Imagine how an idea, that thus far has allowed 100,000 people in Nicaragua to live a better and more sustainable life, arose from four college students drinking Keystone Light on their porch off Lincoln Way. That’s exactly how Wes Meier (’08 mech engr), Greg McGrath (’08 mech engr), Chris Deal (’08 mech engr), and Lee Beck (’09 food sci & hort) paved the way for the people of Nicaragua to improve both their lifestyles and their environment.
The YAC was able to catch up with two key members of what is today known as Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability International: co-founder/director McGrath, a former Iowa STATEment Makers honoree, and director of development Rachel Geilenfeld (’07 pol sci).
What is Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability International (EOS)?
It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit made to provide underserved communities with access to low-cost appropriate technologies that generate income and improve health. EOS International will accomplish this by implementing our core technologies, promoting and teaching these technologies to both development organizations and rural villages how to implement them, and developing technology kits to distribute as a way to extend our impact to other areas where we are not currently working.
Translation: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for the day; teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.
Co-founder Wes Meier was stationed there during his Peace Corps tour and empathized with the Nicaraguan people living in the second poorest country in the world. With 3 million people, comprised mostly of farming communities, Nicaragua struggles to get out of poverty because of the lack of technology and resources available.
What technologies are you implementing and how do you choose them?
We didn’t create any of the technologies, but through Wes’ Peace Corps tour of Nicaragua we were able to identify the key needs of the local communities and utilized the resources available to them. A major purpose of our technologies is to lift our customers out of poverty, so we came up with three initial designs: drip irrigation, barrel ovens, and biodigesters that take manure and turn it into methane gas for cooking.
We also look to other partners like Compatible Technology International, based in St. Paul, that designed a water coronation system and are using EOS to promote their design.
How are you evolving and expanding at such a fantastic rate?
Leveraging our networks and contacts both here in the States and with the Nicaraguan government have been a key to our success. Also, through understanding our own systems via user feedback, we were able to transform our irrigation system that previously took two and a half days and $70 to install to under an hour and less than $10 to install.
Strong beliefs and initial financial support from friends, family, volunteers, and the Iowa State community have made this project possible. Also, the core group of volunteers that are working nights and weekends a few times a month are integral to making this program exist and continue to expand.
How do you measure success?
By visiting with people about the impact in the community and hearing their stories. This year we will be doing follow-up visits to the communities where the technologies have been installed to see the positive results firsthand. Due to lack of funding at the moment, it’s been a challenge to do that. But we are encouraged by some of the success stories.
What’s one major highlight or story?
We have around 100,000 people using these technologies currently in Nicaragua, and it’s continuing to grow. So we know what we are doing is working, and now it’s just improving upon that.
How can other ISU young alumni get involved in EOS?
Contact EOS directly through our website, http://eosinternational.org/, to learn more about opportunities to get involved.
About this story | Interview by Scott Hagen (’06 architecture), Young Alumni Council volunteer. Originally published in Young Alumni News Feb. 20, 2013.