Author Betsy Teutsch discusses entrepreneurship and innovation in the empowerment of women worldwide.

Empowering women worldwide

Teutsch discusses bringing innovation to projects that empower women


3:03 p.m., March 25, 2015--The search for answers to questions such as how women can be empowered “if they literally have no power, if there’s no electricity in their house” began a journey for author Betsy Teutsch, who shared her book 100 Under $100 with a packed room of University of Delaware students last week.

Teutsch’s book discusses 100 effective, low-cost solutions for women and their families facing poverty around the world. This work bridges the gap between innovation and technology and women’s empowerment.

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“It’s important to figure out ways that those sectors can better communicate,” Teutsch said. 

She explained that products designed for people who live in “low-resource areas,” lacking not only personal funds but local infrastructure as well, must be sensitive to these limitations.

“This is a huge opportunity to figure out how to design things that are affordable and that work,” Teutsch said. “It’s taking a large shift, from a model of giving things away to people to actually designing things that they can buy.”

One example of such a product is Colalife, invented by an aid worker in Zambia who noticed that Coca Cola’s famous supply chain allowed them to get the soda even to remote areas. Meanwhile, these areas often lack access to crucial essential products like oral rehydration salts (ORS), which prevent life-threatening dehydration from diarrhea in children.

“He said to himself, ‘If Coca Cola can do it, why can’t public health workers do it?’” Teutsch explained. “What if we designed a kit with ORS packets in a container and visual directions that fits in the negative space between bottles?”

By utilizing this system, Colalife essentially “hitchhikes to the supply chain to get these packets to moms and help their children feel better.”

The resulting ”ingenious” v-shaped kit, known as the Kit Yamoyo, has resulted in a significant increase in Zambian children receiving ORS for diarrhea.

“This is considered one of the premier innovations of 20th century global public health,” she continued. “This is a really important part of social entrepreneurship and design: If you’re designing for other people, you have to pay attention to what they need.”

Colalife takes advantage of “micro-franchising,” as independent kiosk owners are able to sell the kits, and makes branding central, as packaging is clear and user-friendly. 

“Everybody likes a better-designed product,” Teutsch said. “A product gives mothers confidence that they’re using a well-known, well-established product for their child. If you treat people like customers, they want the same things that other people want.”

Another exciting product discussed during Teutsch’s lecture is the Eco-brick, each of which is made out of a reused plastic bottle filled with inorganic trash. 

In Guatemala, these weighty bricks have been used to solve two problems: the lack of building material in remote areas and the excess trash that builds up in the absence of waste management services.

“They’ve built schools out of these, dubbed ‘Guatemalan bottle schools,’” said Teutsch, who has been making Eco-bricks at her home for months. “Gradually, trash disappears.”

Underscoring each of these innovations is the essential need for women’s empowerment and “pushing the envelope to get girls educated.” This creates a cycle of improvement, as providing education to young women bolsters the communities as a whole. 

“We call this ‘the girl effect,’” Teutsch explained. “If you keep girls in school longer, they acquire more skills and they’re more employable. It’s also a kind of contraceptive, because if you keep women in school they’re not getting married off when they’re very young.” 

“If you give girls a chance to become women before they reproduce, you have fewer children, the mothers are healthier, the children are healthier and more income comes into the family,” she continued. This gets children off of what is known as “the poverty track.”

“The girl effect has been working all over the world. It’s unleashed a huge amount of economic growth.” 

During her presentation, Teutsch showed a number of powerful photographs of women utilizing the tools discussed in 100 Under $100.

Teutsch said that photos have become a central part of her work because it is, “so important not to just discuss these things theoretically, but to see women using these tools.”

“It gives you a much stronger sense of context and also gives us a chance to see women being active,” Teutsch said. “We don’t see many pictures of women hard at work, and women are working so hard around the world. We need to see what women can do.”

Multiple UD departments and community organizations joined together to host Teutsch, including Great Dames, the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and the School of Public Policy and Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Article by Sunny Rosen

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