Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 5

    Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

    After getting up early and eating breakfast with our families, our group reunited that morning at Reyna’s house. Upon arriving there we noticed that one of our group members looked rather sick. We suggested that she stay in for the day to rest up and get better because today was going to be more tedious than others. Soon after, the rest of the group walked outside into El Proyecto, a community of about 45 homes. Before coming to Nicaragua, we were able to obtain a GPS in order to get the coordinates of the community and the different elevations. We walked to the corner edge to of the community to start and we took coordinates and elevations every 10 feet. After walking for about 2 hours, we finished gathering data around the whole community. One thing we noticed when we were recording the elevations was that they varied greatly during different times of the day because the GPS uses a barometric reading. As the pressure changed throughout the day, so did our elevations that made our readings unreliable. Our coordinate readings were accurate enough in order to find a topographic map of the area that will give us more accurate elevations.

    After lunch, we decided to continue our interviews with other families in the community. Since Susan was busy at this time, we would have to go on our own and knock on people’s doors to see if they were willing to answer some questions. The idea of this made us feel a little uneasy, because we didn't feel comfortable enough going door to door, in a sense we felt like we were intruding. After finding some courage, a team member stepped up and went door to door asking families if they would like to help us by answering some questions. After each family agreed to assist us, the two members that spoke Spanish would ask the questions and converse with the families.  After interviewing several families, we decided to go to our homes early to get some rest.
  •  GSBI Alumni Holiday Gift Guide

    Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
    Are you out of ideas for holiday gifts and haven't crossed off a single name from your list? Well here is a list of GSBI Alumni organizations that can provide a unique gift for your loved ones and can also create a lasting impact in the life of someone one in need. 

    Gifts to Give: Many of our GSBI Alumni use fair trade as a means to create economic opportunity.

    Craft Network ’08 (International) provides export facilitation and enterprise development services, through high-speed satellite communications, linking artisans from over 300 fair trade producer groups in the developing world to consumer markets. By breaking down barriers to global markets, thousands of artisans worldwide benefit from job creation, increased sales, strengthened ethical trade practices, and standard of living improvements. You can visit their online store here

    eshopafrica eShopAfrica ’05 (West Africa, Ghana) uses the worldwide web to preserve cultural artifacts and enhance livelihood opportunities for traditional African artisans. You can visit their online store here
    GRUPEDSAC ’09 (Mexico)  has been working for over 20 years to educate, train, and carry out activities to promote the development of sustainable societies for low income, small farmers in Mexico. Simultaneously, the organization works on the development of environmental responsibility among all citizens through and appreciation of indigenous knowledge, skills and systems for increasing the well-being of rural communities. You can visit their online ecotienda here for unique handmade bags and purses.
    bowl Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation ’09 (Philippines) provides product development assistance and training which help people sharpen their creativity, improve their craft, and strengthen sales. The market access that Gifts and Graces provides contributes to increased incomes and an improved quality of life though enhanced food security, shelter, health, and educational opportunities for families. The producers also gain pride and self-esteem from being productive, contributing members of society. You can visit their online store here

    Gifts that Give: These GSBI Alumni offer ways for you to directly assist or invest in a beneficiary.

    angaza Angaza Design & Solar Sister Team Up!

    Angaza Design ‘11(Africa)
     is dedicated to making clean and affordable energy accessible to the 150 million East Africans without access to electricity. Angaza aims to replace the dependence on dim and toxic kerosene lanterns, with clean, bright solar-powered LED lights.  

    Solar Sister ’11 (Africa)
     empowers women through economic opportunity. Using a market based solution to eradicate energy poverty in rural communities throughout Africa, Solar Sister gives women the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. 

