Information and news about innovations

Innovations for Poverty Action Conducts Research That Changes LivesWhen people donate money to nonprofits, they want to know that their money is being used well. The same goes for governments allocating funds for international aid. While money intended for alleviating poverty is rarely wasted, there are many different ways the funds could be used to help those in need. Sometimes, it is not clear what program the money should be put towards. Thankfully, there are organizations such as Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) that are dedicated to researching how to best help the poor.

IPA finds evidence of what works to help the poor and helps turn that evidence into better programs and policies. Working with top researchers in the field, IPA conducts randomized controlled trials. This method allows researches to isolate the effects of a program from other factors. Researchers will assign participants to separate groups, at random. One or more groups, known as “treatment” groups, receive a program and another group functions as the “control” group.

IPA develops strong connections in the countries in which they conduct research. These partnerships, along with a knowledge of local contexts, help make their research projects successful. Their teams work in 20 countries, with various NGOs and government institutions. IPA has more than 1,000 research staff who conduct research on the ground. Studies can last from a few months to years or even decades.

Jeffrey Mosenkis, a policy communications manager at IPA, told the Borgen Project that one IPA study in particular strikes him as particularly influential: a study on school-based deworming conducted from 1998 to 2001. The study took place within 75 primary schools in Busia, Kenya. The school-based deworming reduced serious worm infections by 61 percent and reduced school absenteeism by 25 percent. The study only cost $0.60 per child per year. A long-term follow-up study found that the deworming increased the rate at which girls passed their secondary school entrance exam by 9.6 percent and increased the likelihood that men would work in higher-wage jobs than their peers or engage in entrepreneurial activities. School-based deworming campaigns have expanded into Ethiopia, India and Kenya, reaching over 200 million children. Since then, researchers have also discovered that treating kids for parasites also helps their siblings do better in school.

“I think it was also an eye opener for the field of development, says Mosenkis, “because it showed that one of the most cost-effective education interventions was actually a health intervention, and helped sparked interest in using data and evidence to find the most effective programs, which might not be the ones we’d normally think of.”

Other important studies conducted by IPA include improving financial behavior with a tablet app, improving math skills in Paraguay, reducing child mortality with health promoters in Uganda and using mobile technology to fight malaria. These and other studies are conducted in places all over the globe. Sometimes the exact location of the study can present unique challenges. “It’s not just the country but the local area,” says Mosenkis, “how good the infrastructure, like the roads are, or electricity and phone access, that makes more of a difference in our day-to-day work collecting data than the national picture.”

IPA was started by Dean Karlan, after traveling throughout Latin American before grad school. What began originally as an idea pitched by Karlan to his graduate advisers at MIT became a nonprofit organization bridging the gap between academia and development policy in practice.

IPA plans to continue building on what it has already achieved. The plan is to continue creating useful evidence to answer the questions of decision-makers at the front lines of development. The work of IPA has been and will continue to be instrumental in improving the lives of the global poor.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

Bleach Bottle LightsFor impoverished nations around the world, electricity is a luxury. In 2014, 1.2 billion people in the world lived without it. Many households used kerosene lamps as a source of light, but these were dangerous because of the risk of fire and number of fumes that the lamps emit. Bleach bottle lights may be a viable solution.

A project called Liter of Light has a solution. Its creators discovered that plastic bottles filled with a mixture of water and bleach “refract the light from outdoors into the house, lighting up much like a light bulb.” When placed on the roof of a house the bottle becomes an adequate and inexpensive source of light.

The project began in 2012 in the Philippines with the nonprofit MyShelter Foundation. The bleach bottle lights were an original idea of Alfredo Moser who shared it with the MyShelter Foundation, eventually developing into the Liter of Light project.

The life expectancy of one of these bleach bottle lights is five years. Since the concoction is simply one liter of water and three milliliters of bleach, it is cheap and easy to replace.

By using plastic bottles for the bleach bottle lights, communities reduce the amount of garbage they produce. Per the World Economic Forum, “eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.” In places like the Philippines where the number of disposed of plastic bottles is one of the highest in the world, the Liter of Light project kills two birds with one stone.

Since the bottle only works with sunlight, Liter of Light came up with a solution for night time. Huffington Post stated, “by slipping a test tube with a small LED light bulb into the bottle, which in turn is hooked up to a mini-solar panel, the bottle can still refract light during the day, but then also be used as a light bulb at night.”

