Kwami Williams '12, Sidhant Pai '14, and Emily Cunningham, all alumni of MIT's D-Lab, were among the 55 fellows selected from an applicant pool of 2,874 for the prestigious Echoing Green fellowship program this year.
Echoing Green describes their Global Fellowship for social entrepreneurs as “a 25-year-old program for smart young leaders who are deeply connected to the needs and potential solutions that may work best for their communities.” This year’s fellowship selection process involved more than 400 expert evaluators over the course of six months.
"Echoing Green fellowships for our alumni validate the entrepreneurship and international development ecosystem at MIT that D-Lab is part of. Talented students like Sid, Kwami, and Emily have all benefited from this network of classes, programs, and prizes, and are now being recognized beyond MIT and realizing their dreams,” commented Victor Grau Serrat, co-director of D-Lab.
Kwami Williams and Emily Cunningham, co-founders of MoringaConnect, were awarded fellowships as a team. Williams, a former D-Lab Scale-Ups fellow, and Cunningham met at D-Lab in 2010 where they improved on the design of human-powered technologies initially developed at D-Lab to process seeds from the Moringa tree. Since then, they have developed a thriving business, which processes organically cultivated seeds from smallholder farmers in Ghana to produce cold-pressed Moringa oil. The oil is sold to formulators of hair and skincare products worldwide, providing a new source of income for Ghanaian farmers. Williams, originally from Ghana, has relocated there to build MoringaConnect's commercial processing center and farmer networks, while Cunningham, based in Cambridge, is responsible for marketing and operations in the U.S.
“I first discovered the vast potential of agriculture and the lack of agricultural capital available to farmers while working in microfinance and enterprise development in rural India," recalled Cunningham. "Through D-Lab, I was able to channel my passion for rural development into affordable technology design."
Sid Pai got his venture Protoprint off the ground while he was an undergraduate as well. Protoprint is a social enterprise based in Pune, India, that empowers urban waste pickers with the technology to ethically produce fair trade 3-D printer filament from the waste plastic they collect. Protoprint markets the filament globally, providing consumers with a price-competitive, ethically sourced, recycled alternative to virgin plastic. Pai’s connections to D-Lab are myriad. He took D-Lab: Energy; assisted in teaching D-Lab: ICT; completed an undergraduate research opportunities program (UROP) with D-Lab co-director Victor Grau Serrat on a low-cost X-Ray project; and pursued additional travel and projects. In February 2014, Protoprint was awarded first prize for best poster at the MIT Scaling Development Ventures conference and was among the IDEAS Global Challenge winners this spring.
"The D-Lab Scale-Ups and Echoing Green fellowships provide me with an exciting opportunity to take Protoprint to the next level," commented Pai. "The funds and resources will be used to iterate on our technology and improve the quality of our filament, allowing us to potentially begin commercial production this fall. If all goes well, we could directly impact over 200 waste pickers by the end of next year."
As an Echoing Green fellow, Pai will receive a stipend of $80,000 over two years; as a team, Williams and Cunningham will receive $90,000. They also will benefit from a health insurance stipend, a yearly professional development stipend, leadership development, networking gatherings, access to technical support, pro bono partnerships, and a dedicated Echoing Green portfolio manager to help grow their organization.
Other D-Lab Scale-Ups fellows who have been previously selected as Echoing Green fellows include Jodie Wu MEng ’09, founder of Global Cycle Solutions in Arusha, Tanzania; Bilikiss Adebiyi, MBA ’12, founder of Wecyclers in Lagos, Nigeria; Matthew Orosz, MEng '03, SM '06, PhD '12, co-founder of STG International; and Zubaida Bai (an alumna of D-Lab’s International Development Design Summit) of ayzh. Additional past Echoing Green fellows with D-Lab ties include Diana Jue and Jackie Stenson from Essmart and David Auerbach and Ani Vallabhaneni of Sanergy, which got its start in Alex “Sandy” Pentland and Joost Bonsen’s popular class, Development Ventures.