University Team First Africans To Win Big Ideas Contest

By Tamara Straus

Growing up in a rural town in Kyankwanzi District, Uganda, Moses Rurangwa witnessed an epidemic of preventable blindness. In his community many people become blind or near blind from trachoma, an infectious disease that affects places with poor sanitation, crowded living conditions, and not enough water and toilets. Trachoma forces the eyelid to turn inwards and causes the eyelashes to scratch and eventually damage the eye.

“Many people don’t know they have the disease until it is too late,” said Rurangwa, “and they don’t know how to get medicine. The first stage is a small itching below the eyelid, which is not always noticeable. But the last stage, if there is no diagnosis or prevention, is impoverishing blindness.”

When Rurangwa moved to Kampala to enroll in Makerere University in 2011, he became a tech geek. He could not put down his cell phone. He decided to major in computer science.  Looking at the issues facing his country, he said he began to feel that “although ICT [information and communication technologies] is not very strong in Uganda, it is a path to solving our own problems. There is capacity—people just need motivation.”

Rurangwa, now 22, might as well been talking about himself. A year or so into his studies at Makerere, he decided to figure out a way to use ICT, specifically mobile phones, to diagnose and prevent trachoma, which 8 million (nearly one fifth of) Ugandans are at risk of contracting. He and two Makerere University classmates—Anatoli Kirigwajjo, a computer science student, and Kiruyi Samuel, a medicine and surgery student—developed an idea for an mobile phone app that would photograph the eye using a smart phone, and examine and compare the image for color, far- and near-sightedness, and the presence of cataracts and other conditions. The images could then be sent to doctors who could make an initial diagnosis, contact the patient for testing, and even track the progress of treatment, if medication was administered. Rurangwa, Kirigwajjo, and Samuel call their app E-liiso: “e” for electronic and “liiso,” the Lugandan word for eye.

Rurangwa says his reason for inventing the app is pragmatism; it could save time, money, and livelihoods. Diagnosing trachoma and other eye diseases is not terribly difficult, what has been difficult for Ugandans is the cost of ophthalmological examinations. A typical eye exam in Uganda costs approximately US$50, too high for a country where the annual per capita income is US$506. The number of trained eye professionals is also very small; most are found in big cities. And in village schools, there are no longer routine screenings because of government funding cuts. But Ugandans do have mobile phones. The Uganda Communications Commission reported there were 12 million subscriptions in the country in 2011 and the number could be slightly above 17 million today, among a population of 36 million.

To fund E-lisso, and its umbrella company, Sight for Everyone, Rurangwa and his colleagues have turned to innovation contests, especially ones with cash prizes and Western connections. In March 2014, they took third place in the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, which had opened several contest categories for the first time to the seven universities in USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), which includes Makerere University.

“The E-liiso team was not the only Ugandan team that beat out hundreds of student groups from Berkeley, Duke, and Texas A&M,” said Phillip Denny, project manager of BigIdeas@Berkeley and Chief Administration Officer of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which runs the contest. “There was another finalist from Makerere, behind an idea called Agro Market Day, a mobile app for farmers. What this shows is that African students have plenty of social impact solutions for their own countries.”

Deborah Naatujuna Nkwanga, engagement manager at HESN’s Makerere-based Resilient Africa Network, said that the university is focusing on ensuring that more students and faculty engage in innovation and research activities that serve local needs. “By teaching entrepreneurship, Makerere is also striving to turn out students who are job creators rather than job seekers,” she said. “We have incubation centers within departments, where student ideas are tested, refined, and readied to be scaled.”

Nkwanga noted that Makerere students faced technical challenges that their American counterparts did not. “Internet and power were a regular problem,” said Nkwanga. “At one point, Phillip [Denny] extended the deadline of submission because of Internet and power problems.” Still, eight Makerere groups applied in the tech-dependent open data for development contest category.

The Sight for Everyone team is now finishing up its first testing phase. This has involved processing algorithms for more than 100 photos of trachoma-infected eyes that can serve as comparison images. The team is also testing its mobile application with doctors at Jinja Hospital, an eye center in Kampala, as well as improving its website so that users can post images of infected eyes and get responses from ophthalmologists.

Rurangwa says Sight for Everyone is seeking $30,000 in startup funds this year to proceed with commercial testing of E-liiso. It received $3,000 from the UC Berkeley prize and in 2014 participated in the Microsoft Imagine Cup and Orange competitions. Although the Ugandan government halted new e-health initiatives in January 2012 due to e-health “pilot-itis” and researchers there and at MIT are working on other eye disease apps, Rurangwa is not worried about competition.

“My main worry is that we do not have enough people embracing technology in the [Ugandan] medical sector,” he said. “The only real competition we are facing right now is faith. People wonder if this thing, e-health, can really work.”

***

For those interested in learning more about Big Ideas past winners and how to apply for or support the contest, visit the Big Ideas website: http://bigideascontest.org

Three Questions for Peter Jerram About Open Data and Scientific Publishing

By Kate Fenimore

An occasional series with Blum Center and Development Impact Lab faculty, staff, students, visitors, and friends.

Peter Jerram served as CEO of the PLOS | Public Library of Science, a nonprofit, open access, and peer-reviewed academic publisher that began in 2000 with an online petition initiative by Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus, Stanford University biochemist Patrick O. Brown, and UC Berkeley computational biochemist Michael Eisen, urging scientific and medical publishers to make research literature available for distribution through free online public archives. During Jerram’s six-year tenure, PLOS published about 85,000 articles representing the efforts of authors, editors, reviewers, and staff from more than 200 countries. He is currently managing director of Itertiv, a business model design and product innovation consulting firm. 

1. Why are open access journals important?

At minimum, they’re important because the public has a right to the results of research it’s already paid for through tax dollars funding. The National Institutes of Health, for example, has a $30.1 billion annual budget. And academic libraries shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant journal subscription fees for information that has in effect already been funded. Most important of all, wide access to the results of research will allow a much broader cross-section of people to engage with the information, to discuss and interpret it, and even to assess its impact. All of this will accelerate progress in science and other endeavors.

2. Tell us about an exciting development in your field that has happened in the last year?

The steady growth, especially in the last year, of academia.edu is very encouraging. It’s a kind of social network where academics can post their own research immediately, and get analytics about how it is being viewed and used. The site is free for anyone to use, and has 12 million academics signed up—an astonishing number representing about two thirds of academics worldwide. This is challenging the very nature of academic journals, and ultimately I believe it will help bring about the accelerated progress that traditional journals have systematically blocked.

3. Where do you see the future of online information sharing headed in the next five to 10 years?

I think that the so-called semantic web, which has been talked about for years, will finally fulfill its promise. The term refers to efforts to make the entire web machine readable in ways that will truly unlock the power of information. This goes well beyond access and sharing: it involved opening the vast web to machines that will unleash a host of evolving computational tools, which will profoundly advance human progress.

Peter Jerram can be reached at pj@itertiv.com

Five Questions for Mattia Prayer Galletti About Agricultural Development

Mattia P. Galletti is lead technical specialist for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a Rome-based agency of the United Nations focused on the financing of food production projects in the developing world. For more than 20 years, he worked as program manager for IFAD’s Asia and Pacific Division, running programs for Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Iran, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India.

In advance of his 5 p.m. September 16 visit to the Blum Center, we asked him five questions about agricultural development.

1. What are the most pressing issues in food production in the developing world?

In the past, most of the attention was given on maximizing agricultural productivity per unit of land. Now climate change and the need to safeguard long-term natural resource use are calling for additional challenges in terms of increasing productivity per unit of water, energy, and labor, depending on local contexts. There is also an effort to increase the nutritional content of food. While doing that, it is necessary to strengthen the profitability of small-scale farming activities without transferring additional risks to farmers. A neglected issue is also: How many farmers will be left in 20 years from now?

2. Which entities are best positioned to provide solutions to food production in the developing world?

These solutions can be provided thanks to the collaboration of all, public and private entities, starting with the farmers themselves, leveraging their own knowledge and skills. 2014 has been declared the Year of Family Farming, a unique opportunity to advocate the need to support smallholders who are the priority target group for IFAD’s investments.

3. When it comes to strengthening food security, which technologies have the greatest potential?

Food security is not only a matter of technologies to increase food production. It is a matter of ensuring access to adequate, healthy, and nutritious food by all. That’s why we need to address the issue of poverty, which is largely a rural phenomenon. At present, there is food for all in the world. More attention should be given to the potential of technologies and practices that can reduce the 30 percent to 50 percent of food that goes to waste every year.

4. If you could change one thing in your field, what would it be? 

I would eliminate the complacency and the resignation to the idea that nothing more can be done. The amount of resources committed to hunger eradication is negligible compared to what the world spends in other sectors, like the military. Access to food will remain an issue until poverty and rising inequalities fall in both hemispheres.

5. What led you to work for the International Fund for Agricultural Development?

My purpose in life has been to work in international development on poverty issues. I started with IFAD, whose mandate is to fight rural poverty, right after the completion of my studies. I considered myself a privileged person because for more than 25 years I have been working on what I wanted.

 

All views expressed here are those of Mattia Prayer Galletti, not the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Three Questions for Ananya Roy About Community Development

Three Questions for Ananya Roy About Community Development

An occasional series with Blum Center faculty, staff, students, visitors, and friends

Ananya Roy is Professor of City and Regional Planning, Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty & Practice, and Education Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley. Among the most popular professors on campus, Roy has won multiple UC Berkeley teaching awards and was named California Professor of the Year by CASE/Carnegie Foundation in 2009. She has published extensively in the areas of international development, poverty and inequality, and global urbanism.

To provide greater access to Roy’s scholarship, the Blum Center asked her three questions about a recent article in the journal Cities entitled “‘The Anti-Poverty Hoax’: Development, pacification, and the making of community in the global 1960s,” which she co-authored with Stuart Schrader and Emma Shaw Crane. Professor Roy’s answers are below.

1. Why is the history of the word “community”—as used in poverty and development work—important?

Ananya Roy: The idea—and ideal—of community is central to poverty action, international development, and social justice organizing. In urban planning, I find that students see community development as a progressive space in and through which they can make social change. Similarly, in GPP [the Global Poverty & Practice minor at UC Berkeley], many of our students believe that acting at the scale of community and collaborating with community-based organizations is an ethical and responsible mode of poverty action. Yet, these young professionals and poverty activists are often frustrated once they are immersed in community action and community development. Our efforts to trace the history of U.S. community development are inspired by such aspirations and frustrations. In the Cities journal article, my colleagues and I wanted to show how the emergence of community development amidst the turmoil of the 1960s tells us something important about how and why community became the dominant concept for understanding and managing the urban geography of poverty (in the U.S. and elsewhere) and why it remains limited as an instrument of radical change. In other words, we hope that the history we narrate serves as an analytical framework for interrogating the consensus on community that seems to extend across various types of poverty action and development work.

Emma Shaw Crane (article co-author): The idea and ideal of community has been widely celebrated by everyone from social justice activists to philanthropic foundations to the police, who are now practicing not just policing but community policing. And yet, behind this celebrated idea, there is a very particular history of how the concept of community became important. In order to understand a popular idea almost always understood as benevolent and natural and empowering, we had to trace a messy history of fierce contestation about who gets to decide what constitutes a community, and who gets to represent this community once it has been created as a category! So in investigating where this idea comes from, we inevitably had to think critically about power and representation.  

