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Happy New Year! In our first newsletter of 2012, we present a land improvement program in Kibera, Kenya, that works, how to make ECG pads, and the most important invention in human history. Read on...


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How Kibera is turning trash into businesses


A playground
Kids play on one of Kibera's first-ever playgrounds. Photo by Iana Aranda
In 2006, land around the river at the southern border of the Kenyan slum Kibera was a sodden trash heap. When it rained, streams of mud cut through the trash and the heap was prone to floods. Today, members of a women's cooperative dry water hyacinth on the tin panels of a shade pavilion built where the dumping grounds once were. Community groups sell rainwater harvested from the pavilion's roof, kale from a small garden and manure composted for fertilizer. A school and a church rent time in the building, there are park benches, chess tables, an office and a playground, reportedly the first built in Kibera.


To transform former dumping grounds into a public park and small businesses, the community partnered with a tiny group of predominately Kenyans and Americans called the Kounkuey Design Initiative. Six Harvard students founded the organization in 2006, and now KDI is turning unusable land into money makers in three sites in Kibera, and at sites in Haiti and the United States. Read on.

Five questions with Josh Sperling
Josh Sperling group photo
Josh Sperling (front-right) on a work trip in Bangladesh

Josh Sperling distrusts cure-all solutions for global development problems. Instead, he has more faith in diversity - diverse problem solvers with diverse specialties and diverse solutions. Accordingly, his resume is long and could be confused with a guide to global development organizations that build things. Some of those include BRAC, ARUP Poverty Action Network, Water for People, a half-dozen chapters of Engineers Without Borders and others


With his deep blend of academic and real-world development engineering experience, Sperling has a uniquely informed view on sustainable urban planning and infrastructure. We asked Josh Sperling five questions. Read on.

Meet Danielle Zurovcik, E4C's Member of the Month

Danielle Zurovcik

With a hand-held plastic bellows pump, surgical tubing and a new kind of wound dressing, Danielle Zurovcik is developing a cheap replacement for a $25,000 medical machine. The Wound Pump needs no electricity, costs just a few dollars and it's portable. The negative-pressure machines that it replaces, on the other hand, are bulky power guzzlers that are impractical in many medical centers worldwide.


The hand pump and the hospital machine operate on the same principle. Applying slight, but steady suction to certain kinds of wounds can stimulate the body to heal three times as quickly with less scarring. Danielle, a doctoral candidate at MIT, realized that much less power would be required if the wound dressing were airtight. She worked with doctors in the lab and in the field in Rwanda and Haiti, and she ultimately invented a new material for a dressing that doesn't leak. For her important work in low-cost design (and her taste for Johnny Cash), we're proud to feature Danielle as our Member of the Month.


E4C: How can E4C help with this kind of project development?

DZ: The major thing is that E4C provides a framework for a community and a network of people to mentor each other and provide a means of interaction between people with similar interests.


I think there are a lot of people interested in designing devices, and not just medical devices. They have globally applicable markets. But there are very few success cases out there, and people have limited knowledge. Pooling that knowledge could improve the chances of success. Knowing who to talk to and where to get information is difficult.


E4C: When you tell people about your work, what surprises them to hear?

DZ: A lot of people are surprised that I go into Rwanda to see the design in the field there. For me, it's a learning experience. I feel like it will help me understand how to develop new devices in the future with the same flavor: Low cost, low power, with surgical and therapeutic applications.


E4C: What's one of the keys to low-cost design?

DZ: My adviser now ingrains in us the need to look for the simplest solution. The push for simple design isn't really there. Maybe it is at the university level, but in corporations over-design is prevalent. There's no push to make something truly innovative to reduce cost and power consumption.


[In the case of the Wound Pump,] I think coming into the field and looking at it from different ways allows you to be clever about the design process.


E4C: Now you're seeking FDA approval for the device?

DZ: FDA approval is not necessary in some other countries, but for me, I wouldn't want to put it on a patient without a protocol. I feel that having that regulatory approval states that you're not giving a substandard device to anybody.


E4C: What's next?

DZ: I think a great paper should come out that shows the entire design process and the clinical data that went along with it. I think that would be interesting for people interested in this process. Maybe ours wasn't the best process, but it has some eye-opening features.


E4C: What's one of the songs or books that you took in over the last week?

DZ: Unless you consider medical journals a book, probably not anything interesting. I listen to Pandora, and my station has Jack Johnson and Johnny Cash on it. You get that Jack Johnson sound and then that country sound.

E4C/Solutions Library/Multi-Function Platform

Multi-function platformMultifunction platforms are small diesel engines that run on locally available vegetable oil to power agricultural machines, water pumps, and even electric generators. These engines can be used to power almost any small machine with the proper attachments and can be easily switched from one machine to another. A single small diesel engine can run multiple machines in the same community.  


The diesel engine is mounted to a fixed frame which can be permanently set in a building for a single purpose or it can be transported to the field for onsite use. Using a belt and pulley system, the engine is connected to various machines. This belt and pulley system allows for flexibility in the way it is attached to the machines it powers. For example the length of the belt that drives a milling machine can be adjusted to make sure it fits properly. This attachment system can even be rigged to run more than one machine at once. Read on.

About Us

E4C is a dynamic and growing community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, NGOs, local governments and community advocates whose mission is to improve quality of life in communities around the world by facilitating the development of affordable, locally appropriate and sustainable solutions to the most pressing humanitarian challenges. Read more about us.  


E4C is founded by: 




Engineers Without Borders - USA in Thailand 

Engineers Without Borders - USA in Thailand

In this 90-second preview, you can see students in the University of New Hampshire's Engineers Without Borders - USA chapter work with a community in Thailand to divert stream water to fields of crops.  


How to make ECG pads from bottle caps and button snaps


Our guide to making ECG pads and conductive gel was popular at the how-to site Instructables. Users there gave us informative comments and even a couple of bizarre ones! Read on.


Thanks to our friends at Engineering World Health!


Paying for development engineering: What the government can learn from the private sector

A man making a cement-block wall 

Funding international engineering projects can be tricky, but the private sector has evolved some tactics that work.


With the private sector as a template, the government can create new funding opportunities for engineering projects that make a difference, and maximize the impact of federal dollars. Read on


The most important invention in human history 


A bicycle
Nobody chose the bicycle (but maybe someone should have...)

We asked you, What is the most important invention in human history? Your answers ranged from soap to search engines, with emphases on the tools of communication, money, hygiene and fundamentals like fire and electricity. 


This is what our community and thought leaders like Paul Polak, Heather Fleming, Ken Banks and Alberto Villarreal had to say. Read more.

Event Calendar

University Startups Conference 2012

Jan. 18-20

Washington, DC

Invent for Humanity

Jan. 24-25

Geneva, Switzerland


Ashoka U Exchange

Feb. 10-13

Arizona State University



Feb. 19-25

USA , nationwide


Social Enterprise Conference

Feb. 25-26

Harvard University

What you're saying

"@appropedia: flush toilets rank with internal combustion engines as inventions that segregate humans from their impacts @engineer4change"


- @RowanBarber

 via Twitter on the value of ecological toilets 

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