MIT wins USAID award to help developing countries

WASHINGTON—The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with six other universities, has been selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development to form a groundbreaking partnership designed to use science and technology to help poverty-stricken countries.

The partnership, called the Higher Education Solutions Network, is a five-year project intended to solve problems such as global health and food security by tapping into various academic disciplines, from architecture and urban planning to engineering and business.

MIT will receive $25 million to work on two aspects of the project. One program will focus on creating an International Development Innovation Network of other universities in developing and disseminating technologies in poor countries, such as making charcoal out of agricultural waste products so people don’t have to cut down trees to cook.

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Another program, the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation, will evaluate technologies intended to alleviate poverty to determine which ones work the best, fit into a particular culture, and can be easily replicated.

One type of question researchers hope to answer is: Would it be better to donate stoves to Darfur or to build stoves in Darfur? The university already conducts month-long trainings in design around the world including villages in Ghana, Haiti, Brazil, and Uganda.

“Our goal is to wipe away the thought that gadgets come from The Outside so there is no culture of dependency,” said Amy Smith, a lecturer in university’s mechanical engineering department and co-founder of the MIT International Development Initiative. “People can identify problems and feel empowered to come up with their own solutions.”

The grant also includes the University of California at Berkeley, Michigan State University, Duke University, Texas A&M University, The College of William & Mary, and Makerere University in Uganda. The seven winners were selected from 500 universities that applied.

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