We Day is a youth movement that aims to inspire young people to care about social issues, and empower them to do something about them. It is kicking off the year with a star-studded stage production that’s touring the globe with different speakers and performers in each city. It is in California on March 26, where Seth Rogin, Orlando Bloom, Martin Sheen, and many other big-name celebs will put their powerful voices behind this idea. The Oakland Raiders help launch We Day California, a celebration of youth leading the charge in community outreach. Microsoft is one of We Day’s sponsors. And, when We Day was in Seattle last week, Microsoft’s Lisa Brummel (EVP of Human Resources) announced Microsoft’s new YouthSpark Hub, which connects youth with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. If you watch the We Day broadcast of the California event, you will see two young men who are excellent examples of how encouraging smart young geeks to take on social change has the potential to not only spark them to do meaningful work in IT but also to change the world for everyone.
Aaron Tushabe and Josh Okello won a grant from Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in 2012 for their project, WinSenga a portable handheld ultrasound scanner. (Win for Windows; Senga is the Luganda word for auntie, the woman charged with guiding mothers in reproductive health.) Their inspiration for this project started when the two of them went to a hackathon and met an IT expert who encouraged them to create a team and enter the Imagine Cup.
Both of these young men had studied medicine and while assisting in a hospital in their native Uganda grew worried about the women there who often travel long distances from rural areas to receive care at hospitals that are overcrowded, understaffed, and lack equipment. Every minute, a women somewhere dies from complications of childbirth. A disproportionate number of those women live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So these two created Team Cipher256 (named after the country code for Uganda) and set out to create a portable ultrasound to bring modern prenatal care to these women. Both had used an instrument -- a Pinard horn -- that’s in common use in Africa. It’s a cone-shaped amplifier that, when placed on a woman’s abdomen, can pick up the vital signs of the fetus. But it’s crazy hard to use and interpret.
Tushabe and Okello wanted to create something as mobile and ubiquitous as that horn but easy enough to use that anyone could scan the fetus and send the data via the cloud to a doctor who could diagnose and interpret.
They followed this dream, entered, and (eventually) won a $50,000 Imagine Cup Grant. They now employ seven people in Uganda working to bring this device to the women who need it. Technology is powerful stuff. But it won’t build itself. Someone has to have an idea, believe they can make it happen, and find the funds to get it built. Why shouldn’t those ideas come from young people who want to make the world a safer place for everyone?