Whether it refers to the environment, a start-up business or somebody’s wallet, the term sustainability has become a buzzword of the 21st century.
But in areas like Dhaka, Bangladesh – where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line and half of children are malnourished – if parents cannot feed their families, economic sustainability is far from reality.
U of T’s Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) recently brought together graduate students from across campus to tackle this issue. Combining expertise in science, business, engineering and health, they explored integrated solutions for fighting childhood hunger in urban developing regions.
In the ‘Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Challenges’ course, every aspect of Dhaka was scrutinized. Students examined the city’s cultural, business and political frameworks, while evaluating the success of recent technical approaches.
“I believe health concerns all around the world can be resolved if we work across the disciplines,” said Professor Arun Chockalingam, associate director for scientific programs in the Institute for Global Health Equity & Innovation at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “This course has demonstrated the benefits of linking creative minds from different areas.”
A solution for breastfeeding
One group proposed Mother’s Milk, a new method of ensuring that working mothers can provide their infants with the immense health benefits of breast milk.
Women in Dhaka earn a living primarily through full-time work in the city’s garment industry, which limits their ability to breastfeed. By partnering with garment industry clinics, the students’ proposal aims to provide lactating women with the opportunity to express milk twice a day using a multi-user breast pump.
The team – which included Marta Blackwell, from the Munk School of Global Affairs; Micaela Collins, from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Scott Genin (ChemE PhD 1T5), from Engineering; and Puja Madhok, from the Rotman School of Management – also designed a sand-based heating device that can pasteurize the milk, allowing it to be stored longer without refrigeration. This reduces mothers’ reliance on formula and leads to fewer episodes of childhood illness.
Mother’s Milk could further benefit Dhaka’s economy by boosting the well-being of mothers, increasing earning power and reducing absenteeism and turnover at factories.
“Technological innovations have a very important role to play in global development, but they need to be created with context in mind,” said Professor Yu-Ling Cheng, director of CGEN. “We need engineers, social and political scientists, and business leaders to work together.
“An integrated solution that incorporates the entire value chain – from idea generation in the lab, to creating a business model and influencing user adoption – would have a better chance of being implemented than if we solely focused on technology.”
Established in 2009, the Centre for Global Engineering encourages faculty and students from U of T Engineering and across the University to think creatively about some of the world’s most important problems.