Public Program April 20: Financial Inclusion and the Informal Sector

by Libby McDonald, MIT D-Lab

Tema New Town waste pickers with MIT D-Lab and Ashesi University D:Lab students in Ghana.


How do Waste Pickers Save their Money? 
Financial Inclusion and the Informal Sector.

Data Collection Presentation & Panel Discussion - Friday, April 20 2:30-6 pm 

MIT D-Lab: 265 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, 3rd floor/N51-350

Register to attend here!


In January 2018 four students from MIT D-Lab Gender and Development traveled to Accra, Ghana where they teamed-up with five Ashesi University D:Lab students and ran focus groups with waste pickers to understand the financial management tools they use to manage their money. On Friday April 20th they will present their findings. Afterwards, a panel of experts will address videotaped questions posed by Accra waste pickers, providing financial management advice suitable for informal sector workers.

This program was funded in part by MIT Africa Initiative - MISTI.


2:30 - 4:00 PM: Students from D-Lab: Gender and Development and Ashesi University D:Lab students present their findings on data collected and the results of a financial inclusion design workshop with waste pickers from the Accra municipal landfill and the streets of Tema New Town.

4:00 - 4:30 PM: Reception


4:30 - 6:00 PM: A panel of experts address videotaped questions posed by Accra waste pickers. 

- Joyce Lehman: A financial inclusion consultant, Joyce was one of the architects of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation savings groups.

- Dr. William Derban: Co-Founder and Chair of Financial Inclusion Africa and Director for E banking and Strategic Partnerships at Fidelity Bank Ghana Ltd.

- Kim Wilson: Lecturer and researcher on markets and development at the Tufts University Fletcher School.

- Daryl Collins: Co-author of Portfolios of the Poor and Managing Director of BFA.

- Julio Del Valle: Founder of Poupa Certo and MiBolsillo, two digital PFMs in Brazil and Peru focused on low-income and microentrepreneur customers.


Six questions for Maria Yang, D-Lab's first Faculty Academic Director

Earlier this fall, D-Lab welcomed Professor Maria Yang as our first Faculty Academic Director. Dr. Yang's research interest is in the product design process, particularly in the early phases of the design cycle. Dr. Yang will work with the D-Lab leadership team and with Libby Hsu, D-Lab Education Coordinator, to advance D-Lab's academic program of more than 20 MIT course offerings, as well as student fieldwork and research opportunities. We recently caught up with Maria to get her perspective on D-Lab and her new role:

How would you describe your new role at D-Lab?

"D-Lab has a history of delivering transformational educational experiences in technology and development for students across the institute and the world. I see my role as fostering this D-Lab tradition to keep it thriving, and to work with the incredibly dedicated D-Lab team to think about the vision for education at D-Lab  in the future."

What is your impression of D-Lab’s academic program? What do you hear from students about the program?

"My teaching passion is in project-based, hands on classes because it offers lasting learning experiences for students. D-Lab has been a groundbreaker in this approach, and a constant theme that I've heard from students in D-Lab is how these experiences have been game changers for them. Students tell us that they've gained a richer perspective of what it means to be a "global citizen," and alum say that these experiences have fundamentally changed their outlooks in their professional careers and personal lives."

Why D-Lab?

"MIT offers an impressive array of opportunities for students enthusiastic about international opportunities. D-Lab is unique in this ecosystem because of its commitment to combining a global perspective with hands on learning in so many aspects of development, from design to energy to water and beyond. Moreover, D-Lab connects these educational efforts with collaborative research initiatives in international development which provides students with a broader perspective."

How do you hope to advance/promote/enrich the D-Lab program?

"Not sure yet! I'm still in information gathering mode - an important part of the design process."

You are faculty sponsor for the D-Lab class Design for Scale - tell us about your experience with this class, the co-instructors?

