Wednesday, May 5, 2010



Definitely over my life time I’ve seen a global increase in the number of catastrophes--both man-made and natural. Earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, floods, wars, epidemic diseases, terrorist attacks . . .the list goes on. In fact, never have I felt more unsafe. I’m sometimes overwhelmed or feel hopeless. Working in government, you sometimes question how much high-level policy can do.

Every now and then someone on the ground, in the midst of the crises we face, forgets how hopeless the situation seems, overcomes powerlessness, and comes up with a simple, innovative solution that doesn’t save the world, but saves a few people, people with names. From there, it grows. That’s what Dr. Laura Stachel did.

Dr. Stachel, an obstetrician-gynecologist, traveled to northern Nigeria in 2007 with a team to investigate emergency obstetric care, and she was overwhelmed by what she saw. She saw the lights go out during an emergency cesarean surgeries, women bleed to death with no blood bank or a phone to call a surgeon, women routinely turned away and babies die due to a lack of light and no ability to perform resuscitation without power.

But she actually did something about it. She gathered the requisite technical knowledge, formed an interdisciplinary team, and launched a non-profit that created a suitcase-sized, portable, solar-powered electric system that can be used in places where there is no lighting and power to do surgeries safely or call surgeons or power a blood bank for a woman in labor.

The non-profit is called WE CARE - Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity. And in the first 6 months they showed results, saving lives in a few countries. Since that time they have deployed solar suitcases in 9 countries including disaster relief in Haiti. WE CARE was honored as a 2010 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) winner and an Ashoka Changemakers finalist. Both GSVC and Changemakers are programs that incubate or award promising social enterprises. WE CARE plans to produce a 2nd-generation solar suitcase, build local capacity in countries for manufacture and distribution, and continue to improve maternal care by powering ultra sound machines, fetal monitors, computers, and videos.

The wonderful benefit of this social innovation is that though it came about to solve a problem in Nigeria, it can be used around the world, and it can be used to power any medical equipment needed at night for any surgery or procedure.

We Care Solar: Saving Mothers & Infants with Solar Powered Lights and Communication from Jose Vergelin on Vimeo.