UW talks innovation


UW’s Talk Change conference, hosted by Smart Solutions, featured speakers with innovative ways to help developing countries improve education, water and other resources, held March 1.

Keynote speaker Tariq Fancy is the founder of the Rumie Initiative, which is a Toronto-based non-profit organization that produces a $50 tablet, preloaded with educational material. Fancy spoke about how the tablet would provide educational content, as well as games that could be accessed as an incentive. Since launching the tablet Rumie has been approached by over 30 countries, and said that the educational material offered on the tablets will provide basic training to assist with basic infrastructure such as house building, and plumbing.

“Most of the content is valuable, but not how you think it is, not like algebra, or whatever. They want stuff like vocational training,” said Fancy. “The national association of homebuilders in the U.S. puts out stuff where you can build a house with the same materials, same cost, and much more structurally sound,” he said. 

The morning session also featured Joshua Brake, the founder of Kutoa, which is a crowd-funding platform that allows users to donate to one of three featured charities of their choice. Whichever charity receives the most donations gets all of the funding, ensuring enough money to make a difference.

“We’re giving the group as a whole, the opportunity to voice their say in where we will direct our collected funds,” said Brake. 

Kutoa, which means, “to give” in Swahili, creates positive competition in the charity sector by boosting activity and creating exposure.

“One project will get the money, but we don’t pit charities against each other. The charity itself always wins because they’re all getting exposure,” said Brake.

By having people donate $1 to a charity of their choice and having the charity with the most donations receive all the donations, Kutoa makes it possible for one project to see itself through to completion, rather than dividing the donations, which may not be as beneficial. 

“If it costs $10,000 to build a school, and we get 10,000 people giving us a dollar, but we give part of that to one project, and part to another, we haven’t concluded anything,” said Brake. “So we try and say ‘ hey, if we have 10,000 people, and it costs $10,000 to build a school, and that project wins, we all just built a school’, and that’s pretty cool,” said Brake. 

University of Guelph environmental engineering student Brian Camenzuli presented solar solutions for the Africans living off the grid with KARIBU Solar Power. KARIBU, which means, “welcome” in Swahili, produces a solar powered lamp that looks similar to a reusable water bottle, which includes a container with a screw on lid that houses a solar panel, a rechargeable battery, and a light bulb. The solar- powered lamp would be ideal for replacing the kerosene lamp that is widely used in developing countries. The lamp would provide extra hours of light, and would reduce C02 outputs. This is considered to be a massive upgrade from the fuel-based lighting that can lead to respiratory problems, and would give children more time to study in the evening. 

“The problem with these kerosene lamps is that 580 million people around the world are using these types of lamps to study after dark, while 1.6 billion people don’t have light after dark,” said Camenzuli. “In these developing nations a lot of kids get out of poverty to get out of making only a couple dollars a day, and education is their only way out. If they want to keep learning and studying after the sun goes down, they’re forced to use a kerosene lamp.”

The lamp is being sold and distributed the same as kerosene; as the customer buys the original lamp for an affordable price, and is able to buy the solar powered component at an additional price at a later time. The lamp can also charge a cellphone, which is also beneficial.

Brad Bass, who spoke at UW this past November, discussed the idea of sustainable bio filters, and how they can be put to use in developing countries. He gave examples of high school students that were able to make a sustainable bio filter with basic materials from a hardware store, and a group of high school girls in Africa who were able to figure out how to turn human urine into an energy source. According to Bass, innovation may surface from unlikely areas of expertise.

“Big companies may not see the need because they don’t live in a world where that’s a real need. The girls in Africa live in a world where that was a real need. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention,” said Bass.

Most of the speakers, including Bass, said that the first step for students or grad students who are looking to apply their innovative ideas is to find the right organization.

“If you don’t know how to do it, find an organization that certainly would be a good fit. If undergrad students said ‘this bio filter idea is interesting, I think I’d like to see it get built here,’ I would say take it to Engineers Without Borders and say ‘let’s do this.’ If they won’t do it, find another organization,” said Bass.

Tariq Fancy shares the same perspective.

“The easiest way to do it is to find an organization that’s already doing it, and find ways you can help them, because it’s difficult to build all of the infrastructure or do anything individually,” said Fancy.

Brian Camenzuli encourages young innovators to keep track of their ideas and to value their past accomplishments.

“If you have an idea, or something pops into you head you have to make time to write it down, spend a couple of minutes on it, and definitely remember that idea, and maybe you’ll come back to it,” said Camenzuli. “Looking back on what you’ve done help you look back on where you want to be.”

Smart Solutions will be presenting Build A Change 2014: A Global Health Case Competition Saturday, March 15 at McMaster University.