"Design for Scale helps students think about how to make the one-off prototypes that are the typical result of a design course into something that can be produced in larger quantities. Students learn about product design and manufacturing, and the class does so in a way that is urgent because of its collaborations with partners in various parts of the world who are real clients for the student projects. This is in keeping with the D-Lab theme of 'real projects for real people.' Design for Scale is fortunate because it has a jaw-dropping teaching lineup that would be a powerhouse for any design or engineering class anywhere. It includes Harald Quintus-Bosz, founder of Cooper Perkins; Kate Bergeron, VP of Hardware Engineering at Apple; and Sorin Grama, founder of Promethean Systems. It's sort of like having Marvel's Avengers teach your design course!"

How do you think your own research interests may intersect with D-Lab’s mission?

"My research interest is in early stage design process, from consumer products to complex systems. I've previously worked on several research projects thinking about design for international development through the lens of human-centered design. These projects have not only been closely aligned with D-Lab, but have been in collaboration with D-Labbers, including Jesse Austin-Breneman who is now faculty member at University of Michigan and Eric Reynolds who is now a PhD student at Stanford."

Read more about Professor Yang on the MIT Mechanical Engineering site, and on MIT News!

D-Lab and the MIT Water Club welcome MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim


MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim gets to know the MIT campus!


“I am currently working on developing a low-cost eco-friendly water purifier and I believe that opportunity to use MIT D-Lab resources will help me in achieving my goal in making water purifier accessible to low income people."

MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Program

MIT D-Lab and the MIT Water Club welcome MIT Water Innovator-in-Residence Sahar Abdelhakim! The Innovator-in-Residence program is an opportunity at MIT supported by MIT D-Lab and the MIT Water Club. Sahar will be at MIT  for two weeks to engage in knowledge exchange with MIT students and staff, use D-Lab’s workshop and resources to work on a personal project, and participate in the MIT Water Summit

About Sahar and her work

Sahar is a native of Alexandria, Egypt and  currently live in Bangalore, India. She was an attendee of the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) "Aarogyam" in Chennai, India, 2015 and as a result, is a member of the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN).

Below, Sahar talks about her background, current work, and plans for her residency at MIT:

"I am a marine biologist and I started working on water purification project when I saw my relatives who are living in a small Egyptian village were suffering from heavy metals in drinking water. They couldn’t afford buying expensive water filters and hence I built simple water purifier for them. Later on, I started working on developing advanced version and to make it sustainable. I got to know about maker spaces and my journey as a maker started off while working with the innovation hubs in Egypt (ICE Alexandria and ICE Cairo) to find solution for various problems. It lead me to make low cost formula of DIY conductive ink, making Graphene and Graphene sheets in home for water desalination, and also found ample time to work on my water purification project to develop the technology and design. I worked on Jabalaya Project - a project for empowering local communities in Egyptian desert.

"Later on I got involved with a research project in producing high quality pearls within short period of time and at the same time to clean water bodies which will improve the habitat and life expectancy of aquatic organisms. I have also worked on many projects related to water treatment in different places including Egypt, Tokyo, Uganda, Kenya and India (Southern and north regions). After living in India for almost year I’ve founded SAFFY in 2017 – an Indian company which is into designing and developing sustainable and affordable bio water purifiers. I started Saffy as I’m passionate about water treatment sector. Saffy will provide water purification products without changing natural properties.

"While at D-Lab, I would like to work on my sustainable low cost water purifier project design and get feedback from experts at MIT. One of the striking features of the innovation is that, it’s also easy to carry, compact and is made from eco friendly materials like ceramic, glass, bamboo materials etc. It will allow people in getting clean water wherever they are by making it an inseparable part of their lives. It helps in reducing plastic consumption by providing bottle like design which is suitable for travelers as well as for domestic users on a daily basis. The product is in prototyping stage and the main resource I need from D-Lab is support from expertise to develop my product and feedback which can help me in achieving my goal in eradicating lack of purified drinking water.

"As a young women entrepreneur who would like to impact lives of poor people, MIT Water Summit will help me to network with likeminded people who are passionate in solving issues in the sector of water. I am currently working on developing a low-cost eco-friendly water purifier and I believe that opportunity to use MIT D-Lab resources will help me in achieving my goal in making water purifier accessible to low income people. I am learning by traveling and interacting with people from different places. The summit will be a great opportunity for me to connect, exchange knowledge and learn from experts in diverse MIT community."

