Kurtis Heimerl Named MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35

By Tamara Straus

August 19, 2014 | When Kurtis Heimerl applied for the PhD program in computer science at UC Berkeley, he didn’t intend to focus on technology for developing countries. But several experiences propelled him in that direction.

In Eagles River, Alaska, where he grew up, he said he “spent a lot of time in rural areas and saw how the lack of access to technology affected people’s lives, especially during emergencies.” Heimerl excelled early at math, and his parents urged him to pursue work and money at the big tech companies. So while an undergraduate at University of Washington, he interned at Google and Amazon. But he didn’t love the work.  “Computer programming is tedious,” said Heimerl. “That’s why companies like Google pay us so much.”

After graduation, Heimerl landed a job at Microsoft Research India, which took him to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in the summer of 2007. He said he went not for altruistic reasons, but because he wanted to see India. The project, called the Digital Study Hall, put him to work developing long-distance learning software for children in slums and rural schools. To Heimerl’s surprise, he said, it was “super fun. I saw the work was useful and I could help people.”

That fall when he matriculated at Cal, Heimerl went hunting for people doing technology for development. He soon found Computer Science Professor Eric Brewer, who runs a lab called TIER, short for Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, and managed to jump through the programming hoops Brewer presented him. “I came in with a strong technical background,” said Heimerl. “What I needed were stronger social science skills, ways to connect technological advancements to the needs of people.”

Heimerl related all this background from a small schoolhouse built by Dutch missionaries in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia, where he is monitoring the cellular network he installed last year for the area’s 1,500 residents—and where last week he received the news that MIT Technology Review  named him one of the Innovators under 35 in the “Humanitarian” category.

Heimerl deserves the label. He is among a growing number of top-notch computer scientists and engineers who are turning away from the big money of technology companies to pursue humanitarian tech work—or what’s increasingly being called Development Engineering. Heimerl’s graduate and post-doctoral work has focused on how to provide cellular communications to some of the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who live outside the range of cellular carriers.

At its core, he explained, the challenge is not about technological innovation, but about how to apply existing and low-cost cellular network advancements to places with regulatory and economic barriers. The highland villages of Papua are just too remote and the people too few and poor for a big phone company to have interest. As Heimerl and his UC Berkeley colleagues explain in a recent paper, the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network may be the largest communications network on earth, but it is full of “whitespaces”: places off the grid and without cellular coverage, which limit people’s economic advancement and quality of life.

To fill the whitespaces, Heimerl and his colleagues at TIER have created, with support from USAID’s Development Impact Lab and the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a GSM cellular tower that can be powered by sun or wind and that provides villagers with local calls, text messaging, and web surfing. The project, called Community Cellular Networks, is essentially an outdoor PC in a waterproof box that uses an open-source technology (called OpenBTS) to implement a GSM base station. Heimerl says it takes one to two people to set it up, and no one to maintain it. “You get a pole, run it up a big tree, rope the box into place, and it’s done,” said Heimerl.

But the community cellular network, which has been running in Papua for 18 months under the tacit approval of various government officials, is technically illegal. The reason? GSM uses licensed spectrum, and gaining access to licensed spectrum is nearly impossible for small, rural operators. “But shutting it down doesn’t help anyone, and no one is going to do it,” said Heimerl. Also, the revenue from this “pirating” is insignificant; what’s significant is the social benefit. Heimerl’s five-month-old social enterprise Endaga charges $0.09 per outbound SMS, $0.02 per minute for local calls, and $10 for a SIM card. It is making about $1,000 a month from a few hundred customers, and expects to break even on its $10,000 investment in a year. Verizon and AT&T are not calling.

Besides sitting in the school and monitoring the system, Heimerl said he deals with the network’s billing issues and interviews people about their cell phone experiences. One story from the local hospital is illustrative. For the latter part of the summer, the only two doctors went to Jayapura, the capital of Papua, leaving the nurses in charge. Starting in July, many villagers came down with a tropical disease. No one knew what to do. With Heimerl’s cellular network, nurses were able to reach the doctors using SMS to help with diagnosis and treatment. For the nurses—and the sick villagers—the savings in terms of travel costs and lost workdays were considerable.

