SEED Lab Gates Foundation Grant

Alex Moseson, PhD, (at right) has worked with Drexel engineering students and farmers in the Bo Klua region of Thailand for the last three years to develop tools that will help the farmers plant and weed in their mountainous region.

A team of students from Drexel's College of Engineering, led by Alexander J. Moseson, PhD, an assistant teaching professor in the College and director of the Sustainable Engineering and Entrepreneurship for Development (SEED) Lab are among the latest recipients of a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Grand Challenge Explorations initiative, which funds innovative global health and development research, will help the team continue its work to create transformative farming tools for female smallhold farmers in Thailand.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.  Moseson’s project is one of more than 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

To receive funding, Moseson and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included development of the next generation condom, agriculture development and neglected tropical diseases.  

Ancient Coins

During the last four years, Moseson has partnered with farmers in a rural region of Thailand to design and build tools that help them to more efficiently and comfortably plant seeds and cut weeds.  This grant will enable the group to optimize the tool for manufacturing, establish a local fabrication and maintenance center in the village, and develop a social entrepreneurship business plan.

Moseson, who made his first visit to Bo Klua, Thailand in 2009 identified an unmet need with the subsistence farmers of this mountainous region. For more than 700 years the traditional method of planting involved one person digging a hole and one or two others –typically women– following behind and stooping to plant the seeds. The planter that Moseson’s teams of engineering and media arts students worked with the famers to create allows one person to complete the task just as effectively, while remaining standing. Both the planter and weeder are more efficient, ergonomically sound, affordable and can be locally made.

“Our primary goal for this grant is to establish a local social entrepreneurship center to produce 50 tools per day,” Moseson said. “There are 100 million sloped-field famers in Southeast Asia alone who could see their quality of life improved by these tools. We worked with some of these farmers to choose which problems to pursue and developed solutions together.  Putting the tools in the hands of so many others is a very exciting possibility.”

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a U.S. $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 850 people in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of U.S. $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About The Sustainable Engineering and Entrepreneurship for Development (SEED) Lab at Drexel University

The SEED Lab was founded in 2011 to empower marginalized populations through technology. To do so, it leverages the Technology Seeding methodology and Drexel University senior design teams. It has been supported by Drexel’s College of Engineering, the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering Science and Health Systems and Drexel’s Office of International Programs. In partnership with the Thai Sustainable Development Research Foundation (SDRF), it is currently developing agricultural tools and water purification technology in rural Thailand. Related projects advanced by the director, Alexander J. Moseson, PhD, include manufacturing in Tanzania and green cements in the United States and India.