EDI students travel to Guatemala and apply design principles to help a community prosper
May 06, 2011 · Every day, 16-year-old Gloria Margherita makes a three-hour round trip on foot from her home in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to a mill to grind corn to make the tortillas her family makes and sells in their store. Gloria is a student, and between the commute to and from the mill and the time she spends in school, she is exhausted every day and unable to focus on her learning. Her 14-year-old sister is married with a baby, so Gloria is saddled with the responsibility of visiting the mill daily.
When MS-EDI students Howard Lee and Jason Hoover went to Gloria’s home in Guatemala, they saw a clear solution: a loan to the Margherita family to buy their own mill. A mill only costs $480 and would allow the Margheritas to grind corn close to their home and become a more efficient business. They’d more than pay that back once they began renting the mill out to other families in their town. To Lee and Hoover, this was simple microfinance they’d learned in school. To Gloria and her family, it was a new way of life.
Lee and Hoover visited Guatemala as part of Innovate for Impact, a new interdisciplinary project initiative between Kellogg and McCormick. The program looks at resource-limited settings as design opportunities, said Jamie Jones, co-leader of Innovate for Impact and associate director of the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) Program.
Many students from the states visit Quetzaltenango to build houses or do other manual labor projects, but Jones said Innovate for Impact isn’t about that—it’s about applying the theories about design and business Northwestern students are learning in school to come up with sustainable solutions for communities with few resources.
“The critical thing for us is how do you leverage the skill sets we’re building with the students here at Northwestern,” Jones said.
Lee said he wouldn’t have been able to understand the issues facing the families and students at Quetzaltenango’s Miguel Angel Asturias Academy without immersing himself in their culture.
“My whole view changed when I realized the assumptions I’d made before going were wrong,” Lee said. “I would never have known the struggles they faced if I didn’t try to see eye-to-eye with them, to live like the Guatemalans. I realized how privileged we are.”
While they were there, the team devised a plan to use the students’ interest in creating artwork to raise money for the school. Through an initiative they named Kid Picasso, the students at the school would create artwork to sell to create a steady, sustainable revenue stream for the school.
Innovate for Impact is a fledgling program at Northwestern, one that Jones thinks can have a profound impact on the lives of Northwestern students as well as the communities they help. “It gives students the opportunity to see an environment and an existence they may never otherwise seen,” she said.
Last year, as part of its pilot program, Innovate for Impact sent a team to rural India to come up with a community health care model with a local diabetes expert. This year, Innovate for Impact sent two other teams around the world in addition to the Guatemala trip. One looked at maternal health and specifically post-natal health in Malawi, while another team brought solar technology to rural farmers in Honduras.
“We don’t always appreciate how much value we can add in this setting,” Jones said. “Once we realize we can use our skills to make a difference, it’s a humbling experience. It reminds me why I do my job.”