In the first of our two-part series, we followed our Consumer employees Aimee Sealfon and Michael Moscherosch in Rwanda as they assisted in designing sustainable solutions for sanitary protection products. Now, we travel with them to Ghana as they partner with a team looking to turn waste into something useful and beneficial to the community.
People who live in developed countries take many things for granted. For example, it would be hard for us in the United States to envision a community where waste management is non-existent and garbage is piled up around you all day, every day. Yet this is the reality in many places in the world, like in the area of Ghana that we visited under the auspices of the Practical Impact Alliance (PIA).
The PIA was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab to foster shared learning and collaborative action among a network of corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises with a commitment to scaling solutions to global poverty. Johnson & Johnson is a founding member of the PIA, which is how we came to participate in the group’s co-design summit in Kumasi, Ghana.
The summit had a goal of identifying appropriate solutions for developing countries to address needs of rural communities such as education, micro-financing, farming and waste management. Other participants at the co-design summit included corporations such as Danone and SC Johnson, local Ghanaian social enterprises, and NGOs such as the Grameen Foundation and World Vision. We also worked with local farmers and members of the Peace Corps, as well as MIT D-Lab staff, and our hosts from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi.
In the Suame Magazine
Waste management, or rather the lack thereof, is a big problem in many developing countries, so we were assigned to teams that looked into recycling as well as the conversion of plastic waste into fuel for tasks such as powering the local maize mills. For our field work we traveled to New Longoro, a small village in the northwestern region of Ghana.
No waste management
At a community gathering, our teams were introduced to the local chief and the village elders. We explained the purpose of our visit and asked for the community’s support — which was freely given. We interviewed families, farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers, and left the village with a much better understanding of the issues. After all, it is impossible to design an effective solution without recognizing the challenges and constraints.
Back at KNUST Technology Consultancy Center (TCC), the teams worked on their assignments and started prototyping. The TCC is located in the middle of Suame Magazine, a vast market for used parts of any kind of equipment. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 small shops in the crowded area, which is a vast resource for any type of mechanical part. (It’s said that “if you can’t find it in Suame Magazine, it doesn’t exist.”) It’s a wild place, covered in mud and old motor oil; it looks like the set of a “Mad Max” movie.
In the Suame Magazine
Compared to the creature comforts of the developed world, our accommodations in Africa were very humble but still much nicer than the homes of many Africans. At KNUST, we were assigned students’ dorm rooms and in New Longoro, we stayed at very basic guest houses.
After an intense week, all the teams presented their projects to the students and staff from KNUST and some local entrepreneurs, followed by a networking reception. This experience was incredibly powerful because it is rare to have the chance to co-create innovations together with the end user in such an accelerated timeframe. It reframed our thinking about developing countries, in that there are many resources (technology, skills and materials) available that we never even considered, and these were paired with a fearless mindset to try something new.
The KNUST team is now developing a prototype for the conversion of plastic waste into fuel. In New Longoro, Benjamin, one of our team members, is ready to use the prototype to address the plastic waste issue in his village.
All in all, it was an inspiring trip. We learned a lot in both Rwanda and Ghana, and with effort and luck, we might be able to make a difference for underserved girls and women in Eastern Africa, and may even help reduce issues like waste management and resource scarcity in developing countries. It is very rewarding to represent Johnson & Johnson in these initiatives driven by Our Credo, with the aspiration to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives by caring for the world, one person at a time.
If you want to learn more about PIA, click here.