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Real development starts at home

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.