December 2012

Social Innovation is the Root of This Cause

Susan Musinsky, Director of Root Cause, recognizing and thanking the Social Innovators of 2012.

Can you imagine a world without hunger, violence or unemployment? A world with healthy families, educated children and gender equality? Sounds far-fetched today, but hopefully someday It will be our reality.


When governments, businesses and nonprofits work together good things happen. Cambridge based non-profit Root Cause is helping good things happen by building relationships and fostering connections that enable people across sectors to work together towards a common social goal. These interactions are creating a new market called the social impact market, which ensures that money for social issues is awarded to the activities and people that deliver results.


The most recent results were celebrated last week at NERD during the winter reception. The event recognized the 2012 social innovators and introduced the 2013 participants. Each innovator joins The Social Innovation Forum, a 12 month intensive program that provides support and resources to help advance a social idea. The support comes in the form of consulting services, research assistance, business planning, presentation skills, network exposure and priceless mentoring from influential leaders in the community.


The 2012 participants made social impact in health, workforce development, senior care, STEM education and at-risk youths. TEMPO, a one-stop resource center for young adults, helps advocate and advise 17-24 year olds about employment, health care, housing and everything else that is a part of regular adult life.  Cooking Matters instills people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to prepare healthy and affordable meals for their families. The LGBT Aging project ensures that lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender older adults have equal access to benefits and services so that they can age with dignity and respect they deserve. Work Express is a residential and employment program for homeless adults that are committed to getting back on their feet. During the 6-12 month long program, partakers receive transitional help and earn money doing landscaping, cleaning, graffiti removal and apartment rehab jobs. The Science Club for Girls exposes girls to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. By sharing hands-on learning experiences with these K-12 girls, they build confidence and curiosity about exploring career options that might otherwise be unfamiliar to them. Inner-city Weightlifting (ICW) is redefining strength among urban youth by getting them involved at the gym instead of the street. The organization harvests a positive community with academic and career support and influences youth to pursue opportunities outside of gangs.


The 2013 class of Social Innovators will target similar issues and aim to solve complex problems. They were also announced last week at NERD. AgeWell West Roxbury supports the wellbeing of elderly and disabled adults, supporting them and their care givers with social and educational programs that allow them to age in place.  GRLZradio is the first of its kind in violence prevention and leadership development for girls. It gives girls a voice in their community, while building a positive identity and learning technical skills. Groundwork Lawrence is using environmental education, employment initiatives, youth education and community events to establish the building blocks for a healthy community and encourage the residents of Lawrence to improve their quality of life. Safe City Academy is a youth violence prevention organization. As part of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, this team will make social impact via workforce development. Shelter Music Boston expands the access and exposure of classical music by bringing it into homeless shelters.


Congratulations to the 2012 and 2013 Social Innovators. We’re excited to follow your progress and excited to see YOUR impact.

Sara Spalding of NERD presenting the award to our social innovation partner, Connie Chow from The Science Club for Girls

An attentive crowd enjoying the presentations and awards.

Improving Tuberculosis Treatment With Technology: Microsoft Research India Visits NERD

Film producer Pamela Woon and MS Research Lead Bill Thies chat outside a TB clinic near Delhi. The clinic was only 1 room measuring 10’x10′.

In Boston we don’t think about Tuberculosis (TB) often, if at all. Like most Americans, you were probably vaccinated, but the scary truth is no one is exempt from this disease. New infections arise when a contaminated person coughs, sneezes or transmits saliva through the air. As you can imagine, TB is very contagious, especially in poverty stricken areas where people live in close quarters and lack access to medical help.


Bill and his team developed a biometric monitoring system to track clinic visits and treatment progress. The research team collaborated with Operation Asha, which runs 225 TB clinics in India.  Currently they are using this technology in 40 centers and plan to implement this technology across all of them. The research question has been answered, but the project is just getting started. This technology can be used and applied to other countries and other diseases. The next steps include replicating and scaling up the reach of biometric monitoring. Another team has already begun executing such programs in Uganda for TB and HIV treatment.

Joining Bill at NERD today was Pamela Woon, an executive producer at Microsoft. She traveled to India to document Bill’s team and the TB treatment solution in a short film “Battling Tuberculosis Using Microsoft Technology”. I was able to catch up with her and hear about her experience filming in India. Her recount of the conditions in rural India make it easier to understand the severity of this health problem.

“Filming in India was a sensory experience like no other shoot I’ve produced or directed in my 15+ years in film and television. In 7 days we filmed in 21 locations, overcoming monsoons, 100+ degree weather, treacherous road conditions, and intoxicating smells of exhaust, garbage and livestock. But I quickly realized that The India Project would become one of my most transformative and enriching life experiences.

Working with an Indian film crew proved highly advantageous, from creating a comfortable environment for the local interviewees, to filming in cramped environments, to understanding proper etiquette for crowd control and dealing with livestock. As we documented how Operation Asha is overcoming barriers to extend healthcare and how Microsoft is deploying technology in some extreme and often inaccessible locations, we had corollary experiences of our own.  For example, we visited a health clinic in the Tekhand village of New Delhi. The location is best described as a densely compact room that barely fits six people — a challenge for a clinic and also for a film shoot!  With lots of traffic noise, inconsistent electricity, and no indoor plumbing, I had a chance to witness how people working together, supported by technology can truly overcome a very limiting situation.

Still, it was difficult to bridge the gap of the negative social stigma Tuberculosis carries, evidenced by patients opting out at the last second to be interviewed. This made it that much more awe-inspiring when a family welcomed us into the privacy of their home and courageously answered our questions.  Their small home chock full of strangers, camera equipment, cords, and lighting gear. It was a privilege to be invited into these homes, often humble, but lacking nothing in love and kindness.”

Today’s event was memorable and informative. Thank you everyone that attended and a big thank you to Bill for sharing the story with us. If you missed it, you can watch the film here and let us know what you think!


Cameras and foreign faces attracted a lot of attention. Villagers came out in droves to see what was happening and the local film crew had to double as crowd control!

This Hindu Temple also serves as a TB clinic. Patients can get care in private because many people are embarrassed about having TB and this provides a private place for treatment and advice.

TB patient being interviewed in his home. Shortly after this photo a monsoon passed through the village and we lost power.

Mother of TB patient is interviewed on her bed, which is also the dinner table and couch. A family of 6 lives in this 8’x8′ room.