Skip to main content

President Chopp's Charge to Tralance Addy '69

Tralance Addy and Rebecca Chopp

Tralance Addy, you are the first executive director of the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, whose aim is to promote growth in developing countries by stimulating innovation through research, education, and on-the-ground action. You also serve as founder and chairman of Plebys International LLC, a venture-capital company focused on underserved markets worldwide. You are a distinguished inventor, entrepreneurial leader, and humanitarian who has improved living conditions and saved lives across the globe.

You grew up in Ghana, where you worked with other secondary-school student volunteers in villages and rural towns, building schools, roads, and community centers.  In 1965, you came to Swarthmore to study chemistry and engineering in the context of a liberal arts education not available in Ghana. In the book The Meaning of Swarthmore, you recall: "Swarthmore was the place where I was first introduced to student political action, and the strong sense that the best academic training had very little meaning without social conscience." You graduated in 1969 with a B.A. in chemistry and a B.S. in mechanical engineering, the first person in the history of the College to graduate with a dual degree in four years. 

You went on to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to pursue an interest in food engineering, driven by your concern over world hunger, and wrote a dissertation on the direct conversion of protein from unconventional sources. You received an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1973 and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1974 and later pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School in its Advanced Management Program.

You began working for the Scott Paper Co., pioneering the development of a papermaking technology with minimal environmental impact for use in developing countries. At Scott, you served as senior research engineer and program leader. A growing interest in global health issues led you to Johnson and Johnson, where you remained for more than 20 years, developing new health technologies and organizing business ventures around the world. You served in a variety of capacities there, including worldwide president of advanced sterilization products and as international vice president of Johnson & Johnson.

 In 2001, you founded Plebys International, a venture-capital firm specializing in early-stage startup financing of innovative technologies, to ensure the availability of potable water, health products, hygiene and infection prevention, clean energy, and food processing and distribution in the Third World.

From 2001 to 2009, you also were president and CEO of WaterHealth International, the first company acquired by Plebys and dedicated to finding ways to provide safe drinking water in the developing world. Using a new system of water purification through ultraviolet light, the company has provided clean water to more than 5 million people in rural and urban communities in, India, Ghana, Mexico, and Tibet, among other nations. The process has reduced diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery in those communities.

Your creative genius is well known. You hold numerous patents in the U.S. and worldwide for a variety of inventions and procedures such as methods for purifying water, sterilizing medical devices, a vacuum drying method for plasma sterilization, and a high-tensile-strength microfiber medical fabric.

You have served on the boards of companies and institutions, including Phyto-Riker Pharmaceuticals in Ghana, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, the Sickle Cell Association of America, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College. You have also served the College as a panelist for the Jonathan R. Lax '71 Conference on Entrepreneurship and as a class agent. In 2007, Inc. Magazine recognized you as "Do-Good Capitalist of the Year."

Tralance Addy, your combination of scientific expertise, inventive imagination, business know-how, and social commitment reflect the best of a Swarthmore education. You are the embodiment of an African proverb you sometimes quote: "Never hesitate to jump at the sun. It doesn't matter if you reach the sun, but at least your feet will have left the earth." In daring to leap high, you have bettered the lives of millions of people. You have made this earth a safer, more sustaining place. We are proud to claim you as one of our own.

Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.