Youth Are Changing the World — How About You?

5 minutes read time
George Washington University geography students interpret satellite imagery to map Kathmandu by using online tools for the Open Cities project on November 1, 2013.
George Washington University geography students interpret satellite imagery to map Kathmandu by using online tools. (USAID photo)

Youth Are Changing the World — How About You?

The young people I’ve met lately are a creative and whip-smart bunch. And they’re working hard to build the world they want to live in. The best part of my job at USAID is seeing the bright ideas they send to us every day.

Here are some of my recent favorites:

YouthMappers in action. (USAID photo)

3D-Printable Prosthetic Limbs

Everett Kroll, a Minnesota high school student, submitted a design for a 3D-printed prosthetic leg that would cost less than $100. Old-fashioned prosthetics can cost tens of thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach of many amputees in developing countries. With two clinical trials underway, the possibility of getting prosthetics to the people that need them most, at a price they can afford, may be in reach.

Maps to Fight Malaria in Africa
Students at more than 60 universities have joined forces with YouthMappers to turn satellite imagery into maps. This can make a big difference in countries where maps only show big cities or major roads. One project aims to reduce the spread of malaria in Mozambique, Kenya, Mali and Rwanda. Students are mapping roads, buildings and bodies of water to help target insecticide spraying more effectively. This leads to better mosquito control and fewer cases of malaria.

A Tool for Safer Childbirth
Lori Zhang, a New Jersey high school student, designed a low-cost device to make labor and childbirth safer for women in developing countries. Her prototype is designed to reduce obstetric fistulas — maternal injuries that can cause incontinence and pain. The device decreases the stress on the parts of the body that are most vulnerable, preventing injury.

Family members practice new skills with Noora Health at a hospital. (Noora Health photo)

Healthier Heart Patients in India

When four students at Stanford were randomly assigned to a group class project, they never imagined their work would continue after the semester ended. They started researching what happens when cardiac patients are released from hospitals in India, and learned that many return to villages where doctors and nurses are scarce. So the four students created Noora Health to train family members on basic healthcare skills so they can care for their loved ones after they return home.

Founder Claire Reid shows off the Reel Gardening product line. (Reel Gardening photo)

Making Veggies Fun in South Africa

Created by Claire Reid when she was 16, Reel Gardening makes it easy for anyone to grow their own vegetables, even with limited space and water. Seeds and fertilizer come embedded in an easy-to-use, biodegradable paper tape. The tape shows you how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart. It’s getting lots of kids in South Africa excited about growing food and eating healthy veggies.

A New Generation of Female Engineers in Kenya

Two students at Duke University started an engineering club at an all-girls school in Kenya, teaching engineering and design skills through hands-on projects. The students’ first challenge was designing and building flashlights for everyone at the school. The club’s founders, Kendall Covington and Mikayla Wickman, ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to collect money for materials, and they’re already making plans to expand.

Phone Alerts for Clean Water in India

Many communities in India struggle with an unreliable water supply. A water line might have water in it for only a few hours every couple of days. That means people waste a lot of time waiting at taps, and turn to unsafe water sources if they get frustrated. To solve this problem, a team of students at UC-Berkeley developed Nextdrop, which uses crowdsourced information and sends text message alerts when the water is flowing.

Better Irrigation for Uganda

An Agriworks irrigation system at work. (Agriworks photo)

Abraham Solomon, a 2010 UC-Davis grad, founded Agriworksto help farmers in Uganda get access to better irrigation tools and grow more food. The team developed a mobile, modular irrigation system for smallholder farmers that fits on a motorcycle chassis. Each mobile system can be shared by multiple farmers, keeping costs down. The irrigation systems use surface water and straightforward sprayers, making them easy to understand and maintain.

The young people behind these projects have all received support from USAID’s Global Development Lab, which brings new voices into international development. And we want to keep the great ideas coming. So, if you’re a new college student or a recent grad, it’s a great time to think about how you can use your talents to solve an important problem. You’re never too young to change the world.

About the Author: Ticora V. Jones is the Acting Director of the Center for Development Research and leads USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network.

Editor's Note: This entry originally apppeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in thie Generation publication on

For More Information:

  • Learn more about USAID’s Global Development Lab here or follow @globaldevlab on Twitter.