New Alumni - Nelson, Karla and Jenny

by Chris McGivern, 2 March 2021

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Created by Chris Campbell (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On March 1st, we welcomed Jenny Molloy, Karla Córdoba-Brenes, and Nelson Wasswa as part of our alumni network. It has been an enormous privilege to support these brilliant individuals on their journey so far.

It is difficult to reflect on the past without acknowledging the impacts of the pandemic. It has had a profound impact on everyone; for some, it has caused tragedy. Uncertainty and disruption have affected everyone in the fellowship community. However, chaos and catastrophe often bring about significant change. Our fellows focus on issues the world may not yet see and the pandemic brings many of their challenges to the fore. It has been hugely encouraging to see their work and expressions of openness gain more traction. 

Jenny, Karla and Nelson have made enormous contributions to making a more open, equitable world more likely in the post-pandemic future. While all three work in different fields, they share a desire to create opportunity where it is lacking, and empower people and communities to have more control over their lives. We would like to thank them wholeheartedly for their endeavour, thinking, and sharing, and look forward to continuing our relationship as each begins a fresh chapter and expands the impact of their work into new territory.

Jenny Molloy is a molecular biologist, academic, and founder of several nonprofits and social enterprises, including the Open Bioeconomy Lab and Beneficial Bio. She is exploring the context in which openness can catalyse a more equitable distribution of biotechnology and empower researchers from Africa and the Global South with the freedom to experiment. 

These scientific communities are acutely aware of gaps in local research and have much to contribute to the world. Yet, they are sidelined by a lack of access to biotechnology’s most essential tools and processes. With the world facing time-sensitive challenges in healthcare, food production, energy and the environment, we should be enabling scientists everywhere to test, fail, and test again. Instead, we enable a system that restricts them from advancing global knowledge. 

Jenny spent her fellowship on the monumental task of building the foundations of an open bioeconomy. Her goals were to identify the key constraints faced by molecular biologists in the Global South, produce enzyme and reagent toolkits for local manufacture, and establish efficient supply chains to serve multiple networks of laboratories worldwide. She has made exceptional progress.

Beneficial Bio is developing strategic relationships with labs and organisations in multiple countries and continents. Its primary partner - Mboalab in Cameroon - is on the cusp of manufacturing and selling quality-assured, low-cost enzymes and reagents, with keen interest from local government initiatives and universities. We look forward to seeing a similar ripple effect from other partners and collaborators in different African, Asian, and South American countries. 

Jenny has successfully shifted thinking and practice in the field at all levels. Her work highlights the way interconnected entities, behaviours and processes combine to limit biotechnology’s global impact, and she’s built an impressive momentum behind the idea that open and off-patent materials in the public domain are a viable and valuable alternative. In practical terms, the pandemic caused some disruption to Jenny’s final year, but it also opened doors at a policy level. With many of the supply chain issues she has uncovered now affecting the West, her expertise is in high demand. Now, she discusses the role and impact of open intellectual property on a sustainable and equitable bioeconomy at the United Nations and World Economic Forum. 

Jenny is a brilliant individual who inspires others to reach for brilliance themselves. She has made the leap from her comfort zones in academia and the nonprofit world to entrepreneurship and working with multilateral government agencies with relative ease. Her unique ability to inspire support for openness, bring people together around a common cause, and rise to every challenge is making a significant impact. She shares generously and has significantly added to the collective knowledge of both the fellowship community and the world. It has been a huge honour to support her over the last three years, and we look forward to watching her progress even further as she moves to alumni status.

Karla Córdoba-Brenes is developing Cambiatus, a free and open platform enabling individuals and communities to design, launch, and maintain digital complementary currencies. Her idea empowers groups with shared values to organise around self-determined goals and rules, and build resilience against the profound economic impacts stemming from the traditional monetary system’s repeated failings. 

If you have cash, it’s a valuable tool; if you don’t have enough, it’s a constraint. Communities have expert knowledge, exceptional ideas, and great willpower to solve local challenges, but they cannot mobilise effectively without money. Karla’s exploration of a complementary system is proof there is an alternative: beneficial exchanges of value that exist beyond payments in dollars and cents. And when people self-determine that value, we can make better use of their knowledge, resources and willpower to seed new ideas, rather than leave them lying fallow. 

Karla has inspired people from multiple countries into action, helping some communities start from scratch, and others move into a virtual space for the first time. She has proved incredibly efficient in building a high-quality, user-friendly platform that now serves over 2,000 community members and provides practical support for the transition to and operations of a complementary currency, including the technology, rules, structures, and engagement amongst members.

It has been a privilege to support Karla throughout her three-year fellowship. Her vision stood out from many other blockchain and alternative currency applications we receive, and her work helps redefine our perception of value and money. She has shown society can reduce its reliance on the ebbs and flows of money created and controlled by governments, banks, and markets. 

As a fellow, she brought refreshing perspectives to the Shuttleworth fold, both as a female tech founder and our first Latin American fellow. She combines an intense focus on the value and social benefit of communities with a keen understanding of how they can be enabled and empowered through traditional funding structures and contemporary technology. 

Karla’s willingness to explore the potential of emerging platforms such as smart contracts and the blockchain has given them new contexts. She moulds them together in a unique and inventive way and tailors them to the needs of the communities she serves. Today, Cambiatus provides resilience to diverse groups, including artists, shopkeepers, and social entrepreneurs. We are incredibly excited to see what comes next. 

Nelson Wasswa is developing open source technology to detect, identify, and monitor contaminants on the shores of freshwater bodies with Lawuna and the Sodzo Foundation. He addresses an urgent need to reverse the negative impact of human-made pollutants on Lake Victoria in Uganda, an expanse of water that encompasses three countries and provides life essentials to over 40 million people.

During his fellowship, Nelson focussed on building early-stage implementations of drones, a mobile app, and a real-time intelligent dashboard to monitor, analyse and evaluate captured data. He has demonstrated a fierce commitment to empower locals with modified tools that otherwise would not be accessible or useful to their communities. His work positively impacts people on the ground, enabling them to understand, adapt, and develop existing technology in the context of their environment.

Nelson’s big vision also required widespread community engagement and multiple permissions from authority figures. Both are difficult to achieve during the best of times but have proved almost impossible against the backdrop of a pandemic and a chaotic, destructive election year in Uganda. Nelson and his team contended with many disruptions, threats to their safety, and lack of access to decision-makers. 

While Nelson’s ultimate goal has suffered from unfortunate timing, he has a solid technology framework to build on in the coming years. He has been an engaged Shuttleworth Fellow who has grasped the opportunity to learn, expand his skills, and push himself into areas outside of his comfort zone. 

We look forward to continuing our learning from him as he moves on to alumni status with renewed determination to transform lives by delivering open technology to underserved communities.

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