The overall goal for the Liter of Light project is to provide poor countries with a sustainable alternative to electricity in homes with the bleach bottle light. This is crucial because they cannot afford to pay for expensive repairs when the country is struggling financially. Bleach and water are much more accessible in the communities than electrical materials.

As of now, the bleach bottle lights provide a source of light to homes in 15 different countries. The bottles containing the LED light bulbs are the most popular amongst the 850,000 homes that rely on them.

The Liter of Light project won the 2015 Zayed Future Energy Prize and the 2014-2015 World Habitat Award for its work installing bleach bottle lights into hundreds of thousands of homes. The United Nations now uses the technology in its UNHCR camps. Within the next three years, the organization hopes to reach one million people and brighten up the world.

Mackenzie Fielder

Photo: Liter of Light

Local, Sustainable SolutionsThe Equator Initiative, an organization dedicated to encouraging communities to envision creative, local, sustainable solutions to problems, recently announced the winners of the 2017 Equator Prize.

The 15 winners include grassroots projects located across Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. They range from a campaign to secure management of a community Mangrove forest in Thailand to the Mali Elephant Project, which protects endangered elephants while working to reduce violence in a war-torn area of Mali.

However, these 15 winners are only the beginning. Across the globe, communities have created local, sustainable solutions to preserve their homelands. These solutions also help feed and educate children and promote peace and justice in their society.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the Equator Initiative launched a database that includes 500 of the local, sustainable solutions nominated to receive the 2017 Equator Prize. Here are seven of the most creative and impactful initiatives that local people developed in answer to the challenges they face:

  1. Whales of Guerrero Research Project: The Whales of Guerrero Research Project (WGRP) started in a small fishing village in Mexico in 2013 to increase local interest in protecting the endangered humpback whales. The project teaches children ages 9-13 about marine life and lets them adopt and name whales. It also created an extensive whale-spotting network and runs a program that pairs high school students in Mexico and the U.S. for scientific projects. The WGRP hopes that these workshops will strengthen the community’s pride in the natural environment and inspire them to make choices that will protect the local marine life. The project also advocates that tourist whale watching may become an important source of revenue in a place where the fishing industry has suffered.
  2. Barefoot Solar Initiative: The Barefoot Solar Initiative works to provide lighting systems that run on solar energy to people in rural villages in India. Since its founding in 1972, the Initiative has illuminated more than 15,000 homes. The new lighting improves air quality, saves money and enables children to study longer in the evenings. The initiative also teaches women how to construct and manage the solar equipment for the homes in their village, giving them a valuable skill set. The organization recently announced a new program that is providing solar lighting to many of the Pacific Island nations.
  3. The Nubian Vault Association (AVN): The AVN builds environmentally friendly homes in Burkina Faso that are inspired by the techniques of the ancient Nubians. The houses are built from sun-dried mud bricks, which are sturdy and emit less carbon than the iron roofing sheets traditionally used. The houses have thermal insulation, so they stay cool during the day and warm in the evenings. By teaching farmers how to build these homes, the AVN also created a new economic activity that helps them earn income during the dry season.
  4. Elevated Honey Co.: This initiative aims to bring economic growth and care for the environment to the mountainous areas of Southwest China through beekeeping. The villagers work with Apis cerana, the honey bee native to their region, using traditional beekeeping methods as a way of sustaining both their environment and their culture. The honey made from this bee is lucrative, worth up to 8 times as much as that of European honeybees.
  5. Comuna Ancestral Las Tunas: This project, established in 1998, helps a community in Ecuador receive the numerous benefits of recycling. Children become empowered to make a difference in their communities as they earn money collecting plastic water bottles. The number of tourists in the area increased by 15 percent, a result of the now clean beaches, and the community is watching over two species of sea turtles. Women are able to turn the plastic bottles into crafts and earn money.
  6. Abolhassani Indigenous Nomadic Tribal Confederacy: In an area of Iran that is rich with diverse animals and plants, the Confederacy developed local, sustainable solutions for coping with drought and sustaining both livestock and crops. Two of these are the revival of the hanar system, which conserves water by giving the animals water only once every two days, and feeding the animals with crops rather than natural vegetation, allowing the land to recover. The Confederacy shares its innovations with other tribes in the area.
  7. Nakau programme: Loru Community Conservation Project: Founded in 2011, this program established a legally protected patch of rain forest on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. The indigenous landowners are able to sell conservation credits, or tax credits for donors, as well as market agricultural products of the rain forest (i.e., certain types of nuts). The project meets several of the Sustainable Development Goals that were a key criteria for the 2017 Equator Prize.