D-Lab Lunch-n-Learn with Sahar Thursday, November 9, 12-1 pm

Please join us for a D-Lab Lunch-n-Learn on Thursday, November 9 from 12 to 1 pm to learn more about Sahar's work! RSVP here. The Lunch-n-Learn will take place at MIT D-Lab, MIT N51 (265 Massachusetts Avenue) Room 305.

Apply to be a Design Facilitator for a WASH design summit in Ethiopia Jan 22-Feb 2, 2018!

Photo: USAID Photo Gallery. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard.


Seeking six design facilitators for a WASH themed co-design summit in Ethiopia this January co-hosted by PSI/Ethiopia and MIT-D-Lab. Applications due by Wednesday October 11 at noon EDT. Apply online here by October 11!

The Context

Africa’s oldest independent country, Ethiopia is known as the source of coffee and mankind.  With one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia still faces challenges as health markets are failing to reach those that need life-saving health products and services, especially in the WASH sector.  Ethiopia achieved its Millennium Development Goal target of 57 percent access to safe drinking water, halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990. Yet access to improved sanitation remains stubbornly low at only 28 percent nationwide up from three percent in 1990.  Despite these strides, safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) coverage remains insufficient. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services and poor hygiene practices negatively impact health and nutrition; diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of under-five mortality in Ethiopia.

To address a part of this grand WASH challenge in Ethiopia, PSI/Ethiopia launched a market development project in 2017 to increase use of improved water and sanitation products. The USAID-funded Transform WASH program addresses key barriers to uptake and sustain use of WASH products and services.  It is achieving this by strengthening demand for WASH products and services, especially sanitation, by designing communications, products and services that meet consumer needs. It also influences the WASH supply chain by providing evidence on tested concepts and solutions for products and services that result in a strengthened value chain and the adoption of profitable business models for WASH (including toilets, hand washing, water storage, water treatment, and fecal sludge management), that reach low-income consumers. In addition, the program is strengthening the enabling environment through co-creation, collaboration, and co-learning with the Government of Ethiopia, private sector, consumers, financial institutions, and development partners to remove barriers to a thriving WASH marketplace and to improve client-oriented behavior.

The WASH Co-Design Summit

As a part of the larger Transform WASH program, PSI/Ethiopia is partnering with MIT D-Lab to host a 10-day WASH themed Co-Design Summit from January 22-Feburary 2, 2018 to catalyze connections and solutions to common WASH challenges. The summit will convene 30 participants – 24 Ethiopian participants from across the WASH sector (users, health workers, government representatives, local entrepreneurs, and WASH experts) and six MIT D-Lab students – to practice the co-creative design process and prototype low-cost solutions together.

During the summit, participants will live and work with each other around Hawassa, Ethiopia. They will participate in hands-on learning sessions led by PSI/Ethiopia and MIT D-Lab as well will work in one of six project teams.  The projects will focus on one of the following topics*:

  • Improving water accessibility for cleaning and washing
  • Understanding gender difference in how toilets are used or not used
  • Creating products for segmented markets (children, elders, women, disabled, etc.)
  • Designing interactive educational tools (for kids, for HEWs, for entrepreneurs, etc.)
  • Improving smell and cleanliness of toilets and latrines
  • Creating solutions to handwashing challenges
  • Making products more transportable
  • Improving modularized units of products (for selling and distributing)
  • Improving affordability of toilets through material substitutions
  • Improving superstructure and toilet design
  • Designing toilet paper alternatives  

*All projects are subject to pivot based on information gathered both before the summit and during the summit.

The Design Facilitator Role

The Design Facilitator will play a critical role in leading and supporting each project team through the co-design process (there will be one design facilitator per project team) and creating a simple project brief after the summit.  The design facilitator will instruct or co-instruct some sessions for the hands-on sessions (including build-its sessions). 

