Structural Racism in Humanitarian Innovation

In the past couple of weeks, since the murder of George Floyd on the 25th of May, and the consequent rise in protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement; I have taken the time to reflect upon my own personal situation and feelings towards the issues of race and social injustice. I have decided to use my role as a Humanitarian Liaison Officer at InAGlobe Education as a platform to express the company’s goals and my views with regards to dealing with racism in society. InAGlobe Education seeks to address societal racism and give people of all ethnicities and backgrounds an equal platform within the fields of innovation, design and engineering. With this blog post I seek to give a perspective on how structural racism is a part of development and also expand and develop InAGlobe’s position on certain issues. This will be done by exploring how technological innovation and collaborative design can be used to make the world a more equitable place by addressing the specific needs of the people we seek to innovate for.

A System for the “brain drain”

One of the main issues in the world, when it comes to design, engineering and innovation is that people tend to migrate and move to those cities that are globally known as technological or innovation hubs. In 2019, a study looking at industry and innovation indicators found that 20 of the world’s top 50 technological hubs were located in North America, with New York City and Silicon Valley ranked 4th and 3rd respectively. A  further 18 were located on continental Europe with Paris, France and London, England ranked 2nd and 9th (Leskin, 2019). That is to say, 38 of the 50 most innovative and technologically advanced cities were located in what is commonly referred to as ‘the West’. The rest of the list had cities from Asia and the Middle East with Tokyo, Japan being considered the number 1 city in terms of innovation and technology. Even though lists which rank cities according to certain indicators can only be generalisations and subjective (as the indicators used to make these judgements cover broad spectra based on biased definitions), it is still glaringly clear that the Global South is not represented in this particular ranking. This can be due to a lack of sensitivity of the indicators and an insufficient amount of access given to opportunities or resources. The Global South is redefining the way in which technological innovation happens and is therefore maybe not on this list. For example using a 3D printer to create everyday items or medical equipment on a street corner in Kenya. The 3D printer is more robust and cheaper than the ones in Europe as it has been created by the locals for the locals. Is this not a form of technological innovation? By Western standards maybe not but in Africa, South America or places in Asia technological innovation means technology solutions that are environmentally and economically suited to the constraints faced in these places (Srinivasan, 2019).

A similar omission is evident when considering the world’s representation of technological hubs. Technological hubs are cities which foster and nurture innovation for startup businesses. As shown in the graph below technological hubs are not only leaders in innovation, but are also centres of economic and social growth and opportunity which draw skilled workers to them (Interquest Group 2019). 

(Interquest Group, 2019)

The movement of people to these cities may be seen as progressive but it also lends itself to ‘The ‘brain drain’, a problem which affects the Global South in particular.

The brain drain is defined as the migration of highly skilled workers in search of higher standards of living, better access to technology and greater political stability. This phenomenon is most commonly seen in the migration of educated professionals from developing countries to developed countries in search of highly skilled jobs (Dodani and Laporte, 2005). The brain drain is not only subject to work, life and education but is also an issue when it comes to Higher Education where international students from developing countries, such as Africa will migrate to the United Kingdom or the United States of America to continue their studies. This last aspect of the brain drain – moving to a country to receive an education – resonates deeply with me as that is my current situation.

I was adopted as a baby from an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya to Dutch and Kenyan parents. Growing up I have had the privilege to live in Switzerland for most of my life. This has allowed me access to a completely different lifestyle than if I had stayed in Kenya. My elementary and secondary school education was all achieved at an International School, after which I had the fortune of getting accepted into The University of Edinburgh for a four year undergraduate degree. These particular educational experiences have shaped my views on the world and allowed me to see the world from a privileged vantage point which leads me to wonder how people in Kenya view the world. I struggle a lot with this question and in-turn struggle to fully understand my Kenyan identity. This may not be the case for every person who has left their country either in search of a ‘brighter’ future or different opportunities but I find that this is the case for me. This is why I like to help the world through development. 

The few times that I do go back to Kenya and see my mother’s family, I always see a disconnect between what I have learnt growing up and what actually occurs in Nairobi, Kenya.  Life in Kenya can be considered more of a real world experience and one that is not subject to the sheltered life of growing up in ‘the West’. There is a disconnect, in this regard, between what I was taught in school and what actually occurs on the ground level in developing countries. The way that today’s society is structured encourages people to move to areas with the most technological advancement and innovation occurring to succeed but at the expense of learning what is occurring in one’s homeland. This knowledge must be found out independently which should not be the norm. Non-western perspectives and ideas should be appreciated and valued in education and in life as the world belongs to all of us, and never have we been as connected as now. I feel as though this mentality of not looking at the whole picture is not only a product of the geographical and socio-economic gaps between countries in the developing world and the developed world, but also touches upon the larger issue of structural racism across the globe which affects the way in which innovation and ethics in design are projected on developing countries from their ‘Western’ counterparts. It is therefore important to acknowledge the structure of development aid if we aim to change the world.

Pitfalls of Developmental Aid

One of the ways technological and design innovation occurs in developing countries comes through external monetary funding . The most common source of external funding in less economically developed countries comes from development aid, a process whereby countries receive financial aid in the hopes of stimulating economic growth and allowing developing countries to invest in better resources, infrastructure and tools (Olanrele and Ibrahim, 2015). A lot of resources are being dedicated to Development Aid or what is more colloquially known as foreign aid. This is a bracket term for the voluntary flow of capital from one country to another as it helps a country develop but, this does not necessarily help the developing countries (Kenton, 2020). Monetary aid and investment into a technological advancement is an important part of the world’s global economy and human needs, but ultimately, who gains from these transactions? It is hard to tell where this money goes as issues of corruption, lobbying and under the table diplomacy can undermine the way that foreign aid is meant to help. The United States alone spends about 50.1 Billion dollars per year in foreign aid to developing countries (Agarwal, 2019) and the European Union also spends over 50 Billion euros on aid per year under the bracket of advancing global development (European Commission, 2020) but if the structure of the system is flawed what does this money actually go to fund? Although a priori, there is nothing wrong with combating poverty and advancing aid through these measures. There may just be alternative ways of furthering technological development aid through a more transparent system whereby different people can contribute to how technological advancements can be made. This can be done through the inclusion of all the stakeholders no matter where they are located in the world. 

At school I got taught about financial foreign aid and its pros and cons. The obvious pros being an injection of money into countries for development and greater technological advancements which on the surface seems like a massive step-forward. The cons being that there are financial and non-financial attachments to this aid that not all less economically developed countries manage to comply with. This means that countries can end up indebted to others or needing more help which raises the question of is aid worth it? The more I thought about it though, and the older I become I started questioning this whole system. Historically, modern colonialism refers to the time when European countries have colonised indigineous lands in Africa, the Americas and parts of Asia. This is also known as the ‘Age of Discovery’ which takes away from the lack of regard towards human rights which colonists showed towards their colonies. Colonists took away valuable resources, degraded the environment, created economic instability and ethnic rivalries but most importantly, killed human lives in the process. They then used these resources to build trading empires and profit from a system based on subjugation and exploitation (Blakemore, 2019). Many countries are guilty of this. The Netherlands with the Dutch East India Trading Company or the East India Trading Company which came out of England. Their empires are built on the work and death of people who were born in the countries they colonised leading to the growth of continental Europe over the centuries. 

Noticing the imbalance in the world and human equality, countries started to invest in their former colonies and the developing world. This culminated in reaching a point in the past where development aid became a global phenomenon which people, countries, governments and organisations strive to achieve. Yet the aid which is given out to developing countries, to help with development, comes with strings attached to it. I find it a bit bemusing to consider when the reason developing countries are in the situation they are in is due to the product of colonialism and the loss of their countries resources over the years. It is almost as if the western countries and organisations have grouped together and acknowledged the fact they are the cause for the inequality but they also then tell others how their development should proceed. Imposing their ideas on others and saying, ‘This is the right way for a country to develop. You must develop the way we want you to develop.’ Is this not a form of postcolonial structural racism? They are helping the developing world but they are also helping themselves in the process and creating a narrative for how change should occur. The structure of the system that has been put into place favours one set of people and discriminates against others. Those who have the opportunity to help are still gaining at the end of the day. Even though it comes from a place of goodwill. What are we to do then when such a structure exists? Personally, I felt quite aggravated when this realisation of a rigged system dawned on me. 

I know a few people who work in the world of development aid and they acknowledge that the development system is not perfect. The work that is being done through NGOs and multinationals is important and does help improve the world. I just like to reflect upon if there is a different, more equitable way to deliver development which does not come with the attachment of strings and conditions to it. There must be more transparency in this regard or maybe the system can be viewed from a different perspective, one based more on collaboration between people and on the specific needs of those in need. This is why I firmly believe in the advancement of technological and innovative development through collaborative design.

