Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

The SanDisk Equality Award 

Mark Aschheim

                The SanDisk Equality Award recognizes technologies that level barriers towards success. These barriers may have many sources—natural disasters, physical or mental disabilities, cultural practices, or simply access to information and communication technology resources. The Equality category is unique from the other Tech Award categories in the award recognizes technology that contributes to equal access, equal rights, or equal treatment.

                This year’s SanDisk Equality Award Laureates were selected from 33 applications, an increase of 18% from 2006. In broad strokes, they may be categorized as follows:


Thirteen (39%) of the 33 applications addressed disabilities; about half of these addressed computer use (hardware and/or software) and education, while the remainder dealt with other physically enabling technologies—such as barrier-free playgrounds or rugged-terrain, tip-resistant wheelchairs. 

Eleven (33%) focused on achieving social change using technologies that encouraged intellectual, cultural, social, and economic development. Examples include FM radio relay transmitters, information and communication technology training, translating news for international consumption, stories and information to support women in male-dominated cultures, and translation services to help immigrants make use of social services.


Five (15%) addressed human rights, such as aiding in the registration of births, the recovery of missing persons, or mobilizing opposition to genocide.


 Four (12%) focused on aid and disaster recovery, in three cases providing a middle layer of service to enable connections between beneficiaries and donors or volunteers.

Approximately one-third of the applications were submitted by organizations located in developing countries, yet slightly more than half focus primarily on impacting these countries. A similar number of projects had impacts in the North American (including Central America), South American, Asian, and African continents, while only a small number of projects address Europe and Oceana (including Australia). However, it is not only the case that technologies developed in the industrialized world are being applied in developing countries; in several projects, technologies originating in developing countries are spreading to other countries and even other continents. The number of direct beneficiaries for each project ranges from a few hundred to over a million people.


The Laureates

                By coincidence rather than intention, the five Laureates cover each of the bulleted categories above. They are described in what follows.

 Counterpart International, U.S.

                People around the world donate billions of dollars of cash and goods to aid and relief groups to alleviate human suffering. In some cases this aid comes in response to an acute problem, such as a natural disaster, acts of war, or failure of infrastructure; in others, the aid was in response to a chronic problem. Accessing food, medicine, clothing, and shelter promptly to help those in need presents a logistical challenge that few donor or beneficiary organizations can handle. This is where Counterpart International (CI) excels—CI establishes links between donor and recipient organizations, and provides the software, personnel, and expertise to manage the supply of humanitarian assistance from donor to recipient. 

                The software developed by CI consists of a distributed database application that people around the world use to share information on needs and available donations.  The process of supplying donations involves many steps that are facilitated by the Counterpart Data Warehouse (CDW). Commodities available from donor organizations are listed in the data warehouse. The CI staff ensures the goods are safe and useful, and work with donors to prepare them for shipment. Bids for shipment from freight forwarders are received and automatically entered into the data warehouse. Donors are linked directly with the selected shipper to load the goods on a truck, which transports the goods to a port for container freight shipment.  CI staff meets the incoming container at the customs office of the beneficiary’s country, help to clear customs, and then ensure equitable distribution according to a previously developed plan. The CDW allows donors to track the status of their donation. The CDW is used to monitor how donated goods are being used, and its compiled information assists in preparing reports for donors, governments, and others who seek information about donations.

                CDW is used in every step of the humanitarian aid process. This complete supply chain management solution for humanitarian relief increases the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of international aid. For example: (1) the CDW ensures that only needed goods are shipped; thus, avoiding the possibility of humanitarian aid going to waste, or being dumped in recipient countries; (2) goods such as food or medicine that have a limited shelf-life can be identified; (3) clear distribution plans avoid exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and tensions, and in an emergency situation, can facilitate triage and save lives; (4) simple mistakes are avoided, such as shipping the wrong quantity of goods to a particular region of the world; and (5) by better linking donors and recipients, donors know their donations are being used efficiently, encouraging the continuance of sustained donor contributions.

                Counterpart International operates on a massive scale. The  CDW receives information from more than 24,000 users in over 20 countries, including donor and recipient organizations and CI staff that help to manage the shipments. The CDW has been used to manage the shipment of $1 Billion in humanitarian aid since 1996.


                You can find out more about CI at: 

Devendra Raj Mehta, India

                Devendra Raj Mehta, an economist and previous Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board in India, founded Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) in 1975. The organization targets the physical, social, and economic rehabilitation of physically disabled persons by providing advanced prostheses at no charge to the disabled without regard to caste, race, religion, income, or gender. Not only do these prostheses restore mobility, enabling disabled people to obtain or return to meaningful employment, but in doing so, restores their dignity and self esteem.