Before the summit, the design facilitator will be required to attend a series of online calls to train together and prepare for the summit, read background documents about the context, and watch a few key videos on the work of PSI in Ethiopia so far. 

During the summit, the design facilitator will help guide each project team through the design process and support any physical or mental needs the team may have. Design facilitators will not be responsible to create a solution, but they will responsible to help keep the team unified and ensure they co-create a solution together.  

After the summit, the design facilitator will create a one-page project brief that includes a summary of the team’s journey, key insights gathered on the project topic, and recommendations for next steps.  

Eligibility Criteria

All design facilitator applicants must:

  • Be available 
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have experience facilitating a diverse group of people
  • Have experience working or volunteering in the WASH sector
  • Have practical and basic building skills
  • Be respectful, optimistic, curious, and promote inclusive collaboration
  • Work well independently as well as in teams

Selection Criteria

We will review all applications and select design facilitators based on:

  • Facilitation experience
  • WASH sector experience
  • Experience in development setting
  • Experience and enthusiasm for co-creating solutions through participatory design
  • Alignment of personal mindsets with design summit mindsets (respect, optimism, curiosity, and inclusive collaboration)

Experience as an IDDS design facilitator or previous work in Ethiopia is preferred, but not a requirement.

Notification Process

All applications will be reviewed and will be selected by the MIT D-Lab co-lead instructors for the summit, Libby Hsu and Sher Vogel.  All applicants will be notified if they are accepted, wait-listed, or not accepted by Wednesday, October 18. 


Pending funding approval in late October, PSI/Ethiopia and MIT D-Lab will cover the costs of design facilitator round-trip flight, housing, and food during the design summit.  In addition, each facilitator will receive a stipend of 2000 USD after submitting project briefs.  

Further Questions? Feel free to contact MIT D-Lab Trainings and Convenings Manager, Sher Vogel

Apply online here by October 11!

MIT D-Lab 15th Anniversary Symposium & Community Day - Oct 20 & 21!


MIT D-Lab is turning 15!  Time flies when you're changing the paradigm of international development . . . Join us at MIT for a day-long Symposium on Friday, October 20!


Humanitarian Innovation: Workshop with unaccompanied refugee minors, Athens, Greece

by D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith & D-Lab Instructor Martha Thompson


"This gave me hope again, I believe I can make things and solve problems,” said a 17 year-old Afghani boy after completing the MIT D-Lab Creative Capacity Building training in Athens, Greece at the beginning of August. 

For the last two years, we have been telling anyone who will listen (and some who don’t) that design training would be a powerful transformation tool for refugees, but our experience this August, leading a design training with a group of underage refugees in Athens, proved more powerful than we had imagined. A team of six D-Lab staff members and students led a week-long Creative Capacity Building (CCB) workshop from August 3-9th for a group of unaccompanied refugee minors. Having left their countries because of armed conflict, they are now alone in Greece without parents, several are orphaned, and they face huge challenges seeking asylum in Europe. And although we originally thought that income generation would be our major impact, we learned that the most important impact was that they could recover an identity that moved beyond that of refugee, they could see themselves in a new way: as makers and innovators. 

Martha: There are 2,300 unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece, almost all boys between the ages of 12 and 17, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Eritrea. They are stranded and alone in Greece with no real solution to their limbo, caught up in the often inexplicably cruel bureaucratic gears of asylum and immigration policy.  Most joined the massive refugee push into Europe in 2015 and 2016, but when the borders closed, they ended up trapped in a situation that didn’t have clear pathways for the future they had hoped for. As minors, they can apply for family reunification if they have family members in other countries in Europe and many have done so. However, the bureaucracy in both the host country of Greece and the receiving countries in other parts of Europe can take over two years and the teens remain in limbo. If the youth turns 18 during that time, he is no longer a minor and is no longer eligible to join his family. 