2. You write, “the emergence of poverty as a domestic and international public policy issue in the 1960s was closely linked to anxieties about racialized violence in American cities and wars of insurgency in the global South.” How close do you think this link remains today?

Ananya Roy: In the late 1990s, poverty (re)emerged as an urgent human problem of global concern. Unlike the 1960s, this framing is much more concerned with poverty in the global South. In fact, I would argue that there is a stark divergence between how poverty is framed in the U.S. (e.g., as welfare dependency) and how poverty is framed in the context of the global South (e.g., as human development). But it is clear that the concern with poverty remains closely yoked to strategies of pacification. With 9-11, the global war on poverty merged with the global war on terror. As I have shown in my previous research on microfinance, anti-poverty policies were promoted to manage “hotspots” of terrorism. And in many ways, the concern with poverty, especially in institutions such as the World Bank, USAID, and IMF, appeared in direct response to powerful and vocal global social movements that rebelled against the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s. Activist Walden Bello, founder of Focus on the Global South, calls this the “people’s counter-offensive” and notes that it is this type of action that brought an end to the austerity agenda of the Bretton Woods institutions. In other words, as we demonstrate in the article, there is an interesting and complex relationship between poor people’s movements and bureaucracies of poverty. As a side note, I should add that quite a bit of the current academic and policy research on poverty and poverty action ignores poor people’s movements.

3. In light of your research on community development and pacification, how do you view what has been unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri since the police shooting of Michael Brown?

Our co-author Stuart Schrader is completing a dissertation (at NYU) on the history of the police in the U.S. and its entanglement with histories of American imperialism. We finished writing this article in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and we now see it published as the Michael Brown tragedy unfolds. Our article argues that the history of U.S. community development is inevitably racialized. Once again, poverty studies and the proliferating modes of poverty action remain silent on this matter. That silence must be broken. We must recognize that marginalized communities in the U.S., often defined and redlined through a long history of racialized exclusion, continue to suffer from both economic oppression and police oppression. To act on poverty requires acting on both forms of oppression.

Big Ideas Turns Nine

Big Ideas Turns Nine

By Jenna Hahn

A black and white promotional image with two individuals, one male and one female, sitting and smiling at the camera while holding coffee cups. Both are wearing shirts that read "Big Ideas." The background shows an outdoor setting with steps and plants. The text on the right side of the image reads: "Our Big Idea is to unlock information to increase transparency and equity in the coffee industry. What's your Big Idea?" The bottom of the image has the URL "bigideas.berkeley.edu" in yellow text.In 2006, Big Ideas @ Berkeley was launched to support multidisciplinary teams of UC Berkeley students interested in big challenges such as clean energy, safe drinking water, and poverty alleviation.

Nine years later, the yearlong student innovation contest has become a model for on-campus collaboration and action—and has expanded to 16 universities around the country and world, including the entire University of California system and the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network.

As Big Ideas moves toward its 10th anniversary, it is facing big numbers. More than 4,000 students have submitted 1,248 proposals to the contest. During the last three years, participation from undergraduate students has increased dramatically—from 35 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2014.

According to an internal study from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which manages Big Ideas, the contest’s 400-plus student teams and award winners have gone on to secure over $35 million in additional funding. Thirty percent of winners from 2006-2011 have won at least one additional award or business plan competition after participating in Big Ideas, and 50 percent have reported that their Big Ideas project is still running.

Among the projects that originated from Big Ideas are: Acopio, a data sharing software platform for agricultural producers, now managed by Fair Trade USA; Nextdrop, which uses mobile phone technology to transmit water supply and distribution information for Indian consumers; and Back to the Roots, a U.S. company that sells mushroom kits made from coffee grounds.

“From the beginning, Big Ideas was about developing an ecosystem of innovation to help bright young people get from idea to reality,” said Maryanne McCormick, executive director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. “The contest is run and organized around the belief that there’s a value to giving young people more autonomy early in their career—and there’s a value to encouraging them to identify something that they’re passionate about. Over the last nine years, we have seen those values bear fruit.”

This year’s contest will offer up to $300,000 in funding for winning teams. It also will offer applicants a new contest category, Food System Innovations, sponsored by the UC Global Food Initiative and the Berkeley Food Institute. The UC Global Food Initiative, launched in July 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano, brings together the university’s research, outreach, and campus operations in an effort to develop and export solutions throughout California, the United States, and the world for food security, health, and sustainability.

The contest launches on September 2, and spans the academic year, beginning with the submission of a five-page pre-proposal by November 13. If selected, finalist teams will be then prepare a full proposal by mid-March.

This year’s contest categories include:

From September to March, when the final proposals are due, teams have the opportunity to attend information sessions, idea generation and networking events, writing workshops, editing blitz’s, and office hours with Big Ideas advisors in person and online. In addition, teams will be matched with mentors with expertise relevant to their project from a range of social enterprises, academia, nonprofits, and businesses.

Unlike many business competitions, Big Ideas is focused on supporting projects focused on social impact. The contest challenges students to step outside of their traditional university-based academic work, take a risk, and use their education, passion, and skills to work on problems important to them.

“The Big Ideas Contest helped us to think beyond what we had initially envisioned and push past our boundaries,” said Priya Iyer, a member of the Sahay team that won third place in the Information Technology for Society category in 2014.

For more information about rules, categories, resources, funding, and contact information, please visit the Big Ideas website at http://bigideascontest.org

Why I Do Development Work

By Nikki Brand

August 26, 2014 | Four days after graduation, I found myself on a plane to Guatemala. I had taken a dream job in Panajachel, or  “Pana,” as the locals call the tiny, bustling town on the shores of Lake Atitlan, known for eternal spring weather, volcano-framed sunsets, and charming streets (okay, single street) lined with stands of brightly colored textiles sold by Mayan women. With a strong ex-pat culture and high quality of life, Pana is a Guatemalan hub for international development nonprofits like the one I was working for: Community Enterprise Solutions (CES).

But I didn’t go to Pana or Guatemala to loll in touristic charm. I was there to see what I could do to help. Almost two decades after the end of the country’s 30-year civil war, Guatemalans—especially indigenous Guatemalans who make up the majority of the country’s population—face persistent violence, inequality, poverty, and corruption. Roughly half of the country’s population lives in poverty, and Guatemala is the second most unequal country in Latin America—second only to Haiti—with most of the national wealth owned by a small and almost exclusively ladino (non-indigenous) upper class.

My job was to foster small businesses, and to generate income for poor women. The idea, based loosely on the success of the beauty company Avon, was to give local people products to sell with health, environmental, and economic benefits—products like eyeglasses, water filters, and cookstoves—and offer them a percentage of the profits from their sales.

At CES, I worked side-by-side with a Mayan woman named Juana Xoch. Despite our different backgrounds, Juana became a friend and confidant. While I had a comfortable childhood in a DC suburb, Juana at age 10 became a nanny in Guatemala City after the Civil War destroyed her community. She had no formal education, but she had taught herself to read and write, and was supporting her four-year-old son Jonathon through her work at CES.

Juana and I led charlas (educational presentations), piloted a referral program, and held guest lectures at schools to drive community interest. Slowly, we made contacts, sold a few products, and honed our marketing skills. Yet I often found myself frustrated.

At Berkeley, I was used to throwing myself into my studies and seeing immediate results. Now, I worked 15-hour days and traveled up to eight hours on rickety, undependable public transportation in torrential downpours—often without much to show for it. An example: Juana and I would try to sell water filters in an area where another nonprofit had already given them away for free. And despite the fact that the filters no longer worked, the families wouldn’t purchase something, even at a low cost, that they previously hadn’t paid for.

Halfway through the year, I reached out to UC Berkeley Lecturer Khalid Kadir, a mentor and member of the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice faculty, for help. I explained that my work was not succeeding as I expected or wanted. Khalid commiserated with me over the challenges of development fieldwork. Then he encouraged me to think of success not just as end goals and long-term plans, but as a process. Even if I couldn’t take something from A to Z immediately, just getting it from A to C might be an accomplishment.

I began to retrain myself, to see that, in the long term, the contacts we made and the skills we learned were valuable. In the short term, however, Juana and I knew that for the sales representatives in our region, income was directly tied to product sales; lower sales would mean lower pay, regardless of what was learned in the process. And so, we sought to achieve a balance: we found ways to boost sales in the short term, while thinking about long-term ways to help Guatemalan communities facing hard challenges and ongoing conflict.

Now, I look back to see that my initial desire to get from A to Z was absurdly idealistic. Change, especially when dealing with issues of poverty and inequality, is slow. Yet I came to learn that this desire was both understandable and necessary, because without the energy to foster change, I would have found myself completely paralyzed.


Nikki Brand graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a B.A. in Peace & Conflict Studies and minors in Spanish and Global Poverty & Practice. She spent her first year after graduation as a field consultant in rural Guatemala for Community Enterprise Solutions, and currently works at USAID’s Global Development Lab in Washington, DC. 

What Makes Student Innovation Contests Worthwhile?

By Jessica Ernandes Naecker

August 21, 2014 | Since University of Texas at Austin held the first business plan competition in 1984, student prize contests spurring social innovation and entrepreneurship have become hugely popular. There are now hundreds of prize contests for undergraduate and graduate students from scores of universities, companies, and nonprofits. A McKinsey & Company report found that funds available for these innovation prizes have been escalating: between 1999 and 2009, the amount of money for the large prizes tripled to exceed $375 million.

But do contests that reward students or others for their society-improving ideas work? Are they worthwhile?

The McKinsey report warned that quantity doesn’t always equal quality, noting there are “many overlapping prizes and growing clutter.” In a 2013 SSIReview.org article, Kevin Starr, director of the Mulago Foundation, went further, calling the prize contests “exploitative.” He argued that the contests waste the time and energy of the applicants who don’t win and fail to provide them with adequate learning experiences.

Although five years old, the McKinsey report provides useful data on how the contests work and don’t work. The McKinsey authors surveyed the organizers of 219 prize contests and reported that they were succeeding in three categories: 1) defining excellence, 2) influencing public perception, and 3) strengthening communities of problem solvers. But they also found that contest organizers felt their competitions were the least successful in educating contest participants.

With this in mind, I spent the last two years studying what UC Berkeley—which has held an annual student innovation competition since 2006—could learn from its own experience and others. Some background about Big Ideas@Berkeley: it’s one of the oldest and most international student innovation prizes; it’s open to graduate and undergraduate students; it has about 10 contest categories—from Clean and Sustainable Energy Alternatives and Financial Literacy, to Global Poverty Alleviation and Information Technology for Society; and it’s increasingly popular. Last year, 187 applications were submitted by more than 600 students.

Big Ideas appears to be attracting students not just for the prize money and the attention the ideas might win, but also for the learning and feedback opportunities the competition provides. As far as I know, it is the only student innovation contest that is organized around a yearlong, academic process. Over the course of the year, students commit to participating in two application rounds, honing their ideas with help from advisors, judges, and mentors. Although some promising startups have emerged from Big Ideas, mostly the contest has introduced young people to project management, leadership, critical thinking, and grant writing—i.e., to the nuts and bolts of social impact organizations.

According to a survey of 187 applicants from the 2013-2014 contest cycle, those who participated in the first round of the contest (most of whom did not move on to the contest’s second round) reported increases “to a great extent” in skill development in areas such as leadership, critical thinking, and project management. For those who made it to the second round, 64 percent of participants expressed the highest level of satisfaction for skill development. In regard to mentoring, 96 percent of participants said having an advisor was either useful or highly useful.

