Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center

Help develop LaunchPad, a Rural Innovation Center

Newton-Tanzania Collaborative, Inc. and Smallbean, Inc.
Project location: Kwala, Tanzania and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.,


LaunchPad: A Rural Innovation Center is a joint project between two Boston-based NGO’s, Newton Tanzania Collaborative, Inc. (NTC) and Smallbean. NTC’s mission is to build relationships between students and citizens from the United States and Tanzania, ultimately empowering both sides to improve educational opportunities for children in Tanzania. Since 2006, NTC has worked with a rural community in Tanzania called Kwala, just 80 KM west of Dar es Salaam, initiating cultural exchange projects between students, facilitating exchange visits to and from Kwala, and working with NTC’s Kwala Committee to implement high-impact projects that improve educational opportunities for children in Kwala, including water and sanitation, children’s literacy, library and textbook, and girls scholarship projects. Smallbean, Inc. is a non-profit organization committed to bridging the technology gap through the Citizen Archivist Project. Smallbean builds computer labs and teaches technology and computer skills integral for job creation and sustainable economic growth using an innovative curriculum that documents community life around the world. Smallbean’s initiatives are enabled by solar power and in-kind donations of personal electronics. In February 2010, Smallbean partnered with NTC to build a solar-powered computer lab at Kwala Secondary School and run Smallbean’s Citizen Archivist Project, training students how to use the technology to document elements of their own culture, including oral history interviews.

NTC and Smallbean are collaborating again to create LaunchPad, the world’s first Rural Innovation Center. LaunchPad will serve as a test bed for developing real economic opportunities for the residents of Kwala and ultimately other communities in the developing world, aligning the interest and ingenuity of rural Tanzanians with the incentives of outside enterprises and institutions seeking to explore rural innovation. The Kwala Launchpad is a secure incubator for research, development, and testing of sustainable, locally-appropriate technologies located in a community representative of thousands of other rural African communities. As an ecofriendly and self-sustaining venture, the Kwala LaunchPad will charge entrepreneurs, NGO’s, and student groups for use of the center (including food and accommodations), the profit from which will be used to sustain the center and fund other programs that are beneficial to the community such as a library, computer lab, digital archive, and after-school tutoring.

The Challenge

The first phase of LaunchPad is to construct an eco-friendly facility on the acre of land in Kwala that has been purchased by NTC and Smallbean with funding from the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). LaunchPad has partnered with the University of Dar es Salaam’s College of Engineering and Technology (CoET) to involve some of the best engineering minds in Tanzania. Additionally, LaunchPad is working with Social Entrepreneurs for International Development (SEID), an MIT Sloan program, to develop a business model for LaunchPad during the fall semester.

LaunchPad is requesting two fellows from MIT to collaborate with students from CoET to construct the facility in Tanzania during IAP semester. The challenge is to create an ecofriendly “model” facility within the community, using local materials and applied technologies that can be replicated inexpensively within the community. The facility will be constructed using an innovative brick-maker supplied by CoET (see attached picture), and include composting toilets, built-in rain water harvesting technologies, and a micro-irrigation system. By collaborating with students from CoET, MIT students will gain another perspective on engineering, while LaunchPad will be able to utilize local experts who are better able to ensure local buy-in and investment from the Kwala Community. Students will be asked to communicate with engineering students from CoET before traveling to Tanzania in order to plan the construction of the facility and its built-in systems. Successful construction of the LaunchPad facility will allow LaunchPad to enter the second phase of the project, which includes seeking clients interested in implementing socially-beneficial businesses and projects in the community, such as selling micro-irrigation kits and ESCARGO (Excess Solar Capacity As a Revenue Generating Option).

Qualifications, Preferences, and Assets

LaunchPad fellows must be skilled in applied technologies (water harvesting, composting toilets, micro-irrigation), and a knowledge of architectural design is preferred. There are no special language requirements, but students must work well with others and be culturally sensitive, open-minded, and appropriate.

Time constraints

LaunchPad will be constructed during IAP, January 2011.

Summer help needed- information to become available soon

Primary Contact

MIT students interested in developing projects around these ideas should contact:

Name: Ross Lohr
Phone: (617) 290 9097
Mailing Address: 11 Wenham Rd. Newton MA 02461
Role in the community/organization: Executive Director

Secondary Contact:

Name: Sean Hewens
Phone: (617) 513 7676
Mailing Address: 515 Beacon St. Boston MA 02215
Role in the community/organization: Executive Director

PKG Center Support

MIT students who develop projects around these ideas may apply for support from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center’s Fellowships, Internships, and Grants programs. Please check the program descriptions and deadlines and talk to program staff to determine which is most appropriate for your needs and project.

If you have funding from outside the PKG Center that enables you to work on one of these projects, that’s great! However, please do let us know if you work on a project you saw advertised here, even if you don’t use our funds. And remember, the PKG Center staff are happy to advise on service projects even if we are not funding them ourselves.

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