    Support two GSBI alumni at one time! Give the gift of light here.
    You can also purchase an Angaza light for your own home emergency kit 
    kiva ’06 (International) is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Help an entrepreneur start their own business here
    lifeline radio Lifeline Energy ’04 (South Africa) Lifeline Energy improves the quality of life of vulnerable populations. We provide renewable energy alternatives to those most in need. This includes sustainable access to information and education, as well as lights and solar panels. Give a radio and give the gift of knowledge here
    toughstuff ToughStuff ’09 (International) is a pro-poor social enterprise which provides solar-powered products for low income people, replacing expensive and environmentally damaging kerosene lamps and batteries. Users substantially increase their incomes as these robust products that provide less expensive sources of light and power allowing them to work more effectively and live fuller lives. Help support the “Business in a Box” with your gift here
    TWP Trees, Water & People ’11 (Haiti) delivers immediate triple-bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere by leveraging its 13 years of experience toward the development of a charcoal stove that reduces household charcoal consumption by up to 40%.  This allows families to repurpose 20% of their annual household income from fuel expenses toward other productive activities. Give the gift of a cook stove to a family in Haiti here.  

    SAMRUDHI ’09 (India) SAMRUDHI Micro Finance Society provides cost-effective, livelihood-based, collateral-free, financial services (such as microcredit) to rural and urban poor households. SAMRUDHI reverses the age-old vicious cycle of low income, low savings, low investment, and an expanding system of low income people, through the injection of credit for livelihood investment, more income, more investment, and more income. This brand-new site helps entrepreneurs in India. Learn more here
    solar ear Solar Ear ’10 (Brazil)manufactures low-cost, solar-powered hearing aids with a workforce that is deaf. With a purchase price of only $100 (vs. equivalent products priced at $750), Solar Ear makes hearing aids available for low-income people who could not otherwise afford one. In addition, Solar Ear partners provides training, education and employment opportunities for deaf people in the local communities they serve. Give the gift of hearing for a child here




  •  An Activist, an Ethicist, and an Economist Walked Into a Bar....or, Making Visible the Hands in the Market

    Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
    kw head 600 is the fruit of a philosopher who asked a practical question: what could I do to help very poor people improve their lives? Matt Flannery visited Africa and discovered that a very small amount of money could help people in big ways, and that people in existing communities of trust would ensure that a loan was repaid. With some friends and family members, Matt started making a few loans. is now one of the most visible micro-lending institutions in America. Matt visited Santa Clara on November 9, and told stories of how this came about.

    Every time I hear news about the big banks, the ones too big to fail, I get a bit more cynical. The enormous salaries to men whose banks’ bad behavior brought the American economy to its knees, credit default swaps so complex their inventors could not understand them, secret loans made by the feds to banks, government bailouts used to fund lobbyists to fend of regulation...these stories prompt in me a question: is the whole banking industry a parasite on society? The occupy movement does have a point here.

    Starting a bank was the farthest thing from Matt Flannery’s mind, but he found, as I have, that one cannot foster human flourishing for poor people without providing them access to some capital. Matt was a computer programmer at TiVo with a Masters degree in philosophy, so he came to banking through a nonconventional path. He didn’t get into this line of work to make money, but rather, to alleviate poverty. Perhaps it was the ethicist in him that perceived economic options where others saw nothing but risky loans. In the Ugandans he met he found people alive with hopes and dreams, and he activated his networks back in America to partner with them. To accommodate the compassion of micro-loaners like you and me, he created a website to share the stories of people who needed credit, and was born.

    This form of economics has nothing to do with the predatory or parasitic practices that foster cynicism. Instead, it’s based on mutuality through the international sharing of stories. Micro-loaners here in America learn about the needs of the poor, working so hard -- but unable to escape the traps of poverty without credit--in poorer countries over there. By exchanging stories, fosters practical compassion. People do want to make a difference, and by making a micro-loan, they can. facilitates this exchange.

