The Innovation for Humanity Project is an international experiential learning course offered at Johns Hopkins University and “designed to develop agile and creative business leaders who understand how to build sustainable, impactful businesses within developing communities around the world.”
Students spend three weeks in the country of their focus exploring critical development issues and sustainable business opportunities. In January of 2011, Innovation for Humanity sent a group of students to Rwanda to assess the needs of an expanding health industry and a solar technology business looking to develop cost-effective distribution systems.
“Despite its tragic history, Rwanda is emerging as one of the most hopeful countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. As Rwanda moves forward on fulfilling its mandates for Vision 2020, many reforms in government, business, education, and communications are opening many opportunities for entrepreneurs.”
On the final day of their trip, ISOKO’s Blayne Sharpe and Mark Darrough went to the Beau Sejour Hotel to sit in on a presentation of their results. Here’s what we learned:
Goal 1: To identify areas of opportunity for Rock Global Consulting—an East African Information Technology Infrastructure solutions provider—to enter the market for SMS (text message) based applications in the Rwandan Health Sector.
Goal 2: To examine the need for a referral management system between health clinics and hospitals, and between hospitals, in Rwanda’s public health system.
Result: The team conducted a preliminary need assessment and developed a concept paper for a multi-channel referral management application compatible with existing Ministry of Health Initiatives.
TracNET: healthcare workers submit data using mobile applications, SMS, Interactive Voice Response, and PC/Web applications on a weekly basis
Read more about TracNET, a Ministry of Health information technology system designed to ensure that diagnosis and drugs are rapidly dispensed in areas where infrastructure is limited.
Goal: To evaluate the adoption of Rapid Diagnostic Tests at the primary care level of the Rwandan Healthcare system with the goal of improving the lives of Rwandans and strengthening the healthcare system at no additional cost.
This needed to be compatible with Ministry of Health Initiatives, mainly its provision of universal health coverage, community-based interventions, and equal access and equal treatment.
-Cost effective due to accuracy (compared to existing diagnostics
-Allows for immediate treatment at the Health Center Level
-Is easy to use and implement
-Works for resource poor environments
-Improves quality of life
-Eases the burden on society
We sat down with Sam Dargan, owner of Great Lakes Energy (GLE), to determine what kind of deliverables the JHU team brought to his company. GLE has been working in Rwanda for five years on finding solutions to deliver solar energy to millions of rural low-income homes.
ISOKO: Why did the Innovation for Humanity Project choose GLE?
Dargan: We are a renewable energy company and our work has clear social impact.
ISOKO: What kind of background research did the team do to prepare for their work with GLE?
Dargan: Since they were only going to be here for 3 weeks, we selected deliverables that could be accomplished within the time constraints. Still, it was crucial that they could hit the ground running. To enable this they learned about GLE’s business model, past activities, objectives, and current activities. They also researched the off-grid solar business in general, studying business models and activities of companies doing similar work to GLE in Africa and India. In addition, they studied some non-energy company business models that have parallels to GLE work – like pharmaceutical micro-franchising in India, for example.
ISOKO: What deliverables did they bring to your company?
Dargan:. The team created an updated and much improved set of company literature – 1 set for general info and 1 set for potential investors. We had company literature already, but it lacked details and focus on the social impacts we achieve. To do this they spent about a week in the field visiting our dealers and interviewing people who purchased our products to document impacts our distribution department had. They visited a hospital where we had installed solar power to learn and document what impacts were achieved by our solar power system department.
Then the team split into groups – one group implemented a social impact tracking mechanism called IRIS. This is used by big social investors to measure returns on social impact and will be crucial to future investment into our company. Another group worked with our accounting department to sort out some systematic problems within our accounting systems. This in particular was very high value work for us.
Another group researched marketing strategies for our new solar water heater department and left us with some suggestions and data that will be useful as we take this department forward.
ISOKO: What does this trip show you about further involvement from US universities with your company?
Dargan: JHU collaboration was very valuable to our company. They achieved what they needed – to gain firsthand experience about the operations and challenges of a company with profit and social objectives operating in Africa. But they did this in a “2-way street” manner, such that we got equal or more benefit from their involvement. This, I think, is very different from what most short educational university trips do here. And I suspect that the JHU students experienced a higher quality of practical education while they were working on solid, important deliverables than they would have if they were just here to watch and research.