Spending time in a rural village in Tanzania helped recent graduate Will (MA Economics 2019) appreciate the benefits of his UK lifestyle, even in lockdown, so when the Covid-19 pandemic started to cause widespread devastation, he felt spurred on to do something to help, navigating some new skills and challenges along the way.
Degree: MA Hons Economics
Current treasured possession: Wi-Fi hub
Song of the moment: ‘Jeje’ by Diamond Platnumz
After graduating with a degree in Economics last year, I took a year out to do charity work. My extracurriculars had given me business experience and I wanted to use these skills to make a difference. Hence, I joined a sustainable business charity where I could make the most impact.
My new home was called Luganga, a rural village in the Iringa District, Tanzania. I was living with a host family in basic conditions and with no means of telecommunication, so a typical day was pretty different from what I was used to back home.
On 20 March, six weeks into my three-month placement, we were recalled because of the coronavirus, a disease hardly known to us in Luganga. Within a matter of days, I found myself back in the UK and in lockdown. This was surreal as just days earlier I had been immersed in a different culture collecting water and attempting to speak Swahili. For all of us, the coronavirus has meant adapting to a “new normal”. This swift change from Tanzania to being back home means I am more appreciative than ever for the access to amenities that I have. It has made me realise that lockdown is a luxury afforded to the UK and spurred me to help countries in need at this time.
In my final year at the University of Edinburgh I co-founded Augment Bionics, a medical devices start-up focused on producing functional and affordable 3D printed myoelectric prosthetics. However, in March 2020, as the number of coronavirus cases grew, we became aware of the global lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). We wanted to take action to help protect our frontline workers, so we pivoted our business to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus, working swiftly to repurpose our 3D printers to produce face shields. All of which were donated to the NHS and countries in need abroad.
Latymer Upper School kindly offered a manufacturing space and George, our technical director, set up shop. Within one week of advertising our services, we quickly became inundated with requests and realised that 3D printing – a slow, low volume manufacturing process – was not going to be able to keep up with the growing demand. In response, we shifted to large scale manufacturing to increase production capacity from 200 to 20,000 per week.
To date, we have distributed 60,000 shields to the NHS, 30,000 to the Ministry of Health in Armenia and 20,000 to rural healthcare workers in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Somaliland – for a total of 110,000 shields! Concurrently, we have also tried to limit our environmental impact. As a forward-looking company with strong views on sustainability, we are acutely aware of the plastics problem single-use shields pose, and to reduce this we have opted to make our shields out of recycled plastic bottles so that we’re maximising the social impact while minimising the environmental impact.
My personal role at Augment Bionics has involved fundraising, costing, and navigation of the fluid coronavirus regulations for PPE. Running a start-up during such uncertain times has been tumultuous to say the least, but I’m proud of what the team has achieved so far and humbled by the £100,000 plus generously donated. It’s been a team effort, and our community has made this possible.
One of the most impactful messages was early on in our campaign when a coronavirus ward doctor told us that our shields had helped to save two lives.
Throughout this initiative, we have received heart-warming messages from doctors thanking us for our shields. One of the most impactful messages was early on in our campaign when a coronavirus ward doctor told us that our shields had helped to save two lives. Knowing that we have had an impact against the backdrop of something as large as a global pandemic has provided me with an overwhelming sense of fulfilment. Augment Bionics is an example of the feats recent graduates can achieve when engaging with key issues of our times and when given the freedom to act. It’s something that I think is key for this year’s graduates to consider: graduating into challenging circumstances means that perseverance is more important than ever. It is how you respond to life’s challenges that will define you. For us, this means we will offer face shields for as long as they are needed.
Aside from working with Augment Bionics during the lockdown, I’m being whipped into shape by my younger brother; three times a week I find myself severely out of breath while I look up to see his figure ease away from me on the running track. Lockdown has been a great time for our family to reconnect and I know after living apart for 10 years I have relished the chance to be able to spend more time with them. All in all, the lockdown has fostered a greater appreciation in me for the things that we do have, and the things it is possible to do in the face of adversity. The trick is to stay positive.