Information and news about innovations

Social Enterprise Helping India's Salt Harvesters
Sabras, a social enterprise organization based in India, is using micro-lending to help the country’s poverty-stricken salt workers gain freedom from predatory lenders and non-cooperative banks.

In the state of Gujarat, where nearly 70% of India’s salt is sourced from, self-employed salt pan workers are subject to harsh physical conditions as well as predatory loans leading to little profit. Temperatures reach harsh highs in summer and lows during winter, causing adverse health effects for workers. Since the workers are self-employed, a majority of them need to borrow money from lenders who fix the price of the salt much lower than it normally would be, cutting profits for the salt pan workers down to nearly nothing, most often just 1% of the market value. Most of the banks in the country are not willing to lend to poor people, leaving the workers without options.

Rajesh Shah, the founder of Sabras, recognized these hardships and created an organization that is not only for the poor but mostly owned and operated by the poor as well, with workers holding nearly 74% of shares in the company. Before there was an alternative lender like Sabras, workers were forced to take out loans with interest rates as high as 48%. Sabras’ interest rates are just 12.5% with the ability to purchase advanced solar pumps that allow workers to increase output over the long run.

Sabras has already made a large impact as nearly 70,000 people are employed in the salt industry in Gujarat. Shah contends that the company’s 400 shareholders have seen a profit increase of 400% within the last two years since they used Sabras loans to purchase the solar pumps.

Looking ahead, Sabras hopes to begin including women in the salt industry’s processes in order to increase profits and improve the quality of life for them as well.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

India_Cookstoves_Pollution_Prakti
Prakti, an Indian company, is using innovating design solutions to battle rising death tolls that come from cookstove usage throughout India. Nearly 3 billion homes in the country use inefficient cookstoves that lead to high levels of toxic indoor pollution, as the fuel used ranges from animal feces to coal. It is estimated that nearly 4 million people worldwide have died due to indoor air pollution – more than have died from tuberculosis and malaria.

Prakti has been dedicated to finding creative designs to combat this problem, although founder Serrar acknowledges that finding the perfect combination of design and affordability is not always simple. Since cookstoves are used not only in India, but throughout other developing nations in Southeast Asia, the cookstoves must be designed for use in different cultures and environments. For this reason, Prakti is not able to standardize and produce cookstoves in bulk.

Prakti sends a representative to a community in need of efficient cookstoves, along with a few prototypes, to discuss with the people their needs and the viability of each design for that select environment. Although Prakti has only sold around 8,000 cookstoves thus far, the market remains largely untapped, with innovative cookstoves only having reached nearly 1% of the total market.

Although Prakti’s stoves are a bit more expensive than traditional stoves, at 1,000 rupees each, Serrar asserts that the money a family saves in healthcare costs and future illnesses more than makes up for the extra cost paid up front. A traditional wood-burning stove in India costs around only 100 rupees. Prakti is still working on reducing costs of their cookstoves, and is looking into microfinance options and corporate sponsors, along with the option of creating local jobs and having the new cookstoves built onsite or nearby to reduce costs.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

Cisco_USAID_Burma
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with U.S. technology and communications giant, Cisco, to provide Burma with two new technical education centers. The two Cisco Networking Academies will provide valuable skills in information and communications technology to the developing nation, and provide citizens with job-ready abilities to bolster the country’s growing information and communications tech (ICT) industry.

The USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, has said that technology infrastructure can create stable and continued economic growth and development, and that “ICT can expand economic opportunities, transform public service delivery, and provide more opportunities for citizen engagement.”

Cisco has been a continual partner of USAID, having established networking education centers in over 165 countries, which have provided relevant skills for entry-level careers in ICT while also developing other valuable general career abilities including “problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.”

In Burma, Cisco has agreed to donate the equipment needed to start the two Networking Academies and the training for 15 faculty members. Sandy Walsh, Director of Cisco’s Social Innovation Group, said that Cisco is dedicated to providing education to help continue technological development in “emerging economies,” and that the academies will aid Burmese citizens in gaining career skills needed in the 21st century.

Three additional American tech leaders, including Intel, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard, participated in a technology delegation to Burma, also led by USAID, in hopes of continued collaboration that will increase internet access and promote digital literacy and government openness. The partnership between USAID and Cisco hopes to create alliances with American tech companies, the local government, and the private sector to increase “social and economic development” using technological resources.

 – Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID
Photo: VOA

ONE's Initiative to Reduce Poverty in AfricaThe ONE Campaign has launched an initiative in Africa called “You Choose,” aimed at creating representation for poor citizens throughout Africa on how to reduce poverty in their own communities.

This initiative to reduce poverty, which has been endorsed by high-profile African celebrities, aims to give a voice to millions of people throughout Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa by sending their opinions and views on how to tackle poverty through Short Message Service (SMS) in hopes that leaders and policy-makers will be pressured into making changes.

