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Real development starts at home

March 17, 2014

Growing up in Mali, Mohamed Kante saw many Western aid workers come and go. “The minute they leave, the people on the ground think they can’t keep it going without the for­eigners,” said Kante, E’12, “and the pro­gram collapses.”

Kante, with the help of a team of ded­i­cated youth who share his vision, is devel­oping a pro­gram called iNERDE STEM Summer camp to address this problem. The goal isn’t to bring aid back to Mali but rather to empower his coun­trymen with the tools and con­fi­dence to make great changes on their own. On March 17, Kante launched a 35-​​day Indiegogo cam­paign to raise funds in sup­port of the venture.

“I want to spread the mes­sage that when given the resources, you too can be part of the solu­tion, you too can give your com­mu­nity some­thing it could ben­efit from,” Kante said.

iNERDE stands for New Edu­ca­tion for Rad­ical Devel­op­ment. “The ‘i’ is for inno­va­tion,” Kante explained, and the “nerd” is a tribute to his own iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as someone keen on learning.

As a stu­dent in Mali’s edu­ca­tion system, Kante never con­sid­ered engi­neering as a poten­tial career oppor­tu­nity. He thought his only choices were law and finance. But when he came to the U.S. to pursue his col­lege edu­ca­tion, that all changed. He dis­cov­ered that his long-​​term appre­ci­a­tion for and excel­lence in math­e­matics could actu­ally allow him to make a dif­fer­ence in the world.

Kante enrolled at Bristol Com­mu­nity Col­lege and ulti­mately trans­ferred to North­eastern in 2009. While a stu­dent here, he par­tic­i­pated in a number of vol­un­teer activ­i­ties through orga­ni­za­tions such as the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Black Engi­neering Stu­dent Society and the Paul Robeson Insti­tute for Pos­i­tive Self Devel­op­ment. It was during these activ­i­ties that Kante found his true calling to inspire and empower people across boundaries.

“North­eastern gave the oppor­tu­nity to be a great leader and to realize the things that matter to me,” he said. “Essen­tially, North­eastern taught me how to think.”

For his senior cap­stone project, Kante and his class­mates devel­oped iCRAFT, a device that allowed para­plegic patients to feed them­selves without a clinician’s assistance—a need he rec­og­nized while working at the Kin­dred Tran­si­tional Care and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion — Craw­ford in Fall River, Mass.

“Working on iCRAFT, I real­ized you don’t have to be a genius to make change. You just have to be given the oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources to make it happen,” Kante said. That’s what he’ll be attempting to do for fourth– and fifth-​​grade Malian stu­dents this summer with iNERDE STEM Camp.

Through this eight-​​week summer camp, Malian stu­dents at his child­hood school will engage in a wide variety of evidence-​​based cur­ricula. For one project, he said, stu­dents will be asked to walk around their neigh­bor­hoods pho­tographing things in their com­mu­nity that they are proud of as well as things that could be improved.

“Maybe they see how their mom has to walk 10 kilo­me­ters to get clean water,” Kante sug­gested. “How could we make that better?” The campers will then try to develop actual solu­tions to some of the prob­lems they identify.

If the pro­gram is suc­cessful, Kante envi­sions expanding iNERDE’s projects beyond Mali and bringing them to devel­oping nations around the world. “In French, there’s a saying about charity,” he said. “The best way to make change is to start from home.”

And that’s the key to iNERDE’s intended suc­cess. Kante hopes the stu­dents in his home nation will begin to see them­selves as agents of change rather than believing only out­siders are capable of such greatness.