The Research Triangle Park

RTP 180: International Development, International Tech

By Aug 25, 2016

At this month’s RTP 180, I had the chance to listen to and learn from a lot of really smart people. I know, I know. There are always smart people speaking at RTP 180, but this group has taken on the challenge of how technology can better the developing world. They’re having to think outside of the American box in order to help people across the globe, and I think that’s pretty amazing. Below I’ve given you an overview of each speaker, and a link to a video of their presentation.

Paul Weisenfeld- RTI International
Video Link
Paul works in International Development at RTI International. He has seen first-hand some of the major improvements as well as the continuing struggles that face developing countries.

Improvements:

  • In 1981, 44% of the world was living in extreme poverty. In 2012, that number has dropped to 13%.
  • 90% of the world’s children were attending school in 2010. That is up from 40-50% in the late 1980s.
  • 2 billion people gained access to clean water between 1990-2010.

Continuing struggles:

  • 795 million people around the world do not have enough food.
  • 5% of children in developing countries die before the age of 5.
  • The life expectancy in low income countries is 61. That is in contrast to life expectancies in the 80s in higher income countries.
  • There is only a 50% literacy rate in developing countries.

There are some government initiatives that are being bold in their aspirations to continue making giant leaps in progress. The Feed the Future program is aiming to enable food security in 19 countries. They also aim to feed 9 billion people by 2050.

Years ago, the idea that anti-retroviral drugs could be distributed across Africa was widely considered to be impossible. However, that is a reality today as organizations like PEPFAR are working to see an AIDS free generation.

While there is still much work to be done, a lot of incredible progress has been made towards ending world poverty and hunger.

Stephanie Caplan- Go Global NC
Video Link
Go Global NC has a mission to connect North Carolina to the world and the world to North Carolina. Specifically, they have a Latino Initiative that is building connections to the Latino population in our state.

From 1990-2000, North Carolina saw the greatest increase in Latino population of any state in the country. Go Global NC builds teams in the communities with the highest populations and uses these leaders to build connections with their Latino residents.

There are cities in Mexico that seem to be completely missing the middle aged male demographic. That is because these men are traveling to the US for work. Go Global NC brings community leaders from North Carolina to these cities and tries to make “people to people” connections. The goal is for these community leaders to leave with a new understanding of the Mexican culture and its people.

Gary Tyson is the Siler City police chief. He traveled to Mexico with Go Global NC, and called the experience “life changing”. He realized that over the course of a few days, he did not see anyone that was African American like he was. He commented that he finally understood what it felt like to be the minority. He experienced coming to a new place, where no one looked like him or spoke his native language. He has now made it his goal to meet and know every Latino member of the Siler City community.

Stephanie believes that prejudices and stereotypes are a result of fear of the unknown. Go Global NC attempts to change these negative feelings by educating the public and influential leaders.

Jean Ristaino- NC State University
Video Link
Jean works with NC State to research and find solutions for emerging food diseases that threaten food security.

40 million Americans can claim Irish decent, due in large part to the potato famine that happened in the 19th century. The potato famine was a result of a disease called late blight, that destroyed the leaves and roots of the potato plant. That famine was so detrimental that it caused millions of people to migrate. That shows just how much food diseases can impact a population.

Plant diseases continue to plague the crop industry. A disease named Citrus Greening is currently threatening the orange crop in Florida. Because of this, many of the citrus trees in that region have died. Black Sigatoka is another plant disease- this one targeting the banana crop. It was first introduced by plant breeders in Honduras, while trying to solve another plant disease problem. 

The US has an alert system in place that gives a decision support tool to the growers. It tells them which pathogens are nearby and what fungicide they should use to treat them. Technology resources are also helping treat the problem as tablets and cell phones are being used for detection and geospatial analytics.

With a new food security certificate program at NC State and continued growth in research, local experts hope to find more comprehensive solutions for plant diseases that threaten food security.

Myles Elledge- RTI International
Video Link
Over 2.5 billion have no access to satisfactory sanitation facilities. Over 1 billion people defecate in open fields. Some of these open fields are located in crowded urban settings, leading to environmental health issues. Places that might have some sort of sewer system simply collect the waste, but have no way to treat it before releasing it back into the environment.

The sanitation systems that are already in place in the developed world are not fundable options for impoverished countries. To find a solution, the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund launched the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge”.  The requirements for the solution include:

  • It needs to be sustainable “off the grid”- needing no electricity source to operate.
  • The waste needs to be treated at the site of collection.
  • The solution needs to be affordable to maintain in developing countries.

RTI International currently has a prototype in the testing stages in India. A toilet facility that resembles a port-a-potty is being used, and is providing valuable insight to strengths and weaknesses in the current design.

The current design starts by separating solid and liquid waste. The liquid waste is filtered into a three tank system. It is treated using electrochemical sanitation. That treated liquid is then reused as flushing water. The solids are dried and burned to be used as fuel to run the entire system.

While there are still considerations and tweaks that need to be made, it is exciting to have an RTP company helping to make strides towards providing a basic human need for so many people worldwide.

I hope to see you all next month! In quite a switch of topic, we’re going to be focused on Fashion in the Triangle! 

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