• Graduate student Kevin Kung, right, sorted through trash with a waste collector outside of Nairobi, Kenya, over Independent Activities Period (IAP). Kung’s IDEAS Global Challenge team, Takachar, is developing efficient ways to produce charcoal from common household organic waste, such as maize husks and other food products.

    Photo courtesy of Takachar

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  • Using carbonized charcoal dust he made in a demonstration to dozens of Kenyans, junior Jacob Young, center, cooked porridge. Young’s next step will be to use agricultural charcoal, rather than wood charcoal, to help to prevent deforestation, which is a significant environmental problem around Nairobi.

    Photo courtesy of Takachar

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  • In Tamil Nadu, India, MIT graduate student Diana Jue, left, worked closely with students from Indian universities and India-based team member Prashanth Venkataramana, right, to distribute surveys to local business owners. Jue’s team, Essmart worked to bring essential technologies to underserved communities.

    Photo courtesy of Essmart

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  • Essmart began demonstrating solar technology in Tamil Nadu stores after its surveys revealed that the area is an ideal market for solar lanterns and inverters.

    Photo courtesy of Essmart

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MIT IDEAS Global Challenge teams innovate around the world during IAP

Students develop quality-of-life solutions for underserved communities.


Over Independent Activities Period (IAP), dozens of MIT students traveled around the world to develop solutions to critical quality-of-life barriers as part of the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, a competition that charges MIT students to work with alumni and community resources to invent and innovate around public service. The budding projects will be finalized over the next two months and submitted to a panel of expert judges in early April. Top teams will win up to $10,000 to implement their solutions.

The Takachar team visited Nairobi, Kenya, last month to research robust ways to convert waste into cooking fuel. In Kenya, wood charcoal production contributes to severe deforestation. With fellowship support from the MIT International Development Initiative (IDI) and the Public Service Center (PSC), the team is developing efficient ways to produce high-quality charcoal from biomass, such as maize husks and other food products, rather than from wood.

Meanwhile, graduate student Diana Jue, a PSC grantee and IDI fellow, met with potential business partners, suppliers and consumers in India. Her team, Essmart, noticed that many important technologies never reach their intended end-users in developing countries because of distribution challenges. The team is researching ways to more efficiently disseminate much-needed technology, including solar lanterns and inverters, for a greater impact.

Currently 41 teams are participating in the competition, many of which are also traveling around the globe as they develop their projects. Visit the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge website for more information and ways to get involved with the competition.


Topics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), International development, Student life, Students, Sustainability, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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