Citizens can use mobile phones to text a designated number that will prompt them to explain “what the government can do to help improve [life for] your family and friends” to which they can reply with their suggestions on critical needs facing their families and communities. A goal of the You Choose campaign is to give those in extreme poverty a voice in deciding how poverty will be dealt with in their countries, which will hopefully lead to the poor having a voiced opinion and participating in the decision-making process.

The initiative will collate the data it receives through SMS responses, and the information will be presented to the UN at the end of March when the High-Level Panel plans to meet in Bali to discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The organizers behind the You Choose initiative highlighted the fact that only 16.5 million people in Africa had mobile phones when the MDGs were first introduced. Today, over 650 million people throughout Africa have access to a mobile device, which has “allowed people to learn firsthand what priorities Africans believed in and what the new developmental agenda should include.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: RNW

WorldHaus Provides Homes for the PoorA for-profit business with non-profit principles, a growing trend in compassionate capitalism. WorldHaus is a great example – they have a mission to help the world’s “unserved housing market.”

In India alone over 500 million people, almost half the population, want and need better housing but the average cost of materials and labor makes it impossible to attain. There is no financing for the rural poor, or collateral to put up against a mortgage. WorldHaus is trying to fill this gap by manufacturing and building quality homes at a tiny fraction of standard costs, specifically developing a model that can be made affordable to the global poor.

Started in 2011, in India, WorldHaus makes customizable, weatherproof homes that can include amenities like clean-burning stoves, toilets, and solar electricity systems. Using a modular building system, families can build to any size and configuration they want. The base model – a one-room, 220 square foot home – can be built in about 10 days at a starting cost of below $2,000. Using local materials and on-site construction stimulates local economies through purchasing and employment, and cuts cost as well.

Additionally, they are working with mortgage providers to make homes available at $40/month, well within the reach for people making even $3 to $10 a day. They are setting up partnerships with governments, NGOs, and landlords to try and make homes available to families making less than $2 a day (through subsidies and rental programs).

A video from the Gate’s Notes website shows Bill Gates visiting Idealab and interviewing WorldHaus President Daniel Gross. WorldHaus was generated inside Idealab – a think tank and development project for innovative products.

– Mary Purcell
Source: WorldHaus

India_Solar_Energy_Poverty
A single NGO and India’s foremost energy research institute, Teri, has single-handedly provided solar-powered lights to over 500,000 homes throughout rural India.

No less than five years ago, much of rural India had no access to electricity, instead using kerosene lamps that were not only dangerous but also bad for the environment. These 400,000 people had no access to any form of electricity, and another 100,000 had only an inconsistent and unreliable connection.

In the last five years, Teri has provided these people with a much better alternative – solar-powered, LED lamps using solar panels and batteries.

As part of the Lighting One Billion Lives initiative, started in 2007, the NGO coordinates the distribution of lamps to some 2,000 villages, works with vendors and manufacturers to lower the price of lamps, trains personnel and provides tech support, and works with various other organizations to help run the charging stations. Each charging station provides around 50 solar-powered LED lamps that also double as phone chargers.

Teri has already seen a huge improvement in the cost and efficiency of the lamps. When started, the lamps costed around $100 each, however, the price is now down to $15-30 per lamp, and the battery life has tripled.

Teri, other NGOs, Bollywood stars, and individuals sponsor villages to provide the lanterns initially, after which a local villager becomes in charge of renting each lantern, for no more than the price of kerosene, on a daily basis.

The benefits of the program have been huge, including increased health benefits and cleaner air, more light for children to continue their schooling after dark, benefits for medical practices and shops, and entrepreneurship that villagers learn by manning the charging stations. At the current rate that Teri is coordinating villages to receive charging stations, soon almost every Indian village may have a clean, renewable light source.

Although India has been aiming to improve and increase its energy grid, the priority has been on cities and businesses, with rural villages not expected to receive electricity infrastructure for years, if at all.

Teri plans to expand their system of charging stations and LED solar lamps to various other countries including Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

Dupont Invents Life Saving Packaging
DuPont, in collaboration with Simonalbag, recently launched “MixPack,” the first flexible package in Mexico capable of combining high-and-low resistance seals. This new technology is proving to be a life saving solution to malnutrition in rural communities.

Between 1,000 and 3,000 Tarahumaras indigenous people live in the remote caves of Chihuahua, Mexico. They are isolated and poor, when droughts come they have no access to drinkable water, and no water for farming – thus unable to feed themselves.

The MixPack product is a bag with two compartments, which are separated by an internal seal made of DuPont Surlyn®. This solution prevents the mixing of the milk powder with the purified water that is contained within the same packaging unit. Then, when needed, by squeezing the package, the inner seal breaks mixing the ingredients – resulting in a nutritious and healthy drink for children.

Dupont has started a program that provides milk for children living in these areas. CEO Alvaro Navarro states that MixPack was the result of a dream to help people nourish their children but have no way to refrigerate baby milk or do not have a source of drinking water. He projects MixPack will revolutionize flexible packaging around the world.

“I have a dream and a mission to alleviate hunger through science and innovation,” said Navarro

– Mary Purcell
Source:Youtube

How Rural Support Programs Are Changing AidRural support programs (RSP) are a holistic method of helping struggling communities. The RSP plan helps to create strong local institutions before it is even decided what action those institutions will take to better the community. This is important because it puts the community at the center of decision-making. This is unlike other programs that use an outsider’s perspective to decide the help that a community needs and then implement it right away. Rural support programs pride themselves on their flexibility to adapt to the needs, direction and priorities of local communities.

The model does its best to include an entire community by using a three-tier system. The first tier is made up of households. They come together to support a larger structure in the second tier that decides the development needs of the village as a whole. In the final tier, representatives take these decisions and work with government bodies to implement the needs of the villagers. This last tier works with all of the necessary parties including local governments, donors, NGOs and the private sector.

India is an example of one country that has used the RSP model to great success. According to Masad Ul-Mulk, Chief Executive of the Sarhad Rural Support Program, in fifteen years in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the community “created self-reliant organizations that have empowered more than 12 million women and enabled access to $1.3bn from commercial banks in 2007-08 alone”. This led the Indian government to begin to implement some of the RSP tactics into its own services.

The rural support program is often neglected in favor of direct aid because of the difference in length of implementation. It is easier to give money to a community to build a single road than to work with a community to build institutions that will last decades to come and make countless important decisions. However, it is by mobilizing neglected communities and strengthening civil society that most work is still to be done. Only after strong local organizations are formed will the community be able to lift itself out of poverty.

– Sean Morales

Source: The Guardian

Microsoft Aids in African Economic Development

This month, Microsoft introduced a new program in Africa in hopes of becoming a stronger component in African economic development. According to the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative website, “the goal [of the initiative] is to empower every African who has a great idea for a business or an application and to turn that idea into a reality which in turn can help their community, their country, or even the continent at large.”

Economically, Microsoft is looking to capitalize on the promise Africa holds and improve Africa’s global competitiveness. The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative has four plans that it is working to accomplish by 2016:

1. Provide African youth with tens of millions of smart devices

2. Bring 1 million African SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) online

3. Help provide additional skills to 100,000 members of Africa’s current workforce

4. Help 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills and then help 75 percent of these graduates find job placements.

Fernando de Sousa, the General Manager of Microsoft’s 4Africa Initiative, commented that Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to empower a generation. This gives insight into the motive behind Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative and shows how accomplishing its plans will contribute to Africa becoming more globally competitive.

In their effort to accomplish these plans, Microsoft has created a new smart device called the Huawei 4Afrika that will come fully loaded with specific applications designed just for Africa. The phone will be available in select areas at first and will be given to students attending universities, developers, and people who have never owned a smart device in order to guarantee them access to devices that are affordable and have the most advanced technology. This will give them opportunities to collaborate, connect, and have access to online venues and markets.

Efforts have also been made on the educational and small business side. Microsoft has invested in an educational platform that leverages both online and offline learning devices called Afrika Academy. They have also invested  in a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and a Kenyan Internet service provider to improve technological access in Africa and provide low-cost, high-speed broadband. An SME Online Hub has also been created that will aggregate available services to help SMEs expand their business within their community, as well as further out.

Further, de Sousa believes that “the 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.” This works to the advantage of the entire world as technological advancement plays a key role in many aspects of life globally, including health care and living standards; making Africa more accessible makes business deals easier to conduct.

– Angela Hooks

Sources:Fight Poverty, Microsoft 4Afrika, Business Fights Poverty
Photo: Microsoft 4Afrika

Embrace Infant Health in the Developing World

The Embrace infant health “sleeping bag” is an innovative, low-cost baby warmer, engineered for at-risk babies in developing countries. Around the world over 20 million low-birth-weight and premature babies are born every year, in the right environment, these babies can still thrive. However, in impoverished areas without resources or in turmoil, these babies are at risk of dying – and over four million will die within their first month of life. Amazingly, just keeping these newborns at the right temperature can be the difference between life and death.

The design of the Embrace incorporates materials that will stay a constant 98.6F, the critical temperature for a newborn’s survival. After being heated via any AC power source, the “WarmPak” inside the wrap traps the heat and then slowly releases it for up to 6 hours, keeping the “microclimate” inside the Embrace perfect for healthy development. Under normal conditions, a baby’s body temperature can be maintained through basic contact with the mother, but sometimes this is not always an option. Particularly for women who are working and/or caring for other children, who may be recovering from a traumatic birth, and those in disaster-relief and post-conflict settings.

The biggest problem these pre-mature babies face is hypothermia, when they cannot regulate their own body temperature and cannot stay warm. Average room temperature for these tiny bodies actually feels freezing to them. Those that can survive even without proper care will often develop life-long problems like diabetes, heart disease, and low IQ. Simply keeping a baby warm can save its life immediately and allow proper development in the long term.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Embraceglobal.org