A local Ugandan translates and transcribes focus group interviews for a research study led by Dr. Scott Ickes (W&M). The study seeks to understand feeding practices and other factors that affect the nutrition of women and children in Bundibugyo, Uganda. Photographer: Emily Mahoney.

Welcome from the HESN Director, Ticora Jones  


Dear colleagues and friends of HESN,


I'm pleased to share with you the 2nd Issue of our HESN Newsletter, the HESN Connector. In this issue, you'll find a feature on the Big Ideas Competition, an annual contest run by our UC Berkeley Development Impact Lab (DIL) . The contest sources, funds, and supports teams of students who have revolutionary "big ideas" on how to solve today's most critical problems. This year, 187 student teams competed in Big Ideas to bring home the prize!


We're also excited to host our first guest blogger,  MIT IDIN's new Communications Coordinator Lauren McKown, as she tells the story of Martin Kasompe, one of the innovators who took part in last year's International Development Design Summit in Zambia.


As always, we're proud of the ways in which we engage HESN students in tackling our development challenges, and this summer, we're excited to welcome our inaugural class of HESN Interns. Twenty-one undergrads, graduate students, and recent grads from four HESN Labs have arrived both virtually and in-person to experience working with USAID and to lend their considerable talents to our colleagues here at the Agency. Over the summer, we'll be highlighting some of our interns and the work they're doing with USAID.


Finally, we've launched our 2nd Annual HESN Photo Contest and are accepting photos throughout the summer. Last year, we received close to 100 beautiful photos from our students in the field, and we're looking forward to the photos and stories we'll receive this year. Please do share the photo contest announcement with your HESN-affiliated students and alumni and encourage them to participate. The overall winner of this year's Photo Contest will be flown out to sunny Berkeley, California, to participate in our Annual Conference, TechCon 2014, on November 8 - 10. 


This year's TechCon will be a unique convening of academics, development experts, field practitioners, and the private sector focused on innovative approaches to solution creation, testing, and scaling for international development. TechCon 2014 will showcase the innovations coming out of the eight HESN Development Labs and the broader communities focused on social innovation, including our colleagues that invent, invest in, and implement solutions in international development. If you're interested in more information about this year's TechCon, please fill out this form, and we'll be in touch with additional information. 


Best wishes for an incredibly productive summer!  


Warm regards,
Ticora V. Jones, Ph.D.

Director, Higher Education Solutions Network

Center for Development Innovation

"Big Ideas" Contest Goes Open-Source
By: Daniel Lynx Bernard 
Now any campus can replicate UC Berkeley's competition designed to unleash creative solutions.
Big Ideas winners Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, founders of Back to the Roots, pose with their grow-your-own mushroom kits and a team of their collaborators. The two turned down more traditional job offers to launch their business, which now distributes their products nationwide. Photo courtesy of DIL.
To encourage students to dream big about solutions to social problems, "Big Ideas@Berkeley" changed the way that campus innovation contests are run.


Rather than requiring fully fleshed-out proposals, the Big Ideas competition at University of California, Berkeley invites raw ideas, then provides contestants with assistance to elaborate on them.  To reflect the energy of students and the dynamism of the innovation community, Big Ideas launches with enthusiastic campus support and culminates with a public "Pitch Day" when finalists take the mic and deliver their best appeal for extra support.


The format has been received with such enthusiasm on the Berkeley campus that HESN supported UC Berkeley in adding three categories of the competition that are open to all HESN-affiliated universities - Global Poverty Alleviation, Promoting Human Rights, and Open Data. This year, of the 187 pre-proposals received, 45 were submitted by student teams from HESN university campuses. Of those, 17 came from Makerere University, one of our leading universities in Uganda. And now, UC Berkeley is offering the format of Big Ideas for free to any campus that wants to hold its own version.  UC-Berkeley's Blum Center for Developing Economies, which began staging Big Ideas in 2009, has compiled its strategies and lessons in managing the event into a free, online Big Ideas Toolkit.


"We wanted to develop this toolkit to get down our best practices - from the emails we send to judges, to our reviews of the many contest platforms we've explored - so that we can inspire other campuses to develop their own competitions more effectively, and learn from what they create," said Phillip Denny, Big Ideas program manager and chief administrative officer of the Blum Center.


Berkeley Ph.D. student Pablo Rosado, part of a team that developed ReMaterials to bring roofing systems to impoverished communities, explains the project at last week's awards celebration. (Photo by Roman Decca)

During summer 2014, the HESN-supported Development Impact Lab (DIL) will actively share the toolkit with universities who may be interested in launching competitions or applying the Big Ideas approach to existing competitions.  DIL plans to reach out to more than 100 universities including the HESN network, partners, and others in the U.S. and abroad, as well as hosting two webinars, the second of which will take place on August 2 at 10am PST. Make sure to register!


Big Ideas is designed to let ideas in rather than keep them out. Applicants are not required to submit final proposals, a level of effort that might deter some with promising ideas.  Instead, in order to compete, a student team needs only to submit a "pre-proposal" of five pages' length.


