These four entrepreneurs are still in high school, but they plan to eradicate malaria from Africa
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The teens' crowdfunding page on M-Changa, a Kenyan crowdfunding platform. Photo Credit: M-Changa

Citi and Junior Achievement Kenya launch crowdfunding campaign for a sugar and yeast-based mosquito trap

In the West, high school science fairs are full of robots and apps that help you order school lunches. But a group of four secondary school students in Nairobi have decided to tackle a problem closer to home: malaria.

“I can’t even describe it to you,” explains Eugene Amusin, Senior Vice President of Microfinance at Citi, to Geektime. “These four kids came on stage and I felt like it was a biology and chemistry lesson to the whole audience.”

The kids had ascended the stage as part of the Citi Mobile Challenge demo day in Nairobi.

“We knew we were going to be doing the Citi Mobile Challenge demo day in Nairobi,” Amusin relates. “We created what we thought was a great platform of partners — the IBMs, the Mastercards, the Ubers, etc. We knew those folks would be in the audience. We were hoping it would get great visibility and outside and we thought, look let’s try to do something really good for the community as well and let’s try to leverage this platform that we’ve created.”

So Citi contacted nonprofit Junior Achievement, which told them about the Malre project.

“We thought it was brilliant,” says Amusin.

To see how Malre’s malaria prevention product and campaign will work, check out the video below.

Cheap and effective

Brian Kariu, Austin Osumba, Lewis Mwaura, and Austin Kimathi are four high school students from Lenana Boys’ high school, a boarding school in Nairobi.

As part of their studies, they joined the Junior Achievement Club where they study entrepreneurship. Having learned that mosquitos are attracted by the carbon dioxide emitted by human beings, they set out to design a trap containing a mixture of yeast, sugar, and water. The yeast breaks down the sugar solution, producing carbon and ethyl. Once an insect enters the trap, it stays inside and dies of starvation because it lacks a supply of blood to feed on.

Together with their mentors, the students decided to turn to crowdfunding to finance their project. It will cost about $100 to build a working prototype. Producing and distributing the traps to about 250 families across Kenya will cost a further $5,000-$10,000.

“We sought to support and bring attention to young local entrepreneurs that are working to improve life in Kenya. Through Junior Achievement, we learned of the Malre students and project. In addition, as crowdfunding is still nascent in Kenya, we capitalized on the opportunity to support M-Changa, a Nairobi-based startup fundraising management platform,” explains Andrew Brent, director of Consumer Public Affairs at Citi.

Over one million people die of malaria a year

You read that correctly: Over one million people die of malaria each year. It is an excruciatingly painful death, and it mostly affects young children and women in sub-Saharan Africa.

The saddest thing is that these deaths are unnecessary. Malaria can be eradicated with a combination of technology and political will, as has been demonstrated in places like Israel, which was largely uninhabitable 100 years ago and became malaria-free in the 1940s.

But barring a massive public works project, malaria in Africa can be reduced through preventative measures like mosquito nets and traps.

According to the Internet publication Malaria World, odor-baited mosquito traps are one effective way to do this.

As health researcher Dr. Fredros Okumu explains, “to be effective, the traps should be very cheap to deploy, the baits should be at least as attractive as humans, and the geographic location of these traps should be optimized to capture the greatest possible proportions of mosquito populations, for example by placing them in just a small section of the village area, where approximately 80% of infective mosquitoes are likely to be found.”

Crowdfunding, Kenyan style

When Amusin thought about ways to raise money for the mosquito traps, he thought, why not use a crowdfunding platform?

“In the U.S. or UK we have JustGiving. In Kenya, there aren’t necessarily many around. We needed it to be able to both accept mobile payments from people sitting in the audience and also accept international payments. We hit upon M-Changa.”

According to Amusin, the most convenient and useful way of transferring money in Africa is mobile payment. All the money contributed to the campaign will go to Junior Acheivement Kenya.

But can people feel safe handing their credit card information to a startup they’ve never heard of?

“I contributed myself,” says Amusin. “All the non-mobile payments are done through PayPal. They’re not a Citi client, we haven’t done our bank due diligence on them, but we know some of the stakeholders involved in the company.”

If you wish to contribute, the campaign can be found here.

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass

I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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