Collaboration as ‘King’

Collaborative design is an approach used to find non-linear solutions to problems. This occurs when different stakeholders actively take part in the design process, As opposed to the engineer or design expert saying what the final product will be. A  process of engaging with the stakeholders and seeing what their specific issues are and based on these issues the co-creation of a product can be developed (Da Cunha Pimenta, 2018). In other words you are giving each stakeholder some level of autonomy and agency to put forwards their ideas. This relates to innovation in development because it is about giving people a voice to express their thoughts and needs. One thing I have learnt growing up is that even though I am a Kenyan citizen and national, I have no idea what the people in Kenya actually need to help with their development needs. I also do not have the right to superimpose my opinion onto other people about what I think they should do to foster development and innovation. Just because I have an education and a degree does not give me the right to tell other people that I know better than them because I cannot fully understand their circumstance. Through this process of collaborative design, the stakeholders in developing countries will be given a voice to say what their needs are as no two countries or organisations will have the same issues. They may be similar issues which will require similar solutions but these may have to be met with different specifications on the final design. It is also important to realise that some places may not even be able to implement or use the newest forms of technology as in their country they do not have the required resources, technological understanding or infrastructure to deal with new equipment and support widespread adoption (Becker, 2017). Even though the challenge may be the same, the context may not, and that will radically change the effectiveness of a given solution.

This goes back to assuming that you know what would work best for people. It is a privileged position to say that things in developing countries should be better when a system has been created which puts people at a constant disadvantage, especially when this comes from a western society that is structurally racist and is more akin to white privilege than just a privileged life. Compounding this privileged perspective with the promotion of the latest technological advancements may benefit the sales for western companies and organisations but it does not help the people living in developing countries. Their needs will vary, and a global and inclusive sustainable development demands technological innovation which a priori may be perceived as rudimentary, and thus not cutting it as technological innovation despite its immense potential impact. This form of development which includes local communities and stakeholders in the development space is known as bottom-up development. A process by which the local community becomes invested in the project and takes part in its implementation and in fostering design innovation within the community (Katz, 2018). 

Collaborative design is an area in development that I feel quite passionate about. It has given me the opportunity to get into contact with small scale humanitarian organisations who do development aid work locally. This also allows the opportunity to hear first hand from people about their opinions on projects as well and targeted projects can be created. I feel that I can start to become deeply invested in projects which I am a part of and help develop the world whilst practicing transparency. In this way a more equitable platform for technological development can be created whereby all stakeholders are involved, regardless of race.

InAGlobe as a platform for co-design

InAGlobe Education sees itself as a platform which will enable a greater level of collaborative design to occur that directly involves the developing world. We see ourselves as a place which seeks to bridge the mismatch in information between those with the capacity to innovate (resources, expertise, etc.)  and those living in low-resource environments. This process of creating collaborations with stakeholders on the ground will grant people more agency in making change in their country without structural pre-existing biases. This collaboration breeds a transparency and comradery that will be crucial in an evermore connected and globalised world that seems to be slipping along nationalist and exclusionary routes.

We believe that students that get involved in humanitarian engineering and innovation will also learn about how their work can be a direct benefit to those living in low-resource environments. It is also an opportunity to teach and educate students at University that collaborating with people outside of their immediate circles, and especially academic circles, can breed awesome results, as well as a better understanding of contexts so far detached. People who live in situations where development is needed will be able to give first-hand insights into their everyday problems and better specify how others can help. We envision that small scale projects that are highly collaborative can compound to have a massive effect internationally in the long run. This may occur through the simple act of thinking critically about a challenge, or my spinning out social enterprises that build the economy and provide jobs, as well as products and services directly stipulated by the community. 

I would like to hope that this also leads to the creation of a train of thought in students who have had the privilege to grow up in the West that, in some circumstances, what may seem a rudimentary and somewhat simplistic technological design for them may in fact be of a vast benefit to a person in a developing country. It is through education that we learn about the world’s past grievances and how best to fix them. Through this active involvement of project creation, there is also hope that people learn to understand and accept people from different backgrounds and ethnicities as they team-up to tackle challenges that really involve all of us. Although this is not an outright dismantling or toppling of the structural and institutional racist inequalities in the world it does create a platform for change which promotes global acumen, and social and cultural awareness for people of developed nations and gives people in developing countries a platform to share their needs and have their voices heard. In this sense the technological hubs may not need to be located in cities such as London or New York but wherever people are, wherever those who have ideas for change are. 

We stand behind the fact that Black Lives Matter, and that all ideas in-fact matter! We openly and candidly support a reconfiguration of all structures that present structural racism, and we invite everyone to open their hearts and minds to true collaboration.

Photo by Life Matters from Pexels

Written by Max Mwenda Wilbers, Humanitarian Liaison Officer at InAGlobe Education.


Agarwal, P. (2020) Foreign Aid. [online] 

Becker, A. (2020) Ldcs And The Technological Revolution | LDC Portal. [online] 

Blakemore, E. (2019) What Is Colonialism. [online]

Da Cunha Pimenta, G. (2018) Collaborative Design Sessions 101. [online] UX Collective. 

Dodani, S. (2005) Brain drain from developing countries: how can brain drain be converted into wisdom gain?. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 98(11), pp.487-491.

European Commission – European Commission. (2020) Recipients And Results Of EU Aid.

InterQuest Group. (2020) The Biggest Tech Hubs In The World 2019 | Interquest Group

Katz, D. (2018) Top-Down Vs. Bottom-Up Innovation. A Battle For Resources.. [online] 

Kenton, W. (2020) Foreign Aid. [online] Investopedia. 

Leskin, P. (2018) The 50 Most High-Tech Cities In The World. [online] Business Insider. 

Olanrele, I & Ibrahim, T. (2015). Does Developmental Aid Impact or Impede on Growth: Evidence from Nigeria. International Journal of Economics and Financial Issues. 5. 288-296. 

Srinivasan, R. (2020) Opinion: The Global South Is Redefining Tech Innovation. [online] Wired. 

Importance of Investing in Health

“Health spending is not a cost, it’s an investment in poverty reduction, jobs, productivity, inclusive economic growth, and healthier, safer, fairer societies.”1 This was said by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General. The health of each individual affects not just themselves but also society. It is no wonder that healthcare expenditure accounts for 10% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).1 In fact, based on an analysis by Our World in Data, there is an upward trajectory relationship between health expenditure and life expectancy for several rich countries, although the USA is an outlier.2 This shows that health expenditure is not the single factor behind life expectancy. However, with that said, expenditure can still be a good indicator. Between year 2000 to 2016, global healthcare spending rose at a rate of 6% each year.3 This is supported by the increase in global life expectancy at birth by 5.5 years to 72.0 years between 2000 and 2016. Zooming into Africa, the life expectancy increased by 10.3 years in the same period. This can be attributed to improvements in healthcare services, such as access to antiretrovirals for HIV treatment, and improvements in child survival.4

In a paper written by David Cutler, Angus Deaton, and Adriana Lleras-Muney5 about global mortality, they stated that:

Mortality in England began to decline in the wake of the Enlightenment, directly through the application to health new ideas about personal health and public administration, and indirectly through increased productivity that permitted (albeit with some terrible reversals) better levels of living […] Most recently, the major life-saving scientific innovations in medical procedures and new pharmaceuticals have had a major effect […] important health innovations whose effect has been mainly in poor countries. 

From this quote, it can be seen that the factors which led to the reduction in mortality rates are many. Before we delve into these factors that have improved the health of people, let us first understand what health is.

According to the WHO, health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.6 In other words, the mind and emotions of a person, in addition to the physical body, all affects the health of the person. However, if we think deeper about the definition presented by WHO, we can include a greater population into the definition. This idea was shared by Dr. David Misselbrook on the British Journal of General Practice.7 He raised the example of an amputee. With a missing limb, does that mean that person can never be in good health since it does not fulfil the definition by WHO? It would be absurd to think so. This is because the amputee can still live a fulfilling life and be free from illnesses. A person who lives up to the latter definition is Nick Vujicic, who was born with tetra-amelia but did not let his condition of not having limbs deter him from living life. Hence, good health should also include the ability to overcome illnesses and disabilities.

Bearing the definition of health in mind, we can look at the following determinants of health identified by WHO:8   

The Physical Environment

As defined in a paper by National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the USA, “the factors in the physical environment that are important to health include harmful substances, such as air pollution or proximity to toxic sites (the focus of classic environmental epidemiology); access to various health-related resources (e.g., healthy or unhealthy foods, recreational resources, medical care); and community design and the “built environment” (e.g., land use mix, street connectivity, transportation systems).”9

The Social Environment

This consists of two aspects: the conditions and the systems. The conditions involve those “in which people are born in, grow, live, work and age”. The systems refer to those that “affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks”.10

The person’s individual characteristics and behaviours

This encompasses genetics (the innate biological characteristics), which includes age and gender, as well as the way of living and behaving, which includes diet, alcohol consumption and sexual practices. 11

We shall explore these determinants in this essay and a question to ask as we go through each determinant is: How can technology play a role in ensuring good health?


Physical Environment

Some elements of the physical environment are:11

  • Natural environment (e.g. plants, weather, or air quality)
  • Built environment (e.g. buildings, or transport)

In the Global Shapers Survey done by the World Economic Forum, climate change and the environment were the most critical concern for years 2015 to 2017, with 48.8% of the approximately 25,000 survey responses by millennials selecting that as the top concern in 2017.12 Their concern is valid because global emissions have indeed been rising each year. Emissions have always been rising, yet the rate of increase has been fluctuating.13 This inevitably leads to the rise in global temperatures due to the trapping of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with 18 out of the 19 warmest years occurring since 2001.14 As a result of air pollution which causes heart disease and stroke, approximately 7 million people died in 2012 according to WHO.15 Based on a paper written by Professor Drew Shindell from Duke University, if the emissions in the USA were cut to 40% by 2030, 295,000 premature deaths could be prevented.16 It is with no doubt that the health of the planet is directly associated to the health of people.