The winners of 2017 Equator Prize have received more than a reward. They have created local, sustainable solutions that have transformed their community. Consequently, their successes can serve as examples and inspiration for future projects.

Emilia Otte

Photo: Google

Africa Technology: 10 Technological Innovations from AfricaIn recent years, the African Union has concentrated on better ways that to solve local problems. Facing a lot of challenges, the continent is raising a generation of innovators who are making a big investment in Africa technology development taking a creative approach and non-standard thinking. Here are 10 examples of technological innovations coming out of African countries:

  1. MellowcabsMellowcab is a fully electric vehicle that provides public transportation in urban areas. Developed in South Africa, Mellowcabs are eco-friendly and carbon-neutral. The cabs use kinetic energy to power the vehicle, on-board tablet computers, use hydrogen fuel cell technology, and are made out of recycled materials. The rides are free; the company relies on an advertisement placed in the cab. Mellowcabs developers helped to reduce traffic in urban areas and successfully tied into the transport infrastructure.
  2. JumiaJumia launched in Nigeria in 2012. The largest e-commerce retailer in the country works with 16 African countries and sells anything from electronics to clothes and home goods. Initially starting with three employees, Jumia presently has a staff of 1,000 young and entrepreneurial Nigerians. Jumia set-up the first e-commerce academy in Nigeria, the Jumia Academy, building young entrepreneurs pioneering various aspects of business in Nigeria.
  3. Sterio.meSterio.me is a critical education startup in Africa, utilising the recent development of mobile industry, SMS-based programs are a good way to engages learners outside the classroom, to reinforce in-classroom learning. The process is easy: teachers record a lecture or quiz, upload it to the site where pupils can access the information with a code. First launched in Zimbabwe, Sterio.me opens up an opportunity for everyone who wants to learn.
  4. ObamiObami is a South Africa-based social learning platform, where students can get news from schools and groups and submit school work. Launched in 2007, the technology is currently used by about 400 organizations across Africa. The cloud-hosted platform is easily accessible from the web or, importantly, from mobile. The mobile app, Obami Tutor, focuses on private tutoring. Barbara Mallinson, Obami’s founder, is one of the leading female entrepreneurs in South Africa.
  5. M-PESAIs a mobile-based money transfer application, which allows users to store money on mobile accounts and make simple transfers via SMS messaging. Customers can deposit and withdraw money from a large network of agents, charging its users a small fee for sending and withdrawing transactions. Since its creation in 2007, M-PESA expanded as far as Afghanistan, India and Albania. This app moves an entire third of the Kenyan GDP among its 15 million mostly rural users.
  6. Charging ShoesOne extraordinary method to charge a mobile phone while walking is to use ultra-thin chips of crystal inserted into the sole of a shoe. Invented by Anthony Mutua from Kenya, technology generates electricity through the pressure exerted when it is stepped on.
  7. Sleep OutSleep out is a website for adventurers and travelers who are looking for accommodation in Africa. Launched in 2011 in Kenya, the online portal became popular very quick. Today it covers hotels, hostels, B&Bs and private hosts from all over the continent. It allows users to pay directly to the host via mobile, cash, card or transfer.
  8. The Kenya Open Data InitiativeA portal to fuel new enterprises and apps. Most important, it makes government data freely available to the Kenyan public. The technological initiative was claimed to improve governance and constitutional groundwork on information access.
  9. UshahidiThis app was developed after 2008 post-election violence outbreak to create a map reflecting data of violent acts in the country. Ushahidi offers products that enable local observers to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet, while simultaneously creating a temporary geospatial archive of events.

Right now the continent’s technological development is going through a creative phase. This evolution will continue to empower Africa’s technology markets, people and potential in meaningful ways, taking the continent into the digitized era.