The BMVSS enterprise provides a holistic approach to healing. Largely through word of mouth, patients come from all over India seeking the prosthetic devices. Many often embark on extremely long journeys––some have never left their villages prior to the sojourn. Patients are treated with care, and are provided lodging and board during their fitting visit.   When they leave, they are whole again, having not only restored limbs, but also restored dignity.

                Under Mehta’s direction and with his financial patronage, BMVSS has made numerous innovations to a local craftsperson’s invention. The result is a prosthetic limb that rivals or surpasses the capabilities of western prostheses, at less than 1/200 the cost. The Jaipur Foot allows walking, running, kneeling, sitting cross-legged, climbing a tree, riding a bicycle, and even driving a car. The innovations include the use of specialized polymers, microcellular rubber blocks, laser alignment systems, full socket vacuum forming systems, and fabrication processes that allow legs to be fitted on site while the patient waits. The microcellular rubber blocks are used in place of wood and allow dorsal flexion, which enables patients to assume positions that require kneeling or sitting cross-legged. The specialized polymer pipes are used to make sockets in place of aluminum, thereby lowering costs and weight. The rapid fitment process allows clients who may have endured a difficult journey to reach BMVSS to be fitted on their way home without requiring a lengthy stay or a return visit; below-knee amputees are targeted for release within a day or two of their arrival, while above-the-knee amputees may head home after three to five days.

                Since its beginnings in Jaipur in 1975, BMVSS has expanded to 16 centers throughout India. To further reach people in rural areas, the organization sets up 30-40 temporary fitment camps per year in rural areas in India, and has created two mobile workshops to reach those in more remote locations. BMVSS is also concerned for the welfare of foreigners, having established temporary fitment camps in 20 foreign countries that have been ravaged by war (e.g., Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Sudan), where 15,000 patients have received prosthetic limbs. Approximately 110 million landmines remain in some 70 countries. The organization continues to scale its operations, and is now partnering with Rotary International to establish facilities in Asia, Africa, and South America.

                Having emerged as the largest prosthetic limb organization in the world, BMVSS has fitted 325,000 people with limbs since 1975 and provides additional services, such as offering calipers to polio patients, and wheelchairs, tricycles, and crutches to others. This translates to nearly one million patient interventions since the organization began. While BMVSS has reached approximately 1 in 11 orthopedically disabled people in India, much remains to be done, as there are approximately 18 million handicapped people worldwide who suffer from impaired mobility and economic ability.

                The Jaipur Foot experience is more fully described at:


Grameen Shakti , Bangladesh

                Access to clean and affordable sources of energy for cooking and light represents a genuine hardship in the rural areas of countries such as Bangladesh, with women most often bearing the greatest burdens.  Due to lack of resources and socio-economic expectations and limitations, women must spend much of their time in smoke-filled rooms, trudge for miles to collect fuel, and often suffer health consequences including asthma and even cancer. The organization, Grameen Shakti (GS), supplies renewable energy technologies to give light, energy, and income generation opportunities to the rural women of Bangladesh, and to others in similar disadvantaged settings

                Like its sister organization, Grameen Bank, which is widely recognized for its pioneering work using microcredit to fight poverty and catalyze socio-economic development, Grameen Shakti provides the rural poor with soft credit to obtain renewable energy technologies that improve their social and economic well-being. Grameen Shakti solutions include photovoltaic solar home systems, fixed dome biogas plants, and improved cooking stoves. The solar home systems provide lighting, using light emitting diodes (LED) and cold fluorescent lighting (CFL) technologies, and power for radios, televisions, mobile phones, and tools such as soldering irons. The gas and fertilizer produced by biogas plants is a source of revenue, while the biogas plants consume poultry waste. The improved cooking stoves use less fuel and reduce indoor air pollution. The monthly cost for the solar home system is about the same as the kerosene fuel they replace, but there is greater utility, and lower health and environmental consequences. About 30% of the recipients of solar home systems use them to generate income. In some cases, cottage industries are enabled, such as weaving handicrafts or taking care of poultry. Other examples include milling rice, tailoring clothing, and the sale of merchandise including groceries and cell phones.