Compare these data to the McKinsey report. Of 48 large-purse contest organizers surveyed, only 35 percent indicated that their contests had been somewhat or significantly successful at educating individuals.

Of course, universities have more resources to help students entering contests than, say, foundations or businesses. They are already in the business of educating students. But as many have pointed out, contests are designed to foster society-improving organizations and the United States doesn’t necessarily need new ones. It certainly doesn’t need more nonprofits. (Guidestar reports there are currently over 2.2 million of them.) What it needs is well-educated civic innovators: people who can work in teams to solve the huge variety of problems the world is presenting to us.

So my advice for those starting new prize contests—especially for students, but ideally for anyone—is simple: include a learning and feedback process. That way, the hundreds, or in some cases, the thousands of applicants who enter your contest have a better chance of making an impact with their idea or, more likely, with someone else’s.


Jessica Ernandes Naecker is a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and a graduate student researcher at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Kurtis Heimerl Named MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35

Kurtis Heimerl Named MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35

By Tamara Straus

August 19, 2014 | When Kurtis Heimerl applied for the PhD program in computer science at UC Berkeley, he didn’t intend to focus on technology for developing countries. But several experiences propelled him in that direction.

In Eagles River, Alaska, where he grew up, he said he “spent a lot of time in rural areas and saw how the lack of access to technology affected people’s lives, especially during emergencies.” Heimerl excelled early at math, and his parents urged him to pursue work and money at the big tech companies. So while an undergraduate at University of Washington, he interned at Google and Amazon. But he didn’t love the work.  “Computer programming is tedious,” said Heimerl. “That’s why companies like Google pay us so much.”

After graduation, Heimerl landed a job at Microsoft Research India, which took him to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in the summer of 2007. He said he went not for altruistic reasons, but because he wanted to see India. The project, called the Digital Study Hall, put him to work developing long-distance learning software for children in slums and rural schools. To Heimerl’s surprise, he said, it was “super fun. I saw the work was useful and I could help people.”

That fall when he matriculated at Cal, Heimerl went hunting for people doing technology for development. He soon found Computer Science Professor Eric Brewer, who runs a lab called TIER, short for Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, and managed to jump through the programming hoops Brewer presented him. “I came in with a strong technical background,” said Heimerl. “What I needed were stronger social science skills, ways to connect technological advancements to the needs of people.”

Heimerl related all this background from a small schoolhouse built by Dutch missionaries in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia, where he is monitoring the cellular network he installed last year for the area’s 1,500 residents—and where last week he received the news that MIT Technology Review  named him one of the Innovators under 35 in the “Humanitarian” category.

Heimerl deserves the label. He is among a growing number of top-notch computer scientists and engineers who are turning away from the big money of technology companies to pursue humanitarian tech work—or what’s increasingly being called Development Engineering. Heimerl’s graduate and post-doctoral work has focused on how to provide cellular communications to some of the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who live outside the range of cellular carriers.

At its core, he explained, the challenge is not about technological innovation, but about how to apply existing and low-cost cellular network advancements to places with regulatory and economic barriers. The highland villages of Papua are just too remote and the people too few and poor for a big phone company to have interest. As Heimerl and his UC Berkeley colleagues explain in a recent paper, the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network may be the largest communications network on earth, but it is full of “whitespaces”: places off the grid and without cellular coverage, which limit people’s economic advancement and quality of life.

To fill the whitespaces, Heimerl and his colleagues at TIER have created, with support from USAID’s Development Impact Lab and the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a GSM cellular tower that can be powered by sun or wind and that provides villagers with local calls, text messaging, and web surfing. The project, called Community Cellular Networks, is essentially an outdoor PC in a waterproof box that uses an open-source technology (called OpenBTS) to implement a GSM base station. Heimerl says it takes one to two people to set it up, and no one to maintain it. “You get a pole, run it up a big tree, rope the box into place, and it’s done,” said Heimerl.

But the community cellular network, which has been running in Papua for 18 months under the tacit approval of various government officials, is technically illegal. The reason? GSM uses licensed spectrum, and gaining access to licensed spectrum is nearly impossible for small, rural operators. “But shutting it down doesn’t help anyone, and no one is going to do it,” said Heimerl. Also, the revenue from this “pirating” is insignificant; what’s significant is the social benefit. Heimerl’s five-month-old social enterprise Endaga charges $0.09 per outbound SMS, $0.02 per minute for local calls, and $10 for a SIM card. It is making about $1,000 a month from a few hundred customers, and expects to break even on its $10,000 investment in a year. Verizon and AT&T are not calling.

Besides sitting in the school and monitoring the system, Heimerl said he deals with the network’s billing issues and interviews people about their cell phone experiences. One story from the local hospital is illustrative. For the latter part of the summer, the only two doctors went to Jayapura, the capital of Papua, leaving the nurses in charge. Starting in July, many villagers came down with a tropical disease. No one knew what to do. With Heimerl’s cellular network, nurses were able to reach the doctors using SMS to help with diagnosis and treatment. For the nurses—and the sick villagers—the savings in terms of travel costs and lost workdays were considerable.

“It’s exciting to build a system like this and to solve a problem,” said Heimerl, who also admits development work is not all travel and excitement. But Heimerl seems to take advantage of his boredom. When the power goes out, which happens from to 2 pm to 6 pm everyday in Papua, he plays basketball and mingles with the villagers, who often tell him how useful and life-altering it is to communicate with the outside world. “That’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said.

“There are so many things to love about Heimerl’s work in Indonesia,” said Professor Brewer of his student. “But my favorite is that he is delivering complex technology to rural users in a way they want and can control.”

Blum Center Lecturers Receive Chancellor’s Public Service Awards

Blum Center Lecturers Receive Chancellor’s Public Service Awards
ACES Awardees Sean Burns and Khalid Kadir
Sean Burns (left) and Khalid Kadir (right) were awarded Chancellor’s Public Service Awards for their community-engaged teaching.

This past May, two Blum Center affiliated lecturers, Dr. Sean Burns and Dr. Khalid Kadir, were each awarded Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service for their innovative, community-engaged teaching.

Burns, who serves as the Blum Center’s Director of Student Programs, received the Faculty Civic Engagement Award for his Bay Area social movement history course “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory” (IAS 158 AC / PACS 148 AC). The course partners students with a wide range of East Bay community organizations, to develop historical documentation of the organizations’ efforts to contribute to social and environmental justice movements, ranging from affordable housing to indigenous land struggles to advancing disability rights.

Kadir received the award for Service Learning Leadership for his course on engineering and social justice.

In “Engineering, The Environment, and Society” (E 157AC / IAS 157AC), students worked on projects with local and regional organizations to address drinking water contamination, air pollution, and urban environmental pollution. Each of these projects enabled students to apply their engineering education to problems that affect traditionally underserved communities.

Both award-winning courses were designed and supported within the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship (ACES) program.

Generation Innovation: Gardner Fellow Kati Hinman Fights for Community Empowerment

Generation Innovation: Gardner Fellow Kati Hinman Fights for Community Empowerment

By Andrea Guzman and Rachel Voss

Through UC Berkeley’s Alternative Breaks program, Hinman volunteered at the community garden at the Alameda Point Collaborative, a supportive housing community that helps families break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Through UC Berkeley’s Alternative Breaks program, Hinman volunteered at the community garden at the Alameda Point Collaborative, a supportive housing community that helps families break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

Kati Hinman, a recent graduate of the Blum Center for Developing Economies’ Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor, is a 2014 recipient of the John Gardner Fellowship – a stipend given to graduating seniors pursuing careers in public service.

Hinman, who grew up in a small town in Connecticut where public service was the norm, spent her time at UC Berkeley exploring how to better understand and address the needs of underserved communities.

“I was raised with the mentality that being part of a community is donating your time. Both my parents volunteer regularly and love being active in our town,” explained Hinman. “However, I also come from a fairly isolated community with access to resources and power. At Berkeley, I have been able to explore the powers and privileges that are at play when one volunteers and how to use my time to better act for social justice.”

Hinman, who initially planned a career in medicine, spent her early undergraduate years shadowing and interning in healthcare facilities. She said what struck her most was the immensity of the social and environmental constraints to public health. The field’s purview, she found, goes well beyond treatment.

Hinman’s growing interest in the inequalities that contribute to structural and physical violence against people—as well as her passion for exploring different cultures and the often untold histories of those who are marginalized— led her to change her major to Peace and Conflict Studies and declare the GPP Minor. She said GPP faculty and Blum Center staff helped her explore the contradictions in development work, particularly the history and current approaches to humanitarian aid and intervention. For her GPP practice experience, she traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she worked with the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano, an HIV/AIDS prevention program. Hinman said she found the experience unexpectedly challenging, and was frustrated by her inability to make a substantive difference.

Hinman’s GPP practice experience at the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano in Cochabamba, Bolivia, challenged her assumptions about development work. She appears here with her Bolivian coworkers at a Sexual Violence Prevention fair.
Hinman’s GPP practice experience at the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano in Cochabamba, Bolivia, challenged her assumptions about development work. She appears here with her Bolivian coworkers at a Sexual Violence Prevention fair.

“Upon returning, I questioned what my role was in the world of international development,” said Hinman. “My GPP 196 critical reflection course was instrumental in helping me work through some frustrations. I found that I am really inspired by organizations that are driven by local people and the issues that affect them directly, but I am still trying to figure out what my place can be in those spaces.”

At Cal, Hinman kept herself busy outside the classroom. She served as the community partnerships director and a trip leader for Alternative Breaks, director of public internships at Berkeley’s Public Service Center, and as a corps member in AmeriCorps’ Jumpstart literacy program. She also became involved with the women’s clinic of the Suitcase Clinic, a student organization dedicated to providing underserved and homeless people with free healthcare and social services. She worked to improve services for children in the women’s shelter, and went on to serve as a community resource advocate.

Hinman’s interests in public service have been wide ranging. The summer before her junior year, she began working with UC Berkeley alumna and anti-trafficking champion Minh Dang. Through their research, Hinman explored human trafficking and modern day slavery in the U.S. and joined the student abolitionist movement on campus. She later co-founded the Berkeley Anti-Trafficking Coalition, an IdeaLab supported by the Blum Center and Big Ideas that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration around the issue. Hinman worked with two peers from the IdeaLab to develop the East Bay Youth Trafficking project, which won an honorable mention in the 2013-14 Big Ideas@Berkeley contest.

More and more, Hinman’s perspective on social change has shifted in favor of bottom-up development. The Gardner Fellowship will allow her to explore challenges faced by communities in the Bay Area as well as sustainable solutions that come directly from the people affected. Hinman is considering working with a mental health and trauma recovery program for homeless youth, focusing on participants’ influence in shaping those programs.

Eventually, Hinman plans to pursue dual Master’s degrees in public health and social work to prepare her for a career in mental health programs for underserved youth. She hopes to build programs that combine recovery and therapy, creating opportunities for children to develop as leaders and agents of change. Meanwhile, her legacy will live on at Cal through the IdeaLab, her work with the Public Service Center, the Suitcase Clinic, and the many other programs she has touched.

