"My name is Gwendolene Mugodi and I am a writer and the founder of Paivapo Storytellers, a movement that aims to provide better access to local, good quality literature to the children in Zimbabwe--and eventually beyond. Our work would not be complete without the help of local artists like Abel Zvorufura who I met through the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. As two different artists we spent about a month and a half going back and forth on this book until we got to a place we were both happy with. I look forward to sharing that full book in a few months, but for now here's a little bit about Abel and why he does what he does."
Scaling Social Impact: Medical Equipment in the Cloud
Sara co-leads MED International, an interdisciplinary team developing IT and engineering solutions for resource-limited hospitals. She is a sophomore concentrating in Engineering at Brown.
We navigated our way through the sprawling city of Accra, Ghana via tro-tro, a privately owned public transport vehicle with no signage or fixed schedules, which leaves only when the van has exceeded maximum capacity. During my summer with MED International, we visited 40+ hospitals across Tanzania and Ghana. Four other Brown University students and I toured and inventoried ‘medical equipment graveyards’ in the hospitals we visited—rooms filled with medical equipment that was no longer functional. By meeting with biomedical equipment technicians, facilities managers, hospital directors, and technical directors, we gained a better understanding of each hospital’s challenges and the overall state of the health care system in Ghana.
Broken medical equipment hurts everyone. Patients lose access to needed medical care, and hospital earnings are diminished as they spend more and more on maintenance and repairs. Hospitals in low-resource settings have an abundance of broken medical equipment, much of which only requires a spare part or simple fix. However, these hospitals lack access to trained technicians and management tools. MED International looks to maximize the life-saving potential of a hospital’s existing inventory using IT and engineering solutions. The software we have developed tracks medical equipment through its lifecycle in order to minimize the downtime and financial output of operating the machines.
At nearly every hospital, the staff and doctors were excited to use the new software within their facilities and pointed to specific ways these technical solutions would benefit their hospitals. The positive response was very encouraging. However, as we began our umpteenth tro-tro trip stopping at hospitals throughout Accra, things moved more slowly than we had hoped. Two major obstacles we encountered:
- The hospitals’ inability to pay – some hospitals simply do not have the means to afford the software. In forming the business plan for our organization, we had originally agreed that if a hospital was not willing or able to put money towards purchasing the software, they probably wouldn’t be likely to use it. Our hope was that once they made the initial investment, revenue from the software would enable the organization’s sustainability and adequate customer support for hospitals. In reality, we found that because many hospitals could not afford the initial software, they also would not be able to benefit from the long-term revenue we had anticipated, requiring us to rethink our funding model.
- Inadequate technical infrastructure – we observed a huge variation in technical literacy and capabilities across hospitals. This ranged from hospitals with just a single computer for the hospital administrator to hospitals with full in-house IT departments. These technical constraints limited which hospitals were feasible customers for the software we were offering.
What we learned: Local fieldwork, customer research, observation, and understanding—not just product usability and quality testing—are critical to success.
While we tested the product among users at Brown—a predominantly computer literate crowd—and on Brown’s Wi-Fi, we were not able to test the product with our target users and in the actual, developing world climate. If we could have defined a comparable population and environment beforehand, we would have been able to shape the product to better meet the needs of hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa. We hired a biomedical engineer, Kevin, to start using an early version of the software while piloting a technician training program in Zanzibar. It was not enough to translate the software to a local dialect and make it simple enough for a beginning computer user. The software also needed to function in resource limited settings, where power and Internet were no guarantee.
While at Brown, it was difficult to communicate with hospitals across the world. Phone calls and emails rarely elicited responses. While we spoke to several advisors familiar with the region, we did not truly get a sense of the local climate for hospital management software.
Because of these new insights, we have decided to open-source the software developed by computer science students at Brown, which means the source code is freely and publicly available for developers to modify and hospitals to use. Hospitals who would like to customize the medical inventory software and integrate it with their other management software can do so. In our experience, the private hospitals were more likely to be able to afford inventory management software, yet it was the large, public hospitals that would most benefit, and lead to greater impact. As a result, we have decided to transform the software we developed in Rhode Island into an open-source web application with the hopes that we can generate the most impact in the communities for which it was intended.
Summer on-site research was essential in uncovering the roots of several technical challenges hospitals face in Sub-Saharan Africa. For the software to be effective, we need to respond to the realities of the technology available to hospitals in resource-limited settings.
August 11, 2016
June 13, 2016
Lauren Maunus '19 is starting a bold new venture.
Its goal: To help eliminate food waste and bring healthy, affordable food to "food swamps" in Rhode Island and beyond.
March 15, 2016"If little girls like me were saying Barbie is the pretty one and the brown one is the ugly one, that's a problem."
Yelitsa Jean-Charles studies Illustration at RISD with a a concentration in Gender, Race & Sexuality. She identifies as a visual activist, and believes that artists have a responsibility as society’s image-makers. Her doll company and book series, Healthy Roots, combats internalized racism and colorism by getting to the root of the problem: altering beauty standards and cultviating self-love for young girls through education, diversity, and positive representation.
March 12, 2016An Excerpt
Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She traveled to her home in Iran last summer and brought back a cultural souvenir: the book she wrote, Taste of Culture. She explores Iranian families, streets, stores and the stories and spirit embedded in the recipes of Iranian food. She hopes to start a conversation about the benefit of knowing cuisines of different cultures to connect societies.
This year's class of Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellows have just begun their yearlong foray into the world of social entrepenuership. Check out their projects here.
December 16, 2015
Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.
I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction.
October 2, 2015