“It’s exciting to build a system like this and to solve a problem,” said Heimerl, who also admits development work is not all travel and excitement. But Heimerl seems to take advantage of his boredom. When the power goes out, which happens from to 2 pm to 6 pm everyday in Papua, he plays basketball and mingles with the villagers, who often tell him how useful and life-altering it is to communicate with the outside world. “That’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said.

“There are so many things to love about Heimerl’s work in Indonesia,” said Professor Brewer of his student. “But my favorite is that he is delivering complex technology to rural users in a way they want and can control.”

Blum Center Lecturers Receive Chancellor’s Public Service Awards

ACES Awardees Sean Burns and Khalid Kadir
Sean Burns (left) and Khalid Kadir (right) were awarded Chancellor’s Public Service Awards for their community-engaged teaching.

This past May, two Blum Center affiliated lecturers, Dr. Sean Burns and Dr. Khalid Kadir, were each awarded Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service for their innovative, community-engaged teaching.

Burns, who serves as the Blum Center’s Director of Student Programs, received the Faculty Civic Engagement Award for his Bay Area social movement history course “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory” (IAS 158 AC / PACS 148 AC). The course partners students with a wide range of East Bay community organizations, to develop historical documentation of the organizations’ efforts to contribute to social and environmental justice movements, ranging from affordable housing to indigenous land struggles to advancing disability rights.

Kadir received the award for Service Learning Leadership for his course on engineering and social justice.

In “Engineering, The Environment, and Society” (E 157AC / IAS 157AC), students worked on projects with local and regional organizations to address drinking water contamination, air pollution, and urban environmental pollution. Each of these projects enabled students to apply their engineering education to problems that affect traditionally underserved communities.

Both award-winning courses were designed and supported within the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship (ACES) program.

Generation Innovation: Gardner Fellow Kati Hinman Fights for Community Empowerment

By Andrea Guzman and Rachel Voss

Through UC Berkeley’s Alternative Breaks program, Hinman volunteered at the community garden at the Alameda Point Collaborative, a supportive housing community that helps families break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Through UC Berkeley’s Alternative Breaks program, Hinman volunteered at the community garden at the Alameda Point Collaborative, a supportive housing community that helps families break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

Kati Hinman, a recent graduate of the Blum Center for Developing Economies’ Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor, is a 2014 recipient of the John Gardner Fellowship – a stipend given to graduating seniors pursuing careers in public service.

Hinman, who grew up in a small town in Connecticut where public service was the norm, spent her time at UC Berkeley exploring how to better understand and address the needs of underserved communities.

“I was raised with the mentality that being part of a community is donating your time. Both my parents volunteer regularly and love being active in our town,” explained Hinman. “However, I also come from a fairly isolated community with access to resources and power. At Berkeley, I have been able to explore the powers and privileges that are at play when one volunteers and how to use my time to better act for social justice.”

Hinman, who initially planned a career in medicine, spent her early undergraduate years shadowing and interning in healthcare facilities. She said what struck her most was the immensity of the social and environmental constraints to public health. The field’s purview, she found, goes well beyond treatment.

Hinman’s growing interest in the inequalities that contribute to structural and physical violence against people—as well as her passion for exploring different cultures and the often untold histories of those who are marginalized— led her to change her major to Peace and Conflict Studies and declare the GPP Minor. She said GPP faculty and Blum Center staff helped her explore the contradictions in development work, particularly the history and current approaches to humanitarian aid and intervention. For her GPP practice experience, she traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she worked with the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano, an HIV/AIDS prevention program. Hinman said she found the experience unexpectedly challenging, and was frustrated by her inability to make a substantive difference.

Hinman’s GPP practice experience at the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano in Cochabamba, Bolivia, challenged her assumptions about development work. She appears here with her Bolivian coworkers at a Sexual Violence Prevention fair.
Hinman’s GPP practice experience at the Instituto Para el Desarollo Humano in Cochabamba, Bolivia, challenged her assumptions about development work. She appears here with her Bolivian coworkers at a Sexual Violence Prevention fair.

“Upon returning, I questioned what my role was in the world of international development,” said Hinman. “My GPP 196 critical reflection course was instrumental in helping me work through some frustrations. I found that I am really inspired by organizations that are driven by local people and the issues that affect them directly, but I am still trying to figure out what my place can be in those spaces.”

