(Source: Penta Prosthetics)
Penta Prosthetics: A Brown University Student’s Nonprofit Helping People in Vietnam Get Back On Their Feet…Literally!
For a vast majority of people, looking back on the college years means reminiscing over football game tailgating, procrastinating on papers, and cramming for finals.
But for a special minority, college is a unique time to collaborate with other students and to build something that can only come out of the freedom of not having to pursue a career.
Penta Prosthetics, founded in 2015 by a group of Ivy League students from Brown & Yale, sends used prostheses from the U.S. to Vietnam to provide people with disabilities access to high-quality, low-cost care that would otherwise be completely unattainable.
In just a few short years, the nonprofit has changed the lives of hundreds of people who can now walk thanks to the help of generous donors and a few globally minded college students who wanted to make the most of their time.
“Less Than 5% of Vietnamese Have Access to Quality Prosthetics”
– Trang Duong, Penta Co-Founder
In the U.S., regulatory and liability issues render it impossible to resell used prostheses that have been replaced by new and improved devices, which happens fairly often.
Brown student, Trang Duong, and Yale student, Victor Wang, recognized that there was an opportunity to take these used prostheses and ship them overseas to serve a population that lacks access to this health care.
In Vietnam, traffic accidents are quite common and many still live with debilitating injuries from the Vietnam War. And prostheses for those who have lost limbs can be very expensive – around $2,000 in a country where the average annual income is $1,740.
Penta provides high-quality prosthesis for as little as $100.
First, the nonprofit collects used parts and full prostheses from clinics, veteran’s groups, and amputee-support organization across New England. The team checks the donated devices for quality and functionality and those that meet the defined standards are shipped overseas. Penta covers all shipping costs for clinics and individual donors.
One focus area for the nonprofit has been to create transparency between the donor and recipient so that a donor knows how his or her former prosthesis is being used.
“Prosthetics are a very sensitive and personal equipment that people use for a long time,” says Wang.
For this reason, donors are given a profile summary of the recipient so they can see how they are helping change someone else’s life for the better.
Today, Penta Prosthetics is focused on collecting prostheses that support mobility as those have a significant positive functional as well as a social impact on individuals who may experience discrimination as a result of their disability. Looking forward, the team aims to scale their collection model beyond New England and collect used prostheses all over the country.
According to Penta’s website, in 2017, the nonprofit diverted $3.5M of medical waste, fit over 150 prostheses, partnered with more than 40 clinics, and is supported by 70+ volunteers.
Backed By Ivy League Support
Duong and Wang received a lot of support from their respective schools as they worked to get Penta off of the ground.
Brown University’s Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab), an intensive 8-week accelerator program designed to support student entrepreneurs developing high-impact ventures awarded Penta with multiple grants & Yale University Dean, Jonathan Holloway, backed the organization with a $15k Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Fellowship award.
Holloway was impressed by the ambitious mission and well-thought-out execution plan developed by the founding team as a result of their personal experiences living and working overseas with the target population.
Trang is from Ho Chi Min City and has witnessed the challenges experienced by those with limb disabilities. Co-founder Wang adds:
“We believe that mobility is a right, regardless of economic condition or where one is born, and we see the redistribution of medical devices as a solution to this challenge.”
Also on board with the nonprofit’s work is the Clinton Global Initiative University Innovation Fund, a major stamp of approval for an organization conducting charitable work overseas.
Ambition Meets Execution
From the start, Penta Prosthetics has had a founding team with firsthand experience serving and living alongside those with limb disabilities. After realizing there was an excess of prostheses in the U.S. that could not be repurposed, it wasn’t long before the Penta team was fitting people in Vietnam with life-changing devices at a fraction of the cost.
This Untold story highlights what happens when the bold ambition of a Brown and Yale students is combined with a carefully planned execution. Many nonprofits and organizations have big dreams of how they can use the resources of the U.S. to better serve the international community.
But the ones that really stand out and make a major impact on people’s lives are those that have a thoroughly vetted plan and understanding of the dynamics in the foreign country they are serving.
If you want to donate to Penta’s mission or volunteer to help check out their site for more information!
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin