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Affordable projects tackle real-world problems in developing countries

In a popular course, Stanford students are using every day materials to create affordable projects to solve health related problems in the developing world.

One reason that infections continue to remain problematic following surgery in the developing world is that nurses receive little training to prevent them, medical student Josh Guild realized.

In response, his team in Stanford's Design for Extreme Affordability course developed CleanKit, a kit containing flip charts that concisely explain basic information on bacteria, viruses, and on how diseases spread. The kit can be used to teach medical staff how to sterilize surgical equipment in areas that aren’t likely to have video screens or projectors.

CleanKit is among the projects described in a recent article by Stanford Graduate School of Business. Other projects include new flooring material that prevents the spread of waterborne disease by dirt floors in Rwandan homes, and a portable handwashing station for Indian schoolchildren in schools without running water.

The popular two-quarter course, offered jointly by the Graduate School of Business and the School of Engineering, uses a multidisciplinary approach to allow 40 students a year from across campus — ranging from engineering and business to medicine — to form small groups and collaborate with social enterprise and nonprofit organizations to develop a project that addresses a real-world need in developing countries.

The projects are assembled from affordable, common off-the shelf parts, the article explains, as student workspaces “are littered with Sharpies, duct tape, clothespins, pipe cleaners, photos, and other creativity-inducing clutter.”

Through their hands-on projects, students use design thinking to bring a product or service from concept to market. They then present it at the class’ annual Design Expo.

Most students in the course go on to eventually implement their ideas through their partner organizations or new student-led ventures, the article explains, and in the 15 years since the Extreme course began, the influence of the student projects has spanned across the globe. “It has helped to develop more than 140 products and services, reaching more than 80 million people in 31 countries.”

Photo by Elena Zhukova

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