Since its founding in 1996, approximately one million people have benefited directly from GS energy programs. Systems have been installed in 100,000 rural households. Approximately 1,000 women technicians have been trained. Rural offices have been established in 264 locations, and 20 Grameen Technology Centers (GTCs) have been established. The GTCs are used to further reduce cost, decentralize activities, and train future women entrepreneurs in the energy technologies. Most of the solar home system accessories are manufactured at the GTCs and the organization has plans to manufacture LED and CFL technologies locally as well.

                Please see: for more information.

Innocence Project, U.S.

                The Innocence Project was founded at Cardozo School of Law by Professors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992. Their mission is to free the large number of innocent people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes in the United States by using DNA technology, and to bring about substantial reforms to the criminal justice system that has resulted in these wrongful convictions.

                DNA is often found in biological evidence such as blood, saliva, sweat, semen, hair, and skin. The ability to match DNA evidence from a crime scene uniquely to individuals is a recent technological feat, and one which has allowed a re-examination of evidence from criminal cases long thought to have been closed. The Innocence Project has pioneered the use of DNA evidence to establish innocence in the criminal justice system. As a result, 200 wrongfully convicted people in the US have been exonerated, including 14 on death row.

                The use of DNA technology has made it clear that wrongful convictions arise from systematic defects in the justice system. Causes of wrongful conviction include mistaken eyewitness identification, unreliable or limited scientific evidence, false confessions, forensic science fraud or misconduct, government misconduct, and bad lawyering. Clearly, states must refrain from the ultimate punishment—death—if the justice system cannot reliably determine guilt.

                Since its 1992 founding, the Innocence Project has spawned over 30 similar organizations throughout the country, including an Innocence Project at Santa Clara University  ( that is a non-profit group of attorneys, professors, and students working to free innocent prisoners.

                The Innocence Project Web site is: 


Tropical Forest Trust, Switzerland

                Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) works to conserve threatened tropical forests through sustainable resource management. Historically, forest peoples’ concerns have not been considered in industrial logging companies’ decisions about forest resource utilization, primarily because of power imbalances, as well as language, literacy, and cultural barriers. The Indigenous Peoples Voices Programme (under the TFT) empowers the native people in forested areas to protect their religious, cultural, and resource sites from destruction by logging operations.

                This project began with a Greenpeace mission in December 2004 that identified a site in the Congo where new technologies could be used to protect the lands of the semi-nomadic Mbendjele Pygmies. Working with Helveta Ltd., TFT developed a ruggedized, portable computer; powerful GPS receiver; and iconic mapping software that allows non-literate peoples to identify sites of importance. Why would the logging concessionaire care? In this case, the concessionaire, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), had previously committed to seek Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, requiring free, prior, and informed consent be obtained from local indigenous peoples before any logging takes place. Thus, FSC certification ensures that the resource needs of the Pygmies are respected. The handheld device and the iconic mapping software are used to generate maps for use by the logging concessionaire and the software ensures that all harvested lumber is of legal origin.

                This technology has allowed CIB to obtain the first Forest Stewardship Council certificate awarded in the Congo. It plans to extend certifications throughout its entire 1,300,000 hectare concession in the Congo, benefiting 9,000 Pygmies. The technology may be extended by Greenpeace and the Indigenous Peoples Voices Programme to other areas, and may also be used for applications such as real-time reporting of commercial poaching and illegal logging, as well as wildlife monitoring.


                The Tropical Forest Trust Web site ( describes this work in more detail.         
    Whether invented where needed or developed elsewhere, technology innovations are helping those in need to improve their physical, economic, and social status. Underlying the theme of social benefit in these projects is the use of technology to foster inclusion of those that have been marginalized.   Thus, the disabled are being given mobility, dignity, and the ability to earn a living; victims of natural disasters are receiving aid; wrongfully convicted people are being exonerated, indigenous peoples are being given authority to protect important lands, and rural women are improving their standard of living with energy technologies.

The Panel
Mark Aschheim, Chair, Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering,
Santa Clara University


Jeffrey Baerwald, Associate Professor, Counseling Psychology, Santa   Clara University 


Juliana Change, Associate Professor,
English, and Director, Ethnic Studies
Program, Santa Clara University

Paul Meissner, CEO, Santur Corporation


Vern Norviel, Member of the Firm, Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati


 John Woldrich, Former COO, Fair,
Issac & Co.

About the Author

Mark Aschheim is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Santa Clara University. Dr. Aschheim works in the areas of earthquake-resistant and sustainable structural engineering. He has developed improved design methods and structural systems, and actively serves on building code committees for the American Concrete Institute and the Building Seismic Safety Council. Dr. Aschheim is a registered professional engineer in California. 
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