At Cal, Hinman kept herself busy outside the classroom. She served as the community partnerships director and a trip leader for Alternative Breaks, director of public internships at Berkeley’s Public Service Center, and as a corps member in AmeriCorps’ Jumpstart literacy program. She also became involved with the women’s clinic of the Suitcase Clinic, a student organization dedicated to providing underserved and homeless people with free healthcare and social services. She worked to improve services for children in the women’s shelter, and went on to serve as a community resource advocate.

Hinman’s interests in public service have been wide ranging. The summer before her junior year, she began working with UC Berkeley alumna and anti-trafficking champion Minh Dang. Through their research, Hinman explored human trafficking and modern day slavery in the U.S. and joined the student abolitionist movement on campus. She later co-founded the Berkeley Anti-Trafficking Coalition, an IdeaLab supported by the Blum Center and Big Ideas that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration around the issue. Hinman worked with two peers from the IdeaLab to develop the East Bay Youth Trafficking project, which won an honorable mention in the 2013-14 Big Ideas@Berkeley contest.

More and more, Hinman’s perspective on social change has shifted in favor of bottom-up development. The Gardner Fellowship will allow her to explore challenges faced by communities in the Bay Area as well as sustainable solutions that come directly from the people affected. Hinman is considering working with a mental health and trauma recovery program for homeless youth, focusing on participants’ influence in shaping those programs.

Eventually, Hinman plans to pursue dual Master’s degrees in public health and social work to prepare her for a career in mental health programs for underserved youth. She hopes to build programs that combine recovery and therapy, creating opportunities for children to develop as leaders and agents of change. Meanwhile, her legacy will live on at Cal through the IdeaLab, her work with the Public Service Center, the Suitcase Clinic, and the many other programs she has touched.

GPP Students Engage With Challenges of Poverty Action at Home and Abroad

By Abby Madan and Rachel Voss

Student Stephanie Pardi completed her summer practice experience with Threads of Peru, a fair trade group which works with indigenous artisans in Cusco to sell their traditional woven textiles. Here, members of the organization meet with the Chaullacocha community. Photo credit: Threads of Peru

This summer, 49 UC Berkeley undergraduates in the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor applied their classroom learning to real-world issues of poverty and global development across California and around the world. These “practice experiences,” the signature component of the GPP Minor, enable students to work with nonprofits, government agencies, social movements, and social enterprises. Through self-selected fieldwork, students come to understand how the issues they’ve studied take shape outside of the classroom. This allows students to transform abstract concepts into practical reflections rooted in the realities of poverty and inequality.

Many students’ practice experiences take them abroad, often to locations or causes that have UC Berkeley connections. Third-year student Estrella Sainburg is spending a second summer with Fundacion Cantaro Azul, an organization co-founded by another UC Berkeley student that works to address contaminated and unsafe water in underserved regions of Mexico.

“I feel that preparing to work and research with the organization through my Development Studies courses and Global Poverty and Practice courses allows me to understand the organization, the need, and my family’s home country a bit better,” said Sainburg of her return to the project.

The practice experience is a transformative part of students’ undergraduate education. GPP sophomore Stephanie Pardi will complete her fieldwork with Threads of Peru, a fair trade group which works with indigenous artisans in Cusco to sell their traditional woven textiles, helping them build a greater online presence. She is grateful that her practice experience will give her a chance to apply the theories she has studied and develop an understanding of her own abilities, limitations, and responsibilities for changing the world.

“Through the minor, I have realized that the hardest confrontation is with myself and where I fit in the greater scheme of the global order,” Pardi reflected.

Some GPP students, recognizing the dramatic effects of poverty and inequality in their own communities, choose to work locally. Emily Rehberger worked in Oakland with Food Shift, an organization that collects wasted food and redistributes it. “Despite the fact that we have romanticized the idea of volunteering abroad, the fact of the matter is that poverty exists right here in our own backyards,” said Rehberger. “I would rather get involved here in a community that I am dedicated to and familiar with, and I believe it is important confront these issues locally.”

Lucy Sundelson, a third-year student majoring in Urban Studies, joined the GPP Minor after founding a Kiva microfinance club at her high school. This summer, she will be interning with Kiva in the Bay Area.

“For me, working at Kiva for my practice experience feels a little bit like coming full circle: I have the chance to work with the organization that first made me feel excited about poverty action,” said Sundelson. “What feels most exciting, though, is that I have a better sense of the ethical issues surrounding microfinance. I’m excited to be able to approach my time at Kiva more thoughtfully and critically than I could a few years ago.”