The most promising ideas are designated finalists -- about 30% made the cut in 2014 -- and then nurtured by the competition organizers. Finalists are paired with mentors from the university, private companies, or nonprofits who assist them for six weeks in turning their ideas into full proposals. The competition organizers hold workshops in proposal-writing, budgeting, and even how to get the most out of your mentor. "What we're trying to do is create an educational scaffolding for budding social innovators to develop their ideas," Denny said.


Another encouraging aspect is that finalists can win in different categories and levels.  Approximately three in four finalists receive funding for their "big ideas," an average of $5,000 per team, and ongoing support as they implement their projects. 


Remember to register for the Big Ideas Webinar on Tuesday, August 12, at 10am PST, and join the Big Ideas @ Berkeley team as they share the toolkit, answer questions, and receive input. 


Winners in this year's competition are described in this article on the UC Berkeley website: " Launching new generations of social innovators." Six finalists who went on to win additional support in the "Pitch Day" event are described in " Students Pitch Big Ideas for Social Impact."



This year's AidData Summer Fellows, preparing for Fellows Bootcamp a the AidData House in Williamsburg, VA.
Quick Facts
  • This summer, 21 AidData fellows are deployed to 5 countries, including Nepal, Senegal, Uganda, Timor-Leste and Mexico. Get to know them here!

  • The fellows are embedded with 12 civil society organizations, including UNICEF Uganda, Transparency International-Uganda, EPRC, Agency for Transformation, CIPESA, Development Research and Training, Uganda Debt Network, Seeds of Life, Instituto Mora, Kathmandu University, Freedom Forum, and IPAR. The fellows are also working in partnership with Makerere University students, who are learning how to geocode over the course of the summer. 

Follow the fellows as they prepare through the Summer Fellows Bootcamp and keep an eye open as we feature their work in the HESN Connector throughout the summer!

What if Gauze, Cotton, and String Could Keep Girls in School?

By: Lauren McKown, MIT IDIN Communications Coordinator
Innovator Martin Kasompe and members of the MIT IDDS. Image courtesy of MIT IDIN.

What if gauze, cotton, and string could keep girls in school? And what if those same materials, plus a bit of local ingenuity, could also improve women's health and hygiene, and provide valuable income for families living in poverty? In rural Zambia, the result would be game changing.


And that's exactly why, in July 2013, a small, dynamic team of innovators set out to design a sanitary pad. Part of an International Development Design Summit led by the USAID-funded International Development Innovation Network (IDIN), the team was one of several deployed to local Zambian communities with the mission of identifying a problem and designing a low-cost, affordable, and accessible solution within a month.


Meet Martin Kasompe.


Born on Zambia's independence day, Martin embodies the colorful and energetic spirit of his country. He is a fish farmer from a rural village called Mansa in the northern part of the country where he lives with his family. Martin became a participant in the 2013 summit after hearing about the opportunity through a local Peace Corps volunteer.

Martin and members of his community pose during the IDDS. Image courtesy of MIT IDIN.

His curiosity was piqued by the IDIN philosophy: that people living in poverty are creative, resilient, and innovative and, given the right support, can be drivers of their own development. When participants were asked to rank projects of interest at the summit, Martin chose a menstrual hygiene project as one of those he found most important. Little did he know he was signing up to be a part of that team himself.




Welcoming Ashok Gadgil into the National Inventors Hall of Fame!

U.C. Berkeley Professor Ashok Gadgil (center) was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for creating a simple water purification system. To his left is Michelle K. Lee, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trade Office and to his right is Fred Allen, Leadership Editor of Forbes. Photo Courtesy of invent.org. 

 Congrats to our very own Ashok Gadgil on his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame!


Of the more than 8 million total patents issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), inventors of only 10 to 12 patents are annually elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). Only about 500 individuals (living and dead) have been inductees into the NIHF over the past 42 years, with names including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Claude Shannon, Charles Townes, and now, our own Ashok Gadgil, Co-Director of HESN's  Development Impact Lab (DIL) at UC BerkeleyAshok is being recognized by the Hall of Fame for his work that "has helped 100 million people across four continents by making water safe to drink and by increasing the energy efficiency of stoves." Ashok continues his important work at the University of California, Berkeley, through projects such aElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR), a water arsenic-removal system currently being piloted in India and Bangladesh.


You can learn more about Ashok's groundbreaking work and this much-deserved honor here


Our most sincere congratulations to Ashok! 

Calls to Action and Funding Opportunities
  • If you have August travel plans to Tanzania/East Africa, join MIT IDIN in Arusha, Tanzania at the Nane Nane showgrounds on August 8th for the closing of the International Development Design Summit (IDDS)! Participating teams will make their final presentations for the IDDS and showcase the prototypes they've designed over the past month. The presentations are part of Tanzania's annual agricultural fair, where many other agricultural organizations will be presenting their work. Questions? Contact idds-tanzania-info@mit.edu.

  • Geeks without Bounds is launching its 2014 Accelerator for Humanitarian Projects, an incubator for humanitarian technology. The 6-month Accelerator program is now accepting applications for how to improve the efficiency, usefulness, and long-term impact of humanitarian response. Apply by July 31st to qualify!

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