An alumni-funded grant is helping a student-run social enterprise to improve lives in Ghana through solar-powered hearing aids.
Impact of hearing loss
When Ines El-Saui (MA Social Anthropology with Development 2018) saw a video of a 16-year-old hearing impaired boy in rural Uganda, she was moved by the fact that he couldn’t speak to anyone because of his impairment and was confined to a hut much of the time. This motivated her to find out more about the impact of hearing loss.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that in developing countries, children with hearing loss rarely receive schooling and adults experience higher levels of unemployment. It advises that “making properly-fitted, affordable hearing aids […] and providing accessible follow-up services in all parts of the world will benefit many people with hearing loss.” 
Wanting to address this, Ines came up with the idea for Aiding Change. The student-run social enterprise provides access to affordable solar-powered hearing aids to people in developing countries.
The work of Aiding Change is underpinned by partnerships with organisations who offer expertise in international development, hearing loss and hearing technology.
By partnering with Solar Ear, a company producing rechargeable hearing aids, Aiding Change were able to access their products at a 40% discount. Each hearing aid comes with a solar battery charger and two rechargeable batteries, which can last a lifetime. “This eliminates the need to purchase batteries weekly, which are a huge environmental waste and unaffordable to many people in developing countries,” Ines highlights.
International development consultancy, Challenges Worldwide, helped the students to select five hearing impaired beneficiaries who were trained to become entrepreneurs and market and sell affordable solar-powered hearing aids in their local communities.
Aiding Change provided a microfinance loan to the entrepreneurs in the form of 150 hearing aids. The income generated from their sale will be enough for the individuals to provide for their families and repay the loan within 12 months. The loan will then be reinvested in training more entrepreneurs and providing them with hearing aids to sell.
It was really important for us to work with hearing impaired people of different ages, genders, backgrounds and with different levels of hearing impairment.
Asked to evaluate the project’s success so far, Ines shares the story of someone who has benefitted from Aiding Change's rechargeable hearing aids:
"When I visited Ghana this March to evaluate the progress of the project, I met Marbell. He has been hearing impaired his whole life but due to lack of resources, his parents couldn’t afford to buy him an aid. At 20 years old, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t go to school, he had no friends as his peers made fun of his impairment. But after only a few months of getting our hearing aid, he felt more confident and was learning to speak, and will even start going to school. That has without a doubt been our biggest achievement so far."
Aiding Change's achievements were enabled by alumni donors. Back in October 2017, the social enterprise was awarded a grant of £3,000 funded entirely by alumni donations to the Edinburgh Fund, allowing the team to run their pilot project in Accra.
Ines said, "I found out about the grants through Enactus. I think the grants are good not just because there is the possibility of receiving money for your project but also because the application questions really make you think about the sustainability of your project."
They also received funding from the University’s Social Responsibility and Sustainability Department.
Simply put, without the alumni-funded grant Aiding Change would not exist. The grant has enabled us to implement the pilot and train our entrepreneurs, who are already changing the lives of hearing impaired people.
Focus on sustainability
Looking ahead, Aiding Change hope to train the entrepreneurs to become audio-technicians with the expertise of partner non-profit organisation World Wide Hearing, once they have raised more funds. The training will enable the entrepreneurs to identify ear problems and test for hearing loss in pre-school and school children. By identifying problems early on and providing an affordable hearing aid, children have a better chance of staying in school and developing speech and communication skills. Furthermore, in partnership with Solar Ear, Aiding Change hope to train the entrepreneurs to produce the hearing aids.
Having graduated this summer, Ines will be keeping a close eye on Aiding Change's progress. Reflecting on setting up the micro enterprise and leading the team, she found the experience “incredibly rewarding and challenging”. It has prepared her well for working life by allowing her to develop many transferrable skills, alongside being a worthwhile social venture.
With second-year Economics and Geography student Kathryn Barnes taking over as project leader, Aiding Change, working in collaboration with Challenges Worldwide, have identified three more communities in northern Ghana where their model can make a difference.
Enactus Edinburgh (external link)
 WHO - deafness and hearing loss (external link)