After returning from their fieldwork this summer, students will enroll in a group seminar that encourages deep critical reflection about their experiences. This chance to explore the challenges and contradictions they encountered is invaluable to students.

“I am grateful for my peers who are each embarking on their unique journey to come face-to-face with different sectors of poverty,” Sundelson said. “Taking on global poverty is as daunting as it sounds, and the peers in my classes have provided moral support and guidance.”

To read students’ practices experience blogs, visit our Student Stories page.

GPP Graduates Leave Berkeley with New Inspiration & Critical Perspectives

GPP 2014 cropped smThe 2014 Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor graduation ceremony hosted by the Blum Center for Developing Economies was a celebration of students’ successes, a chance for students and their families to express appreciation for one another, and an opportunity for the GPP Class of 2014 to pledge their shared commitment to poverty action across the world.

This year, seventy-one students representing twenty-five majors graduated from the Minor. At the GPP commencement ceremony on May 21st, Professors Clare Talwalker, Cecilia Lucas, Khalid Kadir, and International Area Studies Director Max Aufhammer distributed certificates to graduating seniors. Faculty and student speakers stressed the need for graduates to challenge deeply rooted assumptions and structures of power, recognize the privilege a college education affords, and ensure that poverty action be firmly rooted in the communities it seeks to serve.

“The work we have done is exhausting, and I hope that it will continue to be, for true change is a process,” shared Bernadette Rabuy, a Political Economy major selected to be the 2014 student commencement speaker. “It is a process that comes about through the countless everyday actions of numerous individuals, everyday actions that are a commitment to a lifestyle that is less comfortable than ignorance or apathy.”

It is this commitment to social change that unites the diverse GPP Class of 2014 as they pursue varied career paths. While some students will be traveling as far as Honduras, China, and Bangladesh to apply their studies through research, teaching, and microfinance work, others will be serving local communities in sectors like public health, labor rights, and food justice. Many others are pursuing traditional careers in business, law, or healthcare, carrying with them the critical perspectives on poverty and inequality that GPP has helped them develop.

The graduates’ dedication to public service and global change-making has garnered numerous accolades. Rebecca Peters, who double majored in Society and Environment and Interdisciplinary Studies, was awarded the University Medal as UC Berkeley’s top graduating student and will pursue graduate studies at the University of Manchester and University of Oxford as both a Marshall and Truman Scholar. Peace and Conflict Studies major Kati Hinman has been named a John Gardner Fellow and will spend the coming year working with an organization focused on community mental health and treatment for trauma survivors. Priyanka Athavale, a double major in Molecular and Cell Biology and Public Health, has been awarded a Fulbright Research Fellowship to continue her studies of barriers to improved nutrition and health practices in urban slum communities in Mumbai, India.

As the newest GPP graduates – members of a new generation of poverty activists and conscientious citizens – leave UC Berkeley behind to face the greatest global challenges of our time, the Blum Center wishes them continued courage, compassion, and humility.

For more photos, visit the GPP Minor Facebook page.

UC Berkeley Students Leave Their Mark at CGI-U 2014

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

The students behind social impact projects Kanga Kare and Energant took home prizes from CGI-U’s Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge pitch competition. Pictured from left to right: Jacqueline Nguyen (Energant) and Ian Shain, Asad Akbany, and Gary Duan (Kanga Kare).
The students behind social impact projects Kanga Kare and Energant took home prizes from CGI-U’s Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge pitch competition. Pictured from left to right: Jacqueline Nguyen (Energant) and Ian Shain, Asad Akbany, and Gary Duan (Kanga Kare).

April 29, 2014 – Last month’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) 2014 conference offered Berkeley student attendees enriching experiences that strengthened their passion, sharpened their analysis, and encouraged their hard work in pursuit of a better world.

The 3-day conference is an invitation-only event that brings together ambitious young leaders dedicated to solving pressing global challenges. This year, 1,300 students representing more than 300 universities and 80 countries participated. 28 of Berkeley’s own – the highest number of Berkeley students ever accepted – attended the gathering with support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies. The Blum Center, UC Berkeley’s lead representative within the CGI-U Network, supports students who travel to the event and offers year-long advising to help students accomplish their project goals.

