3D printing has been around for a while, but the global development community is only recently exploring how it can be used for social change. From printing low-cost prosthetics to providing basic supplies after a disaster, 3D printing’s potential to benefit society is undeniable. These were the kind of topics we set out to explore with participants from 10 different countries in TechChange’s first 3D Printing for Social Good online course.

We started the course with a deep dive into 3D printing, examining how it works, how it can be used, and the tech ecosystem in which it exists. We enlisted the help of guest experts like Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe and Colin McCormick, who brought us a live 3D printing demo. Course participants also had the opportunity to learn more about free CAD tools and practice creating digital 3D models of objects, as well as find a makerspace or Fab Lab near them.

Then we examined how 3D printing is being used for social good through the work of e-NABLE, techfortrade, and Field Ready, and course participants had the opportunity to interact with key stakeholders in each organization. Based on the insights from our sessions with e-NABLE’s founder Jon Schull, Matthew Rogge of techfortrade, and co-founder of Field Ready, Dara Dotz, participants discussed the potential for adapting the models of these organizations to create change in their own contexts.

Finally, we focused on the challenges and opportunities in 3D printing for social good. In particular, we learned how 3D printing fits into the larger Maker Movement and explored how the methods, mindsets, and tools adopted by the Maker Movement could be leveraged for social good with the help of guest experts Robert Ryan-Silva of DAI Maker Lab and Kate Gage of USAID Global Development Lab.

Here’s a recap of our guest expert sessions:

  • Gabriel Krieshok of the US Peace Corps spoke from his experience implementing technology solutions and shared his excitement about the potential that 3D printing holds for underserved populations living in low-resource settings.
  • Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe shared his experience with a variety of 3D printing technologies and demonstrated the power of 3D printing on a personal level by discussing projects he has worked on with his family and the e-NABLE community.

Sara and Colin, during the 3D printing demo

  • Colin McCormick brought us a live 3D printing demo, walking us through the process of finding, modifying and printing an object from a digital 3D model he found online. In addition, he described his experience building a 3D printer from a DIY kit.
  • Matthew Rogge of techfortrade explained the work that he’s doing in Latin America with ethical filament, and in East Africa with 3D printers made from e-waste. Through both of these projects, techfortrade is using locally-sourced materials that are available in abundance to improve livelihoods and increase access to 3D printing technology.
  • Jon Schull, founder of e-NABLE, provided insight into e-NABLE’s crowdsourced model for providing low-cost prosthetic devices to people in need, and the future of the e-NABLE Community Foundation.
  • Dara Dotz, co-founder of Field Ready spoke about her experience 3D printing in extreme environments, from implementing Field Ready’s pilot program to 3D printing medical supplies in Haiti, to designing a 3D printer used in the International Space Station with ‘Made in Space’. Dara demonstrated how 3D printing can disrupt the supply chain in both extremes by dramatically reducing costs and the time it takes to access or produce parts; recycling, reusing and reprinting parts; and prototyping and producing tools from waste.
  • Robert Ryan-Silva of DAI Maker Lab talked about how increasing access to maker tools, such as 3D printing, CNC tools, and electronic building blocks, can help people create, champion, and iterate upon solutions that meet their needs, in their own context.
  • Kate Gage of the USAID Global Development Lab provided examples of innovative solutions that have come out of the Maker Movement. She also stressed the need to create pathways that help makers apply their skills to some of the world’s greatest challenges and create viable, human-centered solutions.

While all the developments in the field of 3D printing are exciting, it is important to understand that implementing 3D printing technology in low-resource settings comes with a few challenges. Limitations like slow print speed, the resilience of 3D printed objects and 3D printers themselves, and access to resources like filament and a steady power supply to complete a 3D print job are important realities to consider when taking 3D printing to low-resource settings.

3D printing technology is advancing at a rapid pace to address some of these limitations. Far greater than the challenges inherent in 3D printing, conversations with guest experts and among course participants, as well as the projects highlighted in this course, have demonstrated the potential that 3D printing holds for social good- from improving healthcare delivery, to creating breakthroughs that can contribute to sustainable global development.