However, Rob Jackson, a senior fellow at Stanford University, says that in nations like India and China where hundreds of millions live without electricity, “the need for electricity surpasses concern for climate.”17 This results in the continual burning of fossil fuels for transport, electricity and industry, which makes people vulnerable to respiratory and circulatory diseases, both in rural and urban areas.18  Climate change is also causing an increase in disease incidence, such as Malaria and West Nile virus.19 This is due to the extended lifespan of the vectors in the warmth, enabling them to carry the disease further and for longer periods of time. The warmer temperatures also allow harmful bacteria to thrive, such as Vibriosis, a flesh-eating bacterium that infects open wounds and contaminates seafood.19

Besides climate change, the built environment influences the health of people as well. Many studies have shown that having green spaces in urban areas that are close to residential and work places is beneficial for health. A study revealed that wards that have a view of trees sped up the recovery of patients and that these patients required less painkillers.20 In another study that compared exercising in a green space and in an urban environment revealed that stress level is reduced in the former setting.21 In a separate study, results showed that living in greener areas improved mental health substantially.22 Hence, an area filled with nature is beneficial to not only people who are recuperating, but also people who are healthy. It is also beneficial for both our physical and mental health.

Poor sanitation facilities can also affect the health of people. Faecal waste is dangerous to health, in which millions of harmful bacteria can be found in just one gram of faeces.23 InAGlobe is working with Engineering Change, a student-led society at Imperial College London, and SNV Mozambique, to develop a septic tank to allow for safe disposal of the waste. Furthermore, hospitals in low-resource environments may find difficulty in disposing waste that is hazardous and possibly contaminated, such as syringes and used gauze. These objects can lead to an increase in blood-transmitted and water-borne diseases. Helvetas has brought this challenge to InAGlobe and we hope to tackle it in the following year.

Besides proper disposal methods, access to clean drinking water is paramount. Contaminated water can infect people with diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid. It is estimated that 829,000 people die each year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water and improper sanitation.24 A country that managed to secure clean potable water despite being water-scarce is Singapore. They developed NEWater in which recycled water is purified through reverse osmosis. NEWater had comparable or better microbiological parameters when compared with regular drinking water and have no toxic or carcinogenic effects when tested on mice and fishes.25 However, this reverse osmosis technology is costly and may not be feasible for all. Hence, InAGlobe partnered with the Department of Civil Engineering of Imperial College and uDrops to develop an affordable clean-water system for an orphanage on Mfangano island in Lake Victoria.

The work environment also matters as this concerns what people do on a regular basis. For example, in India, in rural areas people are often involved in primary industry occupations, such as agriculture and forestry.26 Their exposure to chemicals (such as pesticides) and to air pollution (such as vehicles and machinery) make them prone to, for example, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.26,27 In urban areas, both blue-collar and white-collar workers are vulnerable to illnesses. Common illnesses between both groups include lower back pain, upper respiratory problems and fatigue, although the rates are higher in blue-collar workers, possibly due to the higher physical demands.28 Due to the sedentary work nature, white-collar workers are prone to diabetes, burnout-linked depression and occupational overuse syndrome.28,29

In the area of agriculture, to reduce emissions and maintain the fertility of the land, there is a growing field called Agroecology, which are “farming practices that mimic nature by adding organic material to soil, planting trees on cropped fields and using natural enemies to attack insect pests.”31 This not only helps farmers to save the costs on fertilisers and pesticides, it also reduces their exposure to chemicals. With respect to office work, companies can adopt ergonomic workstations. This means reducing the strain and stress on workers, such as their posture or their movements.32 One way to do so is to have chairs that promotes good posture and reduces awkward positions, such as having necessary supports.33 Tables can also be designed such that there is enough leg space for the worker. If a job requires constant usage of the telephone, headphones can be used in place of traditional phones to reduce strain on the hands and the neck.

Social Environment

The social environment “encompass[es] the immediate physical surroundings, social relationships, and cultural milieus within which defined groups of people function and interact”34. Essentially, it concerns how people live in the environment they are in, which includes their own individual lives (such as home, work and school) and also the society they are in (such as the city, labour market and culture).

Resource mismanagement has led to the loss of about $455 billion out of the $7.35 trillion spent on healthcare each year.35 One such form is the absenteeism of healthcare workers, in which these workers have jobs in both the private and public sector. Since the private sector usually gives higher wages, the public sector would suffer if these workers are dually scheduled. Another form of corruption is informal payment such as bribery. People do this to perhaps move up the waiting list or to receive more attention. This means that people who are better-to-do would receive treatment sooner and of better quality than those who cannot spare extra money to get the service. Sometimes, resources are mismanaged, resulting in improper equipment acquired or insufficient medications. The former situation happens because hospital administrators might make an agreement with a company to only use their products or to accept their money to use in projects that are not of priority. This can result in acquiring incompatible equipment in which the community does not have the manpower to repair or maintain it. The latter situation happens healthcare resources are diverted during the process of delivery so that such that they can be resold to the private market. These will in one way or another restrict the accessibility of healthcare to the public. However, security and audit tech, as well as technologies for traceability such as IoT systems can have a potential in preventing and controlling corruption.

To aid in the undersupply of healthcare workers, Fundación Mozambique Sur proposed for a pillbox that can inform children at a Mozambican orphanage, Casa de Gaiato, when they need to take their medication. This will relieve the work and stress of the healthcare workers and ensure that the children are taking their medications. In turn, this liberates healthcare workers to focus on other aspects of the children’s health.

Governments can play a role in ensuring the good health of its citizens. To encourage the people to walk more, the Health Promotion Board in Singapore developed the “Healthy 365” mobile application which allows users to track their steps.36 As an incentive, the more steps the user walks, the more points he earns, and these points can be used to redeem prizes. Other features in the app includes a diet tracking journal that has a database of the calorie and nutritional information of various foods and drinks, and map views of the nearest exercise facilities and healthier eateries. Another similar application that is applicable to people globally is Sweatcoin37, which uses a cryptocurrency to create the incentive for people to walk. This shows that both governing authorities and private firms can have a substantial role in promoting healthy lifestyles.

Income is also a crucial factor in accessing healthcare. And income comes from employment and entrepreneurship. It is important that people have jobs because it provides the financial ability to spend on goods and services they may require.38 This includes access to health services and education. It also gives people security and fulfilment, a crucial factor in keeping good psychological health.39 It should be noted that the permanence of the job also matters. With employment there is an increase in the revenue through taxes that can then be redirected towards healthcare systems, thus improving access. 40  

To help protect the occupations of Mozambicans, a project proposed by Helvetas is to have a mobile phone application that informs Mozambicans of the fair local market price for their goods. 80% of the population depends on agriculture. To prevent them from getting misguided by middle-men, this application informs farmers of the fair price of the grains which takes into consideration the region’s supply and demand. It is interesting to consider that those that experience the most malnourishment and hunger are those that produce food; thereby an application that allows them to distribute their sales will improve the management of their income.

Education is also very much linked to health of people. For example, mothers who have some degree of health and nutritional education will provide their children with a healthier and more balanced diet, avoiding unhealthy food and food from unsafe sources. This can reduce the rates of parasitic worm infections, as well as obesity and diabetes. These two examples promote the prevention of malnutrition and avoidance of diseases, leading to a healthier population. Also, adults who have higher levels of education tend to avoid risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking, and would adopt healthy behaviours such as exercise and a balanced diet.41

Individual Characteristics and Behaviours

Besides the environment, the genetics of a person will have an influence on the person’s health in one way or another. Some genetic conditions include Sickle-cell Anaemia and Down Syndrome. The family history of an individual can also play a role, such as the predisposition of heart disease.11 Compared to children, the elderly are biologically more prone to poor health, an effect of aging. 42 The level of hormones and chemicals in the body changes through the years, and this affects the rate of recovery. For example, the level of collagen decreases as we age, making us more prone to cuts and flesh wounds.42 Another example would be the breaking down and regeneration of our bones. As we age, the rate of bone breaking down is faster than the rate of bone regenerating. Hence, for a fracture, while it takes children a few weeks for them to heal, it can take months for adults to heal.43 Despite this observation, children are also at risk given their yet unprepared immune system, which is why one of the greatest achievements of the last century is the immense reduction in Child Mortality. The incidence of various diseases also differs between gender. For example, females are more prone to autoimmune diseases compared to males, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Sjogren’s Syndrome.44 A person’s ethnic group also influences the state of health of the person. As a result of cardiovascular disease, African communities tend to have strokes whereas South Asian communities tend to have heart attacks.45

Although we cannot control genetics yet, we can control our behaviour, such as washing hands and consumption of a balanced diet. Exercise is very important for both our physical health and mental health. Physically, it reduces the likelihood of diseases such as heart and lung diseases, dementia and diabetes. Mentally, it helps to reduce stress, recover from mental health issues and improves sleep.46 By controlling our behaviour, we can reduce the likelihood of getting ill. For example, although Type II diabetes can be partly attributed to genes, it can also be attributed to lifestyle. Exercise is beneficial in preventing diabetes as it helps to regulate blood sugar level and it helps to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin.47 Similarly with heart diseases, diet and exercise are factors that affect the health of the heart.48

We all value health because we want to be able to do the things that we want to do. Poor health prevents us from having the energy and ability to achieve a meaningful life. From the above analysis, we can see how complex health is as it is influenced by various factors that are multifaceted. Health is not just influenced by an individual’s genes and behaviour, it is also influenced by the environment and people around them. Despite the complexity of the issue, we can always think of solutions to alleviate health issues through innovative technologies. We need to acknowledge that investing in health will be an investment that we will not regret. Only with a healthy population can society keep improving and pushing itself beyond its limits.

