UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 3: Good Health & Wellbeing

  • Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation

  • Goal 12: Responsible Production & Consumption

2020 Global Design Challenge Honorable Mention

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Global Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

Location: Multiple cities, United States
Team members: Jacqueline Olness, R.D. Childers, Russell Golding, Shivani Jain

Concept art using a human silhouette to demonstrate the usage and logic for kangaroo care of infants
Image: Project Team / Swadaroo / Copyright © - All rights reserved

Innovation Details

Swadaroo attempts to solve the problem of maternal and infant mortality in India, with a special focus on Mumbai’s slum populations. Addressing the problems of neonatal mortality due to infection and poor thermoregulation, Swadaroo innovates upon the already known ‘kangaroo care’ method by emulating the antimicrobial and thermoregulation aspects of a kangaroo’s pouch.

What is the problem you are trying to solve and how is it related to the united nations sustainable development goals?

We are trying to solve the problem of maternal and infant mortality in India, with a special focus on Mumbai’s slum populations, and are tackling aspects of the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health and Well-Being (3), Responsible Consumption and Production (12) specifically within the local textile industry, and (6) Clean Water and Sanitation. Infant mortality is improving in Dharavi, the world’s largest slum, but it is still at an abysmal level and mostly due to sepsis, infection, and poor thermoregulation. Goal 3.1 of the UN SDGs is to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, and Goal 3.2 asks all countries to aim to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births. We believe tackling the combined problems of poor thermoregulation in infants as well as exposure to infectious disease can help achieve these goals. Goal 12.3 aims to halve per capita global food waste including in the supply chain, and we hope to target this by incorporating local banana peel by-products into our design. Some Indian fashion houses are starting to incorporate this practice themselves. Goals 6.3 and 12.4 (in part) aim to reduce chemical leaks into waterways, and we hope to improve upon antimicrobial fiber coatings currently using silver ion technology that cause such leaks, by instead focusing on plant-derived antimicrobials. Given that most of the world’s textiles are derived from cotton which requires a lot of water and fertilizer for its production, we are able to mitigate water usage by using different materials. We tackle some of Goal 12.5 by focusing on a re-use model with biodegradability.

What organisms/natural systems did you learn from and how did what you learned inform your design?

Given the underappreciated problem of neonatal mortality due to poor thermoregulation, we wanted to explore ways to innovate upon the already known ‘kangaroo care’ method. It has been shown that hypothermia can often be the indirect reason behind infant mortality attributable to sepsis or infection. Kangaroo care offers an inexpensive, simple way to alleviate poor oxygen saturation and poor thermoregulation after birth by focusing on skin-to-skin contact between mother and child. We used AskNature alongside peer-reviewed literature databases, white papers, and business articles from the US and India to explore and iterate upon the design spiral in our quest to create an enhanced kangaroo care method. We wanted it to be tailored to slum-dwelling communities where many women have to work outside their home and carry newborns in harsh and unhygienic environments. We went from looking at how the Brazilian free-tailed bat dissipates heat from its torso through arteries and veins in its wings to how the shape of some cacti help with shading and enhanced heat radiation all the way to how the marsupial numbat’s pelt acquires solar heat and performs under high wind conditions. We returned to the mama kangaroo who insulates her joey in her pouch, like a heat sink. Although this is a well-understood model in part, it is often not explored as thoroughly as it could be. We wanted to build upon the fact that there is a sphincter muscle to control temperature inside the pouch and that the mother uses her sweat which contains antimicrobial substances to protect the joey. We combined these explorations with a look into peptoids that mimic the structure, function, and mechanism of antimicrobial s as well as a deep-dive into the antimicrobial properties of natural essential oils that could be encapsulated into fabric.

What does your design solution do? How does it address the problem or opportunity you selected?

We propose the Swadaroo which blends innovative graphene produced more sustainably than is currently the norm and otherwise wasted banana peels, combined with the application of moderately strong antimicrobial essential oils, to help infants have improved thermoregulation and stay disease-free. Based on the model of ‘kangaroo care’ and how an actual kangaroo insulates her newborn, the Swadaroo improves skin-to-skin contact and safely cocoons an infant while having the extra benefit of naturally derived prophylactic essential oils to ward off infection. Graphene serves as a unique, innovative material that can maximize heat absorption while reducing material needed for production. Moreover, we are exploring a partnership with an industrial researcher in India who collaborates with an Australian team to create ‘greener’ graphene which replaces a toxic reducing agent with one naturally derived from the gum bark of eucalyptus trees. This process reduces the cost of graphene manufacturing 200-fold. By building off the work of local fashion houses in Mumbai that are using byproducts from agriculture like banana peels and stems, we can further bring cost down and help increase biodegradability of our product. In utilizing naturally derived essential oils, we can mitigate the ongoing problems associated with rising antibacterial resistance from the overuse of antibiotics, which are often prescribed prophylactically against public health recommendations. The essential oils chosen offer a wide range of coverage from both and -negative bacteria, fungi, and some key viral strains. Importantly, the cinnamon oil proposed alongside 6 other oils specifically targets bacteria in the same genus as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is responsible for the disproportionately high TB disease burden in India and worldwide in children of any age. Our design is also reusable after even 100 washes and can potentially be repurposed for use in hospital-grade blankets and home coverings, and it is partially biodegradable.