Big Ten’s initiatives against global povertyThe Big Ten Conference is joining the war against global poverty. The Big Ten’s member institutions are prominent universities known for Division 1 collegiate athletics and competitive academics. Now, the students and staff of these institutions are joining and creating projects to combat international inequality. The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty simultaneously educate young participants and help impoverished communities.

10 of the Big Ten’s Initiatives Against Poverty

  1. University of Illinois: Poverty Simulation — The Missouri Community Action Network Poverty Simulation is designed to educate students on the lives of low-income individuals and populations. During the simulation, volunteers receive roles where they must manage day-to-day family and community operations within strict resource constraints. The simulation is meant “to be a tool to re-frame issues of poverty and to inspire participants to take action.”
  2. University of Indiana: Trockman Microfinance Initiative — The Trockman Microfinance Initiative (TMI), which the Kelley School of Business sponsored, uses microfinance to benefit international impoverished communities. TMI encourages students to use their business and networking skills to help those who experience exclusion from the mainstream financial system through research and hands-on fieldwork. Recently, TMI partnered with the international nonprofit Flying Squirrel Outfitters to empower at-risk women in rural Thailand. The two organizations are working together to create jobs and implement sources of sustainable financing.
  3. University of Minnesota: U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — In support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UMN SDG Initiative utilizes research and university assets across 17 categories to advance sustainability initiatives, especially in the education sector. For example, in 2021, the university signed a $4 million contract to improve higher education health sciences programs in Afghanistan. The program also offers grants to support student and staff research that aligns with SDG projects. Among the Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty, the University of Minnesota is the only school partnering with the U.N.
  4. University of Nebraska: Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute — Nebraska’s success in agriculture has made it a fitting home for the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI). Working with more than 170 partners, the institute promotes global food security through research, development and communication. In 2021, DWFI will host a conference where participants will discuss the future of global water and food security goals.
  5. University of Michigan: Michigan Foreign Policy Council — Teaching empirical social science writing processes, the Michigan Foreign Policy Council is a project-based, student-run organization that publishes non-partisan research. Five main categories allow for a broad range of topics and student individuality. Furthermore, finished articles are open to public viewing at a semesterly symposium and through online formats.
  6. Michigan State University: The Spartan Global Development Fund — MSU’s Spartan Global Development Fund (SGDF) teaches the benefits of microfinance to impoverished global communities, specifically in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Uniting students, alumni and professors, SGDF has donated more than $114,000 in the last 12 years directly to humanitarian nonprofits. Fieldwork and a student-run blog also enhance the versatility of the fund and its ability to aid communities abroad. Detailed profiles of the fund’s beneficiaries are available on its website.
  7. Northwestern University: Global Poverty Research Lab — The Kellogg School of Management sponsors Northwestern’s Global Poverty Research Lab. This initiative has hands-on projects in countries across the globe to understand the causes and consequences of global poverty. The lab addresses research in four key geographical and sector-based clusters: China, the Philippines, Ghana and research methods. Overall, the lab works to create a pipeline between development economics and effective policy action. Participants connect with policymakers and multilateral agencies to ensure engagement and accuracy in the research process. Opportunities to participate are available to both students and faculty interested in providing research support and participating in fieldwork.
  8. Ohio State University: Global Outreach at OSU — Once GlobeMed at OSU, Global Outreach at OSU has adapted to focus on health, education and equity-based projects in one community per semester. This past semester, the club focused on education inequities and donated to the Meherun Nessa Development Foundation, a fundraising platform dedicated to educating children in Bangladesh. The club also runs a blog for its members to contribute to, with its most recent publication centering around COVID-19’s impact on global food insecurity.
  9. Pennsylvania State University: International Food Safety Initiative — The International Food Safety Initiative at Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences manages projects that educate communities on properly handling, storing and preparing food. Partnering primarily with the USDA, the initiative works with 12 communities across four continents. Most of its projects are study abroad options open to undergraduate students at the university. The projects teach students to evaluate the impact of training on participants’ food safety knowledge and skills.
  10. Purdue University: Engineers Without Borders — Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Purdue is a student chapter of the nonprofit organization Engineers Without Borders-U.S.A. EWB aims to improve livelihoods in the global communities it focuses on and develop project management skills in its members. The program offers five different focuses in order to draw interested participants from all spheres. EWB began its Bolivia Project in 2018, providing clean water and meeting other daily needs by creating a water distribution system in Colquechata, Bolivia. Data collection, analysis and fieldwork also contributed to the success of EWB assignments in Nakyeni, Uganda.