Two UC Berkeley student teams, Kanga Kare and Energant, were named winners of the Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge, a pitch competition between aspiring student entrepreneurs with sustainable social ventures. The two groups, which are also finalists in this year’s BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, were awarded seed funding that they will use to advance their projects toward implementation.

Represented at CGI-U by UCB undergrads Asad Akbany (bioengineering), Gary Duan (economics) and Ian Shain (mechanical engineering), Kanga Kare won $7500 to further their mission to provide low-cost baby incubators to hospitals in developing countries in order to prevent neonatal deaths. The team plans to use the money to conduct pilot trials of their product, IncuPack, in collaboration with local clinics and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Energant, co-founded and represented at CGI-U by Jacqueline Nguyen (molecular toxicology), uses an energy-harvesting rocket stove called KleanCook that will allow individuals in developing countries to use the waste heat from their cooking fires to produce at least 10W of power, pasteurize water, and reduce smoky biomass emissions. Since receiving their $3,500 award, the Energant team has been hard at work optimizing their prototype. “It’s so exciting to see that what was once a flat idea on paper will become a tangible, life-changing device for the global communities that need it the most,” Nguyen said.

The CGI-U experience offers more than just an opportunity for funding; the gathering invited students to tread new ground and engage more deeply with the passion and creative energy that attendees collectively bring.

“CGI-U was an unparalleled learning, networking and growth opportunity personally and for my team,” shared Vrinda Agarwal, UC Berkeley student and member of 100 Strong. “I met more influential people in the span of three days than I have in a lifetime.”

The highlight of Agarwal’s weekend was her question to Hillary Clinton during the conference’s closing event. Agarwal eloquently spoke on the underrepresentation of women in politics and asked Secretary Clinton who would represent women in politics if not she. Agarwal’s passion for gender equality in America is what inspired her to create the project 100 Strong, which works to empower underprivileged high school women by providing them with mentors and leadership training.

CGI-U also provided students an opportunity for mentorship and guidance. The team members behind Kanga Kare, which has a partnership with Ashoka Thailand, exchanged business cards with Ashoka’s CEO, Bill Drayton. 100 Strong received advice on expanding their project from North Carolina School District Superintendent Austin Obasohan, among others.

“It was phenomenal to meet like-minded leaders from across the globe who have the same strong will to make a positive impact on the world,” reflected Nguyen. “We’re all very lucky to be happy and healthy, and we as global change-makers are in a prime position to make the world a more habitable place for everyone.”

Economist Bill Easterly Speaks at Blum Center, Calls for Individual Rights in Development

By: Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies and Political Science Major

Economist Bill Easterly addressed UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members on April 11, 2014. He stressed the importance of political and economic rights in development, calling for greater emphasis on individual freedoms and an end to technocratic approaches to development challenges.
Economist Bill Easterly addressed UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members on April 11, 2014. He stressed the importance of political and economic rights in development, calling for greater emphasis on individual freedoms and an end to technocratic approaches to development challenges.

April 18, 2014 – Renowned economist and New York University professor William Easterly addressed a packed audience at UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies to discuss his latest book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.

Co-sponsored by the Blum Center and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), the event drew more than 100 faculty and students. Easterly’s work and the issues he raises about foreign aid and global development are part of the introductory curriculum in the Blum Center’s Global Poverty and Practice Minor.

In his lecture, Easterly focused on the dangers of addressing global development with a solely technical approach and ignoring the role of politics and individual rights and freedoms.

Ted Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley and Faculty Director of CEGA, moderated the event. He began the event by introducing Easterly and some of his greatest works, noting Easterly’s unique ability to bridge the world of academia and public debate.

Easterly began the talk by criticizing technocratic approaches to development which seek to address poverty and development challenges through technical solutions. While development actors may have good intentions in doing so, Easterly argues that these efforts may have detrimental consequences as well.

“You get a long list of technical solutions, and you think that is development. That is the technocratic misconception,” Easterly said.

He gave the example of the World Bank, which has often provided economic aid without taking into consideration the government structures in place. This was exemplified in Uganda in 2010, when a World Bank loan aimed to convert a piece of land from fruit crop production to higher-value forestry. The project required the relocation of some villagers. However, because the villagers lacked political and economic rights and had no voice in the project, the relocation effort was ultimately botched, resulting in the villagers’ forceful removal, burning of their homes, and the death of a young boy.