GPP Students Engage With Challenges of Poverty Action at Home and Abroad

GPP Students Engage With Challenges of Poverty Action at Home and Abroad

By Abby Madan and Rachel Voss

Student Stephanie Pardi completed her summer practice experience with Threads of Peru, a fair trade group which works with indigenous artisans in Cusco to sell their traditional woven textiles. Here, members of the organization meet with the Chaullacocha community. Photo credit: Threads of Peru

This summer, 49 UC Berkeley undergraduates in the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor applied their classroom learning to real-world issues of poverty and global development across California and around the world. These “practice experiences,” the signature component of the GPP Minor, enable students to work with nonprofits, government agencies, social movements, and social enterprises. Through self-selected fieldwork, students come to understand how the issues they’ve studied take shape outside of the classroom. This allows students to transform abstract concepts into practical reflections rooted in the realities of poverty and inequality.

Many students’ practice experiences take them abroad, often to locations or causes that have UC Berkeley connections. Third-year student Estrella Sainburg is spending a second summer with Fundacion Cantaro Azul, an organization co-founded by another UC Berkeley student that works to address contaminated and unsafe water in underserved regions of Mexico.

“I feel that preparing to work and research with the organization through my Development Studies courses and Global Poverty and Practice courses allows me to understand the organization, the need, and my family’s home country a bit better,” said Sainburg of her return to the project.

The practice experience is a transformative part of students’ undergraduate education. GPP sophomore Stephanie Pardi will complete her fieldwork with Threads of Peru, a fair trade group which works with indigenous artisans in Cusco to sell their traditional woven textiles, helping them build a greater online presence. She is grateful that her practice experience will give her a chance to apply the theories she has studied and develop an understanding of her own abilities, limitations, and responsibilities for changing the world.

“Through the minor, I have realized that the hardest confrontation is with myself and where I fit in the greater scheme of the global order,” Pardi reflected.

Some GPP students, recognizing the dramatic effects of poverty and inequality in their own communities, choose to work locally. Emily Rehberger worked in Oakland with Food Shift, an organization that collects wasted food and redistributes it. “Despite the fact that we have romanticized the idea of volunteering abroad, the fact of the matter is that poverty exists right here in our own backyards,” said Rehberger. “I would rather get involved here in a community that I am dedicated to and familiar with, and I believe it is important confront these issues locally.”

Lucy Sundelson, a third-year student majoring in Urban Studies, joined the GPP Minor after founding a Kiva microfinance club at her high school. This summer, she will be interning with Kiva in the Bay Area.

“For me, working at Kiva for my practice experience feels a little bit like coming full circle: I have the chance to work with the organization that first made me feel excited about poverty action,” said Sundelson. “What feels most exciting, though, is that I have a better sense of the ethical issues surrounding microfinance. I’m excited to be able to approach my time at Kiva more thoughtfully and critically than I could a few years ago.”

After returning from their fieldwork this summer, students will enroll in a group seminar that encourages deep critical reflection about their experiences. This chance to explore the challenges and contradictions they encountered is invaluable to students.

“I am grateful for my peers who are each embarking on their unique journey to come face-to-face with different sectors of poverty,” Sundelson said. “Taking on global poverty is as daunting as it sounds, and the peers in my classes have provided moral support and guidance.”

To read students’ practices experience blogs, visit our Student Stories page.

GPP Graduates Leave Berkeley with New Inspiration & Critical Perspectives

GPP 2014 cropped smThe 2014 Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor graduation ceremony hosted by the Blum Center for Developing Economies was a celebration of students’ successes, a chance for students and their families to express appreciation for one another, and an opportunity for the GPP Class of 2014 to pledge their shared commitment to poverty action across the world.

This year, seventy-one students representing twenty-five majors graduated from the Minor. At the GPP commencement ceremony on May 21st, Professors Clare Talwalker, Cecilia Lucas, Khalid Kadir, and International Area Studies Director Max Aufhammer distributed certificates to graduating seniors. Faculty and student speakers stressed the need for graduates to challenge deeply rooted assumptions and structures of power, recognize the privilege a college education affords, and ensure that poverty action be firmly rooted in the communities it seeks to serve.

“The work we have done is exhausting, and I hope that it will continue to be, for true change is a process,” shared Bernadette Rabuy, a Political Economy major selected to be the 2014 student commencement speaker. “It is a process that comes about through the countless everyday actions of numerous individuals, everyday actions that are a commitment to a lifestyle that is less comfortable than ignorance or apathy.”

It is this commitment to social change that unites the diverse GPP Class of 2014 as they pursue varied career paths. While some students will be traveling as far as Honduras, China, and Bangladesh to apply their studies through research, teaching, and microfinance work, others will be serving local communities in sectors like public health, labor rights, and food justice. Many others are pursuing traditional careers in business, law, or healthcare, carrying with them the critical perspectives on poverty and inequality that GPP has helped them develop.

The graduates’ dedication to public service and global change-making has garnered numerous accolades. Rebecca Peters, who double majored in Society and Environment and Interdisciplinary Studies, was awarded the University Medal as UC Berkeley’s top graduating student and will pursue graduate studies at the University of Manchester and University of Oxford as both a Marshall and Truman Scholar. Peace and Conflict Studies major Kati Hinman has been named a John Gardner Fellow and will spend the coming year working with an organization focused on community mental health and treatment for trauma survivors. Priyanka Athavale, a double major in Molecular and Cell Biology and Public Health, has been awarded a Fulbright Research Fellowship to continue her studies of barriers to improved nutrition and health practices in urban slum communities in Mumbai, India.

As the newest GPP graduates – members of a new generation of poverty activists and conscientious citizens – leave UC Berkeley behind to face the greatest global challenges of our time, the Blum Center wishes them continued courage, compassion, and humility.

For more photos, visit the GPP Minor Facebook page.

UC Berkeley Students Leave Their Mark at CGI-U 2014

UC Berkeley Students Leave Their Mark at CGI-U 2014

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

The students behind social impact projects Kanga Kare and Energant took home prizes from CGI-U’s Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge pitch competition. Pictured from left to right: Jacqueline Nguyen (Energant) and Ian Shain, Asad Akbany, and Gary Duan (Kanga Kare).
The students behind social impact projects Kanga Kare and Energant took home prizes from CGI-U’s Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge pitch competition. Pictured from left to right: Jacqueline Nguyen (Energant) and Ian Shain, Asad Akbany, and Gary Duan (Kanga Kare).

April 29, 2014 – Last month’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) 2014 conference offered Berkeley student attendees enriching experiences that strengthened their passion, sharpened their analysis, and encouraged their hard work in pursuit of a better world.

The 3-day conference is an invitation-only event that brings together ambitious young leaders dedicated to solving pressing global challenges. This year, 1,300 students representing more than 300 universities and 80 countries participated. 28 of Berkeley’s own – the highest number of Berkeley students ever accepted – attended the gathering with support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies. The Blum Center, UC Berkeley’s lead representative within the CGI-U Network, supports students who travel to the event and offers year-long advising to help students accomplish their project goals.

Two UC Berkeley student teams, Kanga Kare and Energant, were named winners of the Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge, a pitch competition between aspiring student entrepreneurs with sustainable social ventures. The two groups, which are also finalists in this year’s BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, were awarded seed funding that they will use to advance their projects toward implementation.

Represented at CGI-U by UCB undergrads Asad Akbany (bioengineering), Gary Duan (economics) and Ian Shain (mechanical engineering), Kanga Kare won $7500 to further their mission to provide low-cost baby incubators to hospitals in developing countries in order to prevent neonatal deaths. The team plans to use the money to conduct pilot trials of their product, IncuPack, in collaboration with local clinics and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Energant, co-founded and represented at CGI-U by Jacqueline Nguyen (molecular toxicology), uses an energy-harvesting rocket stove called KleanCook that will allow individuals in developing countries to use the waste heat from their cooking fires to produce at least 10W of power, pasteurize water, and reduce smoky biomass emissions. Since receiving their $3,500 award, the Energant team has been hard at work optimizing their prototype. “It’s so exciting to see that what was once a flat idea on paper will become a tangible, life-changing device for the global communities that need it the most,” Nguyen said.

The CGI-U experience offers more than just an opportunity for funding; the gathering invited students to tread new ground and engage more deeply with the passion and creative energy that attendees collectively bring.

“CGI-U was an unparalleled learning, networking and growth opportunity personally and for my team,” shared Vrinda Agarwal, UC Berkeley student and member of 100 Strong. “I met more influential people in the span of three days than I have in a lifetime.”

The highlight of Agarwal’s weekend was her question to Hillary Clinton during the conference’s closing event. Agarwal eloquently spoke on the underrepresentation of women in politics and asked Secretary Clinton who would represent women in politics if not she. Agarwal’s passion for gender equality in America is what inspired her to create the project 100 Strong, which works to empower underprivileged high school women by providing them with mentors and leadership training.

CGI-U also provided students an opportunity for mentorship and guidance. The team members behind Kanga Kare, which has a partnership with Ashoka Thailand, exchanged business cards with Ashoka’s CEO, Bill Drayton. 100 Strong received advice on expanding their project from North Carolina School District Superintendent Austin Obasohan, among others.

“It was phenomenal to meet like-minded leaders from across the globe who have the same strong will to make a positive impact on the world,” reflected Nguyen. “We’re all very lucky to be happy and healthy, and we as global change-makers are in a prime position to make the world a more habitable place for everyone.”

Economist Bill Easterly Speaks at Blum Center, Calls for Individual Rights in Development

Economist Bill Easterly Speaks at Blum Center, Calls for Individual Rights in Development

By: Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies and Political Science Major

Economist Bill Easterly addressed UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members on April 11, 2014. He stressed the importance of political and economic rights in development, calling for greater emphasis on individual freedoms and an end to technocratic approaches to development challenges.
Economist Bill Easterly addressed UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members on April 11, 2014. He stressed the importance of political and economic rights in development, calling for greater emphasis on individual freedoms and an end to technocratic approaches to development challenges.

April 18, 2014 – Renowned economist and New York University professor William Easterly addressed a packed audience at UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies to discuss his latest book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.

Co-sponsored by the Blum Center and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), the event drew more than 100 faculty and students. Easterly’s work and the issues he raises about foreign aid and global development are part of the introductory curriculum in the Blum Center’s Global Poverty and Practice Minor.

In his lecture, Easterly focused on the dangers of addressing global development with a solely technical approach and ignoring the role of politics and individual rights and freedoms.

Ted Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley and Faculty Director of CEGA, moderated the event. He began the event by introducing Easterly and some of his greatest works, noting Easterly’s unique ability to bridge the world of academia and public debate.

Easterly began the talk by criticizing technocratic approaches to development which seek to address poverty and development challenges through technical solutions. While development actors may have good intentions in doing so, Easterly argues that these efforts may have detrimental consequences as well.

“You get a long list of technical solutions, and you think that is development. That is the technocratic misconception,” Easterly said.

He gave the example of the World Bank, which has often provided economic aid without taking into consideration the government structures in place. This was exemplified in Uganda in 2010, when a World Bank loan aimed to convert a piece of land from fruit crop production to higher-value forestry. The project required the relocation of some villagers. However, because the villagers lacked political and economic rights and had no voice in the project, the relocation effort was ultimately botched, resulting in the villagers’ forceful removal, burning of their homes, and the death of a young boy.

“Clearly something has gone badly wrong here,” Easterly said. “What seemed like a straightforward technical solution was not a technical solution precisely because political and economic rights were not respected.”

