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In Silicon Valley, Experts Help International Groups Grow

The smell of smoke from cooking fires has stayed in the memory of Ravindra Sunku.

While growing up in Hyderabad, India, Sunku smelled too much oil and wood burning in his neighborhood. His neighbors were just cooking their meals.

But, years later, he wondered if his neighbors developed lung disease from breathing smoke from the cooking fuel.

Now, he is doing something about it.

Sunku is a director at a technology company in Silicon Valley.

An area south of San Francisco Bay, Silicon Valley is home to many of the biggest and best known technology companies in the United States.

Recently, Sunku used his technology skills to help BURN Manufacturing, a Kenyan company that makes stoves that burn less fuel. It hopes to make people healthier and to reduce the cutting of forests for firewood.

Sunku recently told VOA that the cook stoves could have saved the lives of people in his childhood community in India.

Sunku volunteered to help the Kenyan company through RippleWorks, a program in Silicon Valley. RippleWorks connects technology experts with groups around the world that have humanitarian goals.

RippleWorks has helped 28 projects and it plans to help 40 more this year. The program chooses companies that work on improving education, healthcare, clean energy technology and access to financial services.

RippleWorks has helped companies like NeoGrowth, a company in Mumbai, India, that provides loans to small businesses.

It has also helped Zoona, a company that provides financial services to people in countries such as Malawi and Zambia. In Mexico City, RippleWorks has connected a technology marketing expert with Cignifi, a company providing credit to customers through mobile phones.

RippleWorks identifies a specific problem for companies it helps. Then, it joins the company with an expert who has dealt with that problem before. RippleWorks manages the project and sets up weekly video-conference meetings.

Doug Galen is the co-founder and CEO of RippleWorks. He says the secret to his organization’s success is: managing projects to make sure everyone is doing their duties.

RippleWorks helped Ravindra Sunku work with BURN Manufacturing.

Tech experts help solve growth problems

Sunku came to the United States to attend school in Oklahoma. There, he received a master’s degree in industrial engineering. He worked in a metal factory near Los Angeles before moving to the San Francisco area to develop computer programs.

In California, he worked and raised a family. He also volunteered in his community. The work involved building a playground and filling bags of food to help the hungry.

Then, through RippleWorks, he volunteered to work for six months with BURN Manufacturing.

Sunku did not have go to Kenya. He used video conferencing and other technology to communicate with the company.

Since 2013, BURN Manufacturing has provided 250,000 cook stoves to African families.

Worker in Burn Manufacturing in Ruiru

BURN Manufacturing has grown quickly, with a factory, employees, products and customers since its start. It needed technology to manage information about things like sales, pay for employees and supplies.

Once a week, Sunku arrived at work in San Francisco early in the morning for a video conference with BURN’s chief financial officer and general manager. He also volunteered for three hours on the weekend: two hours on BURN projects and one hour with the RippleWorks project manager.

He helped BURN choose software. He also helped them develop processes for hiring technical help in Nairobi.

After he saw that the managers were taking his advice, he found the job satisfying.

The final part of Sunku’s work with BURN was a trip to Nairobi. He was able to take the trip because his job gives workers unlimited time off.

Sunku is director of information technology at StitchFix, a web company that makes clothing selections using technology.

“I never thought someone like me, originally from India who moved to the U.S. and has been in this country for more than 30 years, would make a contribution to Africa,” he said.

I’m Phil Dierking. And I’m Alice Bryant.

Michelle Quinn reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

accessn. a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone

master’s degree n. degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor’s degree

video conferencen. A video conference uses technology to create visual connection between persons in separate places

playgroundn. an outdoor area where children can play that usually includes special equipment, such as swings and slides

customern. someone who buys goods or services from a business


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