    Matt clearly loves what he does, and he has apparently found his life’s work. He used his computer programming skills to help countless people. From another perspective, his is a very old solution. In response to interest rates of >40% during the late Middle Ages, members of my religious order, the Franciscans, devised and launched local credit unions to provide loans at a fraction of this rate. These were the forerunners of the modern banking system....and this from a religious order that takes its vow of poverty quite seriously!

    Fostering practical justice means understanding the economic reality of people who are poor, and just might be able to make it out of their poverty trap with a loan. Cynicism of American banking may be warranted, and the occupy movement may decry greed, but understanding how well conceived economic interventions based on solidarity can make a huge difference in the lives of others seems highly appropriate for a Catholic university that prides itself on teaching conscience. It is my hope that the Global Social Benefit Fellowship can help some Santa Clara students learn this.

    Keith Douglass Warner OFM is a Franciscan Friar and the CSTS director of education.

    Watch the Video of Matt's Kiva talk from November 9th, here.

  •  Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 4

    Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

    At around 8:30am we met up with Susan Kinne, as planned.  We took the long route to the Solar Center in order for us to see the rest of the community.  Upon arriving at the center, Julian, a volunteer from Canada, was there awaiting our arrival.  We walked to the recently built restaurant at the Solar Center, which has a stove that is powered by biodigester.  We then walked outside to see the where the biodigester was located while Julian explained how it worked.  A biodigester is a system that takes in organic wastes to be digested by bacteria, where the byproducts are methane gas and a nutrient-rich liquid.  The methane gas can be collected and used as fuel to cook with and the liquid can be used as fertilizer.  At this moment, we all had a big interest in implementing this idea into our design.  After seeing only latrines in this community, it was weird to actually see a flush toilet around this area.  I jumped at the opportunity to use this flush toilet and I made my contribution to the biodigester.  After being at the Solar Center for a while, we headed back to the community.  We still had time to before lunch, so we decided to start interviewing the people in the community by asking them questions that would be crucial for our senior design project.  We all felt comfortable having Susan there while we began our interviews because she knows everyone in the community and she was able to introduce us to several families.  All of the families were very kind, welcoming and willing to help us.  It was interesting to hear some of the answers they had to give and see how conscious they were about how much water they use and how sustainable they think their community is.  All of the families we interviewed were very open to the ideas we had for our design for example having double compost latrines at each home as well as a communal flush toilet that will be next to the water pump.  After retrieving a lot of useful information we had lunch at Reina’s house.  After lunch we visited Ocotal, the nearest city to the community we were staying at.  The purpose of our visit was to go to a hardware store to check what kind of materials are available in Nicaragua that we are going to use for this project.  We also went to an internet café so that we could all check our emails and call relatives at home.  The city of Ocotal was a beautiful place and it reminded me a lot of typical cities that you see in Mexico, so everything looked pretty familiar to me.  After we were all done with what we needed to do, we headed back to the community to have dinner with the families that hosting us and get some rest for the upcoming day.

