NEW JERSEY – A Pakistani-American team from Rutgers University has won this year’s $1 million Hult Prize, a high profile, global contest for student social entrepreneurs focused on tech for refugees.
“When we went to Pakistan this summer, it really struck us that these people are isolated in their settlements and they can’t move,” Hasan Usmani, one of four Roshni Rides team-members, told Fast Company.
“We tried to think about how we can get them places they need to go.”
The company, called Roshni Rides, is developing a rickshaw-based shuttle network for refugees camps, hoping to spread economic opportunity to groups disenfranchised by their location and a lack of other transport options.
This year’s competition was dedicated to helping refugees. Up to 1 billion people worldwide are now displaced from their homes, estimates show.
Roshni Rides is aimed particularly at women who feel uncomfortable sharing crowded buses with men and who can’t afford to hire rides in their own rickshaws.
“It’s mind-blowing that a few people, who really tried to understand the problem, could begin to solve it in a simple way. It shows that you have to be willing to put the investment and time down to make these things happen,” Usmani says.
Roshni originally planned to develop solar-powered rickshaws, but it later switched to conventional natural-gas-powered vehicles.
“The solar aspect is amazing and something we want to do later, but it doesn’t immediately answer the concerns of the people,” Usmani continues.
“We know that it’s only a matter of time before the Pakistani infrastructure reaches a level where we can make the investment in solar. It’s just that now we can’t build it all ourselves.”