Tufts Archimedes Project chapter to host Ideation Lab

Twenty-five-year-old Thayaparan and her six-year-old daughter Mutalakshmi sit on the step of their new toilet in the village of Kalvallam, northern Sri Lanka. The toilet has been built by the UN's Office for Project Services (UNOPS), with funding from UKaid. Russell Watkins / The Department for International Development

From April 17 to 19, the Tufts chapter of the Archimedes Project will host a weekend-long Ideation Lab on “Technologies for Clean Water and Sanitation in India.”

The Archimedes Project is a national organization that develops social ventures to increase and maintain clean drinking water access and sanitation systems in the developing world. Jordan Klein, a junior, decided to found the Tufts chapter of the Archimedes Project when he heard about the organization and wanted to get involved, but was unable to travel to Haiti to work on its initiative there.

Nikhil Shinday, a junior, explained that the Archimedes Project is different from other non-profits.

“[The] social enterprise part [of the Archimedes Project] precludes the ‘white savior’ mentality that a lot of non-profits have by avoiding human capital, which is relatively plentiful in developing nations, as the main resources provided,” Shinday said.

Shinday also noted that the Archimedes Project empowers locals socioeconomically by providing them with entrepreneurial business plans to run themselves.

Klein added that Tufts was a great place to start a campus chapter.

“There is a large South Asian community at Tufts, and it’s great to see people who want to help out where they’re from in a meaningful way,” he said.

Klein recruited students to work on his team to plan the Ideation Lab together in order to create an effective Archimedes Project program.

“The idea was to find a problem that we could solve and subsequently find the money to fund the program,” he said. “We’re thinking cohesively — we also want to get the right experts and a good group of students that all want to get something done.”

Klein explained that his passion for the project is at the nexus of social enterprise and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

A cohort of 30 students from a variety of backgrounds, who will be divided into teams, will be involved in this weekend’s Ideation Lab. Klein explained that what makes the event unique is its inclusion of students from a variety of perspectives.

“An ideal team looks like this: one student from Fletcher, one undergraduate student majoring in computer science, one undergraduate international relations student, one graduate student from the Sackler School and one graduate student from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy,” Klein said.

Shinday noted that the Ideation Lab is designed to “attract some really bright and motivated students, faculty and community members that can share and debate ideas from their paradigms of specialization.”

The event brings thinkers from a variety of different disciplines together, Shinday said. “We want students to be exposed to ideas and principles prevalent in other fields of study that they might not have necessarily encountered on their own,” Shinday said. “By using a multi-faceted approach, we hope to maximize the potential that each business idea has in the Lab.”

Klein added that the Ideation Lab differs from a hackathon or a business planning competition in various aspects. “In a hackathon, you don’t know anything until you’re there. In a business planning competition, you submit your plan beforehand,” he said. “In our Ideation Lab, everyone knows what the topic is, but everyone will find out their teams on Friday.”

He added that the organizers aim to encourage both collaboration and competition at the event. “This is not a competition of teams or people, but of ideas,” Klein said.

Klein explained that at the event, the best idea will win the competition. “If your idea wins, you don’t have to work on it moving forward. If your idea didn’t win, but you still really want to be involved, you’re more than welcome to join the winning idea’s team,” he explained.

The winning team will receive $1,000 in seed money to help cover expenses during their project’s incubation period. Then, Klein predicts that grants and other funds will be able to cover ongoing costs.

In the future, Klein sees the organization as being a general space for students interested in water sanitation issues and social enterprise.

“[I plan on] planning Ideation Labs in the future to solve different issues and ideally incubate business plans for Tufts students that have ideas but don’t necessarily want to launch it themselves,” Klein said.

The Archimedes Project would then connect ideas with someone who “ideally has roots in the area [that the idea is based on], has that entrepreneurial drive and would be able to commit to it full-time,” he said.

Klein concluded that he wants the Ideation Lab to “provide a space to put your heads together and solve a problem by working with students in other disciplines that they usually wouldn’t be able to access.”