Yana Emets

Photo: Flickr


A 2016 study done by World Energy Outlook found that 16 percent of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) is still living without electricity. Communities primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and rural Asia lack modern electrical resources and rely on dangerous and physically harmful resources. Relying on biomass for the majority of their energy, health risks such as poor ventilation and open fires are routine in many households. Providing solutions for energy-impoverished areas requires a change in mindset, infrastructure, economic strategy and inventiveness. Here are 10 of the best:

  1. Make electricity a human right
    Electricity may seem less important than other issues when addressing global poverty. While basic human needs such as food, water and shelter should obviously be of top priority, one solution for energy-impoverished areas is making electricity a human right. Having electricity helps highly-impoverished regions improve hospitals, school systems, industrial work, and other critical aspects of modern society.
  2. Focus on public health
    A key component of human rights is individual health. Economic and technological factors often come second to issues like health care. However, having electricity can greatly improve the general health of a community. The United Nations estimates that dirty household air is responsible for more than 40 million premature deaths. Access to resources such as air purifiers could all but eliminate issues like this and greatly incentivize establishment of power.
  3. Changing attitudes of world leaders
    To make electricity a basic human right, world leaders must become cognizant of its benefits and utter necessity. Often, obstacles such as cost, providing infrastructure and general planning can be seen as insurmountable when establishing power in areas without electricity. However, programs like one in Uganda that provides pre-paid power and can be topped up with a mobile phone may persuade other world leaders to follow suit.
  4. Create economic incentives for power companies
    Many entrepreneurs and startup companies have found great success in developing cost-efficient and accessible solutions for energy-impoverished areas. Solar batteries, LED lights and other inventive energy sources have been met with great economic success and growing market shares. Developing technology that works can be a great economic incentive for global power companies.
  5. Increase global funding
    The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have diverted funding to establish electricity in power-impoverished areas because as organizations, they recognize the long-term economic benefits of so doing. Many countries lack the basic resources to begin projects of this caliber. Organizations that emphasize human rights and economic aid can provide these countries with the initial resources that will eventually create economic success stories.
  6. Think local
    Small, local and even personal electronic grids are the recipients of recent research and funding. Why? The difficulty of spreading existing power to distant, rural communities can prevent areas from ever gaining electricity. Rather than trying to connect these areas to the main grid, many companies have suggested providing these regions with small, localized, off-the-grid solutions.
  7. Reduce energy theft
    Along with influencing government and international-level organizations, convincing people that electricity is a worthy investment can be a challenge. Many communities have found methods of stealing electricity from the main grid, which makes leaders wary of investing in further power. In New Delhi, a program was instituted for local women to discuss the benefits of wide-scale electricity with their neighbors. Social programs such as this are extremely effective in changing attitudes.
  8. Invest in solar power
    When discussing solutions for energy-impoverished areas, climate change is a key factor to consider. Many world leaders and emerging technology companies have considered the benefits of solar energy. While it can be expensive and difficult to implement, the long-term benefits of sustainable energy are important to consider when compared to short-term, non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels.
  9. Explore emerging natural energy sources
    Although solar power is an extremely clean and renewable source of energy, it can be unreliable for large-scale energy production. To create solutions for energy-impoverished areas, various regions in Africa have begun to implement other natural energy resources such as geothermal, natural and hydropower. These are just as environmentally-friendly as solar energy but more consistent and easy to maintain.
  10. Think small
    With international energy access being the long-term goal, there are still many new tech firms selling simple gadgets that greatly improve the way of life for communities lacking large-scale power. Voto, for example, creates personal solar-powered outlets that can charge devices like phones and batteries. While it may seem small, conveniences such as this can make the most basic tasks more simple.

Though these changes may require time, small steps towards improvement can have a great impact on individual households and villages living without power. In making small, tangible efforts towards providing electricity to these areas, global mindsets and policies will gradually be affected.

 

Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

BetterShelter.org
As conflicts rage in various parts of the world, massive amounts of people are displaced. Around 21 million people are currently living as refugees, and over half can be found in just 10 countries: Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given that only 2.5 percent of the global GDP comes from these nations, a plurality of foreign aid strategies needs to be funded and implemented to ensure that refugees can survive and one day regain control of their lives. One such strategy is developing innovative, cost-effective, comfortable and sustainable shelters to house refugees.