Instead of pursuing strictly technical solutions, Easterly said we should consider the role of economic and political rights in development. Individual rights can create a problem-solving society that encourages development.

This transition will be difficult, however, because the technocratic methodology—which was a particularly convenient approach during the colonial era—has become entrenched. Easterly insisted that uprooting this approach is critical.

“Poverty is not about a shortage of experts, it is about a shortage of rights,” he pointed out.

Easterly does see an important role for continued research in public institutions like UC Berkeley, however. When asked by the audience about the role of engineering students in global poverty alleviation, he said that they can continue developing products that can later be used for achieving these types of rights.

“In a well-functioning political system that does gives political and economic rights, technology works marvels,” Easterly said. “You are part of the solution when you, as a free individual, are able to offer new choices to individuals in poor societies who didn’t have those technical choices before.”

Despite the many development challenges at hand, Easterly remains optimistic. Technologies can spread in spite of oppressive governments, most of which are becoming less oppressive with time.

“Freedom is spreading around the world, and so the future is bright with hope,” Easterly said.

Watch a recording of Bill Easterly’s lecture:

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9mN7fZ_GnY”]

Generation Innovation: Global Poverty & Practice Alumna Nikki Brand Returns to Community Development in Latin America

Generation Innovation: Global Poverty & Practice Alumna Nikki Brand Returns to Community Development in Latin America

By: Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies & Political Science Major

Alumna Nikki Brand’s GPP Practice Experience in Panajachel, Guatemala, inspired her to pursue a career in community development in Latin America. Here, Brand (seated, center) listens as her Guatemalan co-worker, Juana, tells students and interns her incredible life story while Juana’s sister Marcela demonstrates traditional backstrap weaving. Photo credit: Nikki Brand
Alumna Nikki Brand’s GPP practice experience in Panajachel, Guatemala, inspired her to pursue a career in community development in Latin America. Here, Brand (seated, center) listens as her Guatemalan co-worker, Juana, tells her incredible life story while Juana’s sister Marcela demonstrates traditional backstrap weaving. Photo credit: Nikki Brand

April 17, 2014 – As a freshly-minted Cal grad starting her first job in rural Guatemala, Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) Minor alumna Nikki Brand stumbled into two old friends and realized that her UC Berkeley experiences had come full circle.

Originally from Washington, D.C., Nikki came to Berkeley hoping to explore her interests in international relations. In her first year, she attended a talk by President Bill Clinton on student engagement in global development that was sponsored by the Blum Center, inspiring Brand to take Ananya Roy’s GPP 115 class entitled Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes in the New Millennium.

“I was an idealistic young freshman who was trying to figure out what an appropriate career path is in international relations, and I took Ananya’s class and was so inspired by it and decided to declare the minor,” Brand said.

Although she majored in Peace and Conflict Studies and also minored in Spanish, Brand describes the GPP Minor and Blum Center as a defining part of her experience at Berkeley. Brand served as a peer advisor and conducted research at the Center, and describes being very engaged in the community.

“It [the GPP Minor] is more than just classes. You become part of an amazing peer group and become engaged in a community where everyone is interested in the same things you are,” Brand said. “For me, the Blum Center became a home away from home.”

In the summer of 2012, Brand conducted her practice experience—a mandatory fieldwork component of the Minor—with the organization Thirteen Threads in Panajachel, Guatemala. The organization supports cooperatives of indigenous Mayan weavers, empowering them to sustain themselves and their families. This experience was fundamental in cementing Brand’s desire to work in Latin America.

During her practice experience, she conducted field research in Panajachel and the surrounding communities. One of the most memorable experiences during her formative time in Guatemala was five days she spent with two of her Guatemalan co-workers, indigenous young women near her age. She was able to connect with them on a personal level despite their different cultures and backgrounds. Instead of just being co-workers, they became close friends.

Brand (front right, holding sign) poses with student volunteers from a local high school at "Un Dia Con el Agua" (A Day With Water) in Panajachel – an educational event about the importance of water and to promote water filters. Brand made many lasting friendships during her Practice Experience that she rekindled while working with Community Enterprise Solutions. Photo credit: Nikki Brand
Brand (front right, holding sign) poses with student volunteers from a local high school at “Un Dia Con el Agua” (A Day With Water) in Panajachel – an educational event about the importance of water and to promote water filters. Brand made many lasting friendships during her Practice Experience that she rekindled while working with Community Enterprise Solutions. Photo credit: Nikki Brand

After graduating, Brand returned to Panajachel to work as a Field Consultant for Community Enterprise Solutions, a non-profit social entrepreneurship organization that trains local “microentrepreneurs” to market and distribute products with social and environmental utility, such as eyewear, water filters, solar lamps and chargers, and improved wood burning stoves. The organization provides the training and products to the microentrepreneurs free of charge, eliminating the usual need to take on a large financial risk to start a micro-business.

Brand says that it was her previous work with Thirteen Threads and the skills she learned in the GPP Minor that helped her find the job. Moving to Guatemala just four days after graduation, Brand found the transition to be less difficult because of her background in critical poverty studies. She was the only member of the Community Enterprise Solutions team with a direct academic background in development, so she brought a unique contextual understanding and critical perspective to the work. Despite being new to the job and having to lead student interns just one or two years younger than herself, Brand felt comfortable thanks to her strong academic knowledge and previous experiences working in community development.

“That allowed me to hit the ground running when I arrived here and contextualize the work that I am doing,” Brand said.

In her first week back in Guatemala, Brand had an unexpected but joyful reunion with the two young women she befriended during her practice experience and is now training them to work with Community Enterprise Solutions as microentrepreneurs, an experience she describes as her journey coming “full circle.”

Brand advises students in the Minor or those who are interested in declaring to take advantage of all the opportunities and mentorship that the Blum Center offers.

“The most important thing that you get out of the Minor outside of the classes is the network,” Brand said. “Being part of the GPP and Blum Center community, there are so many amazing speaker events, opportunities to network with current GPP students and alumni, professors and practitioners, and for me, that was the best part.”

Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley Blum Center Co-host Discussion of Water Issues in Haiti

Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley Blum Center Co-host Discussion of Water Issues in Haiti

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

A panel of experts from the Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley shared insights into water management in Haiti at a screening of the IDB’s Water Everlasting?. Extensive poverty and the destructive 2010 earthquake have coupled to leave millions of Haitians without access to clean water.
A panel of experts from the Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley shared insights into water management in Haiti at a screening of the IDB’s “Water Everlasting?”. Extensive poverty and the destructive 2010 earthquake have left millions of Haitians without access to clean water.

April 1, 2014 – On March 10th, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies, and the Berkeley Water Group hosted a screening of Water Everlasting?, a documentary produced by the IDB that details issues of poor water administration in Haiti. The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by IDB representatives from Haiti and water experts from the Blum Center, and gave rise to important dialogue regarding ways to address water issues in Haiti.

As the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti’s water and sanitation has been marred by chronic underfunding, leaving millions without access to a clean and reliable water source. The IDB, in collaboration with the Spanish government, has provided an $86 million dollar grant that aims to enable Haitians to build and maintain a sustainable water administration system that reaches its entire population. The Haitian government agency DINEPA (Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement) is using this grant to build necessary infrastructure to create water sector reform through institutional capacity building.

The IDB’s effort to strengthen DINEPA’s initiatives is a step in the right direction, as it aims to strengthen existing state agencies instead of privatizing the supply of water. According to Water Everlasting, approximately 70% of Port-au-Prince’s population of 3 million now gets their water from DINEPA kiosks located throughout the city.

In a discussion moderated by Fermin Reygadas, Executive Director of Fundacion Cantaro Azul and UC Berkeley PhD candidate, a panel of experts considered aspects of water issues that took the audience beyond the documentary. The panel included Thierry Delaunay, Water and Sanitation Specialist for IDB’s Haiti Country Office; Jose Irigoyen, IDB’s Haiti Country Coordinator; Imran Ali, Global Poverty and Practice Postdoctoral Scholar; and Rebecca Peters, Founder and Director of the Pachamama Project. Each of the panelists brought their respective insights on water issues in developing countries.

The dialogue included a discussion on important indicators for project success, as well as ways in which a human rights framework for water can be applied to economic cost recovery. When applying a human rights framework, the panelists engaged in a debate about the practicality in charging Haitians for water, a universally recognized public good. Peters, a 2012-2013 Big Ideas@Berkeley winner, shared the importance of gender equity in the water sector, emphasizing that women are disproportionally impacted.

The IDB’s Water Everlasting? viewings at universities around the country are helping to democratize development issues in Haiti by making them legible to the public. The events have created a public sphere conducive to valuable discussion and student involvement in this partnership. The screening at UC Berkeley was part of a West Coast series of screenings, with the final screening at the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America.

Since 2013, the Blum Center has supported a formal and robust partnership with the IDB. The Blum Center and the IDB co-host Demand Solutions, an annual gathering that brings together innovators to discuss and share solutions for addressing development issues in Latin American and the Caribbean. The partnership is also highlighted by the Berkeley-IDB Impact Evaluation Collaborative (BIC), which brings IDB representatives to UC Berkeley for executive training programs on the role of impact evaluation in policy-making. The IDB’s partnership with UC Berkeley marks the Bank’s first partnership with an American university.

Twenty-eight Ambitious Changemakers from UC Berkeley Set Out for Clinton Global Initiative University

Twenty-eight Ambitious Changemakers from UC Berkeley Set Out for Clinton Global Initiative University

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

Ruhi Nath, Vrinda Agrawal and Julie Brown
“What I’ve found at Cal is that the greatest wealth of knowledge is our peers,” emphasized 100 Strong team member and CGI-U attendee Ruhi Nath (pictured above with teammates Vrinda Agrawal and Julie Brown), who is looking forward to networking with socially-minded peers from across the country and around the world. “The Blum Center and Big Ideas@Berkeley have been really supportive of 100 Strong, not in just the funding but with all of their guidance and advice, too,” Nath added.

March 21, 2014 – This weekend, twenty-eight UC Berkeley student innovators are headed to Arizona for the annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) conference. The students, who were selected on the strength of their “Commitment to Action,” are eager to explore how they can make a difference in the world.

CGI-U 2014 will host the largest cohort of passionate UC Berkeley students ever to attend. Hosted annually by former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, the conference gathers over 5,000 students from 135 countries.

The Blum Center for Developing Economies, UC Berkeley’s lead representative within the CGI-U Network, supports students who travel to the event and offers year-long advising to help students accomplish their project goals. Since its founding in 2006, the Blum Center has been a campus hub for social impact, inspiring and fostering an ecosystem of change-makers. This year, nearly three-fourths of the Berkeley projects featured at CGI-U have a Blum Center affiliation – either as participants in the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor, or the Development Impact Lab.

Students attend CGI-U with a specific challenge and a defined one-year plan called a “Commitment to Action” that addresses a global issue in education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, public health, or a related field. The weekend conference is packed with workshops and plenary sessions for students to build relationships, share ideas and solidify their action plans.

Junior Asad Akbany is looking forward to the opportunity to engage with CEOs of companies that aim to address social problems. His project, “Kanga Kare,” aims to prevent pre-natal deaths by providing rural hospitals in developing countries with safe, low-cost baby incubators. “Working with people you’ve never interfaced with before, working with a team that’s based remotely, or learning how to make sure people stay motivated — hearing speakers address these things will be very helpful,” says Akbany, a member of a team of seven.

Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher sharing their project with President Clinton
Cal students Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher had an opportunity to share their project, PlasMachine, with President Clinton at last year’s CGI-U gathering. This year, the team returns to CGI-U before traveling to South Africa for the next phase of their work. Photo credit: Barbara Kinney / Clinton Global Initiative

Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher, CGI-U veterans from 2013, received recognition from Bill Clinton himself for their project “PlasMachine” at the conference last year. The PlasMachine team constructs atmospheric pressure plasma devices that address water and sanitation needs in developing countries. Pavlovich and Galleher spent the past year revamping their prototypes and are ready to move closer to the implementation phase. “I think it really helped us in learning how to market what we’re doing in a way that makes sense to the average person, so that someone who’s not in plasma physics can approach it and understand it,” Pavlovich shared about last year’s conference. “It also lent our project a certain credibility.” The two will be traveling to South Africa on a Development Impact Lab Explore Grant to build partnerships and assess consumer needs.

Teammates Ruhi Nath, Vrinda Agarwal, and Julie Brown will attend CGI-U and represent their initiative, “100 Strong,” which aims to empower local women to maximize their leadership potential. 100 Strong was a 2013 winner of the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest; the team members now look forward to joining CGI-U’s diverse student community. “Having a community of really different people who are interested in changing the world for the better in their own specialty — I think that energy and excitement is really powerful,” reflected Brown.

For updates about the CGI-U gathering and the student attendees, read our CGI-U 2014 student wrap-up or follow #CGIU and the @Blum_Center on Twitter and Facebook.

Development Engineering Seminars Explore Technology-Based Solutions to Poverty

Development Engineering Seminars Explore Technology-Based Solutions to Poverty

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

March 20, 2014 – UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab (DIL) is forging a new, interdisciplinary field of academic and applied research – Development Engineering (DevEng) – housed at the Blum Center.

Development Engineering seeks to train a new cadre of experts to tightly integrate social and economic insights in the development of technology and services to address the problems of poverty. DevEng’s inaugural “Research in Action” speaker series explores current scientific and technological efforts to address global development issues, bringing experts together in an interdisciplinary space.

“Too often, a great idea is tested and approved before its effectiveness on a larger scale can be evaluated,” explains Alice Agogino, UC Berkeley Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “It takes many aspects and disciplines that involve technology, impact analysis and economics. We want to engage the academic community to test and refine our approaches to development.”

The seminar series features weekly talks from academics and professionals who contribute to the intellectual sphere that constitutes DevEng. Speakers come from a wide variety of disciplines, including computer science, economics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, bioengineering, civil and environmental engineering, information management, public health, and business. All of the expertise is required to solve the big challenges facing society.

DIL partner Gaetano Borriello, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at University of Washington and creator of Open Data Kit (ODK), addressed a packed audience on the functions and processes of his technology at the inaugural seminar. ODK is an open-source toolkit that has simplified the ability for users to build forms, analyze, transfer and share data on various platforms. ODK is being used by thousands of people in a wide variety of ways. In Tanzania, ODK works with the Jane Goodall Institute to map unsafe areas for chimpanzees using data submitted over mobile phones; in the Congo, a visual version of the software enables illiterate Pygmies to track poachers’ locations; and in dozens of other countries, the tool is used to conduct public health and socioeconomic surveys.

The “Research in Action” events create a forum where faculty and practitioners with extensive applied expertise can engage with intellectually curious students who bring their own innovative ideas.

“We’re all coming together to this with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different biases,” said UC Berkeley bioengineering professor Dan Fletcher during a “Research in Action” seminar on CellScope, a smartphone-enabled microscope technology used for remote diagnosis in developing countries. CellScope, a student innovation, uses consumer technology to extend access to health care; it is being used to detect corneal diseases in Thailand, tuberculosis in Vietnam, oral cancer in India, and to image worms in Cameroon. The CellScope case study particularly resonated with the audience. According to Dr. Fletcher, its materialization was heavily dependent on the collaboration of technologies, ideas, and disciplines.

The speaker series is helping build momentum toward the launch of a formal designated emphasis (DE) graduate program, which would be available to UC Berkeley doctoral students who have an interest in DevEng. The program is co-directed by UC Berkeley faculty Alice Agogino, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Clair Brown, Professor of Economics. The intention for this DE rests on the belief that the most powerful advances in development can be propelled through interdisciplinary collaboration and analysis of development solutions.

“Specifically,” explained Brown, “the goal of a Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering is to facilitate and formalize an intellectual community to use advanced science, economics and technology for potential solutions to complex global issues.”

The DE will require one main course, one research seminar, and a series of electives relevant to students’ research interests. It will focus on human-centered design along with participant feedback, impact evaluation, econometrics, automated data collection, and sustainability of new technologies. The program will be offered to doctoral students from the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science, information management, quantitative social sciences, and business programs.

Weekly DevEng “Research In Action” seminars are held on Wednesdays at 4pm in B100 Blum Hall and will run through April 23, 2014. All students and faculty who wish to learn more about the program are welcome.

Students and faculty at UC Berkeley are also encouraged to submit feedback and get involved in the creation of the DE. For more information, visit http://dil.berkeley.edu/students/designated-emphasis/ and subscribe to the DevEng listserv.

Blum Center Hosts Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for Discussion on Foreign Policy Megatrends

Blum Center Hosts Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for Discussion on Foreign Policy Megatrends

By: Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies & Political Science Major

Albright_2014_sm
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright drew hundreds of UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members for a discussion of megatrends in foreign policy. Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm moderated the program.

February 4, 2014 — Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed a packed audience last Thursday, sharing her perspective on the issues facing the nation and world today.

Sponsored by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, founder Richard Blum began the evening by introducing Albright as one of his three favorite women in politics today and described how he enjoyed working with her in The National Democratic Institute.

In a discussion moderated by former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm, Albright focused on two emerging megatrends: the rise of globalization and interdependence, and the evolution of technology and its role in politics.

Albright discussed the importance of nations’ involvement with others in the global community, stating that growing interconnectivity binds countries’ political and economic fates. In the U.S., she said, foreign aid advocates struggle to win Congressional support, but it is both possible and prudent for Americans to support economic development domestically and abroad.

When addressing the evolution of technology, Albright emphasized its power in fostering both political engagement and development. She noted, however, that channeling public opinion through social media can also lead to the disaggregation of social movements.

“Tahrir Square came together with social media, but how do you get that to government?” she asked.

In addition to the megatrends, Albright stressed the need for more representation in government, including that of women.

“I do believe the world would be better if there were more women in leading positions,” she said. When Albright was appointed the 64th Secretary of State by President Clinton in 1997, Albright became the highest ranking woman in the history of US government.

Albright_2014_sm 2
Secretary Albright, pictured here with Blum Center Founder Richard Blum and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, shared insightful and candid reflections on topics such as Syria, foreign aid, women’s leadership, and technology’s role in development.

Albright later took questions from the audience, ranging from her views on the Syrian conflict to her thoughts on basketball diplomacy’s usefulness in North Korea.

“I appreciated her honesty about the balancing act diplomats must engage in,” said Veena Subramanian, a student in the Global Poverty & Practice Minor who attended the event. “They have to manage a genuine respect for human lives against the political games of DC.”

To close the evening, Blum presented Albright with a Campaign for Berkeley bear pin, jokingly promising her an even more honorable award during her next visit with the assistance of Chancellor Dirks.

When asked what she would like to be remembered for, Albright said she would like it to be for something other than just being the first female Secretary of State. Quoting her granddaughter, she said, “What’s the big deal? Only girls are Secretary of State.”

Instead, she said she would like to be remembered for her initiative to take U.S. action in Kosovo in 1999, making her a popular figure in the area.

“There’s a whole generation of little girls in Kosovo with the name Madeleine,” she said.


Watch “Megatrends in Foreign Policy”

FINCA International: A Case Study in Social Entrepreneurship

FINCA International: A Case Study in Social Entrepreneurship

Blum Center Hosts FINCA International President & CEO Rupert Scofield for Talk on Building A Global Microfinance Network

By: Abby Madan

FINCA International's President and CEO, Rupert Scofield, shared his experiences in microfinance and development work with UC Berkeley students.
FINCA International’s President and CEO, Rupert Scofield, shared his experiences in microfinance and development work with UC Berkeley students.

February 21, 2014 – Last week, Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of FINCA International, visited UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies to share his personal journey and the remarkable story of the FINCA microfinance network, which has provided much-needed financial services to low-income entrepreneurs around the world since 1984.

Frequently referred to as the ‘World Bank for the Poor,’ FINCA is credited as being one of the pioneers of modern day microfinance. Under Scofield’s leadership, the organization has grown to serve over 1 million low-income entrepreneurs in 21 countries. Key to the organization’s success was a willingness to take chances and a commitment to building solid partnerships.

Scofield’s involvement with FINCA dates back several decades. After graduating from college, Scofield took a chance and deferred his military draft to Vietnam to work in Guatemala with the Peace Corps. It was while working on an agricultural project in rural Guatemala that Scofield witnessed how small-scale loans could transform lives and contribute to social good.

It was an experience that would define the rest of his life.

Memory of the successful lending initiative in Guatemala stayed with Scofield through several subsequent jobs, eventually inspiring him to co-found FINCA, which began as a small NGO serving communities in Latin America. After years of pitching their vision to investors and development agencies, FINCA secured their first major backer. USAID awarded FINCA $10 million to implement their innovative village-banking model, which relies on a system of social pressure and support and requires clients to build credit by saving 20% of their profits.

The village-banking model has since been replicated by many organizations, as it is seen to help transform how the poor find a foothold in local, national and global economies.

During his talk, Scofield described the resistance that often challenges the pursuit of innovation. Although FINCA’s efforts were successful in Latin America, any attempt to expand their initiatives to other developing regions was met with skepticism. Uncollateralized lending was thought too risky and region-specific to be successfully implemented elsewhere. But Scofield followed the advice of his long-time friend Muhammad Yunus: stick to what you know has worked.

Scofield partnered with socially responsible investors and pushed ahead to test the model in new regions, resulting in FINCA’s successful expansion to communities in Africa and Eurasia in the 1990s, and to the Middle East and South Asia in the 2000s.

FINCA is now launching FINCA+, an initiative to identify scalable and sustainable human and social development interventions. In Uganda, for example, FINCA has introduced a low-cost solar lighting device that can also charge cell phones.

FINCA’s story is an uplifting one, particularly at a time when the microfinance industry has struggled with allegations of loan sharking and reaping profits from poverty. “Not everyone who calls themselves a microfinance organization is like FINCA,” Scofield acknowledged. Many of the major microfinance groups, including FINCA, are now banding together to establish rules that protect clients.

Scofield also cautioned against treating microfinance efforts as an end-goal in global development and poverty reduction.

“This is not a solution to poverty for everyone,” he said. “This is a solution for survival.”

For more about FINCA International, visit FINCA.org or follow @FINCA and @rupertscofield on Twitter.

Blum Center’s Laura Stachel, Creator of Solar Suitcase, Named One of Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013

Blum Center’s Laura Stachel, Creator of Solar Suitcase, Named One of Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013
Dr. Laura Stachel
Dr. Laura Stachel, creator of the solar suitcase and founder of We Care Solar, has been named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013.

