Blum Center Alumni Take UNLEASH

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By Francesca Munsayac

The Blum Center is pleased to announce that three Blum-nominated social innovators and their teams won recognition at UNLEASH, a nine-day-long global development event held in Denmark. Zoe Bezpalko won gold in Urban Sustainability, Jordan Freitas took silver in the Health, while Rachel Voss received bronze in Food. In addition, other outstanding attendees from the Blum Center ecosystem included m-Omulimisa founder Daniel Ninsiima and undergraduate bioengineering student Fanice Nyatigo.

By partnering with UNLEASH, a global non-profit initiative aiming to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Blum Center hopes to help its alumni reach greater heights, supporting their efforts to bring their social ventures to fruition.

Meet the cohort

Zoe Bezpalko’s team: Demolition4Design

Ninsiima is a Michigan State graduate who partnered with colleague and fellow MSU alumni Linlin Liang to develop “m-Omulimisa”, a phone-based platform that increases access to extension services for rural Ugandan farmers by providing critical agricultural information via SMS messaging in a local language.

Since 2015, Bezpalko’s role as an Autodesk’s Design Lead remains crucial to The Blum Center’s partnership with the Autodesk Foundation. Bezpalko has helped infuse our programs with a greater focus on impact design and sustainability, specifically to solve social and environmental challenges.

Freitas is a completing a computer science PhD program at Berkeley while working with a research group called Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER). Freitas’ research concentrates on improving methods of impact analysis and sharing data responsibly.

Nyatigo is an bioengineering student interning at Fletcher Labs, which aims to codify and control biological structures in order to develop ways for therapeutic intervention. Specifically, Nyatigo — under the tutelege of a PhD student — works to combine machine learning concepts and other imaging processing techniques to improve the quality of the image of the biological structures.

Before becoming a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, Voss worked as a Program Coordinator at the UC Berkeley Blum Center. Now Voss is conducting research that focuses on participatory farmer trials in order to boost yields through improved soil and water management in Senegal.

An Experience of a Lifetime

Rachel Voss’ team: HarvestHub

Bezpalko and her team created Demolition4Design, a database that disseminates information to link designers, developers, manufacturers and engineers. The database will spread knowledge on sustainable solutions while diverting landfill wastes to new markets; ultimately, creating lasting impacts for environmental, economic and social development.

Freitas was one of the makers if Afterain, a free toolkit designed to aid displaced individuals experiencing trauma and other mental health issues through art therapy. In addition, Afterain will sell high-quality notebooks locally and overseas to generate revenue to fund rehabilitation camps.

Through HarvestHub, Voss and her fellow innovators wanted to connect farmers in Tanzania to post-harvest services, such as storage, processing, transportation, and networking to markets. This mobile platform will allow farmers to contract services on demand, which will improve their livelihood and reduce food loss.  

“I would probably never have applied to UNLEASH if the Blum Center hadn’t put it on my radar. I’ve made so many connections to inspiring, passionate people around the world who are now my friends but also potential partners in my future work. I’ve never done anything like UNLEASH before but I am so grateful I had the chance to attend.” said Voss.

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