Until the fall of 2016, these boys passed under the radar of the humanitarian organizations, they lived on the streets in Athens and other cities, doing what they could to get by, suffering all kinds of exploitation. Now there are shelters for about 1,300 of them but the rest are still living in dubious, often unsafe circumstances. Finding a solution for 2,300 teens who are unaccompanied minors should be possible, we are not talking about tens of thousands but still there is no solution on the table for them. Most cannot go back to where they came from and now they cannot go forward on their journey. This leaves these boys in limbo, biding time in Greece, some waiting for family reunification, others just waiting hopefully for some solution to their situation. 

Beyond the statistics of refugees in Greece, each of these boys has a story of trauma and resilience, but those stories get lost in the morass of international immigration and resettlement bureaucracy.  When others see you primarily as a refugee, you are not seen as an individual, particularly one progressing towards a future. Being seen as part of a “vulnerable population” is even more disempowering. The CCB workshop changed that for these youth. It created a space where these smart, motivated young men could be just that: intelligent people learning useful skills, not refugees, not traumatized youth but smart kids with a lot of potential. 

Amy: A group of 14 teens came from different shelters and camps in and around Athens, traveling for up to an hour and a half in the intense August heat to get to the training site. They spent the first three days learning the design process and gaining hands-on skills through a variety of projects and activities and during the second three days, applied the process to a project of their own choice. Their first project was to build a hand-held hot wire foam cutter which taught some basic woodworking, metal working and electronics. They used the cutter to make patterns which they then learned how to cast in aluminum at the small foundry we cobbled together in the sub-basement. The next project was originally going to be a tool box that they could put their tools and projects in. We had thought that it might be nice for them to be able to lock it, as few of them have a way to secure their belongings. As we were working with the youth, we realized that we wanted to give them more control over what they created, so we made it more open—they could design any kind of locking box that they wanted. Each one of them was given two pieces of wood, a meter-long piece of 1” x 6” and a meter-long piece of 1” x 4”. They were given hinges, hasps and a lock, and the rest was up to them. Because their supply of wood was limited, we encouraged them to make cardboard models of the box before starting. Then we taught them the basics of sawing, drilling, and fastening and they got to work making the real thing. 

The variety of boxes was incredible. Every one was unique and contained a little of the heart and soul of its maker. One of the youth made a box that was a replica of a box that his grandmother used to keep treats in for him when he came to visit. Another took advantage of a knot hole in the wood, and had a charging port for his cell phone. One of the youth who loved to work on science projects built a box for his electronics tools, and designed it so that when you slid open the doors, two small LEDs turned on and lit up the inside. Another took on the challenge of making a triangular box, without the benefit of a miter box to make the angled cuts. It was a real testament to his perseverance that he finished his box without reverting to the classic rectangular shape. As they painted their boxes, even more of themselves came to the surface; one of the younger boys painted the mountains of home and the name of his little brother on his box. Others displayed their pride in and love of their home countries by painting Afghani or Syrian flags. Some looked to the future by painting the flags of countries they wanted to go to. It was amazing how such a simple activity could lead to such a wealth of self-expression.

For the second part of the training, the youth had a chance to choose their own design projects to work on. Some chose things that would be useful in the camp, solar-powered fans and a solar-powered water cooler. Another group chose to address a problem their family faced at home, building a model for a solar-powered irrigation system that could store and release water to irrigate terraces of fruit trees on the hillsides of Afghanistan. They worked in teams of three or four, alongside one of the D-Lab facilitators. Martha and I were joined by three wonderful D-Lab students (Molly and Zoe from the Humanitarian Innovation class, and Jana from the Design class) and our amazing translator, Asif, who is one of D-Lab’s financial administrators for his “day job”.  The youth made friends across language barriers, taught each other what they knew, and built upon each other’s ideas to improve their designs. They drew from the skills that they learned during the first part of the week, and gained a lot of new skills. They came early every day and left late every afternoon and made sure to clean the work space and leave it spotless and organized. They expanded into a space where they could prove what they were capable of. Waiting to move on to permanent settlement or for asylum, they feel their lives are being frittered away and they are falling farther and farther behind. This design workshop reversed that feeling; they felt that they were moving ahead.

