Early into a conference in India where high school students came together to develop solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, Evan Ehrhardt was full of ideas and inspiration with no real focus.
But then a fellow Global Social Entrepreneurship Summit attendee — American School of Bombay freshman Niraj Shah — mentioned the impact of mosquito-borne diseases in his country. At his high school, seven out of 160 students (plus two faculty members) had contracted dengue in the past year, and he knew that dengue and malaria have an even greater impact in India’s rural areas.
“I think it had been bouncing around in his brain for a while,” said Evan, a sophomore at Cary Academy. “He kind of suggested it in passing, and I just said, ‘Hey, that would fit in really well with what we’re talking about,’ and we just went from there.”
Niraj (who, by coincidence, formerly lived in Cary), Evan and Evan’s Cary Academy classmate Jack Lattimore, a senior, started looking for information that might help spark ideas for a solution — and they found there wasn’t a whole lot of information out there. Governments and health workers know, of course, that mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem, and they know a lot about how people become infected and how to treat them. But, Evan explained, “There’s no specific information as to where malaria and dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases are a problem in terms of a specific geometric area.”
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The Centers for Disease Control, for example, has a malaria map on its website, Evan said, “but it’s just the entire country of India, red.” Other services allow patients to report cases, but those can miss larger trends, the students found.
So Evan, Jack and Niraj came up with the concept for an app called Nivaran (the Hindi word for “prevention”) that would allow doctors and clinics to enter data on a detailed map that helps pinpoint when cases of mosquito-borne disease occur and the general areas where an infected patient lives and works, and therefore where the disease most likely was picked up. The map also would mark infrastructure problems, such as open, stagnant water, that can contribute to disease.
By the end of the summit, the idea for Nivaran, including business and sustainability plans, was fully formed and vetted – the students had to man a booth on the last day to explain their idea to educators who asked some tough questions.
“It was really cool to be in a room that was just so full of creativity and ingenuity,” Evan said.
But the ideas didn’t stop there. After the summit wrapped, Niraj and Evan, who was staying with Niraj’s family, stayed up late talking about how they were going to keep the project going and communicate with 8,000 miles and a 10½ hour time difference between them. So, they communicate via email and texts every few days — or more if there’s a thorny problem or progress being made.
Now, they’re ready to transition from the ideas phase to reality – a generosity.com page they set up has a goal of $2,500, money that would go to pay someone to create the full Nivaran app. Alternatively, they’re considering nonprofit coding groups, but many had already closed their application window for the year by the time Nivaran was born in February, and the students are eager to get started.
The Cary Academy students’ trip to India for the Global Social Entrepreneurship Summit (in addition to Evan and Jack, seniors Ellie Buckner and Emma Ehrhardt, Evan’s sister, also attended, working on other projects) stemmed from a mostly online global leadership class that brought together students from Cary Academy, American School of Bombay and other schools around the world. So Evan and Jack were used to global thinking and problem-solving, but the summit did have a few new lessons to impart.
“I got a lot of hard life lessons about perseverance,” said Evan. “In a lot of things in school, there’s a support system behind you. If you get stuck in a research project, you go to your teacher and you say, ‘Hey, what’s my next step?’ There was no net for this. There were quite a few people who were saying, ‘You’ve got a good idea. What are you going to do with it?’ And there were a lot of times when I said, ‘I don’t know what to do next.’ … So I think there was a lot of learning how to make myself sit down and come up with solutions and not wait on a support system to kick in.”
Want to help?
Check out the generosity.com page for the Nivaran app at bit.ly/1V7Kn7u to learn more about the project, see prototypes and a video, and donate.