DIY innovationsTechnological advancements have improved the lives of millions of people worldwide, but production, transportation, marketing and storage costs can mean that the world’s poorest communities, and those who need technology the most, do not have access to innovations that could improve their lives. Many communities in need have had to get creative and use do-it-yourself (DIY) innovations to better access everyday necessities, such as water and electricity, at little to no cost.

As a result, inventors and organizations have created low-cost, energy-efficient and locally-sourced technologies that can be made and used by communities in the poorest regions of the world. While generally low-tech, these homemade innovations provide incalculable benefits and opportunities for poor populations. Below are some simple DIY innovations that are improving the lives of poor communities.

Biosand Filters

A biosand filter is an adaptation of a traditional sand filter that cleans and purifies dirty water of dirt, bacteria and pathogens. Biosand filter systems can be purchased, but because of their simple design, they can also be made locally using common materials and simple instructions available online. In its most basic set-up, the biosand filter requires only a container, clean gravel and sand. The sand layer in the filter traps and kills bacteria as the micro-organisms get stuck and feed on each other. More organisms die because of lack of food and light further down in the sand layer and into the gravel.

Childbirth Kits

Childbirth can be a dangerous and life-threatening process in the developing world. In remote areas, getting to a hospital may take hours and care may cost more than the mother can afford. For example, 60 percent of African women give birth without someone who can safely deliver the baby.

A birthing kit may help ease birth and ensure the survival of both mother and baby. While many organizations create high-end, comprehensive birthing kits, organizations such as Midwives for Haiti and the Birthing Kit Foundation Australia create simple, effective birthing kits for as little as two U.S. dollars. Expecting mothers may even create their own kits. These kits include soap, a clean blade to cut the umbilical cord, a clean cord to tie the umbilical cord and a clean sheet for the mother and baby to lie on after delivery. Along with clean childbirth practices, the World Health Organizations estimates that these kits could help avert 6 to 9 percent of the 1.16 million newborn deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

Electrocardiography (ECG) Pads and Conductive Gel

By 2020, cardiovascular diseases are predicted to be the leading cause of death in most developing nations. Thus, machines that provide early detection and monitoring are extremely important. Since Electrocardiograph (ECG) machines are a basic technology found in most hospitals and clinics and because ECG tests are rapid, non-invasive and require minimal technical expertise to operate, they are an effective and cost-efficient technology, especially in impoverished areas.

ECG machine pads and conductive gel are disposable and highly useful in hospitals and clinics, but considering their high demand, replacing these supplies can be expensive, and more remote clinics may not receive regular shipments of supplies. Engineers of Engineering World Health have developed the idea for cheap, easily made ECG pads using brass snaps and the plastic lining of bottle caps. Their homemade conductive gel is just as simple to make from water, salt, flour and bleach. All the materials to make the pads and gel easily available and cheap, thus more easily accessible to poor communities in need of DIY innovations.

Rain Barrels

Nearly 844 million people worldwide lack access to clean water. Rain can be a precious alternative water source for poor regions. Although a simple concept, a good rain barrel or rain-fed pots and cisterns are simple and easy ways to collect drinking water. Rain barrels can be made using any sort of opaque bucket or large pot to prevent algae growth. Cutting a hole near the bottom of the container creates a spout for easy access to the water, and a simple screen placed over the top of the rain barrel keeps a majority of insects, particularly mosquitoes, out of the water. According to World Wildlife Fund, the average roof can collect around 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain. Capturing even a fraction of that water can help many poor households get enough water to survive.

Solar Water Bottle Light Bulbs

An estimated 14 percent of the world lives without electricity, with most of those without electricity living in rural, developing and poor regions. This lack of access to electricity means that many households do not have even simple technologies, like light bulbs. Luckily, the My Shelter Foundation found an inventive and simple way to bring accessible light to dark slums in Manila. Closely packed houses in slums get little light,.but a plastic water bottle filled with water and a drop of bleach solves this problem. By attaching the water bottles to holes in the roofs of these houses, light refracts from outdoors into the house, just like an electricity-dependent light bulb. The light bulb can last for five years before the water needs to be switched out.