Dr. Laura Stachel (MD, MPH), a researcher with the UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies, has been named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013 for her work to bring life-saving “solar suitcases” to hospitals and clinics in developing countries.

While on a graduate student research trip to rural Nigeria, Stachel, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, was shocked to observe obstetric care in a Nigerian hospital with unreliable electricity. She watched as nurses struggled to deliver babies by kerosene lantern, surgeons worked in near darkness, and critically ill mothers were turned away at night. These conditions put mothers’ and babies’ lives at risk, contributing to the 300,000 maternal deaths estimated each year globally—99% of which occur in the developing world.

Stachel saw a challenge and an opportunity to help. With funding from Big Ideas@Berkeley and the Blum Center, she and her husband, Hal Aronson, developed solar electric systems for the Nigerian hospital. With stable lighting, mobile communication, and a blood bank refrigerator, the maternal deaths at the hospital decreased. Stachel and Aronson next developed a “solar suitcase”—a portable, compact version of the hospital solar electric system—that could scale to rural hospitals and clinics. Together, they founded We Care Solar with the goal of providing simple, reliable light and power sources to healthcare facilities in developing countries.

Since 2009, more than 400 “solar suitcases” have served mothers and babies in over 20 countries. The Blum Center and its USAID-funded Development Impact Lab (DIL) are supporting on-going efforts to scale the initiative. The user-friendly, mobile and nearly maintenance-free suitcases, which cost around $1,500 and take only an hour to install, have proved an important innovation in the fight against maternal mortality worldwide. Stachel’s goal is to light up 10,000 clinics in the next five years, serving 2 million mothers and babies.

“We are thrilled that Laura has received this recognition and believe she deserves to be CNN’s Hero of the Year,” said Shankar Sastry, Blum Center Faculty Director and Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. “Her work has saved the lives of many women and newborns and shows the power of engineering for development, which is the hallmark of our new initiative with USAID, DIL.”

Solar suitcase
Over the last four years, Stachel and We Care Solar have brought over 400 solar suitcases to clinics and hospitals in developing regions. They hope to distribute thousands more.

Stachel is one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013, which recognizes everyday people who are changing the world. Each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes will receive a $50,000 grant, and one of the honorees, as voted by fans around the globe, will be named the CNN Hero of the Year, receiving an additional $250,000 grant to further aid their cause. Online voting for the “CNN Hero of the Year” ran from October 10 to November 17.

 


About the Blum Center for Developing Economies: The Blum Center for Developing Economies links world-class research, education, and innovation to create sustainable solutions to global poverty. Its mission is to improve the well-being of the world’s poor by designing and developing sustainable solutions to the toughest development challenges and educating a new generation of innovators, activists, and scholars to engage global poverty and inequality in imaginative and effective ways. The Center brings a rigorous multi-disciplinary approach and real-world applications to the classroom, lab, and into the field. Combining an unrivaled disciplinary depth and breadth, cutting-edge thinking, and the University of California’s unique culture of global engagement, the Center translates and applies innovative research to address the world’s most pressing problems. For more information, visit http://blumcenter.berkeley.edu

About Big Ideas@Berkeley: Big Ideas@Berkeley is an annual innovation contest aimed at providing funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of UC undergraduate and graduate students who have “big ideas.” Since its founding in 2005, Big Ideas@Berkeley has inspired innovative and high-impact student projects aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems. Winners have leveraged more than $25 million in additional funding as they’ve used the initial results generated with Big Ideas support to mobilize other resources. For more information, visit http://bigideascontest.org

About the Development Impact Lab: The Blum Center for Developing Economies leads the USAID-funded Development Impact Lab headquartered at Berkeley, with other academic, industry and non-profit partners, to source, evaluate and scale technologies for development. The Lab is supporting an pipeline of innovative projects, building an evaluation platform for data collection to speed rapid prototyping, and training the next generation of development engineers. Learn more at http://dil.berkeley.edu.

# # #

Press contact:

Rachel Voss
(510) 643-5316
rvoss[at]berkeley[dot]edu

YouTube and Twitter Bring Poverty Debates to Life Inside and Outside the Classroom

By: James Zhao

November 8, 2013 – Dr. Ananya Roy’s animated voice resonates throughout Wheeler Auditorium as the projector displays a constant stream of tweets from students. A hand is raised on the left side of the lecture hall, then another on the right. Roy hastily walks around, making sure voices are heard. These are the sights and sounds of Roy’s class of 700 students on “Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes in the New Millennium,” a core course in the Global Poverty and Practice Minor.

Twitter posts
#GlobalPOV allows students and engaged citizens around the world to join public debates around poverty and inequality. Tweets from students in Ananya Roy’s Global Poverty class caught the attention of influential economic Jeff Sachs.

These are not the typical lectures your parents remember from their college days. On select days, students in GPP 115 are invited to react to readings, videos, and provocative questions over Twitter, labeling their comments with #GlobalPOV. “Tweeting allows students to participate in the public dialogue around poverty issues—something that classroom discussions don’t usually allow them to do,” said Roy, a Professor of City and Regional Planning, Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty and Practice, and the Education Director for the Blum Center of Developing Economies. As a matter of fact, earlier this fall, class tweets caught the attention of economist Jeffrey Sachs, who sent back words of encouragement to Roy’s students.

Twitter also allows students to express honest and controversial opinions with some degree of anonymity in a class that deals directly with poverty, race, and gender. “Personally, I’m terrified of talking up in a class. 700 is a lot of people,” said Alex Berryhill, a student in Roy’s class. “Through Twitter, students who are not as comfortable with speaking out in class can simply tweet what they would have said anyways.”

Roy strategically schedules tweeting sessions on days when she believes a particular topic will generate a lot of debate. As the tweets come pouring in, it’s clear that students find real freedom of expression in this space. “If the point is gender empowerment why are all the chairmen and CEOs of the Grameen Bank MEN?” demands ‏@madisongordon24. “Why is it that Starbucks is thriving yet the part of Ethiopia where they get their beans from is in famine?” asks @ivn_lo.

With the help of artist Abby Vanmuijen, one of Roy’s former students who had filled her class notebook with drawings of the discussion topics, Roy has launched the #GlobalPOV Project and brought her lectures to life in thought-provoking live-action sketch videos that are posted on YouTube. Each of the videos begins with a question focused on a social or political issue. Will hope end poverty? Who profits from poverty? Can we shop to end poverty?

A hand-drawn illustration depicting a globe labeled "Poverty" being held by a stand. To the right, the words "Collective Global Conscience" and "International Poverty Line" are written in a large cloud. Below the cloud, a figure is depicted pointing to a dashed line labeled "$1.25 per day" and saying, "Hey! This line is bogus!" while another figure holds a sign saying "ONE." The illustration also includes various monetary figures and words, such as "7 billion," "$1 trillion," and "$100 billion," indicating economic disparities and global poverty issues. The drawing is in black and white
The #GlobalPOV videos explore challenging questions about poverty, inequality, and development through breathtaking live-action art. These new media tools engage Millennials in familiar spaces like Youtube and Twitter.

Roy is now screening these videos in class as a way to connect class readings with real-world controversies and to engage the Millennial Generation, who are used to consuming information this way. The #GlobalPOV Project videos are more than just supplementary material to the class, however; available online for anyone to view, they engage viewers around the world on real, pressing, and controversial issues. The videos invite viewers to join the conversation and help democratize discussions of poverty and inequality. As Matt Wade, one of Roy’s Graduate Student Instructors, puts it, “[#GlobalPOV provides] a moment to speak directly to power, an opportunity of becoming-public, not heretofore available to students and people outside of the circles of development expertise.”

The use of social media does not come without nuisances and problems, however. Students are barraged with words and visuals, which makes it more challenging for some to process information. In addition, although Roy spends plenty of time curating content, anonymous tweeting can add irrelevancy. In spite of occasional smart comments about her choice of clothing or shoes, Roy and her teaching assistants are pleased with the freedom of speech students exercise. “One can absolutely use Twitter to ridicule incompetent public officials, bad ideas, injustice, moments of inhumanity, with all due vitriol,” said Wade. Students’ candid and provocative comments outweigh the nuisances.

Despite the availability of YouTube and Twitter to engage a large auditorium full of students, Roy is dissatisfied with existing in-classroom technology. The iClicker, used in many large lecture settings to ask students multiple choice questions, is extremely irrelevant for a class like “Global Poverty” that dives into complex and controversial issues. Twitter allows students to express opinions, but restricts them to 140 characters. The videos may capture the attention of the students, but they don’t make it possible for everyone in an auditorium to have a thoughtful discussion.

Roy hopes that in the future, new technology will allow more reflective interaction with a large group of students. For now, she will continue pioneering the use of social media in traditional classroom settings to explore how far she can take it.


Join the discussion on Twitter and watch the videos on the #GlobalPOV YouTube channel!

IdeaLabs Reach Across Disciplines to Solve Global Problems

IdeaLabs Reach Across Disciplines to Solve Global Problems

What we’ve found at Berkeley about how to get people to work together is that you define some kind of very big problem that needs to be solved, and attack it from a range of viewpoints.

— Richard Newton

IdeaLabs, a component of the Big Ideas@Berkeley program, are student-led hubs for discussion and idea-sharing around issues that are important to students—anything from climate change and health to safe water, nanotechnology, or household energy. The groups are multi-disciplinary gatherings of undergraduate and graduate students designed to bring out a range of viewpoints, ideas, and strategies.

Each IdeaLab is unique, reflecting the goals and passions of the students behind it. The groups host regular discussions and events where students can gain new perspectives, share ideas, and work together with peers they might never meet in a classroom—engineers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and science buffs talk over a common interest with anthropologists, health experts, and public policy majors.

Estrella Sainburg, student Director of the Berkeley Water Group IdeaLab, said the most rewarding part of leading the IdeaLab was hearing a new member’s excitement at finding a place on campus where other students shared her passion for water issues.

A visual representation of BART ridership data. The image is split into two main sections: the left side displays a map of the San Francisco Bay Area with BART stations and routes marked in various colors, and the right side shows a circular chord diagram with interconnected lines and segments representing the ridership flow between different stations. Each station is labeled around the circumference of the circle, and lines of various thicknesses connect the stations, indicating the volume of riders traveling between them.
The Visualizing Urban Data IdeaLab students held a hackathon on the BART strike in October 2013, producing interactive visualizations on salaries, ridership, traffic, and more. The IdeaLab’s student director, Lewis Lehe, produced the above graphic.

IdeaLabs are more than just discussion groups, however—they are geared toward connecting students who can together explore real solutions to critical challenges. The Visualizing Urban Data IdeaLab recently hosted a hackathon to make sense of data related to the impending BART strike, including BART employees’ salaries, traffic, and ridership. “It was a challenge to work on an event transpiring in real time,” said VUD IdeaLab Director Lewis Lehe. The resulting projects have spurred online discussions and attracted attention from students across disciplines. “Coders want to see our visualizations. Planners and civil engineers want to experience urban spaces in a fresh way,” Lehe shared.

“We’re excited to see the ideas and projects that these IdeaLabs continue to produce,” said Phillip Denny, Manager of the Big Ideas@Berkeley program at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. “You can find real innovation at the intersection of so many different perspectives. The interdisciplinary Big Ideas@Berkeley projects we see every year are a testament to that.”

Students in the Climate Change and Health IdeaLab have benefited from the chance to exchange ideas with peers from other disciplines.

