With Hamilton commencement behind him, Andy Chen ’16 has a short-term plan and a long-term plan. He’ll continue his education this fall by spending a semester studying biotechnology at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan, then launch a cell phone-based health and education service in Kenya with Leonard Kilekwang ’16.
“During a casual conversation about my post-graduate plans with Hamilton Biology Professor Wei-Jen Chang, who is currently on sabbatical in Taiwan, he suggested and connected me to an opportunity in biotechnology in Taiwan,” Chen explained.
After his semester at NTHU, Chen and his project partner Kilekwang will launch Technosafi, a cell phone-based health and education service in West Pokot, Kenya, that will provide public health information through SMS texts.
“[The idea] started off addressing social needs in an innovative and sustainable manner in East Africa,” Chen explained. “Leonard and Neil Edwards’15 had convinced me to study abroad in Tanzania in the spring of 2015, where I fell in love with East Africa and noticed the extensive technological innovation and telecommunications infrastructure,” Chen continued. “At the same time, East Africa is a developing region in the world and is affected by many social issues, including water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid in the rainy seasons.”
Chen met with Cyrus Boga’90, an Innovator-in-Residence at the Levitt Center, and speculated that prevention of water-borne disease might be efficiently addressed through information shared through cheap and already existing cell phones. “Upon my return to campus last fall, I attended Leonard’s course in third-term Swahili, during which time I shared my idea and together we fleshed out a project. The process has been arduous but rewarding,” Chen remarked.
The majority of Kenya’s population owns cell phones, so Chen and Kilekwang will begin with a trial run that will send messages to political, cultural and non-governmental leaders in Chepareria, West Pokot.
The messages will provide sanitation lessons aimed to combat water-borne epidemics that are common during Kenya’s wet season. Simultaneously, they will be working to build partnerships with local businesses, organizations and community leaders in order to make the messages culturally sensitive and eventually include more people in the program.
At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University, Chen and Kilekwang were awarded a $6,500 fellowship in the Resolution Project social venture capital funding competition for their plan.
Chen is grateful for “incredible programming, funding and mentorship resources” at the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, Hamilton’s Dean of Faculty and Pitch Competition, thINCubator, Clinton Global Initiative University and The Resolution Project for making Technosafi possible.
He credited his work as a social innovation mentor at the Levitt Center for introducing him to entrepreneurial and social innovation skills. He hopes to combine these with science and engineering to “empower the development of local scientifically-informed social entrepreneurship in East Africa.”