Supplying Containers for Global Health and Wellness
Discarded shipping containers and an alarming maternal death rate in Africa: These two factors prompted four Arizona State University engineering students to found G3Box, a nonprofit that converts shipping containers into medical-grade clinics. “A professor who had been to Africa told us how the used containers just lay idle in the ports,” says cofounder Susanna Young. “That, coupled with Africa having the highest maternal death rate in the world, made us decide to solve both problems at one time.”
The group began the venture in 2009 in an engineering class focused on solving societal problems, but they’ve found the work goes well beyond engineering. In addition to installing windows, ventilation, lighting, flooring, and plumbing in each container, the students are learning to run a business. Determining the benefits of filing as a limited liability company versus a nonprofit, securing a registered trademark, and running focus groups were essential tasks outside their field of expertise. “We didn’t really know what we were doing,” says Gabrielle Palermo.
Not having a business background required they do a lot of independent research, but it didn’t stop them from pursuing the project. “I think a certain boldness of not being afraid to cold-call a company or an individual is important,” says Young. When the group needed a shipping container, simply calling and explaining the group’s mission landed it a donation. “Being a student helps. Companies see us as the future and want us to do well. If nothing else, you get advice.”
The first G3Box is being converted into a maternity clinic and will be shipped to Africa in summer 2012, but the long-term plan is to have various boxes: disaster relief, surgical, intensive care, and educational. Until then, they’re equipped with what an engineering competition judge once told them is vital to a successful venture: a great idea and the youthful enthusiasm to get it done.