These simple DIY innovations utilize materials readily available to poor residents, creating an accessible and usable innovation. Unfortunately, these light bulbs are only functional when the sun is out. So, the Liter of Light project, launched in 2012 by the My Shelter Foundation solved that problem as well. Adding a test tube with a small LED light into the water bottle and powering it with a small, inexpensive solar panel makes these water bottle light bulbs fully functional during cloudy days and at night. The organization’s simple light bulb can light a room up to 50 square meters for a minimum of 12 hours, powered by a 10 watt solar panel, and they have even been used outdoors as street lamps, creating safer communities.

Since 2012, these simple lightbulbs have lit 850,000 households across over a dozen countries such as the Philippines, Egypt, and Columbia.

Water Distillers

Water distillers are another DIY innovation that can be made easily with common household materials to make water safe to drink and free of.salt, heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. Homemade and solar-powered distillers work by mimicking the natural water cycle; as the sun provides heat energy, pure water evaporates, leaving behind impurities. When the water condenses again, it can be collected and safely drunk.

Gaza resident Fayez al-Hindi created and built his own homemade, solar-powered water distiller. His concrete tank holds the water and the elevated glass collects the clean, evaporated water. An even simpler version of al-Hindi’s distiller can be made from two plastic water bottles attached together. Leaving the bottles in the sun at an angle allows the rising evaporated water to condense in the clean empty bottle, away from the dirty water. While these solar-powered distillers provide clean, safe-to-drink water, the evaporation and condensation process takes a long time. Al-Hindi’s distiller can make 2.6 gallons of water a day, but, because of their simple design, homemade water distillers may be an important innovation that is most accessible to the poorest communities.

These DIY innovations not only physically improve the lives of people in poverty, but they encourage independence, creativity, and self-empowerment in poor regions of the world. High-tech inventions like water distillers and light bulbs can be made from cheap and local materials, and show that life improvement need not always rely on aid from foreign countries, but on creative innovations.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Landmine CrisisLandmines are a destructive weapon of war that often times outlive the conflict they had been implemented for. Today, civilians around the world are inheriting the landmine crisis from both current wars and earlier conflicts. An estimated 110 million landmines are active in the ground right now, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people every year.

The Difficulties of Landmine Removal

Although landmines are an urgent global issue, removing them is painstakingly difficult for three main reasons:

  1. Time—the detection and demining of landmines take a good deal of time. In fact, it is estimated that if landmines continue to be removed at the current rate (with no new mines added), it would take approximately 1,100 years to completely rid the world of them.
  2. Cost—mines only cost between $3 and $30, making them effective tools for combat in both cost and casualty effectiveness. Removing them, however, can cost between $300 to $1,000. Removing all landmines would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion. Since most countries affected tend to be poorer, the cost of mine removal can be extremely detrimental.
  3. Risk—most minefields are unmarked. It is not unusual to find mines laid in agricultural fields, around irrigation systems and in forests that provide villages with firewood. (That is if they are not inside the villages themselves). Civilians and professionals alike are at risk of death or severe injuries; for every 5,000 mines successfully removed, one deminer is killed and two more are wounded.

Instead of becoming discouraged by how problematic the landmine crisis actually is, one Indian teen rose to the challenge of innovating smarter landmine removal.

The Inventor of the Mine-Detecting Air Drones

One day, now 15-year-old techie Harshwardhansinh Zala came across a YouTube video of military men who were detecting landmines in an active minefield. While soldiers explained the landmine crisis to their viewers, one landmine exploded. Consequently, the blast killed and injured many of the soldiers present. The video horrified Zala, who felt like he could be doing more to aid in the demining efforts. This spurred him and a few of his friends to begin a startup electronics company named Aerobotics7. Their primary task? To create a prototypical air drone to replace human deminers. Hypothetically, the drone could detect and mark buried landmines while being remotely controlled by an operator at a safe distance.

Zala explains how the drone would work: “Our drone will go on to the field, survey the whole ground, send the real-time signals to the army base station, and our drone will also drop a package to mark the location. The army can detonate the landmines with our wireless detonator, without any human risk.”

Zala plans on giving the finished product to his government to help them safely detect mines.

