Archive for May, 2011

Student Perspective- Zach Zimbler- Nairobi, Kenya

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Zach is currently working in Kenya on the Wish Vast program with Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship.  Zach is a rising Senior majoring in Supply Chain and Information Systems at the Smeal College of Business.  Zach received one of the Target Community Development and Engagement grants for his experience and work in Kenya this summer.

Here is Zach’s summary on Wish Vast:

Wishvast was started in 2009 by Penn State students in the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship Program (HESE). The idea was built upon the ubiquitous nature of cellphones in Kenya revealed by recent statistics that 97% of people in Kenya have access to acellphone. In the developing world you are more likely to have a cellphone than a toothbrush.

Kenya like many other developing countries is riddled with fundamental economic and societal problems such as the lack of jobs, access to the Internet via a computer, and inefficient transportation methods. The result of this is highly inefficient use of resources. Previous teams researching these issues in Kenya witnessed inefficient and over-priced employment bureaus, mismanagement of resources, and no cheap way for willing workers to find work.

WishVast aims to solve these problems by leveraging the ubiquity of cellphones, the increasing availability of Internet via Internet enabled phones, and SMS messages via a SMS gateway. In it’s initial stages WishVast was a cellphone attached to a computer running the WishVast software. Through the initial pilot only texting was used to facilitate connections and create value with a rating system. During the initial pilot over the summer of 2009 the WishVast team was able to interview over 500 people, get over 250 people using the system and facilitate 160 successful business connections in under three weeks.

Since that initial pilot the WishVast venture has had several published papers which included students as authors, received several grants to continue the research and most recently has been invited to present at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance at the Smithsonian.

Weekly Reflection – Week 1- Nairobi, Kenya
Zachary Zimbler
My first of the three weeks in Kenya working on the WishVast project as part of the Humanitarian
Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program was an enlightening to say the least. After an
extremely long flight the world I once knew was now a far and distant memory and the norms of
business and how the world functioned.
The stark contrast of Nairobi and the western cities and countries was interesting as it immediately
brought new ideas and questions to my mind for a number of different things. Thus far my project has
been quite successful and I’ve been able to find several of the staff members and youth at the Children
and Youth Empowerment Center in Nyeri, Kenya who have provided good feedback on the current
model. One of the most important meetings and discussions came on Sunday(May 22nd) when a few
members from several of the other teams from the HESE group went to Nairobi to meet with Andrew
and Wangali entrepreneurs in the area who are connected to innovation spaces and other exciting
groups in Nairobi.
Discussion with Andrew and Wangali lasted for longer than expected, but brought up problems and
suggestions that hopefully after I spend a day digesting be able to enhance the WishVast user
experience and help develop the marketing and business strategies.

Follow WishVast’s progress on: https://sites.google.com/site/thewishvastproject/project-blog-summer-2011

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