Who are the other players using 3D printing for social good? Or if you own a 3D printer, what are you using it for? Comment below or tweet at us @TechChange

About author

Sara-300x300 2
Sara Pitcairn is Co-Director of Instructional Design at TechChange, where she works with clients to develop and design custom online learningexperiences , ranging from webinar series to facilitated and on-demand courses. She is also the facilitator for TechChange’s 3D Printing for Social Good course. Prior to TechChange, Sara taught middle and high school STEM courses at the Barrie School, where she also led an Engineering Product Design program for high school students. Sara graduated from Yale University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, which sparked her passion for design thinking and human-centered design. In her spare time, Sara enjoys reading, traveling, and perfecting her guacamole recipe.

By Samita Thapa and Sara Pitcairn

The possibilities for 3D printing are endless. While this may scare some of us, the potential for innovation is exactly what excites us here at TechChange! Imagine being able to quickly manufacture reconstruction materials for disaster response, 3D print homes in refugee camps, or 3D print a human heart to save a life.

But this cutting-edge innovation can also seem difficult to wrap your head around. How does it work? How do you begin? Here is an example of how an idea can become a product through 3D printing:

Dr. Boris Paskhover at the Yale School of Medicine saw a need for a portable transnasal laryngoscope with image and video capture capabilities. A transnasal laryngoscope is a handheld medical device that allows Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physicians to examine a patient’s voice box and diagnose and treat ENT disorders (such as cancer of the throat or thyroid). But the equipment that captures images and videos from a laryngoscope, an endoscopic tower, is expensive and difficult to transport, making it infeasible for use outside of a hospital setting.

Laryngoscope and Endoscopic Tower

Dr. Paskhover imagined an easier way to visualize the results of a laryngoscope examination. By using his Phone camera and an app called Luma to produce higher quality video and pictures, he could see the results anywhere. To start with, he created a makeshift attachment to secure a laryngoscope to his iPhone case. But ideally, he imagined a more robust solution for his work in rural settings outside the U.S.

Dr. Paskhover's make-shift  attachment for his iPhone 4 case

Dr. Paskhover’s make-shift attachment for his iPhone 4 case

He worked with Sara Pitcairn, TechChange’s Co-Director of Instructional Design, during her senior year at Yale University to bring his idea to life. Through an iterative, human-centered design process, Sara modeled, prototyped and 3D printed an iPhone case with an interface aligning the eyepiece of a laryngoscope with an iPhone camera. The iphone case allowed Dr. Paskhover to capture high-quality photos and videos of his exams with patients without the need for an endoscopic tower.

Designing and testing the 3D printed iPhone case

3D Print

See the 3D printed iPhone case in action:

This is one of many examples of how 3D printing is helping fill gaps that exist in healthcare. There are countless applications in other fields, and especially in disaster response and international development.

Do you have other examples of how 3D printing is being used in your communities? Share them with us in the comments section or tweet at us @TechChange

If you are are interested in learning more about the potential 3D printing offers in your field, join Sara in our upcoming course on 3D Printing for Social Good. We will look at applications of 3D printing in a variety of contexts, along with the challenges and opportunities as the field continues to advance. After the four weeks of the course, you will have a solid understanding of 3D printing so that you can see its potential for your field of practice. We will look at case studies and examples of where 3D printing is being used today and will help you find a maker community, as well as connect you with experts using 3D printing for social good.

The course begins on May 4, we hope you can join us!

TechChange recently broadcasted the Training Health Workers for Ebola webinar series, with the sponsorship and webinar content of mPowering Frontline Health Workers and IntraHealth International. Over 550 participants from more than 70 countries have joined this webinar series so far, and more health workers around the world continue to sign up to view these recorded sessions for free.