Although his drone may not decrease the cost of removing mines or speed up the process of demining, it would help spot and mark landmines across the globe, potentially saving the lives of those who might have accidentally stumbled upon an unmarked minefield otherwise. Warning civilians of the dangers around them is the most time-sensitive aspect of the landmine crisis, after all, and though removing all landmines may take centuries, Zala’s air drone could be helping people stay safe today.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Sumit Baruh for Forbes India

10 Innovations That Tackle World HungerOne of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is the elimination of poverty. This is necessary to achieve worldwide prosperity. Billions of dollars have been spent on projects attempting to eradicate and reduce poverty. However, many of these projects have failed. The eradication of poverty has been an international focus for several years. While its causes are worrying, its effects are more damaging.

As poverty grows, individuals and communities around the world have been motivated to act. Private companies are growing socially responsible. Individuals are boycotting companies that exploit communities suffering from poverty. And nongovernmental organizations are establishing independent and unique projects. More significantly, entrepreneurs and innovators are inventing products to help reduce poverty. This article lists 10 innovations that tackle world hunger.

10 Innovations that Tackle World Hunger

  1. Safari Seat
    Access to wheelchairs in rural areas of developing countries is incredibly low. Safari Seat is one invention that tackles this issue. Its production is low cost and the company is located in Kenya. Safari Seat is made up of bicycle parts and controlled by hand levers and durable wheels.
  2. NIFTY Cup
    Child malnutrition in Africa is a major obstacle. Many infants struggle to nurse, which can ultimately lead to death. It costs as little as $1 to produce a NIFTY Cup, however, its impact is tremendous. The cup is designed to make milk more easily drinkable is also reusable.
  3. LifeStraw
    This innovation is one of the most important among the 10 innovations that tackle world hunger. LifeStraw addresses access to clean water. Eleven percent of the world’s population lacks access to drinkable water. And the effects of drinking contaminated water can be deadly. The straw-like product includes a filtration system that filters contaminated water as it is used.
  4. M-Farm
    M-Farm is a digital technology allowing Kenyan farmers to receive up-to-date pricing information on their products. This eliminates the corruption of middlemen who usually receive more profit than deserved. Kenyan farmers particularly suffer from issues with middlemen as they lack high levels of internet access.
  5. Wonderbag
    Areas where poverty is present usually lack basic needs, such as access to electricity. However, Wonderbag doesn’t let that stop anyone from cooking. Wonderbag is a slow cooker that requires no electricity to use, allowing those without electricity to still cook their food.
  6. Feedie
    Feedie is a project run by the Lunchbox Fund which allows you to donate a meal to a child somewhere in the world simply by sharing the picture you took off your food. This is significant as social media already encourages food bloggers to share pictures of food, making Feedie an easy way to help tackle world hunger.
  7. Mazzi
    Developing countries often lack methods for collecting food without spilling and wasting it. This occurs specifically in the collection of milk. Mazzi is a 10-liter plastic container that is designed for collecting and transporting milk safely with no losses.
  8. Eco-Cooler
    Eco-Cooler is a simple invention that cools down unbearably heated huts. It is made up of recycled bottles that are built up in a way that attracts cool air into homes, helping keep conditions cool for both people and their food without air conditioning or refrigeration.
  9. Lucky Iron Fish
    Lucky Iron Fish is an iron, fish-shaped object that can be placed in a pot of boiling water when cooking to enhance iron levels in the meal. Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutritional disorder in the world. Therefore, Lucky Iron Fish is a significant innovation in tackling world hunger because it helps those without access to iron-rich foods.
  10. Humanium Metal
    This initiative turns disarmed weapons from areas of conflict into “humanium” blocks by recycling metal from destructed guns. Humanium Metal then sells these blocks to companies, for instance, blocks sold to H&M are used for buttons. Violent conflicts are a major cause of poverty and world hunger. Therefore, this unique approach recycles destructive materials for a constructive cause.

Njoud Mashouka
Photo: Flickr

10 Inventions That Fight Poverty
If necessity truly is the mother of invention, then never before has the world labored so hard. Indeed, our world faces many challenges, and nurtures many needs, but none so basic as those ventured every day in developing countries. Innovators the world over have taken this challenge to heart and have created practical inventions that both fight poverty and have the ability to change our perception of the possible.

1. Watt-r

Basic access to clean water shouldn’t be the challenge it has become. In truth, 663 million people do not have this access. Watt-r is the solar-powered water delivery cart, that while it is still in development, would be able to carry a dozen 20-liter containers of water at a time.

