Blum Center’s Laura Stachel, Creator of Solar Suitcase, Named One of Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013


Dr. Laura Stachel

Dr. Laura Stachel, creator of the solar suitcase and founder of We Care Solar, has been named one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes of 2013.

Dr. Laura Stachel (MD, MPH), a researcher with the UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies, has been named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013 for her work to bring life-saving “solar suitcases” to hospitals and clinics in developing countries.

While on a graduate student research trip to rural Nigeria, Stachel, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, was shocked to observe obstetric care in a Nigerian hospital with unreliable electricity. She watched as nurses struggled to deliver babies by kerosene lantern, surgeons worked in near darkness, and critically ill mothers were turned away at night. These conditions put mothers’ and babies’ lives at risk, contributing to the 300,000 maternal deaths estimated each year globally—99% of which occur in the developing world.

Stachel saw a challenge and an opportunity to help. With funding from Big Ideas@Berkeley and the Blum Center, she and her husband, Hal Aronson, developed solar electric systems for the Nigerian hospital. With stable lighting, mobile communication, and a blood bank refrigerator, the maternal deaths at the hospital decreased. Stachel and Aronson next developed a “solar suitcase”—a portable, compact version of the hospital solar electric system—that could scale to rural hospitals and clinics. Together, they founded We Care Solar with the goal of providing simple, reliable light and power sources to healthcare facilities in developing countries.

Since 2009, more than 400 “solar suitcases” have served mothers and babies in over 20 countries. The Blum Center and its USAID-funded Development Impact Lab (DIL) are supporting on-going efforts to scale the initiative. The user-friendly, mobile and nearly maintenance-free suitcases, which cost around $1,500 and take only an hour to install, have proved an important innovation in the fight against maternal mortality worldwide. Stachel’s goal is to light up 10,000 clinics in the next five years, serving 2 million mothers and babies.

“We are thrilled that Laura has received this recognition and believe she deserves to be CNN’s Hero of the Year,” said Shankar Sastry, Blum Center Faculty Director and Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. “Her work has saved the lives of many women and newborns and shows the power of engineering for development, which is the hallmark of our new initiative with USAID, DIL.”

Solar suitcase

Over the last four years, Stachel and We Care Solar have brought over 400 solar suitcases to clinics and hospitals in developing regions. They hope to distribute thousands more.

Stachel is one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2013, which recognizes everyday people who are changing the world. Each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes will receive a $50,000 grant, and one of the honorees, as voted by fans around the globe, will be named the CNN Hero of the Year, receiving an additional $250,000 grant to further aid their cause. Online voting for the “CNN Hero of the Year” ran from October 10 to November 17.

 


About the Blum Center for Developing Economies: The Blum Center for Developing Economies links world-class research, education, and innovation to create sustainable solutions to global poverty. Its mission is to improve the well-being of the world’s poor by designing and developing sustainable solutions to the toughest development challenges and educating a new generation of innovators, activists, and scholars to engage global poverty and inequality in imaginative and effective ways. The Center brings a rigorous multi-disciplinary approach and real-world applications to the classroom, lab, and into the field. Combining an unrivaled disciplinary depth and breadth, cutting-edge thinking, and the University of California’s unique culture of global engagement, the Center translates and applies innovative research to address the world’s most pressing problems. For more information, visit http://blumcenter.berkeley.edu

About Big Ideas@Berkeley: Big Ideas@Berkeley is an annual innovation contest aimed at providing funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of UC undergraduate and graduate students who have “big ideas.” Since its founding in 2005, Big Ideas@Berkeley has inspired innovative and high-impact student projects aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems. Winners have leveraged more than $25 million in additional funding as they’ve used the initial results generated with Big Ideas support to mobilize other resources. For more information, visit http://bigideas.berkeley.edu

About the Development Impact Lab: The Blum Center for Developing Economies leads the USAID-funded Development Impact Lab headquartered at Berkeley, with other academic, industry and non-profit partners, to source, evaluate and scale technologies for development. The Lab is supporting an pipeline of innovative projects, building an evaluation platform for data collection to speed rapid prototyping, and training the next generation of development engineers. Learn more at http://dil.berkeley.edu.

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Press contact:

Rachel Voss
(510) 643-5316
rvoss[at]berkeley[dot]edu