The 4-part webinar series brought together voices from all over the world, both in terms of expert contributors and online viewers. We are inspired not only by the amount of people who participated online, but also by their contributions to the discussion on the information and tools necessary to support frontline health workers. Many commenters interacted with guest experts by asking important, timely questions, as well as by sharing information and resources on the work that they or their organizations are doing on the ground in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone to respond to the outbreak.

In case you missed the series, here’s a brief recap of each webinar:

In the first webinar, “Learning and Information Needs for Frontline Health Workers”, Dykki Settle (IntraHealth) and Sean Blaschke (UNICEF) discussed their work with the free SMS mobile communication system, mHero. Informed by the challenges faced by communities in Liberia, mHero was developed with the aim of investing in and strengthening tools that have already been implemented in Liberia to support the development and accessibility of health workforce information.

In the second webinar, “Health System Support for Frontline Health Workers”, Dr. Chandrakant Ruparelia (Jhpiego) shared key considerations for designing training programs for healthcare workers in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak. Additionally, Marion McNabb (Pathfinder International) pointed to the importance of leveraging existing training programs and mechanisms effectively in the Ebola response. Panelists from Digital Campus and Medical Aid Films also shared their experiences with using video for behavior change communications and health messaging.

In the third webinar, “Community Mobilization and Interactions with Clients”, Gillian McKay (GOAL) presented information about the social mobilization campaign that GOAL is implementing in Sierra Leone through two key innovations: uniformed services training emphasizing protection for officers involved in the Ebola response, and an Ebola survivor and champions media campaign to build trust and support within communities affected by Ebola. Additionally, Reverend Moses Khanu shared information on frontline efforts and the resources and support necessary in Sierra Leone.

In the fourth webinar, “Data to Support Effective Response and Case Management”, Jonathan Jackson (Dimagi) provided information on his organization’s effort to build a mobile tool for frontline health workers that can aid in contact tracing while collecting information for real-time data visualization and analysis. Additionally, Garrett Mehl (WHO) and Matt Berg (Ona) discussed their collaboration on the WHO data coordination platform to promote a harmonized Ebola response.

If your interest is piqued by any of these four webinars, you can watch each all recorded sessions in their entirety for free when you register using this link.

With each webinar, you will also find the discussion among online participants in the comments section. You will see that many participants shared details about their work and experiences, as well as initiatives that are emerging or already in place in the Ebola response. Where possible, we have also included the presentation slides and resources shared by presenters during each webinar.

As mentioned during each webinar, you can find additional resources and interact with experts on the Ebola Resources for Health Workers site.

If you’re interested in learning more on the role of technology in the Ebola response, join our online courses in mHealth and Tech Tools & Skills for Emergency Management.


This blog post was updated as of November 2014 to reflect the advances of each web conferencing platform since the original blog post was published by TJ Thomander.

Screenshot of me using Adobe Connect


Have you ever been in a classroom and had the teacher ask, “If you can hear me please click on the smiley face?” If so, you have experienced education 2.0—impersonal yet far-reaching and convenient. There are several web conferencing platforms that allow organizations flexibility in the way they learn and collaborate, and there are many options available. We want to break down the top nine that we feel are the most competitive in the space right now. We’ve updated this post to describe how these web conferencing platforms have evolved over the last few years since we first published this post in 2011, both in terms of functionality and pricing.

Web conferencing has a plethora of uses, whether for teaching or tutoring, collaborating on projects in real time, or holding a webinar that allows participants to interact with each other. The basic features that you can expect from a web conferencing platform are the ability to upload and display a presentations, documents, or other media; a chat function; and a white board.

At the time of the original blog post, Google+ Hangouts didn’t quite offer these features, but through apps like “Screen Share” and “Scoot and Doodle”, it has become a flexible option for creating and broadcasting online lessons, webinars, and events, or for collaborating with co-workers and classmates. Although a Google+ Hangout is limited to 10 users at a time, anyone can broadcast and record a Hangout using Hangouts on Air. Hangouts on Air enables users to share broadcasts with a wider audience, and allows the audience to watch live and participate by commenting, or to view a recording of the broadcast at any time. With these advantages, we decided to go with embedding Google Hangouts on Air for our own live events on our course platform.