 Written By: Jaynell Ng (31/08/2019) - Outreach Volunteer for InAGlobe Education. 
1 Countries are spending more on health, but people are still paying too much out of their own pockets. (2019, February 20). Retrieved from
2Roser, M. (2017, May 26). Link between health spending and life expectancy: US is an outlier. Retrieved from
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18Karambelas, A., Holloway, T., Kinney, P. L., Fiore, A. M., Defries, R., Kiesewetter, G., & Heyes, C. (2018). Urban versus rural health impacts attributable to PM2.5 and O3 in northern India. Environmental Research Letters, 13(6). doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aac24d
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22Alcock, I., White, M. P., Wheeler, B. W., Fleming, L. E., & Depledge, M. H. (2013). Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas. Environmental Science & Technology,48(2), 1247-1255. doi:10.1021/es403688w
23Mara, D., Lane, J., Scott, B., & Trouba, D. (2010). Sanitation and Health. PLoS Medicine, 7(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000363
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The Importance of Inclusion

Inclusive education is a concept that stems from the idea that all children around the world, regardless of disability, race, class, sex, religion or language, are entitled to an education.  It contains many similarities to the more widely known method of integration, which focuses primarily on disability and special needs. This is derived from Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: everyone has the right to education (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). However, we believe this needs to go a step further, as is defined by Sustainable Development Goal No.4: Quality Education (UN, 2015). The concept of quality education means that education is not just imparted but it is delivered in a way that maximises its constructive effects on the children. And with quality education there is a close tie to inclusive education. Inclusive education is about giving the world’s future the highest possible ability to adapt to change and solve the challenges that arise, as no one is left behind.

There are a number of factors preventing inclusive education in developing countries. At the root of many of these factors is poverty. For example, some parents cannot afford (more so that opportunity cost is higher) to send their children to school once the children are old enough to work or get married. The challenge with opportunity cost is the “short-term gains vs long-term benefits”- the cost of sending a child to school with a growing list of investments such as uniform and transport. These are perceived larger due to the high rate of absenteeism amongst teachers, which often is also closely linked to poor economic incentives and lack of school funding. At InAGlobe we believe that technology can help bridge some of the challenges, whether it is related to affordability of educational material, or other.

Then there is the value of alternative education. Alternative education methods have been the norm amongst communities until education became part of a system, whether it was from a religious stand-point or as a result of the Industrial Revolution. However, alternative methods of education can be hugely impactful in communities where schools are overloaded. Mike Wamaya, the founder of Project Elimu (Wamaya, 2017) has been a driving force with his vision on alternative education in Kibera (a slum in Nairobi home to approximately 100,000 people). After a career as a professional dancer, he returned home to Nairobi and started a ballet school. InAGlobe personally met Mike in April this year and we hope to find ways of complementing his envisioned alternative education project so that innovation can be an enabler.

Furthermore, a lack of funding means schools cannot often cater for disabled children, unless supported by another organisation. Children with special needs are a huge source of untapped potential, many hold perspectives on life that no-one else could possibly imagine. The emergence of echolocation as an alternative to sight amongst the blind is just a glimpse of the capabilities that visually impaired individuals have. It is heart-breaking to see a system that so poorly adapts to disability, and it is socially, politically and economically foolish. But disability is not only the visually impaired, it is the amputees, the victims of polio, those with learning difficulties, individuals that were victims of conflict, accidents, violence and disaster, it is a myriad of diversity that can contribute to a better understanding of the world, as well as help build a more inclusive world. In the same way that political institutions should be pluralistic, giving voice to minorities, this also applies within disability, and inclusive education is a necessary stepping stone so that these individuals can become more heavily involved in building a world that works for all. InAGlobe is partnering with the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust to develop a low-cost device that will help teach visually impaired children mathematics. There is no reason why a visually impaired child cannot dream of being an engineer, a scientist, a mathematician, a statistician or an accountant.

This is but a glimpse of the complexity behind the challenge of inclusive education for children with special needs, there is a more pressing imperative which is that the mainstream reality is that many of these children are often socially marginalised, with immense levels of stigma. This is a barrier that is being cleared by countless organisations working on the ground, but it is not enough that organisations do this out of charity. Educational inclusion leads to economic and social inclusion, and along the way the removal of a stigma that is often more disabling than the disability itself.

Inadequate sanitation is another issue causing absenteeism. It often prevents girls from attending school once they begin having their period. The leading cause of school absenteeism is parasites, and other water-borne diseases that are tightly linked to poor sanitation. Effective Altruism, an organisation that helps focus the efforts of motivated individuals towards tackling large impact challenges sees de-parasiting as the most effective leverage point towards education (Effective Altruism, 2019). The list is seemingly endless, and the paradigm is complex, such that the UN estimates that 617 million youths worldwide lack basic numeracy and literacy (UN, 2018).  Despite the barriers, small steps can be taken to ensure that communities are progressing towards the goal. These can include: 

  • The use of teaching assistants or specialists: these staff can make sure that specific attention is given to struggling students, meaning that more students overall can achieve basic numeracy and literacy skills. 
  • Implementation of an inclusive curriculum: this aims to include themes relevant to the local community and contributions by marginalized and minority groups. It should include children of all abilities, and ideally teach vocational skills for students unable to learn conventional academic skills. 
  • Specific teaching aids and enabling technologies: this can range from innovative technological solutions that allow more children to be included within the system or elevating the current educational experience by considering alternative forms of learning. (Open Society Foundations, 2019)

Of course, these measures can only be properly implemented if there is significant funding going into the progression of education in developing communities. Often, NGOs or local charities will bring in volunteer teaching assistants or will purchase teaching aids for schools to keep and use. However, the core ideology of inclusivity has only been ingrained into very few schools in developing countries. The idea of rolling out the inclusive education framework almost sounds fanciful, particularly in areas where basic education is considered a luxury. However, by approaching different facets of the problem (e.g. lack of technology, social stigma, poverty), it may eventually be possible to bring education to all.

Due to to InAGlobe’s strong ties with the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, we approach this topic with an emphasis on technological solutions. There have been numerous advances in assistive and educational technology in developed countries to improve the standard of disabled children’s education. This can encompass everything from adapted sitting chairs, to low- and high-tech braille devices, to modified computer controls for children lacking fine motor control. These technologies can make a world of difference to a disabled child and can result in their acquisition of key skills needed to live a more full and independent life. However, technologies such as these are often extremely expensive to manufacture, which reduces their viability in developing countries. If we could make these technologies affordable enough to allow for their implementation, we may be able to reduce the burden of disability on children, parents and schools alike. 

So how can we bring about the implementation of these technologies? We believe that by using innovative thinking and human-centred design, we can either come up with brand new solutions or remodel existing technologies to allow for their use in developing countries at a fraction of their current cost. This is something we are striving to promote at InAGlobe, as one of our main priorities is the education of every child. Beyond this, we have a further goal: to raise awareness for these issues so that the engineers and scientists of tomorrow may take on the challenge of finding innovative solutions to global issues.  By bringing issues such as inclusivity in education to the mainstream, we hope that we can encourage large-scale involvement and collaboration to tackle these challenges.

Written By: Kavya Ganabady (09/07/2019) - Outreach Volunteer for InAGlobe Education. 

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N/A. 5 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom. 2015. Retrieved from 

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N/A. Sustainable Development Goal No.4: Education. 2018.  Retrieved from

N/A. The Value of Inclusive Education. 2019. Retrieved from 

N/A. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948. Retrieved from  

N/A. What is Inclusive Education?

Wamaya M. 2017.

Overcoming Barriers to Education with Technology

Nowadays, basic education is expected from the government and the law requires citizens to attend school up to a certain level. Education is not only a human right, it is also a duty to fulfil. Indeed, literacy rates and enrolment rates have increased over the years, in which there were 62 million out-of-school lower secondary school children in 2015, a large decrease from 97 million in 2000 (UNICEF, 2019). However, if we really recognise education as a right, then much can still be done since there are still people who are illiterate (according to UNESCO (2017), 750 million people) or unable to attend school. The problem is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, where in 2015, net enrolment rate was 79% (UNICEF, 2019). This essay will discuss how the lower rates of education in some communities can be attributed to some factors, which are often linked in one way or another.

Overcoming Barriers to Education

1. Lack of sanitation and clean water

It is shocking that 1 in 3 primary schools do not have clean water or decent toilets. According to a report by UNICEF and WHO (2018), the lack of clean drinking water is affecting 570 million children and the lack of decent toilets is affecting 620 million children. In fact, a child under the age of 5 is dying every 2 minutes due to diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilets.

