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Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Blum Center launches global field initiatives

– The Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, today (Tuesday, Nov. 14) announced the selection of its first project initiatives - the East Africa Healthcare Initiative and the Initiative on Safe Water and Sanitation. The former will be initially focused on Uganda and Rwanda; the latter project includes support for a portfolio of activities in six countries: India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico. Both projects address poor health status, which is both a leading cause and a debilitating impact of global poverty.

Consistent with the Blum Center's objectives, each project employs UC Berkeley-developed technologies and expertise, and both provide hands-on service-learning opportunities for students. The projects also leverage existing partnerships in host countries to increase the likelihood of success, broaden impact and promote sustainability.

In announcing the launch of these projects, Blum Center Executive Director George Scharffenberger expressed his excitement at the start of project activities. "The funding decision came through a campus-wide process that revealed the breadth and depth of the university's engagement in and capacity to contribute significantly to efforts to address the issue of global poverty," said Scharffenberger.

Project funding was approved by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau following recommendations by the Blum Center's steering committee and board of trustees. Both projects were designed as one-year pilot initiatives and have been approved for $200,000 in funding. Decisions on expansion of the pilot activities will be made following a review of results.

The Initiative on Safe Water and Sanitation was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of UC Berkeley faculty representing the College of Engineering, Energy and Resources Group, College of Natural Resources, School of Public Health and Haas School of Business. At the heart of the initiative is the design and dissemination of appropriate technologies and management systems to aid the 1.3 billion people worldwide who live without access to safe water and the 2.4 billion without access to sanitation services. The project will focus on the development, production, dissemination and evaluation of a portfolio of low-cost, small-scale water treatment systems.

"Universities need to play a much larger role in developing innovative, sustainable solutions to the global safe water and sanitation crisis," said Kara Nelson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, who will serve as one of five Blum Faculty Fellows for this project. "Through the unique type of support that the Blum Center provides, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a learning environment that channels UC Berkeley students' creativity and commitment into very practical projects that will improve access to safe water."

In this pilot phase, approximately 20 students, organized in multidisciplinary teams, will provide field support to five water and sanitation projects spread across the globe. The initiative's objectives include the training at least 25 hygiene and safe water educators in local communities, building stronger relationships with non-governmental organizations and local partners, and disseminating the initiative's results so that others can use them. It also incorporates plans for the development of conceptual understanding and skills of approximately 50 UC Berkeley students through a class on safe water and sanitation.

The East Africa Healthcare Initiative is built on the premise that poverty can only be eradicated by a healthy population. Improved health status requires accessible and effective health services as well as preventive measures at the individual, family and community levels. These depend on access to accurate and timely information. The project will improve health care delivery and access to health information through the introduction of mobile phones to assist health workers and community members.

Two multi-disciplinary teams of four students each will be formed to work in Nakaseke District, Uganda. The project will be co-led by Eric Brewer, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Kristiana Raube, executive director of the Graduate Program in Health Management at the Haas School of Business, with advisory support from faculty representing several other departments on campus.

An initial goal of the initiative is to inform software design and the optimal operational use of improved "smartphones" for communication, data collection and information sharing. The project teams will work with the selected health professionals and community volunteers to integrate mobile phone technology into the local health care system, including its use for emergency "911" type service, remote medical consultations and health-related help-line services.

Addressing the expected impact on students resulting from their participation in the project, Raube said, "The experience of working in Africa can be life changing - not only for the rural Africans whose health care will be improved, but for the students themselves who will experience, albeit briefly, life in the developing world."