For all people, shelter is a basic survival need, and a great many refugees need better shelter than they currently have. The simple canvas tents used to house many refugees are prone to damage from floods, fires and high winds.

BetterShelter.org delivers their shelters in cardboard boxes, and each shelter only takes about four people to assemble. All shelters are designed to be built by hand. They have sturdy steel frames covered by insulated walls and ceiling materials. Solar panels are installed to generate electricity that can be utilized for anything from providing light to charging electronic devices. In addition to this, safety features like mosquito netting and locking doors are now available.

Last year, BetterShelter.org provided housing for 10,000 families across the globe, and the organization hopes to enlarge that number this year. Thanks to a partnership with IKEA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), its goals looks achievable.

Refugees are forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, schools and dreams to flee dangerous circumstances. It is up to those that have plenty to aid those who have little. Efforts to provide better shelters for refugees need generous support if they are to continue improving the lives of people without a place to call home.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Improving Maternal and Child Health
The problem of poverty is not too big to tackle, but it is a huge issue. Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President of Strategy and Learning at PATH, Amie Batson, believes the answer is innovation, and she is especially optimistic about innovations geared toward improving maternal and child health. She worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on its Child Survival: Call to Action initiative that “challenges the world to reduce child mortality.”

This initiative united the governments of India, Ethiopia and the U.S. to work with UNICEF toward the goal of making sure every child reaches his or her fifth birthday. By 2035, Child Survival: Call to Action strives to reduce the number of deaths before age 5 to only 20 in every 1,000.

“We have the tools, the treatments and the technology to save millions of lives every year, and there is no excuse not to use them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. He also stated that countries must focus on “scaling-up coverage of high-impact, low-cost treatments, sparking greater innovation and spurring greater political will to reach the hardest-to-reach children.”

One such low-cost practice proven to be effective in improving maternal and child health is “kangaroo mother care.” This practice involves immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between mother and child after a child is born. Research shows that this contact results in exclusive breastfeeding, which is especially important for children in developing countries. It also helps with thermal regulation and creates a psychological connection between mother and child. It is a simple change with lasting impact.

Many other notable innovations involve giving women access to family planning. Sayan Press produces an injectable contraceptive available in small doses through an easy-to-use injection device. Its availability and ease of use allow community-level workers to hand it out, thus expanding its accessibility.

Batson encourages nonprofits and governments alike to continue the search for innovators as a way of reducing the number of preventable deaths among women and children.

“Local innovators have incredible ingenuity and capacity to drive ‘frugal’ innovations—low-cost, life-saving innovations tailored to local needs,” she said, encouraging countries to look within for their solutions.

Through the collaboration of organizations like USAID and PATH, it has been shown that even as few as 11 innovations can make a significant difference. There is much hope for the future of women and children’s health, and the best place to start is here.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

A Non-Traditional Way to Reduce Poverty
The U.S. Government employs a variety of strategies to combat global poverty. Over the past decade, U.S. foreign assistance has reformed to include less traditional measures to reduce poverty such as the funding of educational and cultural nonprofits.

In 1946, President Truman established the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (OIC), which is the first U.S. sanctioned effort to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way.

In 1979, reducing poverty in a non-traditional way became the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The ECA now funds a variety of international cultural, educational and athletic interactions to accomplish the objectives of the 1961 Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act.

The 1961 mandate stipulates that the U.S. government will fund public diplomatic efforts “to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports and professional exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships.”

Notable ECA efforts to reducing poverty in a non-traditional way include the Critical Language Scholarship, which provides study abroad scholarships to students who are interested in learning languages deemed critical by the Department of State — Swahili, Urdu, Persian and Bangla.

Applicants are required to demonstrate their plan to apply the language in an impactful way — translating for a nonprofit, working with the local community, or researching for developmental programs.

U.S. efforts to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way also include the Future Leaders Exchange, which selects an exemplary high school to serve as a cultural ambassador around the world. The program includes intensive community service efforts in which the American student-ambassador lives.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also oversees inbound and outbound inter-cultural exchanges to promote cultural understanding, which is one of the strongest measures to countering the attractiveness of joining a violent extremist movement in impoverished areas.

Youth For Understanding (YFU) is at the forefront of this laudable public diplomacy. YFU is an international nonprofit consisting of over 50 international partners to provide a variety of inter-cultural immersions to students of all ages.