In the short term, this increases the risks of children falling ill and being infected by parasitic worms, leading to diarrhoea and anaemia. Recovering from an illness at home means a loss in school days, hindering the learning of children they must spend more time and effort to catch up. Even if the child is well enough to attend school, he might struggle to concentrate. In the long term, since these students are in the phase of life in which they are developing cognitively and physically, it is thus possible that their bodily functions are affected if they fall ill on a frequent basis. The bottom-line is that education does not come as a priority to good health, and health is heavily affected by access to clean water and sanitation.

In addition to the poor toilets, many schools only have mixed-gender toilets. This makes it difficult for girls to go to school especially when they hit puberty and need to clean themselves during menstrual periods. The lack of privacy and unsafe water deters girls from attending school, resulting in greater gender inequality. In the same report by UNICEF and WHO (2018), in 2016, 355 million girls were affected by the lack of facilities to wash their hands after changing sanitary pads.

Kelly Ann Naylor, the chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at UNICEF, puts into words the importance of sanitation and clean water very nicely: “If education is the key to helping children escape poverty, access to water and sanitation is key to helping children safely maximise their education. To neglect this is to be careless with the wellbeing and health of children.

Possible Solution

To emphasise the importance of toilets in Mozambique, InAGlobe partnered with SNV to seek a collaboration with local artisans (e.g. ceramicists, brick-makers etc.) to design affordable permanent toilets out of locally sourced materials. If these designs can be implemented into schools, it will not only help safeguard the health of the students, it will also encourage job creation and also lower carbon footprint.


2. Opportunity costs for households

Often in developing countries, even if education is free, the costs incurred from transportation, uniforms and textbooks (just to name a few) can substantially increase the cost of education for the family, especially if the family has many children. Moreover, children are often expected to contribute to the family’s income or to stay at home to help with the chores, such collecting water and firewood or taking care of the younger siblings.

This especially affects girls. The fact that girls get married off and become part of her husband’s family does not encourage the families of the girls to send them to school, since the income she gets will belong to her husband’s family. Furthermore, in the short-run, if the family has many children, they might choose to marry their daughters off once they are of age to lessen the financial burden on themselves. Hence, there is little to incentivise the family to warrant an expenditure on education for the girl. As a result of all these, drop-out rates increase, and gender inequality widens. This issue is further reinforced by the increased likelihood of becoming pregnant.

Possible Solution

Although technology might not have the ability to change cultural beliefs and traditions, technology can help reduce the opportunity costs of households. Having water storage systems or agricultural technology means the dependence on physical labour is reduced, which can possibly allow children to go to school. If these systems in place can aid the improvement of family’s income and induce a higher spending capacity, perhaps due to more efficient methods of processing the goods or the production of higher quality products, they might be more willing to send their children (regardless of gender) to school.


3. Crises and Conflicts (and Displaced People)

Crises and conflicts (as well as the aftermath), such as natural disasters, epidemics and political conflict can adversely affect education. During such situations, besides the destruction of schools, there is also the disruption of amenities and infrastructure such as water supply, transportation and electricity. With the lack of water, children are likely to fall ill and are unable to attend school (as mentioned earlier). With damaged roads, the journey to school may be unsafe or unpassable.

Particularly in times of political instability, danger is lurking everywhere. In recent history, it is not uncommon to see children recruited as child soldiers. This definitely disrupts the schooling of these children as now they are directly involved in the conflict, not to mention the underlying psychological effects of extreme violence and the physical legacy of war itself. Moreover, militia leaders often give drugs to the child soldiers to desensitise them against the acts they are carrying out. Child soldiers also take drugs to forget the memories of their former lives and continue to take it after coming out of the army as an act of denial to the acts they performed against their community. This makes it difficult for them to integrate into society because they become addicted and violent, which results in society rejecting them. They feel even more isolated and turn back to drugs, making this a vicious cycle.

Moreover, conflict often leads to displacement, forcing people into refugee camps or even to leave the country. This relocation can mean a change in educational system, language and teaching style for the children.

Delayed and slow schooling eventually leads to low productivity, which is an economic hurdle. Further, crises and conflicts are especially problematic given that priorities shift from making investments towards the future (such as with education) towards immediate survival-driven decision-making (such as fleeing), and subsequently upon the end of the crisis, the reconstruction of infrastructure rather than education.

Possible Solution

These events can cause great trauma to the children, affecting their ability to learn. This makes schools even more important as it can induce a sense of normality and also aid in the restoration of their lives, counteracting the psychological impact of the trauma.

Since the destruction of infrastructure is a common sight after a natural disaster, we can research into building materials that are stronger and at the same time affordable such that buildings like schools stay strong and stable. Also, these buildings can also serve the purpose of being a refuge place, reducing the need for people to relocate.

We can also make use of the internet cloud to store teaching materials to ensure nothing gets lost during emergency times and schools can resume more smoothly once things around stabilise. Mobile phones can also play an interesting role in the education of children in times of conflict. Viamo (formerly known as VOTO Mobile) uses interactive voice response (IVR) technology in a mobile device to deliver education. The material is related to the lesson content on radio, in which students can participate in live-polls or quizzes by dialling the hotline or through text. Xavier Project (a humanitarian organisation) collaborated with Eneza Education (a mobile course provider) to provide children in Kenya primary education using short messaging service (SMS). Besides receiving explanation on why the answer is correct or wrong, other services come with the SMS study tool such as Auto-Quizzes and live Ask-a-Teacher feature, enabling them to direct their questions to a qualified teacher.


4. Social Stigmatisation

In many places, stigmatisation arises as a result of deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs or due to the lack of awareness and hence lack of tolerance. However, do note that this attitude is not necessarily uniform across the community.

Developing countries contain 80% of the population of children with disabilities. These children are often excluded from education because of the lack of appropriate resources and expertise to teach them. However, false beliefs on disabilities also contribute to the inaccessibility of education for such students. Some beliefs include: a punishment from God (or bad karma), a demonic possession, and an ancestral curse. This results in not only rejection of school admission for these children, but also parents protecting their children from negative perceptions by keeping their children away from social activities. According to the United Nations, 38% of caregivers of children with disabilities in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia reported doing the latter action. Even the children of disabled parents suffer from the same fate even if they do not have any disabilities.

Children with albinism are one such disadvantaged group. According to Standing Voice (accessed in 2019), the prevalence rate is higher in Sub-Sharan Africa, with 1 in 1,400 people suffer from albinism in Tanzania compared to the global average of 1 in 18,000. There are misconceptions that children with albinism have a shorter lifespan, hence communities are not keen to devote resources to their education. Moreover, besides being bullied in public which can affect mental health, people with albinism are believed to possess magic powers and hence are often abducted or killed and mutilated for their body parts. With these dangers, families would rather protect their children at home than to send them to school.

Myths and superstitions extend to girls menstruating as well. In Nepal, Chhaupadi is practiced, in which Hindu women who are menstruating are not allowed indoors, including their own homes. This is because they are considered to be impure. This inevitably results in the loss of school days. It should be noted, however, that the Nepalese government is taking steps to stop this practice, in which they banned the practice in 2005 and criminalised it in 2018. Knowing that it is a long-running tradition, the government also stops giving state support to families that practices this act and families that stops their daughters from going to school.

Besides cultural beliefs, the lack of awareness also prevents the education of children in some communities. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is no less amongst children. 1.9 million out of the 2.5 million children, age 15 and under, living with HIV/AIDS are in Sub-Saharan Africa (Medscape, 2018). They experience a degree of stigmatisation that prevents them from attending school at times. This is fostered by the incorrect belief that the virus can be transmitted through human contact rather than fluid exchange.

Possible Solution

Realising that proportionally, there are many forms of disability that are more prevalent in countries that cannot afford current assistive technologies such as teaching aids, affordable tailored technologies have immense potential towards creating inclusion. Due to the focus of both the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, and Jaime’s previous focus of humanitarian work and engineering, InAGlobe has a special focus on assistive technologies, collaborating closely with the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust. Through technology, we can lessen the burden of disability and increase the inclusiveness of society, playing a part in ensuring that every individual gets a chance in school, eventually contributing actively in the economy and hopefully, reduce the burden of stigma.

These issues are multi-faceted and there is not a single solution that can solve all of them. Although many of these problems are social problems and technology might not be able to change human mindsets, innovative technological solutions can be developed to alleviate some of these problems. We need to constantly question ourselves: How can technology play a role in, directly or indirectly, increasing education rates?  Who is not being included in the current system, and how can this be changed? At InAGlobe, these are the kinds of problems we want to raise to higher education institutions to inspire them to come up with innovative solutions. By raising awareness, we hope to play a part in global education to empower the lives of individuals and communities.

 Written By: Jaynell Ng (22/06/2019) - Outreach Volunteer of InAGlobe Education. 

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Education – A Tool for Change

We usually associate education with academic knowledge obtained through institutions, such as primary and secondary schools and universities. Education can also refer to vocational training, where practical skills are obtained instead of purely academic skills. However, is education the equivalent of schooling? The answer to that – sometimes, but not always. As defined by Mark K Smith, education is “a process of inviting truth and possibility, of encouraging and giving time to discovery.”  Essentially, education encourages independent thinking and the capacity to act upon these thoughts. It is the process of making sense of this world through one’s experiences and observations. Though education is not merely a qualification or certificate, this is not to disregard the importance of academic institutions.


