Developing Holistic Solutions for Socially Disadvantaged (SDA) Communities in the Southwest

Since 2012 AATech developed 20+ community-based programs, attracted over $3M federal fund for Socially Disadvantaged groups in the Southwest

Photo of Ilse Rojas
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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Sells (85634), Tucson (85746), San Carlos (85550), Leupp (86035), Birdsprings (86047), Tolani Lake (86047), Cameron (86020), Flagstaff (86004), Winslow (86047), Kykotsmovi Village (86039), Tuba City (86045), Somerton (85350), Parker (85344), Fountain Hills (85269), Sacaton (85147), Supai (86435)...

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Health & Fitness
  • Human Rights & Equality
  • Peace & Harmonious Relations

Date Started


Organization Type

  • for-profit

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $100k - $250k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In 2010, AATech, a minority owned consulting firm, was first founded to apply science/technology to change people’s lives. In 2012, working with U of A on a socially disadvantaged groups outreach program, Dr. Jing Luo, Founder of AATech, first visited San Carlos Apache Tribe, then Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Tohono O’odham Nation...In one of the world richest countries, indigenous people still live a subsistence lifestyle that is strictly tied to the landscape conditions. ~ 40% of the families live in poverty suffering extremely high rate of diabetes and other diseases. Many live in the houses with no running water or electricity. From that point on, AATech decided to solely focus on helping socially disadvantaged groups and communities.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

NM and AZ are home to over 480,000 Natives living in 44 federally recognized tribes including Navajo (NN) and Tohono O’odham (TON), the two largest tribes in U.S. Problems are:
-Poverty - Native American reservations in the SW have persistently high poverty rates. The poverty rate in NN & TON are as high as 40%
-High rate of diabetes and other diet-related diseases
-Safe drinking water - Many Natives live with no running water or electricity

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

AATech’s mission is to improve the quality of lives in socially disadvantaged (SDA) communities by applying advanced technologies, nourishing positive relationships, promoting sustainability & creating shared knowledge/value.
We’ve made significant impact addressing:
-Poverty: Developed programs focusing on rural business development, community facilities, job training & capacity building.
-Diet-related diseases: Developed programs focusing on community food, sustainable farming, local food production, marketing & distribution.
-Safe drinking water: Invented an off-grid on-site water treatment system, 100% powered by solar. Working with STAR School we are in the process of developing a community water program to provide safe drinking water to Navajo Families.
We’ve developed 20+ community-based programs & holistic solutions to resolve the most pressing challenges faced by SDA population by: partnering with SDA groups; conducting active outreach/public education; providing direct technical assistance on feasibility study/business planning, engineering consulting services, technology demonstrations & hands-on training & assisting with Federal, State, & local grant applications.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Water is vital to human lives. ~40% of Navajo households (50K+ people) have no access to public water system. AATech developed a fully automatic off-grid water treatment system (WTS) that can be installed at remote areas & provide safe drinking water to villagers. The system can produce 500-1,000 gal/day to meet 50-100 people’s drinking water needs. We converted a school bus into a “Water Bus” that carries the WTS & is able to produce potable water on-site in remote areas. We are helping STAR School to establish a small non-profit water enterprise to produce & deliver potable water to Navajo residents. We have installed 3 demonstration WTS & by the end of 2019, 2 more will be installed. Our goal is to strategically place 50 WTS on the NN to provide drinking water for at least 5,000 people. The program also educates & encourages Native youth/adults to drink more water than sugary drinks.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

AATech works with SDA groups/individuals in the SW. We’ve developed trusting relationships with many Native American groups & organizations. We also work closely with professors at U of A, AZ Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) & SW Indian Agriculture Association (SWIAA) to leverage additional resources & benefit larger SDA population. AZ FRTEP has tribal extension agents in Native American tribes throughout the state. SWIAA members represents most of the tribes in the SW.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • illness
  • geography
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • age - youth
  • age - elder

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

AATech takes unique approaches & targets the most pressing issues faced by the SDA groups/ communities. We develop holistic solutions that are tailored to meet the specific needs of each organization. Most uniquely and importantly, AATech brings both technical AND financial solutions to the table. Thru over 20 programs, we have successfully brought over $3M federal grant to help SDA groups/communities in AZ. This number will increase each year. It is difficult to find other groups that share AATech’s mission of developing holistic solutions to improve the quality of lives in SDA communities.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We’ve made significant impact in Native American communities. Our programs focused on promoting local food, rural business development, community facilities development, renewable energies & safe drinking water. We’ve facilitated the development of community greenhouses, solar water pumping systems, local/regional food hubs, community cold storages, value-added milling facilities, etc. We’ve brought over $3M funds to AZ & significantly increased the participation of underserved communities in USDA programs. Thru our programs, we’ve increased the access to fresh local food & promoted healthy diet & lifestyle. We’ve created & saved hundreds of jobs, stimulated rural economy & community self-reliance. We’ve increase community resilience by increasing access of clean water in remote areas. We’ve reached out to thousands of Native American youth & adults through our educational programs.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We expect to expand our services to other SW states (NV, CA, NM & UT). We’ve also organized conferences & hands-on training sessions to implement the “train-the-trainer model” and ensure that local communities are trained to use new tools/technologies to better educate their people. Will explore more funding sources from Federal, state, local governments & private foundations. Will investigate alternative project financing, such as new credit market, revolving fund programs, etc. Will also explore the opportunity to work with USDA & establish the 1st Tribal Cooperative Development Center in AZ

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Over the years, the programs we developed are all funded by Federal Grants. Examples are USDA RD, Value-added Producer Grant ($328K), Water & Waste Disposal Technical Assistance & Training Program ($300K), Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant ($350K), Small Socially Disadvantaged Program Grant ($188K); Rural Business Development Grant ($1M); Bureau of Reclamation, WaterSMART Program ($299K), USDA OAO ($497K) to Assist SDA Farmers and Ranchers; USDA AMS, Local Food Promotion Program ($320K).

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Project team has 100+ years of combined experience in agriculture education, cooperative extension, economy, risk management, water resources, engineering, renewable energies, project management, & technical grant writing/administration. Dr. Jing Luo, PE, oversees the entire operation of AATech, Mr. Peter Zhou, PE, oversees finances/technology development; Dr. Ilse Rojas, responsible for new program development; Ms. Emma Skidmore, coordination of existing programs/community outreach, U of A.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Sarah Dewees

This looks like a great program, and it is doing important work with communities in the Southwest. I had trouble linking the program to the goals of this initiative which are supporting bold ideas to increase financial wellbeing, ensuring communities can set financial goals, grow their personal savings, and access capital, credit, financial services, and products needed to thrive. More information about the financial empowerment work of this project - financial education, access to credit, etc., would be useful.