Vodafone Americas Foundation Blog

Vodafone Celebrates International Women’s Week

This week mark’s International Women’s Week, a global week to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women. It’s a time to understand the road that women have traveled to try to gain equality rights throughout the world, but it is also a time to discuss the fact that there is still work to be done. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

Vodafone Americas is committed to helping close the gender gap and is working with the Vodafone Americas Foundation to celebrate women across the country. This week, there will be a number of initiatives for Vodafone employees to get involved to discuss and focus on women’s equality.

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Calling all Innovators! Deadline Approaching – Wireless Innovation Project Applications Close Feb. 27th

2016 is well underway and we’re getting closer to finding our winners for this year’s Wireless Innovation Project (WIP). Since launching in 2009, the Wireless Innovation Project has awarded $4.2 million to unique solutions made to help address critical issues around the world with a focus on helping people in the most vulnerable areas. This year will be no different! With the deadline quickly approaching on February 27th, we wanted to send a reminder to all who wish to enter and also highlight a few past WIP winners.

Organizations such as US universities, NGOs and entrepreneurs with nonprofit partners can enter for the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project competition 2016. Entries must be submitted by February 27th, 2016. For more details visit the Wireless Innovation Project (WIP)

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What do toilets text when they are all alone?

Vodafone Americas Foundation funds connected toilet project which could help 2.5bn people access better sanitation

cody_finke_303x303I didn’t start out to become the creator of a texting toilet, but my team’s invention, with the Vodafone Americas Foundation’s help, will make a major contribution to solving one of the world’s biggest development challenges.

About 2.5 billion people—around half the people in the developing world—do not use an improved sanitation facility according to the United Nations.

Improved sanitation is not the inside toilet you and I are used to, but covers facilities as basic as a pit latrine covered by a slab. This is a major problem with a wide-ranging impact on health, environment and livelihoods.

A few years ago I joined a project to tackle that problem by creating a low cost, solar-powered wastewater treatment and recycling system for developing countries. The system is an electrochemical reactor that converts human waste into disinfected water. More

A Mobile Health Kit to Detect Pulmonary Disease

My advisor, Dr. Rich Fletcher, and I began our investigation of pulmonary diseases last fall. We learned that these diseases are significant causes of morbidity and mortality and the burden is mostly focused on the developing world. However, the standard techniques for diagnosing these diseases require expensive machines and well-trained technicians, both of which can be lacking in resource-poor settings. As a result, patients are misdiagnosed and do not receive the treatment they need. Rich and I realized that if we combined our skillsets (Dr. Fletcher is an expert in developing low-cost sensors that interface with mobile phones and I am a machine learning researcher interested in developing diagnostic tools), we could develop an inexpensive, portable diagnostic tool kit that could help doctors and health workers provide more accurate diagnoses of pulmonary diseases. More

Nerves and the Finalist WIP Presentation Day

Shortly after submitting our initial application for the WIP, I was called off to India to repair one of our waste water treatment systems that we had been field testing for a year in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Park in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. My WIP teammate Clement Cid had made many such trips as well. This time, a pump was not working and because logistics and training are complicated and expensive in the developing world, it was not getting fixed. This is exactly the problem that I had written about in our WIP application, and exactly the reason why I was days late in responding to June Sugiyama the director of the Foundation’s email notifying us that we had been selected as finalists! More

Meet the 2015 Wireless Innovation Project Winners: Seva Sustainable Sanitation (Caltech)

Bathroom in rural community

Meet Seva Sustainable Sanitation, first place winner in the 2015 Wireless Innovation Project. Based at Caltech, founders Clement Cid and Cody Finke are developing a low-cost, remote monitoring and maintenance system for sanitation facilities.

Images of open sewers are commonly used to depict one of the most challenging infrastructure issues of our time, one that’s impacting 2.5 billion people globally and has a wide-ranging impact on health, environment, and livelihood.

NGOs and government agencies have long focused on implementation of new sanitation technologies without a clear go-to strategy on monitoring and maintaining those systems. PhD students in Environmental Science and Engineering respectively, Cid and Finke noticed an opportunity in addressing the lack of cheap, efficient toilets but also the skills needed for repair and upkeep within local communities, especially in remote, rural areas.

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Meet the 2015 Wireless Innovation Project Winners: WellDone International

Life cannot exist without water, but 748 million people today have no access to an improved water source, according to the World Health Organization. The physical results of this are staggering—600,000 children die to diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water.

Paradoxically, 2.3 billion people gained access to improved drinking water between 1990–2012 … so why hasn’t the problem been solved? The reason is clear in this startling illustration—in sub-Saharan Africa alone, one-third of rural water systems fail. The systems are there, but fall into disrepair or operate inefficiently. Monitoring rural infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming. As a result, 99% of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) projects lack long-term monitoring infrastructure.

WellDone International, led by Executive Director Austin McGee, CTO Tim Burke and Operations and Finance Lead Ben Armstrong, developed a solution to fill the gap in monitoring and maintaining water systems. Their mission is to build technology and tools that empower resource-constrained communities with the data they need to provide critical infrastructure that lasts.

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Meet the 2015 Wireless Innovation Project Winners: Mobile Stethoscope

Meet Mobile Stethoscope Diagnostics, third place winner in the 2015 Wireless Innovation Project. Based at the MIT D-Lab, founders Rich Fletcher and Daniel Chamberlain developed a low-cost pulmonary disease diagnostic platform implemented on a mobile phone.

Pulmonary disease (which includes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, lung cancer and tuberculosis) is a particularly large burden in developing countries due to a lack of air quality regulation. This can result in an abundance of air pollution from smoking and cooking on fire stoves, for example, which ultimately produces respiratory problems for people living in these areas. In addition, poor access to health care and affordable screening tools for early detection exacerbates the conditions once they start. More

Who Will be the UBER of Soup Kitchens?: How philanthropy is poised to drive tech for good

Ten years ago the startup landscape was very different. There were no accelerators, investor platforms, or founder communities. Since 2005, ecosystem players like Y Combinator and AngelList have changed how startups start. Today, the tech nonprofit landscape looks a lot like it did for startups back then. Founders are isolated, funders are ill-equipped to evaluate tech nonprofit business models, and motivated donors struggle to find good investment opportunities.

Early sector leaders like Khan Academy and Kiva demonstrate the need and models for some tech companies to adopt nonprofit business models. First, there are some problems markets can’t solve like universal education or access to financial markets for the poor. Second, while tech is capable of bringing about radical transformation, at the moment, it is exacerbating the income inequality divide. UBER, TaskRabbit, and a host of other tech services are designed for the privileged. Innovation can and should benefit more than the haves. By investing in nonprofit tech, philanthropy can level the playing field.

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