ChangeMakers: Erin Larsen-Cooper and VillageReach use business enterprise to promote public health | 

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Erin Larsen Cooper

Erin Larsen-Cooper, 29, is a program associate with VillageReach, and a graduate of the University of Washington and Western Washington University.

In wealthy countries, it’s no problem for an organization to provide a single, narrowly defined service. In a poor community, it won’t always work to focus on singular goal, ignoring the existing challenges that can doom even the most well-intentioned projects.

Take vaccinations.

For the life-saving treatments to work, there needs to be adequate refrigeration during storage and delivery. So when Seattle-based VillageReach teamed up with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health to expand access to vaccines in the country, the non-profit organization realized it needed to help improve refrigeration as well.

But instead of simply handing out the propane needed to power the refrigerators used to chill the vaccines, Seattle-based VillageReach first supported the creation of a business called VidaGas. The idea was to create a self-sustaining business that supported the public health program rather than seek funding from NGOs or the strapped local government agencies. Continue reading

Gates Foundation funds research into dirt-charged cell phones and other wacky ideas | 

Gates Foundation

Harvard's Erez Lieberman-Aiden and her dirt-powered battery

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced the latest winners in one of its more interesting initiatives aimed at stimulating creative, novel solutions to problems in global health.

The project is known as Grand Challenges Explorations and today the philanthropy announced 88 winners of $100,000 grants aimed at supporting unorthodox approaches to health problems afflicting the poor.

“One bold idea is all it takes to catalyze new approaches to global health and development,” said Tachi Yamada, outgoing chief of the global health program at the Gates Foundation.

The Seattle philanthropy was this year especially interested in supporting new — Yamada likes to say “wacky” — ideas aimed at furthering the goal of polio eradication, exploiting the ubiquitous cell phones for use in low-resource communities and reducing the massive health problems caused by inadequate sanitation in poor countries. Continue reading