Beyond the features offered by Google+ Hangouts, other additions such as mobile compatibility, real-time polling, and breakout rooms are platform-specific. Here’s an updated look at who offers what:

Professional Suites

Premium web conferencing platforms are delivered by Adobe Connect, Saba, and Cisco WebEx. These platforms are browser-based, and participants are able to connect through VoIP on all three. Additionally, these platforms are generally able to host greater amounts of attendees, and their features are highly customizable, whether an organization seeks to focus on collaboration or learning. This customized functionality comes at a premium, and most often the agreement is negotiated based on the needs of the client. If you work in the ICT4D field, the most important factor to consider among web conferencing platforms is the level of bandwidth necessary to run- and these top-level options won’t be ideal.

The ideal option for an organization among the three premium platforms depends on an organization’s priorities. Saba is built to create a rich online learning experience geared toward professional training and development. Since 2011, Saba has adapted its model by creating apps that are specialized for certain HR functions in the workplace. In the realm of online learning, Saba offers “Learning@Work” for organizations to build capacity among employees through online learning options that integrate virtual classrooms, collaborative goal-setting and tracking, and course selections tailored to the interests and goals of employees. Adobe Connect and Cisco WebEx can serve an organization’s web meeting needs, but also offer the option to extend their services to include webinar and event management, as well as features that encourage social learning.

For these 3 platforms, an organization is able to purchase various levels of participant limits and customize platform features based on its needs.

  • Cisco WebEx Meetings– $69/mo for 100 participants with annual commitment

  • Adobe Connect – Price Negotiated

  • Saba Learning@Work – Price Negotiated 

Mid-Level Suites

These web conferencing clients are in a battle royale for low prices, simple aesthetic, and competitive functionality. We’ll be focusing on Fuze Meeting, Vyew, Yugma, GoToWebinar, and Blackboard Collaborate. I want to first discuss my favorite of the bunch—Fuze Meeting, as it offers just about everything that the premium platforms offer. It allows multiple call–in options, video conferencing, the ability to record and download webinars, mobile device integration, and breakout rooms. GoToWebinar and Yugma both offer similar features at a higher price point, but do not include breakout rooms. Vyew is ideal for web conferencing among a smaller number of participants, and is available at varying price points for a maximum of 15 simultaneous participants. For 5 participants, it offers video conferencing (but not much else) for a mere $9.95/month.

  • Fuze Premium– $40/mo for 250 participants with annual commitment

  • Yugma – $79.95/mo for 100 participants

  • Vyew – $9.95/mo for 5 participants

  • GoToWebinar – $79/mo for 100 participants

  • Blackboard Collaborate – Price Negotiated

Open-Source Suite

Big Blue Button is an open-source platform geared towards educational institutions. It can be modified to fit the needs of the client, but would require a knowledgeable IT team to do it. It offers the ability to present via video and conference with students, annotate presentations, and has been updated to include the ability to record sessions and view them at any time. It still lacks mobile integration, but continues to be updated, and is highly recommended for organizations that have a good handle on tech and want a cost-effective and easy-to-use option.

  • Big Blue Button – $0 for Unlimited Participants

Final Thoughts

We have heard nothing but good things about Fuze Meeting, and even recommended that one of our clients make a switch from Elluminate. Fuze Meeting better suited their needs for organizational conferencing. Their international staff members are now able to call in via Skype, a separate VoIP number, or via telephone, and this flexibility is important if firewalls block certain types of online communication. Additionally, Fuze’s mobile device add-ons have helped their employees communicate on-the-go.

We are excited to see how further innovations in online learning can continue to improve student learning outcomes and give people everywhere the ability to collaborate on solutions to complex challenges across the globe. Have you used any of these web conferencing platforms? If so, what you what did you think about the experience? Are there any new and exciting platforms that we missed?

Interested in how TechChange integrates web conferencing in our online trainings? Join our online courses on technology for social change here.