Schools can help inspire students to question the things around them and to seek truth. It is this sense of curiosity and imagination that increases creativity levels, and thus promote the development of innovative solutions. Ultimately, we would want a society in which people can be discerning and are able to form independent conclusions based on given facts. This diversity in thinking can enable better consensus between individuals because of the different angles from which different people see. InAGlobe complements higher education institutions by creating collaborations with humanitarian organisations, striving to raise social awareness and global acumen among students, and give rise to a new wave of humanitarian engineering. Hopefully, this can spark a collective sense of social responsibility and inspire them to bring positive impact to the global community.

The benefits of education are numerous. Zooming in on individuals, as mentioned before, education aids in our thinking and discernment. Since these are soft skills that employers seek, higher degrees of education enable higher chances of finding a higher paying job. This allows people to raise their standards of living and the benefits can trickle down to the next generation. Moreover, education helps make people aware and in turn be adaptable to face unexpected situations.

For example, sanitation and safe water would be ensured if the individual knows the importance of hygiene. One cause of children not going to school is parasitic worm infections, which has a higher prevalence in children. Walking around barefooted and consuming contaminated food and water are some ways that the worms enter the blood circulation system and gut, leading to anaemia and malnutrition. This shows how important hygiene is in protecting education, as poor health is a barrier to learning. Also, mothers who have some degree of health and nutritional education will provide their children with a healthier and more balanced diet, avoiding unhealthy foods and unsafe sources. This can reduce the rates of parasitic worm infections as well. These two examples promote the prevention of malnutrition and avoidance of diseases, leading to a healthier population. With good health, people are enabled, empowered and unhindered by preventable causes, allowing them to reach their fullest potential. Improved health is heavily important in lifting individuals out of poverty. And in turn, deparasiting is seen as one of the most effective solutions to keeping children in school.

Zooming out to the community, an educated workforce brings about increased productivity, driving the economy. The gains from an improved economy can be used to invest in other areas such as education, healthcare and transport. Improvements in infrastructure and amenities can increase the accessibility to schools, hence further improving education rates, leading to a positive feedback loop of growth. Also, the ability to form independent comments and conclusions can aid in political stability since people can discern truths and vote for people who are genuine in improving lives in the community.

By developing technological solutions that can aid in the education of children in impoverished environments, we open the door to equipping the future with the tools and the skills to better determine their futures. Due to the focus of both the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, and Jaime’s previous focus of humanitarian work and engineering, InAGlobe has a special focus on assistive technologies. In the realm of education there is an imperative element of inclusion, not simply the enabling of basic education systems. Children with special needs across the developing world suffer from extreme marginalisation, and there are countless organisations working on aiding shift towards social, economic and educational inclusion of these children. Whether it is a child with impaired vision, an amputee or a victim of Polio, tailored technologies have immense potential towards creating inclusion. This is magnified when realising that proportionally, there are many forms of disability that are more prevalent in countries that cannot afford current assistive technologies, such as teaching aids. This can be either increased rates of cataracts due to dust or traumatic injury, or higher proportions of amputees due to landmine heritage. Technology can create productive agents in society and the economy, as well as lessen the burden of disability, if only they receive adequate attention from engineers and technologists.

InAGlobe wants to go a step further, the development of technologies is but a nominal aspect to its intended impact in education. By incorporating projects into the curriculum of higher education institutions where students become the engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technologists that build the world thereafter, we seek to create generations of professionals versed in problem solving with humanitarian engineering constraints. It will expose the technological minds of the future to challenges that will be shared globally due to the interconnectivity of the environment and of people. Moreover, the exercise of collaborating with individuals in wildly different contexts with different cultures grows the social awareness and global acumen of the students. Also, by including such projects in the curriculum, InAGlobe gives exposure to entities that work in this problem space that are often resource-constrained when seeking talent. By shifting our mindset through education that includes emerging markets, humanitarian engineering may become a mainstream job market, rather than niche. This is likely the most important aspect of InAGlobe, and it is the same reason that we are writing these essay series: to create awareness and understanding about the imperative of global collaboration towards the forthcoming challenges.

Written By: Jaynell Ng (27/05/2019) - Outreach Volunteer of InAGlobe Education.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking, or systems science came slowly into the scene with a set of academic dialogues between experts in Biology, Psychology and Ecology. The discovery of the Cell, the Theory of Evolution and Genomics catalysed these conversations (Capra, 2019). During the 1920s and 1930s, scientists began to observe levels of complexity in their discoveries that they were unable to fully comprehend using Descartes’s reductionist approach to science. It took almost half a century with the invention of the Von Neuman’s computer and Complexity Theory before the non-linear mathematics that was used to describe complex models could be solved (without linearizing). Conventional linear thinking has been incredibly useful in realms such as medical diagnostics and quantum physics, but it has provoked what Fritjof Capra describes as a “Crisis of Perception”, calling for a change in paradigm of world view. In order to tackle the interconnected and interdisciplinary challenges, it is imperative to admit and analyse the multi-facetted nature of a specific challenge and find the points of leverage. Capra identifies 4 dimensions to the Systems View of Life (Capra, 2019), aspects that technology can have an effect on but must also consider when being designed:

  1. Biological
  2. Cognitive
  3. Social
  4. Ecological

“ A living (biological, cognitive, social or ecological) system is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller parts.”

-Fritjof Capra (Capra, 2019)

In essence, Systems Thinking is a conceptual framework. At the core, we have the science of relationships, the interactions and dynamics (flows) that exist between what Donella Meadows labelled as stocks.These building blocks give rise to the “Bathtub Theorem” of economics, which is essentially the smallest unit of a system. In this case, a bathtub is supplied with water through a tap (flow in), and water exits through leakage or the drain (flows out); where the bathtub holds a stock of water (Meadows, 2009)(or whatever liquid you enjoy bathing in). Another key concept in Systems science is that of feedback and causal loops, the first to emerge were those of positive and negative feedback loops (represented as Circles of Causality) which led to the first two archetypes: Balancing (negative – reduces the difference between the disturbed state and the goal-state)and Reinforcing (positive – accelerates the present trend of a process) (Capra, 2019). The concept of delay is crucial to understanding these circles of causality.

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The ‘dynamic-yet-stable’ state of systems is a key characteristic which allows a system to adapt to changing environments. From this concept arises the term “Structural Coupling” (Capra, 2019), entailing that a system is structurally coupled to its environment, which when disturbed adapts and thus learns, setting a historic in the system itself. One can quickly see how systems science suddenly becomes incredibly complex. Hence, the importance of applying non-linear mathematics to Complexity Theory, where the solutions are not a number but instead a pattern or a geometry (such as fractal geometry). Without going further into this, I want to introduce what are considered the building blocks of Systems analysis, several archetypes identified by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline. By generalising the dynamics of a system you are trying to analyse into one of the archetypes described by Senge, you can quickly understand what type of system you are dealing with (Stroh, 2015)(the following link leads to a PDF that has an explanation of these:, 2000)). The flowchart below is a useful tool to navigate these archetypes. This is a convenient way of diagnosing what trends exist in a system and what kind of interventions would be successful. Bear in mind, that systems can have multiple archetypes embedded within, so amongst different feedback loops one can find different dynamics. This also means that multi-faceted interventions are usually necessary for tackling challenges systemically.

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In order to help make these abstract concepts appear more practical I will present a series of examples that have helped me grasp the essence of systems thinking. During the 1980s, European countries along with the US and Australia were experiencing a pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Without a cure, and with little hope of finding any in the near future, a systems analysis of the incidence and spread of disease allowed mapping of transmission channels and find leverage points. These leverage points were locations where interventions would be most successful and efficient, which was imperative for what was becoming an incredibly expensive disease. This exercise showed that most of the infections were occurring in users of injected drugs, such as heroin and other opioids, as a result of sharing and re-using needles. By identifying the main cause of transmission, instead of focusing all resources into research and development of cures, governments and health care systems intervened by providing sterile needles for drug-users (free of cost) and places for them to be disposed of safely. This hugely decelerated the propagation of the disease. Such intervention was critical to saving economically in the long-run and prevented an innumerable amount of infections (Burack & Bangsberg, 1998) (National Academy of Sciences & Institute of Medecine, 1995) (Stimson, 1995) (Wodak & McLeod, 2008). This in turn has allowed a larger proportion of the budget to be dedicated to the identification of the cure. This is a good example of a systemic intervention to a challenge.