  •  Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 3

    Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

    On Monday morning Susan thought it would be best to meet up at 10AM to give us enough time to rest after our nearly 18 hour travel. We all met at Susan's house, which is basically the hub for the "Solar Mountain".
    The "Solar Mountain" is a land reclamation project, in which workforce from the community has come together to reforest a section of the mountain that had been deforested by a previous land owner. This deforestation has led to issues with erosion control and groundwater recharge. They hope to not only alleviate these issues with their efforts, but to also gain expertise and as Susan calls it "social wealth".
    Staying with Susan was a volunteer architect named Liz, who had been designing a small educational building for the community. The location of the building was directly behind Susan's house. Liz explained to us that the building will use sustainable materials and be made out of adobe bricks, which the people of the community will fabricate. The women of the community have already had a tremendous amount experience fabricating adobe bricks because they had previously fabricated them for the main building of the Solar Center. The men have already begun the layout of the education building. It is very impressive that they are able to do so much without the modern construction technologies seen in the states.
    Once we all arrived at Susan's house, Erika and Jorge (two young and knowledgeable members of the community) took us to get a general idea of the housing project they call "El Projecto." This housing project will be the community for which we will prepare our design. In "El Projecto," there are 45 homes, of which only 28 are occupied with families. Each home is numbered and has a similar footprint. In "El Projecto," we were extremely surprised to see that within 50 feet were two wells, one on each side of the cluster of homes. One well was located at the lower end of the community while the other well was located at the higher elevated side of the community. According to Jorge, the wells were approximately 270 feet deep. Each well had a manual hand pump that the women and girls would rotate to dispense water. Constant labor was involved to pump the water. Not only would they have to rotate the wheel continuously until the buckets were filled, but would then have to carry the 40-pound buckets back to their homes. Although the distance was not anywhere near as long as we expected, the task was still arduous in comparison to the luxury we find of turning on a faucet in the states. However, for the people, it was just part of their day. We were all impressed by how well the women were able to balance the buckets on their heads. One girl was able to have an entire conversation while balancing a bucket she had just filled up.
    Near the well on the higher side was a community washing facility. The facility was comprised of two shower stalls and a clothes wash station. Neither of the stalls nor the wash station had incoming plumbing, but they all had drains to collect the waste water. The waste water is then channeled out to a centralized area for the water to percolate back into the ground. The well on the lower side did not have a wash facility. However, there was a large amount of relatively flat, open space near this lower end. When we asked Jorge and Erika why there was not a wash station located on this side, they didn't seem to know why. We assumed it was due to a lack of funding. One thing that Jorge mentioned was that the lower side tends to have issues with flooding during the rainy season. He explained that at times flooding can be as high as half a meter. They had dug a simple channel to alleviate this flooding, but the channel only led to their main dirt road. This led to problems with erosion on the roadside.
    After our tour of "El Projecto" we were brought to the house that Lizzie was staying at. Reina, the mother of the house, cooked us all lunch. They explained to us, that we would eat lunch there every day as it was the most centralized location for everyone else. While waiting for our food, we all realized that the design we had in mind before the trip was not needed for this community. The community did not need a potable water supply but instead they truly needed an improved waste and wastewater management system. However, implementing double pit composting latrines alone would not be a sizable enough task for our design group. Therefore, we would have to figure out other ways to improve the community in a meaningful way.
    During lunch, we met with volunteers of Grupo Fenix. One volunteer had just graduated from High School in England, and the other was a carpenter from the US. We were able to discuss our plans for surveying the families of the community. We came to the conclusion that we should ask some general questions later that night to the families we were staying with. Once we got a feel for how they would respond to the survey questions, we would then be able to come up with a master survey for the families of "El Projecto." Susan then suggested that we take some time to plan out our week. This would allow her to make herself available to help us with the information we would need to collect. Since we didn't truly have a grasp of what our revised design intent would be, we focused on trying to collect as much information from the people in the community as possible. We hoped to gather elevations and coordinates for the community. This type of data would help us no matter what our design intent would become.
    After lunch, Susan took us to the Solar Center. The Solar Center was located on the opposite side of the Pan American Highway from Reina's house. The Solar Center is the main headquarters for Grupo Fenix in that area. Early on, the Solar Center was the location where many of the solar panels had been fabricated by members of the community. As of late, it has evolved into a research facility. The volunteers along with engineers and local community members have begun to work on multiple projects such as a biodigester and a solar-powered distillation process. Mauro, a mechanical engineer who runs the solar center, explained to us the distillation process they are currently working on. They are hoping to be able to use the distilled water to create batteries and possibly sell the water to companies that make batteries. This would be a substantial revenue generator for the community and seemed to be an extremely "clean" process to create distilled water. Since it was getting late, we were unable to meet with Julian, a volunteer who was helping to monitor the biodigester. However, we were able to schedule a meeting with him first thing the next morning. We headed back to our respective homes for dinner and planned to meet at 8am the next morning.
  •  Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 2

    Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011


    The travel was rough, but after a 5 hour overnight flight to Atlanta, a 5 hour layover, another 3.5 hour flight to Managua, and a 4 hour bus ride to Sabana Grande; we finally made it. 