Martha: When we started planning this CCB workshop, one goal was to provide the youth with skills to invent and make things that they could eventually sell so that they could earn income. Another goal was to improve their self-esteem and help them realize their creative potential. What the youth taught us was just how important that second goal was for their own development. They are hungry for knowledge and new skills to improve their lives and are deeply motivated to learn and demonstrate what they are capable of doing. They so badly want an opportunity to grow. 

Amy: The final showcase was a highlight of the week, a moment of great energy and enthusiasm, but it was critical that the youth understood they could continue working on their designs, learn new skills and make more useful things after the training was over and that this feeling of achievement was not transitory. We are pleased that Zoe, a recnt D-Lab graduate and one of the design facilitators for the workshop, has volunteered to stay on for the next three months in Athens to provide design mentoring for the youth and to run additional classes in science, technology, innovation and engineering. D-Lab is working with two partners in Athens to facilitate Zoe’s work, Faros, a Greek NGO that works with unaccompanied minors and does outreach across different networks to engage youth in educational activities and The Cube Athens, a collaborative workspace and start-up incubator that has a maker space that let us use their building for the training, Both organizations have welcomed Zoe to use their space for on-going work and encourage the youth to continue using their resources, and even to bring along their friends. The Cube will host a mini-maker fair in Athens in October where the youth can present their refined prototypes and any other projects that they have developed.

We have exciting visions for collaborating with these partners to build upon this work and open a vocational training and innovation center in Athens. Our hope is to open the center to local youth from Athens as well the unaccompanied minors and other refugees in order to give the groups a chance to get to know each other and integrate with each other. We would love to bring more D-Lab students there to do other design trainings, and hope to incorporate this into our Humanitarian Innovation class next spring. In addition, we are in discussions with another group to develop a mobile workshop to do CCB trainings in other camps in Greece. Although our resources are still scarce, we know that we need to continue to move this work forward. These smart, motivated, committed young men are getting air-brushed out of the picture of refugees in Europe and left to languish. They deserve better. We must keep faith with them, and help create opportunities for them to become who they dream of being …  and it is a lot more than just a refugee.  

D-Lab 15th Anniversary Symposium & Community Day! October 20 and 21, 2017!


D-Lab is turning 15! And we're celebrating our academic, research, and global programs with a full-day symposium and a fun-filled community day!

D-Lab 15th Anniversary Symposium

Friday, Oct. 20, 10 am-7 pm
Little Kresge Theater, MIT

  • Keynote by D-Lab Founding Director Amy Smith
  • Introduction by MIT Vice Chancelor Ian Waitz
  • Talks by students, alumni, researchers, & community partners
  • Panel discussions
  • Product and technology showcase
  • Lunch and reception following keynote

D-Lab Community Day

Saturday, Oct. 21, 12 pm-4 pm
Kresge Barbecue Pits & D-Lab MIT N51 3rd floor

  • D-Lab Charcoal burn
  • D-Lab "Olympics"
  • Picnic
  • D-Lab Tour
  • Hands-on activities!

Celebrate some of these amazing programs with us:

D-Lab Academics: 24 MIT courses developed.
D-Lab Alumni: Over 1,800 alumni of D-Lab courses!
D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship: 33 social entrerpeneur fellows funded working on four continents.
D-Lab Research: Six research groups including Biomass Fuels and Cookstoves, Off-Grid Energy, Mobile Technology, Local Innovation, Agriculture & Water, and Mobility.
International Development Design Summits: 22 summits, nearly 900 innovators from more than 60 countries, who have produced more than 100 innovations!
International Innovation Centers: 20 affiliated innovation centers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
International Development Innovation Network: A five-year program supporting international summits and innovators alike.
Humanitarian Innovation: Training refugees in design and bringing refugees, internally displace people, engineers, and designers together for co-creation.
Practical Impact Alliance: A unique kind of industry consortium - world-leading organizations teamed up to develop and scale technology and business solutions to global poverty.
Creative Capacity Building: The methodology at the core of D-Lab's approach to international development at MIT and in the field.


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