At the heart of one of Capra’s narratives in the Systems View of Life is that of the Web of Life, which supports itself not only on the shift from food chains to food webs, but also on evolutionary theory. Most specifically the advancements brought by Lynn Margulis and her theory of Symbiogenesis, leading to the Gaia Hypothesis co-developed with James Lovelock (Capra, 2019). The Gaia Hypothesis suggests that living organisms form complex, synergistic and self-regulating systems with the inorganic matter that surrounds them, such that life is perpetuated. This suggests that organisms co-evolve as the environment changes. The Gaia Hypothesis has in turn led to the philosophical and ecological movement of Deep Ecology, where the worth of all living beings exists regardless of their instrumental utility by humans (Capra, 2019). The argument sets itself on a balance that exists between all the members within a system, due to the high degree of interconnectivity, once again observing the relationships between them. This can be taken another step further and extended to the interconnectivity between the economy and the ecological framework known as Gaia (Capra & Jakobsen, 2017). Capra argues that humans are members of at least two core communities on Earth, that of ‘Humanity’ and that of ‘Oikos’. Within Humanity, we have an imperative to respect and exercise everyone’s human rights, defending each persons’ dignity, such that the system is inclusive. And with Oikos, humans are part of the Earth’s biosphere, sharing our space with all the other living organisms. In recognition of this following the 1992 World Summit, the Earth Charter was devised by a multidisciplinary team, a document that summarises how we must “join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.” (Earth Charter Commission, 2000).

Due to the nature of InAGlobe’s remit, I want to bring focus to the work of David P. Stroh in Systems Thinking for Social Change. There are two examples that I find particularly helpful for understanding the practicality of systems thinking: Homelessness and Criminality. In the thematic of homelessness, focusing on metrics and siloed organisations shows an example of unintended opposition. Temporary shelters are incredibly important in ensuring that homeless people do not sleep rough, and are an invaluable stepping stone into permanent housing. Now, say the metric that temporary shelters report on is the percentage of occupied beds. If this number is increasingly high, close to 100% (and above) a temporary shelter can justify that they require more funding to install more beds. In turn, having more beds will take more people off the streets temporarily and make the problem of homelessness be perceived as ameliorated. This intervention could be seen as a “Quick Fix”, because the metric of number of homeless people has not been reduced, and if anything, has increased (due to the parallel with increased demand for beds). On the other hand, affordable, permanent housing with the supporting services necessary to introduce homeless people into the formal economy as well as treat those who abuse substances, would permanently help remove people from the streets. Yet, if temporary shelters are exerting pressure for funding, budgets for permanent housing and inclusion services suffer. Stroh states that the first step to solving a problem systemically is to convene all the stakeholders in a problem space and define a set of shared goals, in this case: Reduce the amount of homelessnessand define a representative metric, for example,number of individuals transferring from temporary shelters into permanent housing (Stroh, 2015).

The second example, that of criminality, looks at the mass incarceration in the United States. Once again, public perception plays a crucial role in this process by influencing legislation. In order to make the streets safe from crime, criminals are incarcerated. The motif for incarceration is variable, but let’s say that petty crimes (generally in a cumulative sense) lead to eventual incarceration (as do violent crimes). By incarcerating criminals, the immediate effect is that there are less criminals on the streets, and thus the streets appear safer. Petty criminals spend their sentence in prisons where they harden up, through exposure to more violent individuals, and come out into society with a criminal record that gets in the way of them participating in the formal economy normally. This incarceration of the petty criminal has bred an alienated hardened criminal who is now more likely to commit a crime, and especially a violent crime. Hence, the street is now less safe than before the initial incarceration. This in turn leads to harsher laws on criminality, which leads to more individuals being incarcerated, reinforcing the original problem – this illustrates a system of Shifting the Burden/Escalation. This goes into the argument that Michel Foucault so well presented, where punishment in its historical sense rarely rehabilitates individuals, and prisons are but an exponent of this. The argument that Stroh provides is that legislation must have an outlook on reinsertion such that petty criminals do not recidivate, entering a spiral of increasing alienation and aggressiveness (Stroh, 2015). Bear in mind that both examples are an extremely simplified and condensed account of what Stroh presents in his book, and I strongly suggest picking up a copy if you found these topics interesting.

By understanding relationships between living organisms and the non-living environment, InAGlobe seeks to utilise systems thinking to analyse problem spaces in proposed innovation projects. In this manner, interventions must consider possible side-effects and domino effects, as well as providing the most efficient approach to problem solving. There is not a day that passes where systems thinking is not useful in our process, whether it is in analysing problem spaces for innovation or for management of students and stakeholders, as well as internal processes. For anyone interested in diving deeper into this topic, I strongly advise looking into the referenced material for this piece as they are of immense quality.

Written by Jaime Aguilera Garcia (16/5/2019), CEO & Co-Founder of InAGlobe Education


Burack, J. H. & Bangsberg, D., 1998. Epidemiology and HIV Transmission in Injection Drug Users.

Capra, F., 2019. CapraCourse: Systems View of Life. London, UK: s.n.


F. & Jakobsen, O. D., 2017. A conceptual framework for ecological economics based on systemic principles of life. International Journal of Social Economics, 44(6), pp. 831-845.

Earth Charter Commission, 2000. The Earth Charter. Johannesburg, South Africa: s.n.

Kim, D. H., 2000. The Systems Thinker Toolbox: SYSTEMS ARCHETYPES I. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 29 4 2019].

Meadows, D., 2009. Thinking In Systems. London, UK: Earthscan.

National Academy of Sciences & Institute of Medecine, 1995. Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach. Washington D.C., National Academy of Sciences & Institute of Medecine.

Stimson, G. V., 1995. Aids and injecting drug use in the United Kingdom, 1987–1993: The policy response and the prevention of the epidemic. Social Science & Medicine, 41(5), pp. 699-716.

Stroh, D. P., 2015. Systems Thinking for Social Change. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Wodak, A. & McLeod, L., 2008. The Role of Harm Reduction in Controlling HIV Among Injecting Drug Users. AIDS, 22(2), pp. 81-92.

Understanding Human-Centred Design


Human-centred design is a framework that emphasises the human perspective in all steps of the design process. It serves to provide the end user with a product that they will truly want, need and find useful. It is also often seen as something more than just a design framework: it is a mindset and a tool that intends to create a long-lasting, positive impact on the user.

According to, the approach to human-centred design consists of 3 phases: Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation.


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Inspiration: The aim is to learn and truly understand exactly what the user needs. There are a series of steps that designers follow in this phase that enable them to deepen their understanding of the requirements for the project:

HCD - Inspiration

Ideation: This gives the designer the opportunity to make sense of their findings, draw meaning from them, and prototype potential solutions. This can again be broken down into a series of straightforward steps:

HCD - Ideation

Implementation: This is the phase that brings the solution to life. By following a co-design process with the people involved, the solution is more likely to be something they utilise and hold agency over. The steps are as follows:

HCD - Implementation

It is clear to see that this has all the makings of a successful method. The process of iterating and continuously developing and adjusting ideas for the benefit of people leads to enhanced user satisfaction, which leads to greater success for the business. There are numerous examples, in different industries, of this working in the favour of both the business and the consumer. Recently, companies such as IKEA and Apple have chosen to focus on the emotional relation between their products and the consumer, rather than focusing purely on technology.

A proponent of this approach is Tricia Wang, a ‘global tech ethnographer’. She focuses on ‘thick data’ (small-scale qualitative, human-centred data) rather than ‘big data’ (large-scale, quantitative analyses). She believes that thick data, though smaller in scale, is crucial in finding out what users truly want or need. Whilst big data can be useful to uncover patterns, it is thick data that provides context and detail to these patterns. Therefore, she believes integrating the quantitative approach and the human-centred approach can yield the best results.

This is not to say that human-centred design does not come with its drawbacks. It has often been criticised for stifling true creativity. It has also been argued that this type of design does not push boundaries, as it only attempts solve to present-day problems instead of thinking ahead.

Human centred design is particularly important in the developing world, hence our adoption of it at InAGlobe. By liaising with stakeholders on the ground, we can understand what it is that communities truly need and practice inspiration alongside them. With contextual constraints in mind, we can hand over projects to academics at Imperial, and other universities to carry out the ideation and implementation phases. In particular, two of these projects involve human-centred design: a mathematical brailler for unlocking numeracy and a pill-organiser to facilitate self-medication.

The first is a project proposed by Kilimanjaro Blind Trust, operating in East Africa: an electrical brailler that includes a series of design constraints that will allow visually impaired children to unlock their abilities in STEM. Currently, numeracy levels amongst VI individuals is low because the focus of their education surrounds a braillers that tackle literacy. A user-centred approach has been taken to cater for the specific needs of visually impaired children, and for the educators such that the device can be easily integrated in their current educational practice. This ranges from the inclusion of mathematical symbols to various refreshing working lines or affordability and energy requirements.

Meanwhile, the pill-organiser has been taken up by a final year MEng Biomedical Engineering student and is currently undergoing prototyping cycles. This involves mapping the user needs: understanding that young adults and children are the main focus, and therefore predicting the conditions the pillbox will be exposed to and how this affects engineering constraints. For instance, clear audio feedback is crucial for blind children.

Both projects directly reflect the needs of communities in developing countries, and we hope that their implementation can have a long-term, positive influence on the lives of those affected by the issues.

Human-centred design is a process that we advise anyone working in any form of interface with users to incorporate, so that the usability can be as smooth and relevant as possible. It will allow entrepreneurs to adjust prototypes accordingly before great investment is made, and improve the experience of stakeholders. There are many resources out there which can be utilised for free, ranging from courses on +Acumen or tool kits on and  

Written By: Kavya Ganabady (23/04/2019) - Outreach Volunteer of InAGlobe Education.