  •  Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 1

    Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
    Hilda Garcia, Kyle Magazu, Lizzie Mercado, Agustine Perez, and Lisa Yabusaki are senior civil engineering majors and Roelandts Fellows at SCU.  Their senior design project will focus on designing a water distribution and sanitation system for the area of Sabana Grande in Nicaragua.
    Clean, potable water is a privilege that many communities are currently lacking.  In this day and age and with all the science and technology available to us, it is hard to believe that such a basic necessity is so difficult to come by.  Although rain is abundant and the water table is high in the area, there is a high incidence of child mortality due to unsanitary water.  In the past, various designs have been attempted and implemented in the region, but periodic flooding and difficulties coordinating the maintenance of systems make it difficult to find a sustainable solution to the lack of potable water.
    We will be looking into designing a pump and well system which will implement a solar-powered pump, a reinforced concrete storage tank, a pipeline network for distribution, and looking into measures for water quality and sanitation including waste disposal and resource recovery.  For our system, we will also look into alternative methods and designs to withstand the periodic flooding of the area and fit into the lifestyle of the community in which our design may be implemented.  We will also look into technologies that have been attempted and implemented in the region to help guide our design, such as pump and well designs and alternative components like water catchment systems.
    Coming from a small Jesuit university that prides itself on its service to the underprivileged, we feel that we have been equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge from our civil engineering curriculum at Santa Clara to go into the world to make a difference and serve those who are often forgotten.
    Why We’re Doing It
    Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  In rural areas, there is a major lack of access to potable water.  Often, women and children have to walk long distances to wait in line for water from a contaminated source.  This is a problem because having to spend so much time for something as simple as water keeps them from going to school and perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
    Although Nicaragua has an abundant supply of water, it is prone to periodic flooding and most areas lack a sanitation system.  The surface water that the impoverished communities do have access to are often contaminated with pesticides, runoff, and waste from humans and animals.  This makes it unsafe as a primary water source. 
    In many areas, wells are dug and the groundwater sources are tapped into as they are somewhat protected from the surface contaminants.  Conservation and sustainability is not a natural part of the culture, however, and it is especially lacking in the rural areas.  Industrial deforestation coupled with individuals chopping down trees for use in their homes contributes to a growing problem with the water sources available to them.  Deforestation increases the runoff experienced during the flood season and decreases the amount of recharge to the groundwater aquifers.  In other words, it reduces the amount of water going back into the ground and is thus slowly depleting the groundwater supply.
    Possibly the most disconcerting issue that we have come across is the lack of a sanitation system in many areas in Nicaragua.  Without proper disposal of wastewater, providing clean water is pointless.  Wastewater, if not treated or disposed of properly, has the potential to contaminate all water sources.   This is why our project will encompass everything from retrieving water from a source to taking care of it after it is used.
    What We Have Done So Far
    After deciding to design a water distribution and sanitation system, we needed to find a specific site to design for.  We had initially made contacts in the Lower Rio Coco area, who gave us some great insight into some of the general problems of rural Nicaragua.  From there, we consulted our professors who had recently visited UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) this past summer.  They were able to put us into contact with a UCA representative, who has been very supportive of our project. 
    Later, we got the opportunity to meet Susan Kinne of Grupo Fenix.  She was also extremely supportive of our project and proposed a community that would greatly benefit from our project, if it was ever implemented.  One unique point about this community was that the people there were familiar with photovoltaic technologies as they manufacture their own solar panels and utilize solar cookers in their communities.  Ultimately, this pointed us in the direction of Sabana Grande, Nicaragua, the site for which we are designing our project.
    Where We Are Now

    Because our Senior Design Project will be focusing on a design in an undeveloped area, we must conduct a great deal of research to create an efficient and feasible design.  We have received a generous grant from CSTS (Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant) and funding from the Dean of the School of Engineering (Senior Design Project Fund) to do research for our Senior Design Project.  On Sunday, December 11, Lizzie, Kyle, Hilda, and Agustine will be arriving in Managua, Nicaragua, where they will continue on to Sabana Grande.  There, they will be staying with host families in the village and they will conduct the necessary research for the development of our design.  We are hoping to share our experiences and design process with you through this blog. 