“Clearly something has gone badly wrong here,” Easterly said. “What seemed like a straightforward technical solution was not a technical solution precisely because political and economic rights were not respected.”

Instead of pursuing strictly technical solutions, Easterly said we should consider the role of economic and political rights in development. Individual rights can create a problem-solving society that encourages development.

This transition will be difficult, however, because the technocratic methodology—which was a particularly convenient approach during the colonial era—has become entrenched. Easterly insisted that uprooting this approach is critical.

“Poverty is not about a shortage of experts, it is about a shortage of rights,” he pointed out.

Easterly does see an important role for continued research in public institutions like UC Berkeley, however. When asked by the audience about the role of engineering students in global poverty alleviation, he said that they can continue developing products that can later be used for achieving these types of rights.

“In a well-functioning political system that does gives political and economic rights, technology works marvels,” Easterly said. “You are part of the solution when you, as a free individual, are able to offer new choices to individuals in poor societies who didn’t have those technical choices before.”

Despite the many development challenges at hand, Easterly remains optimistic. Technologies can spread in spite of oppressive governments, most of which are becoming less oppressive with time.

“Freedom is spreading around the world, and so the future is bright with hope,” Easterly said.

Watch a recording of Bill Easterly’s lecture:

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9mN7fZ_GnY”]

Generation Innovation: Global Poverty & Practice Alumna Nikki Brand Returns to Community Development in Latin America

By: Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies & Political Science Major

Alumna Nikki Brand’s GPP Practice Experience in Panajachel, Guatemala, inspired her to pursue a career in community development in Latin America. Here, Brand (seated, center) listens as her Guatemalan co-worker, Juana, tells students and interns her incredible life story while Juana’s sister Marcela demonstrates traditional backstrap weaving. Photo credit: Nikki Brand
Alumna Nikki Brand’s GPP practice experience in Panajachel, Guatemala, inspired her to pursue a career in community development in Latin America. Here, Brand (seated, center) listens as her Guatemalan co-worker, Juana, tells her incredible life story while Juana’s sister Marcela demonstrates traditional backstrap weaving. Photo credit: Nikki Brand

April 17, 2014 – As a freshly-minted Cal grad starting her first job in rural Guatemala, Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) Minor alumna Nikki Brand stumbled into two old friends and realized that her UC Berkeley experiences had come full circle.

Originally from Washington, D.C., Nikki came to Berkeley hoping to explore her interests in international relations. In her first year, she attended a talk by President Bill Clinton on student engagement in global development that was sponsored by the Blum Center, inspiring Brand to take Ananya Roy’s GPP 115 class entitled Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes in the New Millennium.

“I was an idealistic young freshman who was trying to figure out what an appropriate career path is in international relations, and I took Ananya’s class and was so inspired by it and decided to declare the minor,” Brand said.

Although she majored in Peace and Conflict Studies and also minored in Spanish, Brand describes the GPP Minor and Blum Center as a defining part of her experience at Berkeley. Brand served as a peer advisor and conducted research at the Center, and describes being very engaged in the community.

“It [the GPP Minor] is more than just classes. You become part of an amazing peer group and become engaged in a community where everyone is interested in the same things you are,” Brand said. “For me, the Blum Center became a home away from home.”

In the summer of 2012, Brand conducted her practice experience—a mandatory fieldwork component of the Minor—with the organization Thirteen Threads in Panajachel, Guatemala. The organization supports cooperatives of indigenous Mayan weavers, empowering them to sustain themselves and their families. This experience was fundamental in cementing Brand’s desire to work in Latin America.

During her practice experience, she conducted field research in Panajachel and the surrounding communities. One of the most memorable experiences during her formative time in Guatemala was five days she spent with two of her Guatemalan co-workers, indigenous young women near her age. She was able to connect with them on a personal level despite their different cultures and backgrounds. Instead of just being co-workers, they became close friends.

