September 29, 2014; Grinnell College

This past Tuesday, October 7th, the 2014 Grinnell Prize of $100,000 was awarded to four recipients, recognizing two nonprofits and their work related to social justice. The winners, as announced on September 3rd, were Lindsay Stradley and Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founders of Sanergy, and Kiah Williams and Adam Kircher, two of the founders of Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine (SIRUM).

Created in 2009 by Stanford University students, SIRUM is a nonprofit organization that redistributes unused medical supplies that would otherwise be disposed of. Williams and Kircher chose to work together to found an organization dedicated to rerouting supplies for those who lack either the access or the funds to get the medicine they need. Through an online platform, SIRUM matches organizations with surplus medical supplies, such as nursing homes and wholesalers, to clinics who will receive the donations.

Kiah Williams told NPQ, “It’s been an exciting journey since 2011 when my co-founders, Adam Kircher and George Wang, and I all started full time at SIRUM. In just a few years we’ve been able to redistribute one million pills, which equates to about $3 million worth of medicine saved, 20,000 low-income patients helped, and two tons of waste diverted from our air and water supplies. We have over 200 donation partners in California and Colorado and are in promising talks with partners in a few other states who would like to partner with SIRUM.”

SIRUM’s structure and mission is very similar to the new plan announced by the Drug Enforcement Administration earlier in September to allow hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics to collect unused prescription drugs. While the DEA will implement this plan in an effort to combat prescription drug abuse, SIRUM is attempting to reduce the $5 billion medication waste that is generated every year, according to SIRUM’s research.

“It’s such an honor to win this prize. The funds from it will go toward a variety of efforts integral to scaling SIRUM nationally,” Williams said. “From finding more efficient ways to recruit medicine donors to further automating and digitizing our online donation platform, we have a lot of exciting ways to apply this prize money.”

With similar humanitarian goals and aspirations, Sanergy works to install hygienic sanitation systems in Kenya. The problem with sanitation, as present in developing countries all over the world with dilapidated and unmaintained toilets, is the possibility of the waste contaminating the drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

Fellow Sanergy co-founder David Auerbach wrote to NPQ, “Sanergy started when we came together as students at MIT with a simple idea around franchising toilets to local entrepreneurs, providing support to attract users and ensuring that the waste was collected and treated properly. That idea has now spawned a network of over 500 toilets run by over 250 operators, who are serving nearly 25,000 users daily.”

By building and managing clean, functioning sanitation facilities, the nonprofit helps communities living in unsanitary conditions. According to their website, Sanergy also takes it a step further by collecting the waste generated at the facilities and then converting it into usable products like organic fertilizers and biogas for renewable energy, which are in high demand in the region.

“While we are proud of our success to date, this is just the beginning,” said Auerbach. “Over the coming years, we aim to expand by going deeper into the communities we already serve, as well as expand into other parts of East Africa.”

The annual prize is given by Grinnell College in Iowa to creative innovators under the age of 40 whose work falls within the broad purview of social justice. This week will include a four-day symposium at Grinnell, during which the winners will receive their awards and the Grinnell community will be able to meet the recipients and see their presentations, which will be livestreamed.—Shafaq Hasan