  •  Happy Holidays from the Center

    Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

    On behalf of the Center, we wish happy and healthy holidays to all of our GSBI alums, Tech laureates, partners, mentors, advisory board members, supporters, and other friends.

    Last year, we set an audacious goal to promote the use of science and technology to benefit the lives of 1 billion impoverished people around our planet by 2020. The Center sharpened its focus in 2011 on three social benefit programs that enable progress towards this vision: entrepreneurship, through our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator™; innovation, including the rapidly evolving frugal innovation initiative; and social capital. According to the United Nations, the global population reached 7 billion at the end of October this year. Fully 4 billion, or 57%, are living in poverty at the “base of the pyramid.” Andy Lieberman’s article in the San Jose Mercury News captures well the power and potential of social entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the pressing needs of the global poor.

    Our sector focus on off-grid, sustainable energy continued, enabling a successful launch of our Energy Map, which has won praise from numerous impact investors, foundations, and development agencies for its deep and thorough characterization of technology solutions and business models to meet the needs of the 1.5 billion people living without electricity and nearly 3 billion using wood fires or unsafe traditional stoves for cooking. Based on practical knowledge from GSBI applicants, we’ve started to explore “contextual” factors, such as government policies, that facilitate or inhibit adoption of appropriate technology solutions and business model innovations for off-grid, sustainable energy, including speaking at the OECD’s Better Innovation Policies for Better Lives Forum. Because our knowledge continues to deepen, we plan to continue the energy sector focus, particularly relevant given the UN’s declaration of 2012 as the Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
    Our amazing 2011 GSBI Class included 11 social enterprises focused on off-grid energy, the highest number and percentage ever. We also made significant progress towards gender equality with 8 women entrepreneurs of 18 total, again the highest number and percentage. In concert with the rapid emergence of social entrepreneurship in Africa, 6 of this year’s class serve communities there, with the remainder including Cambodia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Thailand.
    With the enormous caveat that there are many forms of social benefit and no universal metric for assessing impact, analysis revealed that our 140 GSBI alums have collectively impacted the lives of 74 million people. Our strategy to positively impact the lives of 1 billion by 2020 is simple: help more social entrepreneurs help more people.
    GSBI program extensions in development include GSBI Online and the GSBI Network. GSBI Online could potentially train hundreds or thousands of social entrepreneurs all over the world through proven core modules of our program. The GSBI Network leverages the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools to foster the development of GSBI-like programs that help social entrepreneurs build sustainable and scalable ventures. Towards this end, we have hosted a first working group at Santa Clara and have executed Memoranda of Understanding with Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines; the CK Prahalad Centre in Chennai, India; ESADE in Spain; and XLRI in Jamshedpur, India.
    We also introduced substantial “capacity development” training for the 2011 Tech laureates, helping them craft succinct elevator pitches, create 2-page innovation profiles useful for fundraising, and explore different sources of capital. We continue to manage the nominations, applications, and judging processes, and are pleased that the 2012 categories include Sustainable Energy and Young Innovators, the latter of particular interest given our blossoming partnership with The Spirit of Innovation Awards.
    A common need for all social entrepreneurs and innovators is access to appropriate forms of capital. Compared to the well-developed VC ecosystem, impact capital is poorly coordinated, creating higher costs for both investors and entrepreneurs. Under the leadership of John Kohler, we launched our Coordinating Impact Capital report in July, and with an in-depth workshop hosted by World Bank in early November.
    Santa Clara University’s leadership in frugal innovation continues with an expanding portfolio of courses and practical projects that link social entrepreneurs to students and faculty, supported by the generosity of the Jeff and Karen Miller Faculty Fellowships in Frugal Innovation.
    The endowed Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant Programfunds faculty and students from all departments and majors to research, develop, or apply science and technology for social benefit, broadly conceived.
    The newly funded Global Social Benefit Fellowship Program will afford high potential juniors from all disciplines a comprehensive practical social justice experience conceived in memory of Fr. Paul Locatelli. 
    Together, these programs provide the Santa Clara community unique opportunities to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world in accord with our Jesuit tradition. In 2012, our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator will enter its 10th year. In many ways, it is the “center of the Center” and we hope that you’ll join us in celebrating the accomplishments of these incredible social entrepreneurs who are changing the world and creating significant impact. We invite you to consider a gift to the Center to help us accelerate progress towards positively impacting the lives of 1 billion by 2020.