Moving Forward

The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty raise awareness of conditions in impoverished communities through research and regional policy mobilization. Prospective students, current affiliates and interested locals alike can donate and participate in each school’s studies.

Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

Joan Rose: World Water Week's Champion
The 2016 World Water Week, attended by 3,100 people from more than 120 countries, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, where the theme was “Water for Sustainable Growth.” While this year’s World Water Week was primarily focused on water as it relates to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the U.N. General Assembly and last year’s COP 21 climate agreement, many issues, such as pollution and sanitation, were raised.

The worldwide contamination of water is one of the greatest health threats of our time, as many experts believe that our oceans, rivers, lakes and wetlands are more polluted now than at any other time in history.

A recent report released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that as many as 323 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are at risk of contracting infections from pathogen-ridden water. Apart from being a health issue, polluted water in these continents negatively affects food supplies, economies and inequality experienced by women, children and the poor.

Professor Joan Rose, a microbiologist and the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, is one of the foremost scientists working to end worldwide water pollution. At this year’s World Water Week, Rose won the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize, the greatest honor that an individual working in water research or development can receive.

Rose has dedicated most of her life to this field, working in countries such as Malawi, Kenya and Singapore, as well as numerous organizations including the World Health Organization, the International Water Association and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Throughout her career, Joan Rose has led research, set standards and educated the public about water pollution. While the issue may seem overwhelming, Rose believes that the future is bright, stating in an article published by the Guardian that, “There is more public support, more money, more political will to clean up water. We have more knowledge and more willingness to pay.”

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

Tanzania ProjectMichigan State University Engineers Without Borders (MSU EWB) is developing the Buyuni, Tanzania project. The project will build rainwater-collecting devices for drinking use. Providing access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction. Poverty also plays a prominent role in chronic absenteeism from school, and people in poverty tend to have limited access to clean drinking water.

Providing clean water to use for drinking and cooking, MSU EWB hopes students will attend and remain in school. EWB is a group of humanitarian organizations in more than 30 countries that aims to provide sustainable solutions through education and engineering expertise. These engineers will dig wells, design water treatment systems, build bridges, set up solar panel arrays to power schools, and complete countless other projects.

Brandon Kortum, a junior from MSU majoring in Applied Engineering Sciences and Chinese, is the Project Lead for the Tanzania project, which began in January. Kortum has worked with MSU EWB since the start of his undergraduate career. “I joined EWB because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to use the skills that I learned in college to help people around the world,” Kortum says.

The MSU EWB team works in Buyuni, Tanzania with a non-profit organization, Salvatorian sisters, to collect rainwater on a secondary school and use it for drinking. “We are hoping that this project will make it easier and cleaner to attend school,” notes Kortum.

The system will first collect rainwater in a gutter system on the roof of the school. Then, they remove larger debris and rough pollution in a first flush system. After the first flush system, the systems will store water in four 15,000-liter tanks in the courtyard of the school.

The water, along with supplemental water from the school’s well, passes through a slow sand filter. Next, that sand filter then removes any particles in the water. Afterward, the systems will purify the water using chlorine stored in numerous large water tanks. From there, people can use the water for drinking or cooking.

The project is incomplete, but the team hopes this new system will increase school attendance. They also hope the overall well-being of the students will improve and be a step in fighting poverty in Tanzania.

If anyone is at all interested in joining, EWB-USA has chapters in many major cities and universities with over 16,000 members. Contact information for chapters near you can be found at or by simply searching for local chapter websites.

