ISI Projects & Research

Carnegie Mellon has conducted hundreds of research projects and initiatives related to social innovation and entrepreneurship. Included below are just a few representative examples:

Lifelong Mobility for Disabled Children

(Jointly with the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Rehabilitative Services)

This initiative assessed the operations and impact of wheelchair distribution and lifecycle management in Latin America. The project was carried out by Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College and the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Rehabilitative Services in partnership with the American Wheelchair Mission (AWM) and the Teletón Children’s Rehabilitation Centers or CRITs (Spanish: Centro de Rehabilitación Infantil Teletón) in central Mexico.

The initial focus involved evaluating patient needs and the processes related to wheelchair donations at two CRIT locations. Findings from this work revealed that donated wheelchairs frequently fell into disrepair and, due to the financial challenges of patients’ families, the donated wheelchairs were often in need of repair and sometimes unused or discarded.  

A follow-on project refined earlier recommendations for repair services, and developed and pilot tested a sustainable and generalizable model for increasing the independent mobility of people with disabilities around the world. This effort resulted in the 4R Model for Lifelong Mobility (repair, reuse, recycle, and retrofit), which was piloted at the CRIT in Guanajuato, Mexico.

The “4R” project focused on strategies to increase the “person months” of wheelchair availability for people with disabilities rather than focusing on donated wheelchairs alone. In addition, it took a population-level approach with the aim of replicating the model at other CRIT sites within Mexico, and potentially other CRITs in Latin America, to better achieve equilibrium between the need for wheelchairs and the level of donated wheelchairs available at any one center.

Redefining Regional Food Systems

Each year, farms in Southwestern Pennsylvania (SWPA) lose millions of dollars in lost income due to excess food production while food shortages and hunger problems continuously exist in the region. This project comprehensively evaluated the regional food supply chain from farm to table with a focus on increasing farmer profits by selling and repurposing “seconds”, crops just under the highest quality levels but still edible and safe.

The team economically justified the viability of an aggregation center to convert seconds into high-value products like baby food and sauces that could subsequently be resold, through technology-enhanced logistics systems, to a variety of distribution channels and end customers.

Mobile Medical Learning System

In the developing world, more than 2 billion people suffer needlessly from treatable diseases due to the lack of treatment awareness and access to doctors. Furthermore, rural patients are often exploited into expensive and counter-productive medications by local health-agents without medical training. With the recent rapid advancements in mobile technologies, it is now possible to leverage mobile phones as a communications and information exchange mechanism to reach patients who live far away from qualified doctors or those who cannot afford to see doctors.

A team from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College built a system from the ground up to provide remote diagnostic assistance for doctors and their patients with a focus on developing countries. It included a web portal allowing multiple physicians to comment on a specific case through a wiki documentation system, process logic to facilitate communications, security features for the system and underlying database, interfaces to integrate with related client systems, and extensive documentation of the overall system. In addition to developing a working prototype of the system, the student team also conducted research on information security in the healthcare industry, developed a systems service workflow process, and made recommendations for technologies and vendors in relevant hardware and software aspects of the system architecture.

Subsistence to Sustainability: A business training and lending model for Zambia’s rural farmers

The challenge of maintaining a stable source of food is a widespread problem across the world. This is particularly true in the Western Province of Zambia, where the scarcity of agricultural services and market access hinders farmers from consistent food production. Most of the population is made up of subsistence farmers who lack management skills and access to credit to enhance and expand their farms as businesses.

Through this project, a student team developed an integrated model for ProjectEDUCATE to provide business training and funding access to small-scale farmers in the Mongu district of Western Zambia.

Creating Seedbeds for Social Innovation

A systems synthesis project, the “Creating Seedbeds for Social Innovation” project examined if social innovation helps to drive economic development in a region. The project resulted in the development of the “Fertile Ground Index” which can help to measure a region’s social innovation potential based on a variety of factors. The project helped to reveal key external factors that influence social innovation and the link between social innovation and economic development.