    Thane Kreiner is the Executive Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University


  •  GSBI Alum Whirlwind Wheelchair Awarded $1.7M to expand production

    Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

    Whirlwind Wheelchair International has been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for a 2 1/2-year project to set up 7 sustainable Wheelchair Provision and Assembly Centers (WPAC) in developing countries around the world.   Whirlwind is a non-profit social business based at San Francisco State University.  Whirlwind was a Tech Museum Laureate in 2004 and Whirlwind’s Executive Director Marc Krizack was a member of the 2006 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) class.

    The USAID award is significant in two respects.  First, it gives Whirlwind the capital to expand its franchise network of wheelchair manufacturers to include distributors.  By combining the benefits of large scale manufacturing with local provision, Whirlwind ensures high volumes of high quality, low cost wheelchairs that can be properly provided to the beneficiaries in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.  In many locations, the WPACs are expected to become the nucleus of a permanent rehabilitation infrastructure around which other services and programs can be built and monitored.

    Second, the grant represents a milestone in Whirlwind’s own organizational development.  Most non-profits are forced to shape their activities in accordance with the funder’s goals.  Given the limited funding for international disability projects, for example, many organizations have to shoehorn disability projects into programs that have other goals such as development of civil society, promotion of democracy, rule of law, and conflict resolution, to name just a few.   Since adopting a social entrepreneurial model in 2006, this is the first grant that Whirlwind has sought in which what Whirlwind proposed to do was exactly what Whirlwind wanted to do and had already started to do.  As such, it represents a significant maturation in the organization’s journey from traditional non-profit to innovative social business.

    The WPACs will result in increased sales and income for Whirlwind as well as extending the benefits of Whirlwind’s unique and in-demand active use RoughRider® wheelchair to many more people around the world.   Each WPAC will make it possible to fill orders of less than a full container of wheelchairs, which is too expensive when fully assembled chairs are shipped from a distant factory.  Each WPAC will be able to develop its own local market, especially in advocating for and competing for government tender offers.  And many WPACs will have their own international donors and supporters who Whirlwind could not approach but from whom they can request funding to purchase the Whirlwind chairs they assemble and provide.

    The USAID award dovetails nicely with Whirlwind’s other income generation effort to sell its flagship product, the RoughRider® wheelchair, in the United States, for which Whirlwind received FDA approval this past January.  The wheelchairs will be sold as part of a Buy One/Give One program.   For each wheelchair purchased for $800, Whirlwind will donate an identical chair to someone in the developing world.   Through this program, Whirlwind hopes to attract and recruit brand advocates among wheelchair riders in the U.S. and Canada who can extend Whirlwind’s reach into every state and province, raising awareness of Whirlwind’s program.  All funds generated from the sale of wheelchairs will be used to promote Whirlwind’s non-profit mission in the developing world. 

