MIT PhD Student Revolutionizes How Technology Can Solve World Problems


His family’s life revolved around the arts, but Cauam Cardoso decided to be an engineer instead of an artist.

Cardoso, a graduate student taking up a doctorate program in international economic development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grew up in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He saw how his more impoverished neighbors couldn’t get by, and he wondered what could be done to alleviate the poverty and suffering in his neighborhood.

People didn’t have proper sanitation and waste management. They generally had low quality of living in the favela.

Even while studying in the Federal University of Santa Caterina, in Florianópolis, Brazil as a civil engineering student, the situation was never far from his mind.

The racial issues, violence, harassment, and destitution were the driving force for his studies.

Cardoso wanted to help people improve their lives and society, and he wanted his degree in engineering to make that happen.

Cardoso’s college course focused on sanitation and environmental engineering. When he was a university sophomore, he started the Serrinha Project with a friend.

They both wanted to help solve the waste management problem in the nearby slum areas where the trash is mostly left on the streets, distributing germs and diseases in the air.

Not yet an actual engineer and Cardoso was already talking with sanitation workers and garbage collectors in order to find a solution to improve the lives of the people living in the slums.

He learned that the main issue with the waste management was that they didn’t know how to navigate the favela, which consists of houses stacked upon and close to each other, making it near impossible for trucks to collect every garbage bag from each house.

Cardoso and his partner helped the garbage collectors map out the routes they could take, and which ones required traveling by foot.

They also met with the neighborhood association and a local school in order to increase community awareness about their waste management.

After he graduated, Cardoso entered the World Bank essay competition and wrote about the Serrinha Project.

He won the contest and was able to travel around the world. This helped him expand the things he learned during his Serrinha Project.

Soon Cardoso found himself in Angola, where the challenge was to help the community rebuild itself after many inner struggles and violent conflicts.

Focusing on sanitation once more, he worked with waste management companies to improve their garbage collection business and sanitary practices for the community and for their employees.

After that, Cardoso went to study at the University of Sydney to take a master’s program in political economy.

Then he went to work with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Not long after, Cardoso worked at the United Nations main office in Rome, where he met the late MIT professor, Alice Amsden, which prompted Cardoso to take a doctorate degree at the institute.

Cardoso says that his time at MIT gave him the opportunity to combine theory and practice, and the chance to revolutionize how technology can be used to address world issues.

Working with MIT’s CITE (Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation), Cardoso wants to assess the usefulness of technology.

For the past few years, CITE and Cardoso have been conducting studies and experiments around the world, like the use and sustainability of solar lanterns in Uganda.

They are currently compiling their results and developing the methodology best suited for the use of such technology in the fields of environmental, rural, and urban development and management.

Rob Clark admin staff managing editor

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