IdeaLabs have shown the benefits of bringing together diverse groups of students. Zoe Chafe, the student Director of the Climate Change and Health IdeaLab, described a visiting researcher’s recent presentation on the health “co-benefits” of climate change mitigation strategies in China. At the end of her presentation, a public health student asked about her health methodologies. Participants from the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab asked about her collaborations with institutions in China. Other students wanted to know more about the economic valuation she used when presenting trade-offs. “This is exactly the type of intellectual exchange we are hoping to support: an open forum where there are no stupid questions and everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge,” said Chafe.

IdeaLabs operate under the umbrella of the Big Ideas program. All IdeaLabs invite new undergraduate and graduate student members from across campus.

Visit bigideascontest.org/idealabs to join an active group or learn how to start your own!

Blum Center Innovation Director Lina Nilsson Named One of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35

Blum Center Innovation Director Lina Nilsson Named One of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35

Lina NilssonAugust 21, 2013 – Dr. Lina Nilsson, Innovation Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, has been named one of this year’s Innovators Under 35 by the MIT Technology Review. For more than a decade, the global media company has recognized a list of exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world.

“We’re proud of our selections and the variety of achievements they celebrate, and we’re proud to add Lina to this prestigious list,” says MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief and publisher Jason Pontin. “Over the years, we’ve had success in choosing women and men whose innovations and companies have been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs. Previous winners include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the cofounders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook; Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple; and David Karp, the creator of Tumblr.”

Dr. Nilsson is being recognized for her work at the Blum Center as well as Tekla Labs, which works to enable scientists in the developing world to construct their own high- quality lab equipment using readily available, off-the-shelf items. Her selection highlights UC Berkeley’s strength in cultivating not only researchers and entrepreneurs, but also ambitious social innovators working across disciplines to meet global challenges head-on. One of 10 women on this year’s list, Dr. Nilsson also illustrates the growing influence of women in the fields of technology and innovation.

“Lina is an extraordinarily talented researcher. Her work combines the best of innovative technology and a commitment to the alleviation of poverty in a new construct of development engineering. She is a ground-breaking thinker who truly embodies the Blum Center’s spirit of innovation and social engagement,” said Shankar Sastry, Dean of the College of Engineering and Faculty Director of the Blum Center. “We are delighted that she has been recognized for her pioneering achievements.”

A biomedical engineer by training, Dr. Nilsson believes that global challenges in health, environment, and development require grassroots contributions from the entire global scientific community. While completing her MSc at the University of Washington, Dr. Nilsson received a Bonderman Fellowship to travel throughout resource-scarce areas in Asia and South America. She visited labs and met with scientists whose research was significantly hindered by a lack of standard lab equipment. Subsequently, she founded Tekla Labs as a platform for “thinking creatively about ways to sustainably improve access to equipment and other physical infrastructure” so that “more researchers around the globe will have access to the tools they need to act on their insights and transformative ideas.”

Dr. Nilsson and this year’s other honorees are featured online at TechnologyReview.com and in the September/October print magazine, which hits newsstands worldwide on September 3. They will appear in person at the upcoming EmTech MIT conference from October 9–11 in Cambridge, MA.

About the Blum Center for Developing Economies

Established in 2006, the Blum Center for Developing Economies educates the next generation of global citizens to be agents of change in the struggle against global poverty. Its mission is to improve the well-being of three billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day by designing and developing sustainable solutions to tackle the toughest poverty challenges. The Center brings a rigorous multi-disciplinary approach and real-world applications to the classroom, lab and into the field. With its combination of unrivaled disciplinary depth and breadth, cutting-edge thinking, and the University of California’s unique culture of global engagement, the Center translates and applies innovative research to solving the world’s most pressing problems.

About MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review leads the global conversation about technologies that matter. An independent media company owned by MIT, it produces publications read by millions of business leaders, innovators, and thought leaders around the globe, in six languages and on a variety of platforms. The company publishes MIT Technology Review magazine, the most respected technology magazine; daily news features, analysis, and opinion; and Business Reports, which explain how technologies are transforming industries. It produces live events such as the annual EmTech MIT, international EmTech conferences, Summits, and Salons. The company’s entrepreneurial community organization, MIT Enterprise Forum, hosts 400+ events a year around the world.

# # #

For MIT Technology Review:

David W.M. Sweeney
617-475-8018
press[at]technologyreview[dot]com

For Blum Center:

Fred Muir
310-278-9321 Office
310-600-8954 Cell
fred[at]fredmuir[dot]com
Christie Ly
917-617-2437
christiely3[at]gmail[dot]com

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu Rejoins Board of Trustees of Blum Center for Developing Economies at University of California, Berkeley

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu Rejoins Board of Trustees of Blum Center for Developing Economies at University of California, Berkeley

Distinguished scientist, Cabinet secretary and Nobel Prize winner brings national, global policy perspectives to next generation of global citizens

Steven Chu

Berkeley, Calif. (August 1, 2013) — The Blum Center for Developing Economies, a leading center for global poverty studies and innovative global development solutions, today announced that Dr. Steven Chu, former U.S. Energy Secretary and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, is returning as a member of its Board of Trustees. The distinguished scientist will provide important perspective and guidance on the future of the Center and its role in shaping future changemakers to address challenges faced by the world’s poor.

“We are very pleased to have Dr. Chu rejoin our board,” said Richard C. Blum, Founder of the Blum Center. “To have someone of his stature and his level of scientific achievement will be a tremendous asset as we develop and offer world-class programs and innovative courses to this generation, who feel compelled to confront issues of global inequality.”

Dr. Chu served as Trustee for the Blum Center from 2008 to 2009. He is currently Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. Prior to his appointment, he served as the U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 21, 2009, to April 22, 2013, during which time he was charged with helping implement President Barack Obama’s agenda to invest in clean energy, reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs.

“Dr. Chu brings a wealth of experience working on sustainable energy solutions and novel technologies,” said Shankar Sastry, Dean of the University of California Berkeley College of Engineering and Faculty Director of the Blum Center. “His knowledge will greatly enhance the Blum Center’s work in leveraging the talent of faculty and students—particularly those in the STEM fields—toward global development, and will help us build up the innovative field of development engineering at UC Berkeley.”

Prior to his Cabinet post, Dr. Chu was the Director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he led the pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies. He also taught at UC Berkeley as a Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology. Previously, he held positions at Stanford University and AT&T Bell Laboratories. The award-winning scientist is the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997) for his research for the cooling and trapping of atoms in laser light.

The Blum Center’s Board features many dignitaries, including former U.S. presidents, Cabinet members and senators; former government officials from foreign nations; and global business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. In addition to Dr. Chu and Mr. Blum, the list includes Board Chair Laura Tyson, Professor in the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and Former Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors; Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich; Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; Caio Koch-Weser, Vice Chairman, Deutsche Bank Group and Former Deputy Finance Minister of Germany; Former U.S. Senator Thomas A. Daschle of DLA Piper, LLP; and Vinod Khosla, President of Khosla Ventures, among others.

About The Blum Center for Developing Economies

Established in 2006, the Blum Center for Developing Economies cultivates and educates the next generation of global citizens to be agents of change in the struggle against global poverty. Its mission is to improve the well-being of three billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day by designing and developing sustainable solutions to tackle the toughest poverty challenges. The Center brings a rigorous multi-disciplinary approach and real-world applications to the classroom, lab and into the field. With its combination of unrivaled disciplinary depth and breadth, cutting-edge thinking, and the University of California’s unique culture of global engagement, the Center translates and applies innovative research to solving the world’s most pressing problems. More information at http://blumcenter.berkeley.edu/

# # #

Media Contacts:

Fred Muir, For Blum Center
310-278-9321 Office
310-600-8954 Cell
fred[at]fredmuir[dot]com
Christie Ly
917-617-2437 Cell
christiely3[at]gmail[dot]com

 

2013 GPP Graduates Look to Careers of Social Engagement

2013 GPP Graduates Look to Careers of Social Engagement

On May 23rd, sixty-nine students representing thirty majors accepted certificates in the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor from Professors Ananya Roy, Clare Talwalker, and Max Aufhammer, as well as Richard Blum, founder of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Faculty and student speakers stressed the complexity of global challenges as well as the imperative of creatively combating those challenges each and every day.

“We can’t let the limitations we face bring us down or be intimidated by the magnitude of the work,” said student commencement speaker Sarah Edwards. “We can’t think things will never change. We can’t stop trying. Really, we can’t be stopped.”

GPP Class of 2013
Photo credit: Jim Block

The diversity of intended career paths in the GPP Class of 2013 is a testament to the program’s interdisciplinary nature. Students are bound for many destinations and types of work, from studying housing struggles in post-Katrina New Orleans, to working locally as an emergency medical technician while pursuing a graduate degree in humanitarian engineering design, to helping design a cultural center in a Samoan community nearly 5,000 miles away.

While many graduates intend to work locally, others in the class remain focused on global-scale interventions. Edwards and fellow student commencement speaker Nikki Brand will both be working overseas—Brand in Guatemala with the social entrepreneurship organization Community Enterprise Solutions, and Edwards as a Peace Corps Forestry and Agroforestry Extension Agent in Cameroon.

Nikki Brand speaks at GPP Graduation
Nikki Brand, GPP Class of 2013, encouraged fellow graduates not be innocent bystanders, but to reach further and use the tools given to them at Cal to work toward change. Photo credit: Jim Block

This diversity of student interests is unified through a shared commitment to community engagement. This year, three members of the GPP community were honored with prestigious Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service in recognition of their service to communities both local and global. The Chancellor’s 2013 Service Learning Leadership Award was given to Dr. Genevieve Negron-Gonzales, who taught the GPP capstone course as well as an enrichment course on educational justice and undocumented students.  The 2013 Mather Good Citizen Award, which recognizes one graduating senior who has demonstrated a high standard of conduct and service to the campus, was awarded to Abhinaya Narayanan. In addition to her GPP studies and internships in the community, Narayanan served as Project Coordinator of Asha, a student-run organization providing education to underprivileged children, and as Student Director of Oakland Community Builders, connecting UC Berkeley students with internships at social justice organizations in the East Bay. Gardenia Casillas, another GPP student, received an Undergraduate Student Award for Civic Engagement.  Casillas completed service work in Ecuador providing dental care to poor communities and plans to work in Ethiopia this summer, funded by a Harvard Fellowship in Public Health, before pursuing advanced degrees in medicine and public health.

As the GPP Class of 2013 disperses to all corners of the globe, the Blum Center is confident that this new generation of poverty action scholars is prepared to face the challenges, questions, and complexities of global development work.  Dr. Negron-Gonzales bid farewell to her GPP students with an inspiring quote from Antonio Machado, reminding them: “Journeyer, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”


For more photos, visit the GPP Minor Graduation 2013 Facebook album.

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Host and Fellow Responsibilities

Host Organizations

  • Identify staff supervisor to manage I&E Climate Action Fellow
  • Submit fellowship description and tasks
  • Engage in the matching process
  • Mentor and advise students
  • Communicate with Berkeley program director and give feedback on the program.

Berkeley Program Director​

  • Communicate with host organizations, students, and other university departments to ensure smooth program operations

Student Fellows

  • Complete application and cohort activities
  • Communicate with staff and host organizations
  • Successfully complete assignments from host organization during summer practicum
  • Summarize and report summer experience activities post-fellowship