Seeding Labs, a Boston nonprofit that sends surplus lab equipment to researchers in developing countries, has just landed a $3 million grant from the US Agency for International Development that should help triple its reach over the next three years.
In collaboration with USAID, Seeding Labs expects to use the money to deliver $20 million worth of equipment to more than 100 universities in countries like Cameroon, Uruguay and Kenya. Such a wave of donations would benefit some 45,000 scientists, said Seeding Labs founder Nina Dudnik. The nonprofit has served about 15,000 over the last decade.
“It’s going to be huge,’’ Dudnik said of the grant’s impact. “We see it as our job to unlock the innovation that is stuck in these labs by sharing these resources. Each one of these students we help is going to become a doctor, scientist, teacher, researcher — so there’s a multiplier effect.’’
The belief behind Seeding Labs is that important research can happen anywhere but is typically confined to first-world countries because of disparities in resources. Dudnik wants to level the playing field.
But how, I asked her, can you gauge the potential of a scientist who lacks essential equipment? I suggested it would be like trying to scout a baseball player who doesn’t own a bat or a glove. How could I know whether he’ll be any good?
“If you found a kid with the desire and potential to play baseball, he’s probably found a stick and a ball somehow,’’ Dudnik replied. “These researchers display incredible desire and motivation. We look at what have they accomplished with whatever they do have. You’d be amazed what’s coming out of bootstrapped labs.’’
This all sounds very philanthropic and, of course, there is an element of charity here. Seeding Labs is always looking for companies and schools willing to donate equipment they no longer need.
But Dudnik insists there’s a real benefit for the givers, as well as the recipients, and it’s not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. Armed with adequate equipment, she said, researchers in Africa, South America and the Middle East can make valuable discoveries that Americans and Europeans might miss.
“We don’t have a monopoly on great ideas,’’ Dudnik said.