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Mastercard Foundation Scholar “Printing” Face Shields for Frontline Health Workers

Planned launch of 3D printing startup shifted to meet need for PPE due to COVID-19

Benjamin Obeng is Mastercard Foundation Scholar from Ghana who recently graduated from Arizona State University. He had planned to launch 3Dinkra, a 3D printing business, in Accra in May, but when need for personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers arose, he shifted his business to fight the spread of COVID-19.

You’re involved in a project that is manufacturing face shields for front-line workers in Ghana to stop the spread of COVID-19? Can you tell me a little bit about the project?

My startup is called 3Dinkra, the 3, is a letter in the Akan language and so its pronounced “eh-dink-ra” which is a collection of symbols used to represent concepts or axioms in the Akan culture.

We are 3D printing startup with the main goal of using the 3D printing technology to bolster small- and medium-sized businesses in Ghana and Africa making them more competitive on the global market. We also hope to educate people on the continent about the capabilities of the technology.

Before our planned date of operation, a friend of mine who is a medical student reached out and told me they were running low on personal protective equipment. We decided to make some prototypes of face shields and got great interest from the major hospitals in Ghana so we decided to make more and donate to hospitals to help fight COVID-19.

At the moment, we make face shields, replace broken parts of medical equipment like isolation beds and make parts to support other COVID 19 projects. We have also designed a splitter for ventilators, with this, we would be able to use one ventilator for multiple patients. This cost effective approach would be a multiplying factor of Ghana’s inadequate number of ventilators.

We’ve donated about 250 face shields, and although limited by raw materials, we just boosted our production to 60 pieces a day.

You just graduated. You’re working a full-time job and supporting the COVID-19 efforts in Ghana from New York. Where does this drive come from?

Coming from a humble background, getting into university was a huge milestone. Coming to the U.S. for my master’s degree on a scholarship was a much bigger deal. This gave me a broader perspective and I have always looked for opportunities to make lives of people on the continent better. I would want to create an opportunity where the ordinary can choose to be extraordinary. Expose people to that opportunities that I’ve been privileged to experience.

I’m passionate about Africa’s development and strongly believe that we as Africans can solve our own problems.

How have you been affected by COVID-19? What impact has it had on your family and friends?

There has been a lot of indirect impact. The blow on the economy has affected what gets on the table at night, especially for low income earners and startups.  With the global supply chain being clamped, it has exposed Africa’s high dependency on the foreign imports.

 There have been amazing stories of innovation throughout this crisis, particularly from young people like you. Can you say a little about why these contributions are important, especially homegrown African ones?

Although there’s a lot of fear and sadness, I believe young Africans and innovators are seeing opportunities in these dire times. It is difficult for our governments to carry the begging bowls to the doors of other countries in these times. It is an opportunity to leverage the expertise and thirst of the younger generation so that by the end of this pandemic, we have a more experienced youth who would be able to fully tackle similar pandemics in the future. It is also an opportunity to boost our SME sector. When the government empowers and purchases products like masks from certain SMEs instead of importing, it boosts their makeup and by the end of the pandemic, they would have the strength to create more jobs.

You recently graduated from Arizona State University as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar. What role do you think it plays in your efforts here.

I was at ASU for two years and earned a master’s in mechanical engineering. I would say the experience and exposure as a Scholar has made me global player. I now look at things from a global perspective and no longer ask for solutions but see myself as a part of the solution.

Also, my first experience with a 3D printer was on ASU campus and since 3Dinkra is a 3D printing startup, I’ll say the Mastercard Foundation gave birth to 3Dinkra.

Was there ever any question that you would return to Ghana?

There was no ounce of doubt that I would return to Ghana after building up my experience.