Brand (front right, holding sign) poses with student volunteers from a local high school at "Un Dia Con el Agua" (A Day With Water) in Panajachel – an educational event about the importance of water and to promote water filters. Brand made many lasting friendships during her Practice Experience that she rekindled while working with Community Enterprise Solutions. Photo credit: Nikki Brand
Brand (front right, holding sign) poses with student volunteers from a local high school at “Un Dia Con el Agua” (A Day With Water) in Panajachel – an educational event about the importance of water and to promote water filters. Brand made many lasting friendships during her Practice Experience that she rekindled while working with Community Enterprise Solutions. Photo credit: Nikki Brand

After graduating, Brand returned to Panajachel to work as a Field Consultant for Community Enterprise Solutions, a non-profit social entrepreneurship organization that trains local “microentrepreneurs” to market and distribute products with social and environmental utility, such as eyewear, water filters, solar lamps and chargers, and improved wood burning stoves. The organization provides the training and products to the microentrepreneurs free of charge, eliminating the usual need to take on a large financial risk to start a micro-business.

Brand says that it was her previous work with Thirteen Threads and the skills she learned in the GPP Minor that helped her find the job. Moving to Guatemala just four days after graduation, Brand found the transition to be less difficult because of her background in critical poverty studies. She was the only member of the Community Enterprise Solutions team with a direct academic background in development, so she brought a unique contextual understanding and critical perspective to the work. Despite being new to the job and having to lead student interns just one or two years younger than herself, Brand felt comfortable thanks to her strong academic knowledge and previous experiences working in community development.

“That allowed me to hit the ground running when I arrived here and contextualize the work that I am doing,” Brand said.

In her first week back in Guatemala, Brand had an unexpected but joyful reunion with the two young women she befriended during her practice experience and is now training them to work with Community Enterprise Solutions as microentrepreneurs, an experience she describes as her journey coming “full circle.”

Brand advises students in the Minor or those who are interested in declaring to take advantage of all the opportunities and mentorship that the Blum Center offers.

“The most important thing that you get out of the Minor outside of the classes is the network,” Brand said. “Being part of the GPP and Blum Center community, there are so many amazing speaker events, opportunities to network with current GPP students and alumni, professors and practitioners, and for me, that was the best part.”

Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley Blum Center Co-host Discussion of Water Issues in Haiti

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

A panel of experts from the Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley shared insights into water management in Haiti at a screening of the IDB’s Water Everlasting?. Extensive poverty and the destructive 2010 earthquake have coupled to leave millions of Haitians without access to clean water.
A panel of experts from the Inter-American Development Bank and UC Berkeley shared insights into water management in Haiti at a screening of the IDB’s “Water Everlasting?”. Extensive poverty and the destructive 2010 earthquake have left millions of Haitians without access to clean water.

April 1, 2014 – On March 10th, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies, and the Berkeley Water Group hosted a screening of Water Everlasting?, a documentary produced by the IDB that details issues of poor water administration in Haiti. The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by IDB representatives from Haiti and water experts from the Blum Center, and gave rise to important dialogue regarding ways to address water issues in Haiti.

As the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti’s water and sanitation has been marred by chronic underfunding, leaving millions without access to a clean and reliable water source. The IDB, in collaboration with the Spanish government, has provided an $86 million dollar grant that aims to enable Haitians to build and maintain a sustainable water administration system that reaches its entire population. The Haitian government agency DINEPA (Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement) is using this grant to build necessary infrastructure to create water sector reform through institutional capacity building.

The IDB’s effort to strengthen DINEPA’s initiatives is a step in the right direction, as it aims to strengthen existing state agencies instead of privatizing the supply of water. According to Water Everlasting, approximately 70% of Port-au-Prince’s population of 3 million now gets their water from DINEPA kiosks located throughout the city.

In a discussion moderated by Fermin Reygadas, Executive Director of Fundacion Cantaro Azul and UC Berkeley PhD candidate, a panel of experts considered aspects of water issues that took the audience beyond the documentary. The panel included Thierry Delaunay, Water and Sanitation Specialist for IDB’s Haiti Country Office; Jose Irigoyen, IDB’s Haiti Country Coordinator; Imran Ali, Global Poverty and Practice Postdoctoral Scholar; and Rebecca Peters, Founder and Director of the Pachamama Project. Each of the panelists brought their respective insights on water issues in developing countries.

The dialogue included a discussion on important indicators for project success, as well as ways in which a human rights framework for water can be applied to economic cost recovery. When applying a human rights framework, the panelists engaged in a debate about the practicality in charging Haitians for water, a universally recognized public good. Peters, a 2012-2013 Big Ideas@Berkeley winner, shared the importance of gender equity in the water sector, emphasizing that women are disproportionally impacted.

