“My goal is to use design as a tool to solve problems.”
Ebenezer Akakpo is an award-winning designer whose Emekor Collection combines his passion for information technology, jewelry and industrial design with charitable acts. Emekor, which means “clean” in the Ewe language, is a colorful line of polycarbonate earrings depicting traditional Ghanaian symbols called Adinkra. Seventy percent of the proceeds from the collection go to support B9 Plastics’ Better Water Maker project, which Akakpo helped launch.
Akakpo, a native of Ghana, began his formal education in jewelry design and stone setting in Florence, Italy, at Le Arti Orafe. Upon completion he moved on to the Maine College of Art (MECA), where he received a Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) in metalsmithing and jewelry in 2001. At MECA he was challenged to work in new mediums and expand his artistic range, while earning certification as an IT specialist at the same time.
For four years after leaving MECA, Akakpo worked in the IT department at the Maine Turnpike Authority and as a contract jeweler at Zales Jewelry. A deep-seated desire to solve problems through art led him to pursue industrial design at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he earned an Masters Fine Art (MFA).
While at RIT, Akakpo’s focus shifted from designing luxury products for the rich to products for the world’s poorest. Influenced by a show at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum that showcased innovative solutions to Third World challenges, he began to think about a major challenge facing his own village back in Ghana: water. There, as in much of Africa, water is at risk of bacterial contamination from a variety of sources.
For his master’s thesis, Akakpo envisioned a portable filtration system that would be inexpensive and easy to use. He approached B9 Plastics—a non-profit organization dedicated to social and environmental improvements through plastics—with an idea for a system that used ultra violet technology to purify water. He ultimately partnered with B9, helping them launch and raise money for the Better Water Maker project b9plastics.org.
In addition to donating 70 percent of the proceeds from his Emekor Collection, Akakpo conceived a tiered approach to fund the units, offering them free to the rural poor and selling them to water vendors, and more affluent urban residents.