For more information on Tricia Wang, see her TedTalk:

What Sustainability Means to Us

Sustainability. In recent times, it seems that the word is increasingly under our radars. Perhaps this is due to the heightened awareness that our modern, urban lifestyles are so deeply unsustainable. We are consuming fossil fuels and other non-renewable materials at an alarming rate and churning out unfathomable quantities of landfill waste. We are wreaking havoc on our planet and inadvertently harming others and ourselves in our increasingly consumer-driven cultures. But can we do something about it? 

 Many organisations believe that we can, by making changes to the way we impact the environment. In fact, 3 pillars of sustainability were identified in the World Summit on Social Development (2005). If we adhere to these 3 pillars, we may be able to make a positive change. They are as follows: 


1. Environmental Protection  

The first pillar is perhaps the most obvious one. Many feel it is the primary concern for the future of humanity. It defines how we should study and protect the environment. It also concerns how technology will drive us towards a greener future. The development of novel technology is the key to protecting the environment of the future from the potential damage that technological advances could bring.  

2. Social Development 

There are many points to make about social development. For businesses, it places importance on awareness of what goes on in every aspect of the supply chain. For instance, is child labour used for cheaper manufacture? Are workers being paid fair wages? There is an increasing demand for products that are made ethically – that is, with the health and social wellbeing of workers in mind. Another element of social development is education – encouraging people to participate in environmental sustainability and teaching them about the effects of environmental protection, as well as warning of the dangers if we cannot achieve our goals.  

3. Economic Development 

To be sustainable, a business must be profitable. However, this profit cannot come at the cost of the other two pillars. Therefore, this pillar is about incentivising sustainability, so that businesses and other organisations adhere to environmental policies and guidelines. One such incentive is the fact that, nowadays, appearing to be more ‘eco-friendly’ is often more profitable. 

 Whilst many organisations in developed countries are attempting to alter their business models to better adhere to these pillars, the lack of resources in developing countries is hindering such progress. 

 Whilst changing business models can have some positive impact on these issues, they cannot solve the problem entirely. With the rapid increase in population, there will soon be a huge increase in demand for basic amenities such as clean water, energy and food. Developing countries are particularly afflicted by this, as an increase in population makes it more difficult to maintain sanitation, find housing and supply energy, to name just a few problems. This is where science and technology come in. Novel technologies to battle this issue need to be developed – and quickly.  

 The problem is that innovative technologies are designed for the West, and are then adapted to fit the context of developing countries. This often comes with unforeseen challenges that hinder the implementation of potentially useful technology. This is where InAGlobe Education comes in. Our aim is to find out exactly which problems need solving, via contact with partners on the ground. By having a field partner, we can make technology ethically, social, economically and culturally inclusive. The task of coming up with solutions is then given to scientists and engineers. Projects that are proposed should follow the three pillars closely, they should consider the environmental, social and economic implications; this will often include characteristics such as low-cost, clean and energy efficient. They must also be carried out using local resources, local logistics channels and local labour. Education is then provided to give the local population the power to maintain their new resources. With all of these aspects in mind, InAGlobe hopes to make technology as inclusive as possible. 

 This model therefore adheres to all the pillars of sustainability. By using local resources and emphasising the use of renewable materials, the environmental pillar is fulfilled. The inherent nature of the projects results in the health and social wellbeing of the local population being increased and maintained at a higher level. In terms of the economic pillar, providing education gives the local population greater autonomy. It means they can live without having to consistently depend on the help of NGOs or other charitable organisations, which ultimately benefits both parties. 

 Ultimately, we hope to expose future engineers and scientists to challenges found in the developing world, so that they can carry these lessons into their professional careers. We hope that by sourcing projects with contextual constraints, we can further the development of technologies that are low-cost, energy efficient and clean. 


Written By: Kavya Ganabady (02/04/2019) - Outreach Volunteer of InAGlobe Education.

United Nations, General Assembly. 2005. 2005 World Summit Outcome. Retrieved from:  

Rethinking Innovation: Why the World Needs a Frame-shift

Innovation is a term we often hear. We say that Apple is innovative, so is Facebook and Dyson. However, innovation goes beyond the realm of technology. Innovation is the initiation of an idea through imagination and ultimately, the invention of a novel product when there is enough information. That seems to be a lot of ‘i’s to take in. Basically:  

Innovation = Information + Imagination + Ideation + Initiation + Invention

With these concepts in place, it’s no wonder innovation is often associated with digital technology in the 21st century because there have been many ground-breaking digital products. With the same concepts, this was how society advanced in the Renaissance Period with the emergence of new philosophical ideas and in the Industrial Revolution which had the aim to achieve greatest efficiency.  

It is with innovation that humanity can keep advancing and achieve even higher standards of living. However, those who really need innovation are not getting it. This can due to how businesses operate in a free market. The demand for the innovation might be there, but those who would truly benefit from it just cannot afford the product. Hence, companies would reduce their cost by placing their products in markets that can afford their products. Even if companies have the aim to create low-cost products, many cannot afford the goods since each cent spent is one less cent available for competing needs.  

Despite the struggles, low-resource environments are a fertile ground to rethink technologies, especially in the area of sustainability and affordability. There has been successful innovation that sprouted from such environments, from energy to agriculture, from healthcare to education. One very successful example is M-Pesa, which enabled 93% of the Kenyan population to have access to mobile payments. In a place where it is difficult to travel from rural areas to the city, M-Pesa connects these places and allows people to send money to their loved ones whenever necessary.  

Here are some terms often heard in these places: Innovation (enlarged)

1. Frugal Innovation
More and more people are thinking of how to develop high-quality products while reducing the complexities and increasing the value of the products. This is called Frugal Innovation. One such example is a fridge made of clay that does not require electricity created by Mansukhbhai Prajapati after an earthquake struck India and all he had was clay.  

2. Reverse Engineering
Reverse engineering happens when innovation done in less-developed communities is brought into developed communities. This is what Beth Kolko and her company, Shift Labs, believes in and is doing. By focusing on the needs of less-developed communities, such as unstable electricity supply and shortage of manpower, the company develops low-cost medical devices which managed to get the attention of some US hospitals.  

3. Leapfrogging Technology
The immediate adoption of modern technology and bypassing intermediate technological stages is referred to as leapfrogging. For example, a HIV clinic in South Africa makes use of a robotic pharmacy system to prescribe medication to patients. Using this system reduces the errors made and the waiting time.  

Indeed, a society’s status is not solely driven by innovation. But if the United Nations recognise increasing innovation as one of the sustainable development goals for 2030, innovation must have a significant role to play in lifting people out of poverty. Like how the UN is proposing a program called ‘STI doctors’ (or ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Doctors’) which consists of foreign professionals to solve technical bottlenecks, InAGlobe Education is also seeking to fill up any voids in resources and knowledge low-resource environments might have. We hope to encourage academic institutions to develop innovative solutions for specific problems a society might have. We believe that innovation has a large role to play in improving the livelihoods of those most in need.   

Written By: Jaynell Ng (15/03/2019) - Outreach Volunteer of InAGlobe Education.



Introduction to InAGlobe’s Backbone Themes Essay Series

More than ever, in a world of increasing complexity, we need to become aware of the countless challenges that the forthcoming generations will need to tackle, we need to be aware of what is happening. This sounds journalistic, but the difference is that a lot of information is already there, we just need to interpret it, we need to understand it. At InAGlobe we see our mission as far more than simply building partnerships towards humanitarian innovation. We believe that we have a responsibility in bringing understanding and exposure to the topics that we engage with day-in and day-out, those that feed ambitions that have an element of fantasy. By equipping individuals with the tools to understand and tackle complex problems we will be propagating a narrative that requires as many people as we can possibly involve. Second of all these are topics we love thinking and talking about, so ever more the joy!


Over the next few months, we will re-purpose the blog that was losing traction, in favour of furthering operations. Do more, talk less. But now, by talking more we involve more, we engage more, we educate more. This seems a lot more like InAGlobe. I am pleased to announce a series of short essays written by the team at InAGlobe surrounding the topics of relevance to our vision, mission and operations. In the essays we will cover topics ranging from the most basic elements that guide us, such as sustainability, education and innovation, and tools that we use everyday such systems thinking and human-centred design. We will also explore topics related to the projects currently and prospectively running within Imperial College London. These include topics such as assistive technologies, infectious diseases, inclusive technology as well as sanitation and climate change. We have followed a structure which contextualises these in terms of tackling the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as these are the defined standards which humanity should be seeking to reach upon the end of the next decade. There are 17 SDGs, and we don’t claim to tackle all of them, but they are often problems that are interconnected in between them, and so it is important to consider the impact of each solution to a problem far past the individual SDG that you are measuring. Although not immediately obvious, a good example is those living in poverty that are seeing the biggest negative impact due to climate change, such as farmers or herders living in the Sahel impacted by desertification. Climate change is most taxing on those that have fewest alternatives.

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By publishing these essays we seek to be more explicit about the work that we do at InAGlobe and the things that we care about. We hope that this brings you closer to our cause and may engage you in some way, even externally to InAGlobe. We want to partake in a global frameshift that allows people to make educated decisions and share the responsibility in making planet Earth the best version of itself that it can be. InAGlobe seeks to contribute to a minute aspect of the challenge, and we want every single person that reads these pieces to be a flagship towards building a better and fairer world.


Written by Jaime Aguilera Garcia (11/04/2019) -CEO and Co-founder of InAGlobe Education.