The IDB’s Water Everlasting? viewings at universities around the country are helping to democratize development issues in Haiti by making them legible to the public. The events have created a public sphere conducive to valuable discussion and student involvement in this partnership. The screening at UC Berkeley was part of a West Coast series of screenings, with the final screening at the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America.

Since 2013, the Blum Center has supported a formal and robust partnership with the IDB. The Blum Center and the IDB co-host Demand Solutions, an annual gathering that brings together innovators to discuss and share solutions for addressing development issues in Latin American and the Caribbean. The partnership is also highlighted by the Berkeley-IDB Impact Evaluation Collaborative (BIC), which brings IDB representatives to UC Berkeley for executive training programs on the role of impact evaluation in policy-making. The IDB’s partnership with UC Berkeley marks the Bank’s first partnership with an American university.

Twenty-eight Ambitious Changemakers from UC Berkeley Set Out for Clinton Global Initiative University

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

“What I’ve found at Cal is that the greatest wealth of knowledge is our peers,” emphasized 100 Strong team member and CGI-U attendee Ruhi Nath (pictured above with teammates Vrinda Agrawal and Julie Brown), who is looking forward to networking with socially-minded peers from across the country and around the world. “The Blum Center and Big Ideas@Berkeley have been really supportive of 100 Strong, not in just the funding but with all of their guidance and advice, too,” Nath added.

March 21, 2014 – This weekend, twenty-eight UC Berkeley student innovators are headed to Arizona for the annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) conference. The students, who were selected on the strength of their “Commitment to Action,” are eager to explore how they can make a difference in the world.

CGI-U 2014 will host the largest cohort of passionate UC Berkeley students ever to attend. Hosted annually by former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, the conference gathers over 5,000 students from 135 countries.

The Blum Center for Developing Economies, UC Berkeley’s lead representative within the CGI-U Network, supports students who travel to the event and offers year-long advising to help students accomplish their project goals. Since its founding in 2006, the Blum Center has been a campus hub for social impact, inspiring and fostering an ecosystem of change-makers. This year, nearly three-fourths of the Berkeley projects featured at CGI-U have a Blum Center affiliation – either as participants in the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor, or the Development Impact Lab.

Students attend CGI-U with a specific challenge and a defined one-year plan called a “Commitment to Action” that addresses a global issue in education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, public health, or a related field. The weekend conference is packed with workshops and plenary sessions for students to build relationships, share ideas and solidify their action plans.

Junior Asad Akbany is looking forward to the opportunity to engage with CEOs of companies that aim to address social problems. His project, “Kanga Kare,” aims to prevent pre-natal deaths by providing rural hospitals in developing countries with safe, low-cost baby incubators. “Working with people you’ve never interfaced with before, working with a team that’s based remotely, or learning how to make sure people stay motivated — hearing speakers address these things will be very helpful,” says Akbany, a member of a team of seven.

Cal students Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher had an opportunity to share their project, PlasMachine, with President Clinton at last year’s CGI-U gathering. This year, the team returns to CGI-U before traveling to South Africa for the next phase of their work. Photo credit: Barbara Kinney / Clinton Global Initiative

Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher, CGI-U veterans from 2013, received recognition from Bill Clinton himself for their project “PlasMachine” at the conference last year. The PlasMachine team constructs atmospheric pressure plasma devices that address water and sanitation needs in developing countries. Pavlovich and Galleher spent the past year revamping their prototypes and are ready to move closer to the implementation phase. “I think it really helped us in learning how to market what we’re doing in a way that makes sense to the average person, so that someone who’s not in plasma physics can approach it and understand it,” Pavlovich shared about last year’s conference. “It also lent our project a certain credibility.” The two will be traveling to South Africa on a Development Impact Lab Explore Grant to build partnerships and assess consumer needs.

Teammates Ruhi Nath, Vrinda Agarwal, and Julie Brown will attend CGI-U and represent their initiative, “100 Strong,” which aims to empower local women to maximize their leadership potential. 100 Strong was a 2013 winner of the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest; the team members now look forward to joining CGI-U’s diverse student community. “Having a community of really different people who are interested in changing the world for the better in their own specialty — I think that energy and excitement is really powerful,” reflected Brown.

For updates about the CGI-U gathering and the student attendees, read our CGI-U 2014 student wrap-up or follow #CGIU and the @Blum_Center on Twitter and Facebook.