Alexis Pierce
Photo: Flickr


Access to clean water is critical for human life and agriculture. From the LifeStraw filtration technology to solar-powered irrigation pumps, engineers seek innovative ways to provide water to communities that otherwise could not get enough. A team of scientists at Michigan State University are developing methods to extract water from another unlikely source: cow manure.

How can clean water come from such a dirty source? The McLanahan Nutrient Separation System, as the engineers call it, works using surprisingly simple principles. “About 90 percent of the manure is water,” noted professor of agricultural engineering Steve Safferman. The process merely separates the water from the other components. Using an aerobic digestion machine, which creates energy from animal waste inputs, the system extracts the existing water and leaves other chemicals behind.

The technology is not yet perfect. The engineers are currently able to get 50 gallons of water from 100 gallons of manure, but they hope to increase the output to 65 gallons. The resulting water has not been proved safe for human consumption, but it is clean enough to nourish livestock and crops.

The McLanahan Nutrient Separation System is set to be sold later this year, and the engineers want to market the system to U.S. farms. However, this technology may have an even greater benefit for farmers in developing nations, especially those with less access to water. Many communities already suffer from water crises; according to the U.N. Human Development Report, 1.2 billion people live in areas with limited amounts of water, and another 1.6 billion face water shortages because they do not have the funds to build wells or get clean water from rivers. By investing in new technology to extract water from manure, foreign aid providers may be able to free up more water for human use.

In addition to providing more water for irrigation and livestock, manure filtration has other agricultural benefits. The technology also stores nutrients found in the animal waste, which can then be used to grow crops. Jim Wallace, a student working on the McLanahan system, reports that their process can “capture a large percentage of the ammonia that would otherwise be lost in the atmosphere,” and ammonia is a common component of fertilizer. In developing nations, this fertilizer would be vital for soil enrichment and could lead to stronger harvests.

Collecting manure and removing the nutrients and other chemicals for storage and later use will also have environmental benefits. A study conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found that 75 percent of greenhouse emissions from cattle comes from those developing nations, and much of this comes from decomposing manure that is not disposed of properly. Harvesting manure for water and fertilizer will allow farmers to capture greenhouse gases, like methane, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Innovative systems to extract water from manure aid in all aspects of farming and have great potential to help developing countries. Though the technology is still in its developmental stages, further exploration and investment could benefit millions of lives and reduce water shortages globally.

— Ted Rappleye

Sources: Michigan State University, IRIN Global, United Nations
Photo: Wikimedia

Researchers from Michigan State University have found a way to defeat malaria by making mosquitoes resistant to the malaria parasite. The investigators determined that when infected with a specific bacterium, mosquitoes have an increased malaria immunity, which could help reduce human infections and deaths related to the disease.

Wolbachia bacterium is what is credited for providing an increased resistance to malaria in mosquito populations. Temporary infection of the bacterium has “made the insects immune to the malaria parasite,” and after 34 generations of mosquitos mating and passing the Wolbachia from infected females to their offspring, the mosquitos demonstrated malaria levels which were four times lower than mosquitoes that were not infected with the bacterium.

While the Wolbachia infected mosquitoes resist malaria and can pass their immunity too their offspring, the new research on the mosquitoes has found some limitations. Scientists say that the “[bacteria] infected females produced fewer eggs than uninfected females, which meant the infection would struggle to spread in the real world.” Additionally, the research only focused on one species of mosquitoes that inhabits the Middle East and South Asia. Research on Wolbachia still needs to be carried out on African mosquitoes.

In the past, researchers looked to genetically modify mosquitoes to help eliminate the spread of malaria. Investigators at Johns Hopkins University developed a genetically engineered mosquito that showed resistant to the disease in 2007. The University’s current research is investigating what factors exist in mosquito immune systems that allow the insects to fight off the malaria infection.

The World Health Organization estimates that “220 million people are infected annually and 660,000 die” from malaria. Scientists hope that their discoveries, paired with the use of mosquito nets and medication, will help reduce the number of malaria infections and deaths in the future.

– Jordan Kline

Sources: BBC, The Daily Mail
Photo: The Katy News