In 1951, the nonprofit was started by Rachel Andresen with the mission to repair the disjointed global community after the devastating consequences of World War II. YFU has since become a global leader in the fight to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways.

Poverty reduction efforts of YFU are best embodied by their six approaches to intercultural exchanges: caring: personal and people-oriented, learning for life, valuing diversity: inclusive and fair, volunteering: engaged and dedicated, cooperating in international solidarity, and promoting quality, transparency and sustainability.

YFU is just the beginning of innovative approaches to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways. To truly end global poverty, however, the U.S. must continue to encourage the private and public sector to tackle public diplomacy in unique ways, along with increasing foreign assistance to the countries who need it most.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Agriculture
As Tanzania’s farming sector begins to shift to producing various other goods, the innovations in agriculture that enhance the productivity of the farming process are quick to follow.

Recently, the country has witnessed a transformation in its agriculture sector, especially among its smallholder farmers, after realizing the extraordinary benefits of sesame seeds.

Being both drought resistant and considerably more resilient to climate change effects than other products, sesame has become Tanzania’s new popular food output. However, with these benefits also comes a drawback.

Though farming is essential and necessary for the well-being of the country’s citizens, the activity can sometimes be tedious and tiresome.

Sesame farming in Tanzania is labor-intensive and prolonged work, traditionally done completely by hand. Bending down, creating centimeter deep holes, dropping seeds and walking a great distance can lead to, among other things, back pain and fatigue.

That is where the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” rang true.

In response to complaints from fellow farmers, Constantine Martin from the Babati District created an innovation in agricultural that has since been welcomed and implemented by all.

Named the “Coasta Planter,” it is simply a hand-pushed machine designed to plant sesame seeds by digging a small hole and dropping seeds in, without the need of a person constantly bending down to do so.

Additionally, the Coasta Planter is also more efficient than humans, planting the seeds at a higher rate of speed. This significant upscale in food production and potential output could lead to the strengthening of Tanzania’s food security.

Agriculture is an essential part of Tanzania’s economy, especially in terms of food production and employment generation. As of 2015, agriculture accounts for 30.5 percent of the country’s GDP and employs 75 percent of the total labor force.

To further improve and promote the importance and longevity of the agriculture sector in Tanzania, initiatives such as Feed the Future have invested in the people and the country, specifically focusing on products including rice and maize.

With this new invention in hand, farmers all across the country should expect an easier workload in the future as further clever innovations in agriculture continue to be thought of and created, enhancing Tanzania’s food security one seed at a time.

Jordan J. Phelan

Smart Vision Labs
More than 750 million people currently suffer from uncorrected refractive errors or vision, which can result in blindness and mean hundreds of billions of dollars lost in productivity.

However, correcting vision traditionally requires expensive eye exam machines that can cost up to $40,000. Thanks to the new startup Smart Vision Labs, there is now a cheaper, more accessible way to receive eye exams.

After winning a New York University entrepreneurship competition in 2013, Smart Vision Labs entered the market with its smartphone paired autorefractor, the SVOne.

Founded by Marc Albanese and Yaopeng Zhou, the SVOne, which includes a paired iPhone 5s, costs $3,950, a 90 percent markdown from traditional autorefractors.

By simply pointing the iPhone at the customer’s eyes for five seconds, the machine can quickly measure and produce the information for a prescription. The SVOne also uses wavefront aberrometry, a technology superior to existing autorefractors.

Since raising $6.1 million in an accelerator program, Smart Vision Labs and the SVOne have spread to more than 300 eye clinics across the U.S. and to 23 countries. In 2015, Smart Vision Labs traveled to Haiti to check the eyes of locals, working with the pro-bono doctors of the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity.

Not only is the SVOne technology much cheaper, but it is also portable, a huge plus for doctors working in areas without robust health systems or other infrastructure.

In the U.S., the company also has major market potential — more than two-thirds of Americans require prescriptions, but only half receive them. With a service so fast and cheap, Smart Vision Labs can provide vision services to both the impoverished and modern world.

What began as a a two person operation has now jumped to 16 people. They have recently begun operating in several commercial vision stores in New York and have completed more than 40,000 eye scans. With more traction and attention, the company may soon have a worldwide name in doing social good and making profits.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr