Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

An abbreviated version of this post appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.

In the fall of 2010, Prof. Kent Smetters connected a few of us WEMBA students out in San Francisco with Dr. Harvey Rubin at the Penn School of Medicine. Dr. Rubin had just published a fascinating idea in the New Scientist and was looking for volunteers to work with him to realize his vision. Prof. Smetters also brought together a few alums from Harvard who expressed interest in the project.

This led to the formation of Energize the Chain, a non-profit formed to eradicate vaccine preventable diseases worldwide by completing the world cold-chain. The idea was simple – eradicating diseases like polio and measles in the developing world was constantly challenged by the lack of reliable grid power in these regions because of which there was a lot of vaccine spoilage. At the same time these regions were experiencing an unprecedented growth in cellphone penetration into remote and rural areas. We wanted to explore the possibility of co-locating vaccine refrigerators at cell tower sites in these remote areas to guarantee them power from the cell tower power source – be it grid power, diesel, solar or battery backup. As a private enterprise, the cell tower operators are incentivized to keep their towers powered up at all times, and through the right partnership with local health administration, this could be a win-win for all concerned.

Since then, our work has come a long way. We have had several productive conversations with the Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups in the US. We launched a successful pilot in Zimbabwe through a partnership with Econet Wireless and are actively learning from that experience. An interview with Dr. Rubin just got published in the New Scientist as well, with updates on this project.

We are in the process of seeking seed funding to visit India and Kenya and create detailed pilot plans for launch in these two countries to present to foundations for multi-year grants. We have exploratory conversations on in full swing with Karuna Trust and Vodafone Foundation in India and the CDC and Safaricom in Kenya.

There is a lot of interesting work to be done – on the public health and immunization front, on cell tower power availability and ground-level logistics front, as well as on the technology front to see what cutting-edge technologies can be applied in this context to make the most impact. If you are interested in volunteering with us, donating to us, or learning more, you can reach us

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