Student teams design practical solutions for communities around the world

people installing solar panel

Six years ago, four Arizona State University professors from engineering, technology, business and global studies gathered in a coffee shop to brainstorm ways to engage their students in creating solutions to global poverty.

All had some global experience, and they knew that well-meaning charities working overseas often left behind expensive technology that would rust in the fields, with no materials or expertise to maintain it.

Out of that fruitful meeting grew GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program in which ASU students and faculty design affordable, low maintenance solutions for underprivileged communities.

About 250 ASU students in engineering, business, design, sustainability, architecture and other majors have participated in the four-semester GlobalResolve courses in the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI), many of them traveling overseas to work with villagers in developing nations.

Mark Henderson, engineering professor in CTI who is director of the program, flew to Ghana within months of that first meeting and sat down with a village chief to ask him what the community needed. The chief’s answer: clean water and lights at night.

Since then students have created many products, including the Twig Light, a clean lighting system that makes use of waste energy to produce clean electric light inside homes. They also developed clean burning ethanol gel fuel and a companion cooking stove to allow villagers to replace high pollutant wood and charcoal fuels that contribute to deforestation.

Solutions developed by GlobalResolve are designed to be replicable both locally in and near Arizona and internationally, to create the potential for profitable new business ventures that generate sustainable income streams for the community.

In Haiti graduate student Ryan Delaney designed a pyrolyzer, a device to convert agricultural waste into charcoal, which burns with less smoke than wood. Since then he has started a nonprofit organization, Carbon Roots International, and is teaching villagers how to build stoves and to make and sell charcoal.

Two years ago ASU students began collaborating with students from Tec de Monterey to create a sustainable village in Mexico. They are led by John Takamura, assistant professor of Industrial Design in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Dan O’Neill from the Global Institute of Sustainability. Students are developing ways to engage residents in organic farming, fair trade sales of tribal embroidery, food service and tourism, health and science education, and organic yogurt production.

ASU students also have begun working with students from MIT and Penn State to redesign and improve the Jaipur Foot, a prosthetic foot for amputees made in India by the largest organization in the world providing artificial limbs.

And in a brand new project closer to home, 18 ASU students traveled to the Navajo Reservation in May to install solar electricity and hot water systems in the homes of elderly Navajos. They partnered with the Navajo Technical College and IINA Solutions.

“These projects are life-changing for our students,” says Henderson. “They gain both global and personal awareness. They learn that there are huge problems in the world, problems that they actually have the power to solve. It can change the direction of their lives.”

Even as they spread out around the world, ASU’s GlobalResolve teams continue to return to Ghana to meet the needs of the people there.

Henderson and CTI professor Brad Rogers will be in Ghana this summer, working as co-principal investigators on a Gates Foundation-funded project to install electricity-generating pit latrines using microbial fuel cells.

Inspired by seeing videos of the Ghana projects, ASU undergraduate John Houghtelin also has developed a pocket device for villagers that generates electricity from everyday body motion.

GlobalResolve maximizes resources by partnering with other groups, including universities, local governments, corporations, community residents, financial institutions, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations.

For more information, visit If you would like to be involved in the program as a student, mentor or sponsor, email