Who we are

As a leading global player in science and technology, EPFL is cognizant of its important societal responsibility. EPFL wants to maximize the benefits of higher education, research and innovation for society in Switzerland and in the world. Its traditional role to push the boundaries of science and technology needs to also equally benefit the poor & vulnerable and to promote peace. Low and middle-income countries have large unmet needs where technologies and innovation could play a role. At the same time, these regions represent great potential as they abound with bright young minds, large and vibrant populations, as well as large untapped markets. In consideration of these aspects, EPFL launched a pioneering school-wide programme called EssentialTech in 2012. The success of this program has led EPFL to turn it into one of the school’s centres in 2018: the EssentialTech Centre. It is attached to the Vice Presidency for Research. Its mandate is captured in its mission statement: harnessing science and technology to drive sustainable development, support humanitarian action and foster peace.

Our Core Activities

The cornerstone of our approach is a unique methodology that involves both technology development and conception of the relevant deployment business model concurrently. This methodology was described in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Technology Innovation for Sustainable Development” launched in 20171. It is predicated on the following pillars:

1) Cooperation: Solutions are co-developed in close collaboration with institutions based in LMICs or active in humanitarian contexts. There is no better way to assure that the real unmet need will be properly addressed.

2) Interdisciplinarity: The complexity of the problems at hand requires the involvement of multiple disciplines. Internally at EPFL usually several research labs are involved in each project. Outside of EPFL, partners from both technical and non-technical disciplines are also involved.

3) Entrepreneurship: The centre assures a successful transfer of the technologies and monitors impact in the long term. The programme’s goal is to achieve a sustainable impact at scale, through either of two ways: implementation via a start-up, or via a transfer to an existing partner in the private sector.

We hold a strong conviction of engaging all the sections of the EPFL community, starting with the younger generations. We are thus involved in the supervision of Bachelors, Master’s and PhD students in all domains, which may be conducted in conjunction with another laboratory at EPFL. Since 2017, the Centre has also been involved in the teaching of a popular Master’s-level semester course, Development Engineering.

Check out our MOOC !

How to develop a technology to fight against poverty? How to mobilize the forces of entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries?
Take part in our Mooc to answer these questions