Dr. Martin Fisher of KickStart International Named Stanford Engineering Hero

Published: Aug. 4 2016

By Tom Abate for Stanford Engineering

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Engineers are pragmatists and problem solvers who tend to focus on outcomes and solutions, so much so that their accomplishments are often overlooked. Honoring these under-appreciated specialists is one of the reasons for the Stanford Engineering Heroes program.

“Today, we are privileged to add Perry McCarty, Reed Hastings and Martin Fisher to the list of engineers whose contributions have advanced social and economic progress,” said Persis S. Drell, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering.

The latest additions bring to 35 the number of engineers who have been thus honored since the program was established in 2010, and like their predecessors each of the three has affected everyday life in many ways and with varying degrees of visibility.

Perry McCarty has been an environmental science and engineering pioneer ever since he joined the Stanford faculty in 1962. Now an emeritus professor, he has devoted his career to discover how to create micro-environmental ecosystems to cleanse water of human waste and reduce groundwater pollution. Among professional honors too numerous to name, he accepted the Stockholm Water Prize in 2007, confessing at the time to a fascination with septic systems.

Since co-founding Netflix in 1997, Reed Hastings has helped to transform the family room and reshape the pursuit of leisure. A former artificial intelligence student who earned his master’s degree from Stanford in 1988, Hastings has applied computer science to the delivery, recommendation and production of televised entertainment, while also remaining personally active as a philanthropist and policy maker in the field of education.

Martin Fisher co-founded KickStart International on the belief that technology, when appropriately applied, can change lives for the better.

Fisher joined the appropriate technology movement in Africa soon after earning his doctorate in theoretical and applied mechanics from Stanford in 1985. Today he leads a multicultural, multidisciplinary team that develops tools like the KickStart MoneyMaker irrigation pump, which enables farmers to boost their incomes tenfold. Fisher estimates that KickStart tools generate over $170 million in new profits and wages annually, and have helped more than one million people permanently escape poverty.

Engineering Heroes are chosen from among Stanford Engineering alumni and former faculty by a panel of technology experts and historians who pay special attention to the broad and beneficial outcomes of nominees’ works.

These three honorees join a select group that includes Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, astronaut Sally Ride, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, GPS creator Brad Parkinson, Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, Hewlett-Packard founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and Fred Terman, the former Stanford Engineering dean who pioneered the close collaborations between research and industry that became the Silicon Valley way.

Stanford Engineering has long been at the forefront of innovation in communications, medicine, energy, business, information technology and other fields. Our faculty and students and alumni have established thousands of companies and laid the technological and commercial foundations for many industries. Stanford Engineering continues to seek solutions to pressing global problems and to educate leaders who will make the world better. Learn more at engineering.stanford.edu.

Additional biographical information about the 2016 honorees:

Perry L. McCarty joined Stanford University in 1962 to develop the environmental engineering and science program. From 1980 to 1985 he was chairman of Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and from 1989 to 2002 he served as director of the Western Region Hazardous Substance Research Center. His research has focused on biological processes for the control of environmental contaminants. In addition to more than 300 publications, he is coauthor of the textbooks Chemistry for Environmental Engineering and Science and Environmental Biotechnology – Principles and Applications. Elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1977 and numerous other organizations, he was selected by the National Academies to be the 2001 Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecturer.

Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix in 1997. In 1991, he founded Pure Software, which made tools for software developers. After a 1995 IPO, and several acquisitions, Pure was acquired by Rational Software in 1997. Hastings is an active educational philanthropist and served on the California State Board of Education from 2000 to 2004. He is currently on the board of several educational organizations including CCSA, DreamBox Learning, KIPP, Pahara and the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley. He is also a board member of Facebook, and was on the board of Microsoft from 2007 to 2012. Hastings received a BA from Bowdoin College in 1983, and an MSCS in Artificial Intelligence from Stanford University in 1988. Between Bowdoin and Stanford, he served in the Peace Corps as a high school math teacher in Swaziland.

Martin Fisher co-founded KickStart International, an award-winning non-profit social enterprise that develops appropriate technologies to improve lives and lift people out of poverty. After receiving a doctorate in theoretical and applied mechanics from Stanford in 1985, Fisher won a Fulbright Fellowship to study the appropriate technology movement in Kenya, an experience that informed his activities at KickStart. Fisher has helped to create and market simple yet effective tools like MoneyMaker irrigation pumps, over 285,000 of which have been sold to date to farmers who use human power to irrigate crops, grow year round, and increase their income from irrigation alone by nearly 500%, on average. He was the founding chair of BuildChange and still serves on their board, was recognized as a Skoll and Schwab Social Entrepreneur, and has received many other noteworthy awards.

Related News & Events: 
Mar. 14, 2017

KickStart and VisionFund have created an exciting new partnership that will offer farmers in sub-Saharan Africa access to credit needed to purchase and implement irrigation systems. Over the next five years, they hope to provide 100,000 farmers—and 400,000 children—greater access to water for crops.

KickStart International's Stanford Engineering Hero
Feb. 24, 2017

KickStart International's Dr. Martin Fisher was chosen as one of Stanford University's 2016 Engineering Heroes. He accepted his award on February 7th, and delivered a talk at Stanford University entitled "Engineering a Path Out of Poverty."