In 2016, the Tanzanian government institute the NHIF Insurance plan, waiving all maternal health expenses for expecting mothers. However, many women could not afford or travel to the hospital safely. That’s when Deb McCracken, director of The Olive Branch for Children, reached out to the MIT D-Lab. She witnessed the struggle that the people in the most rural reaches of Tanzania faced in reaching the hospital and wanted to find a solution. Through the MIT D-Lab Design course, she consulted a team of engineering students, from which the Okoa Project was born.
We created our first prototype in the MIT D-Lab before heading to Tanzania to create their first on-location prototype in January of 2018. We collaborated extensively with the Twende innovation center in Tanzania, and tested it with our partner, The Olive Branch for Children. The design changed a great deal over the course of this first trip, as the team was able to collect in-person community feedback, inspect the leading issues with transport and terrain first-hand, and build the new prototype with Tanzanian engineers. Until now, the majority of our team has still been attending MIT, working on The Okoa Project full time while maintaining outside careers and schooling. When we graduated in June 2018, we kept working, knowing our ambulance can have a vital impact on those who need it most.
Since our first trip, we have visited Tanzania three times, conducted over two hundred and fifty interviews with community members, and transformed the project into a non-profit. In autumn 2018, our team will be returning to Tanzania for the fourth time to work out of the Kubuni Centre for innovation. Over the course of the next seven months, we will be doing pilot testing and finalizing the product before manufacturing. We’ve come a long way since our inception, but we’re only getting started. We hope you’ll follow us as we continue to grow.