Earlham Students Score $1M Prize

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(L to R) Iman Cooper, Leslie Ossete, Sonia Kabra, and Wyclife Omondi (L to R) Iman Cooper, Leslie Ossete, Sonia Kabra, and Wyclife Omondi

An offline application developed by a team of students from Earlham College in Richmond has earned a major international award. The students have won the $1 million Hult Prize for their Magic Bus service, which aims to increase public transportation efficiency in developing countries. Team member Iman Cooper, who graduated from Earlham last year, says Magic Bus gives commuters information on bus locations and compares bus fares.

Earlham says the Hult Prize is the world's largest student competition for social good. "Team Magic Bus" was one of five finalists out of 25,000 applicants for the $1 million prize, which was presented to them Tuesday by former President Bill Clinton in New York. 

Cooper says she and her teammates, Sonia Kabra, Leslie Ossete and Wyclife Omondi, began work on the project last September. After initially losing a campus competition, the team went back and completely redesigned the application.

"All of us have lived and worked in about 20 different countries together and so, as a team, we've experienced first-hand the challenges of inadequate transportation that often comes with informal transportation systems," said Cooper. "So we knew that we wanted to tackle transportation because it's often overlooked as a way to create access for people to get better jobs, education and healthcare."

Magic Bus is a text-based ticketing service that can be accessed by using inexpensive mobile phones. The team took a $10,000 prize awarded to them from a previous competition and beta tested the service in Kenya last summer with great success. 

"We worked with a bus cooperative in a route about 25 kilometers away from Nairobi," said Cooper. "We started with five buses but at the end of the pilot, we were on 10 buses. We hired a staff and really spread the word about what we were doing, got commuters to try it and by the end of those nine weeks, we had more than 2,000 users and we had 73 percent of them using the system more than three times."

Cooper calls winning the Hult Prize a "whirlwind" and very rewarding. She says moving forward, the team plans to move to Nairobi to officially launch Magic Bus and scale up operations. She says the ultimate goal is to be in 29 cities throughout Africa and reaching more than 24 million commuters by 2022.

You can learn more about Magic Bus by clicking here

Cooper says winning the Hult Prize in New York City was a "whirlwind."
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