    The USAID grant will also allow Whirlwind to set up a U.S. Distribution Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, which will start by providing 3 jobs.  The Center will serve U.S. purchasers and provide a reshipment point for nonprofits that ship chairs directly from the U.S. to other countries, and for individual travelers from the U.S. wishing to take a wheelchair to someone in the developing world. 

    Whirlwind is setting up a business advisory committee (BAC) to help review business plans submitted by applicants seeking to host a WPAC.   Anyone interested in volunteering to sit on the BAC should contact Whirlwind Marketing Director Keoke King at


    Marc Krizack is the Executive Director of Whirlwind Wheelchair, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local development. 


  •  Every social entrepreneur should apply to the Global Social Benefit Incubator. Period.

    Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

    Your social enterprises are doing great work all over the world and more than likely you could use a little help reaching more people. The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University provides that support to anybody who submits an application. That’s right. Come one, come all (social entrepreneurs) to apply to the GSBI and your organization will benefit. Even better, it is free of charge!

    What is the one thing you are wishing for your social business this year? Let me guess, funding. Well, the GSBI won’t fund you (sorry), but we will tell you what funders want to know and how to give them the answers they are looking for.

    To apply for the GSBI, you must complete three exercises about your venture and plans to scale. Don’t be scared! While this resembles homework in almost every way, trust me, it is good for you, and more importantly, it’s good for your social business. The exercises are designed to cut through the “fluff” and get to the meat of your organization. Every applicant will receive feedback and mentoring from a graduate business student at Santa Clara University who has studied critical success factors for social enterprises.

    The first exercise asks you to articulate your value proposition and provide evidence of that value proposition. The question aims to allow the reader to understand what your enterprise is all about, whom you are serving, how far along you are in achieving your mission, and your unique advantages. It can be difficult to succinctly capture why your target customer would choose to buy or use your product or service over the alternatives; however, it is important to be able to do so for many reasons. One reason is funding! Your potential investor will use this as a first filter when deciding whether your venture is of interest.

    The purpose of the second exercise is to help the reader understand who your target market is and what your potential impact could be. Understanding your customers is critical to any business, social or not, and identifying the attributes of your beneficiaries will help you understand your enterprise better. The characteristics of your target market also indicate how scalable or replicable your business is, and seeing the potential for growth is critical to any investor.

    Exercise three asks you to elaborate on your business model. Investors look for firms that are sustainable, meaning they have positive cash flow, with the potential to be scalable (income growing faster than expenses). Whether your organization is for-profit, non-profit, or a hybrid, a scalable business model will show a credible income model. In social ventures, income can be earned or contributed. Showing at least partial earned income model reveals some dependence from contributed income (donations and grants), which means that a funder has a much better chance of recovering their investment. It also shows that there is actual demand for your product or service.

    Your potential investors and partners are looking for insights into your value proposition, target market and business model, and our ten years of experience has taught us how to help you think through these issues. Skills are built through repetition, and if anything, applying for the GSBI is good practice in answering tough questions that aim to get to the root of what your business is all about. By dedicating some of your time and brainpower this winter to completing all three exercises (heck, even if you only complete one) at the very least you will get honest, constructive feedback from an MBA student or graduate with practical business knowledge, and you will have refined your understanding of and pitch for your own organization. At best, you will be selected as a part of the GSBI Class of 2012 and join the ranks of the 139 alumni who have come through the GSBI since it’s inception in 2003 and who have collectively impacted more than 70 million people.

    Learn more about the GSBI by visiting our website, download the application beginning December 6th, and be sure to apply starting January 3, 2012.

    Cassandra Thomassin is the Manager of the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS). She graduated from Menlo College magna cum laude with a degree in business management and from Santa Clara University's MBA program with concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Leading People and Organizations. Prior to becoming the program manager, Cassandra worked as as a research analyst for CSTS while pursuing her graduate studies.


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