Influential Leaders

Emily Cummins

Emily Cummins

University of Leeds, Leeds University Business School

Non-Profit

Emily Cummins, age 28, is an award-winning inventor whose interest in sustainable design began at the age of four, when her grandfather gave her a hammer and began to teach her how to make toys from scraps of materials found in his garden shed.

While studying at the University of Leeds and concerned about our reliance on fossil fuel energy, Cummins developed an innovative sustainable refridgerator. The fridge is designed to run without electricity, “powered” by dirty water but keeping the contents dry, hygienic, and cool. During her gap year, Cummins went to live in an African township where she refined her fridge design. Realizing that the fridge could make a real difference to the lives of people in poverty, Cummins decided to open-source her invention. Her fridge is now used across South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, improving the quality of life in many poor communities.  

Cummins is motivated by human need as well as sustainability principles. Her creative thinking has led to a string of commendations, including being named as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Young People in the World in 2010, a recipient of the Barclays Women of the Year Award in 2009, and named Cosmopolitan magazine’s Ultimate Save-the Planet Pioneer in 2008.

Cummins notes, “Studying Business at the University gave me a real insight into all the things I needed in order to succeed. They allowed me to study part time so I could continue to develop my inventions. If Leeds hadn’t been so flexible, I would have been forced to choose between my entrepreneurship and my degree.”

She further states, "I left university not only with first-class honours and a successful business, but also with a wide and valuable network of contacts to help me continue the work that I started.”

Cummins also developed a water carrier to allieviate the need for African women and children to walk many miles a day to collect water using only one or two jerry cans. She designed a carrier that would make their journey easier and more productive, allowing up to five containers of water to be held in place. The product can also be adapted to carry firewood or other heavy loads and may be completely recycled at the end of its working life.

Another of Cummins’ inventions is a toothpaste dispenser inspired by her grandfather’s inability squeeze toothpaste tubes properly because of his arthritis. She created a dispenser that changed the squeezing action into a pushing one. The dispenser can be used with a variety of products, by people with limited arm movement or prosthetic limbs and in situations where hygiene is important, such as in hospitals or kitchens.

“My design philosophy involves a back-to-basics approach which keeps an eye on the past as well as the future and combines the best of both. I'm motivated by human need as well as sustainability principles,” says Cummins.