What does that mean for someone in a developing nation? It means that inventions that fight poverty also save time and lives. Instead of 25 women or children walking to get clean water, one person operates the machine, which while idle, can charge items like phones, lamps and tools.

2. SALt Lamp

For those living in poverty in developing countries, finding renewable energy is a key to survival. The SALt Lamp requires simply two tablespoons of salt and one glass of water for an entire night of light. As it can also run on seawater, it is a nearly limitless energy source.

Currently, production of the SALt Lamp is aimed at nonprofit organizations for its possibilities in developing countries, where electricity is not always a guarantee.

3. The Aspara Cardboard Drone

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No…it’s life-saving medical supplies falling from the sky. The Aspara cardboard drone has GPS and two wing-flap motors, and it can deliver two pounds of life-saving materials without needing to be retrieved.

The industrial paper airplane can accurately deliver supplies to even the most remote of places. With refinement, it is hoped that the flyer can be scaled to carry up to 22 pounds of cargo, with new prototypes aimed at humanitarian groups.

4. MetaFridge

Inventions that fight poverty do so by meeting needs where the needs exist. The MetaFridge keeps vaccines safe during long power outages, which in developing countries, can plague an already ravaged land. With more than 40 units tested in Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the MetaFridge keeps temperatures stabilized for vaccines.

Researchers have explored this idea even further and are now working on a portable cooler for vaccinators to reach kids in the remotest of places.

5. LifeStraw

Imagine all the contaminants that thrive in an unclean water source. Now imagine 99 percent of these contaminants being defused by the simplest of devices — a straw. Sometimes inventions that fight poverty do so in ways that seem too simple to be able to work.

The LifeStraw is a device that filters water through narrow fibers that trap unwanted contaminants. In places around the world where expensive filtration systems are not readily available, the LifeStraw can live up to its name.

6. Hans Free Electric Bike

Piloted in India in 2016, the Hans Free Electric Bike provides so many ‘no’s’ that are easy to say ‘yes’ to — no utility bill, no waiting for the elements to cooperate and no pollution.

The hybrid bicycle runs on a flywheel, which then turns a generator, which finally charges a battery. Power is literally put in a person’s hands — or rather, their legs. How effective is this? One hour of pedaling on this bike provides 24 hours of electricity.

7. Paperfuge

What can $.20 buy nowadays? How about an on-the-spot diagnosis. The Paperfuge centrifuge costs $.20 to make and can diagnose diseases like malaria and HIV within minutes.

That’s life-saving power without the aid of electricity. The toy-like device holds bloods samples on a disc, while someone pulls on strings to spin the disc at fast speeds, separating blood from plasma in mere minutes. Cheap, lightweight and effective, the Paperfuge is one of the inventions that fight poverty in a way that benefits all.

8. Tarjimly

Facebook’s translation bot, Tarjimly, provides a new face for altruism. Used in real time on Facebook Messenger, Tarjimly connects refugees with volunteer translators.

This potentially life-saving capability could provide a needed voice for those whose voice has been taken from them. Whether doctors or aid workers, a need is only a translation away.

9. Petit-Pli

Around the world, children often outgrow their clothes too quickly, and in developing countries this usually means wearing clothes that simply do not fit. Petit-Pli is a clothing line that grows with a child for up to seven sizes.

The waterproof, lightweight material reduces waste and saves families money. With Petit-Pli, parents of those without much will have less to worry about.

10. Vodafone

In the rural Lake Zone of Tanzania, inventions that fight poverty sometimes come in the form of programs like Vodafone, an ambulance taxi program that uses the mobile money system M-PESA.

Vetted taxi drivers respond to hotline calls from pregnant women in health emergencies. Where there are few ambulances available, lives are saved.

Inventions that fight poverty do so through the power of innovation, but this particular kind of innovation is fueled by a desire to help — the only real requirement for progress.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

Disabled
Innovations like SafariSeat are about to revolutionize mobility for disabled persons in developing countries.

It is no secret that poverty and disability are correlated. According to the World Health Organization, about 15 percent of the world population—over a billion people—have a disability. Of this population, 80 percent live in developing countries, specifically in isolated rural areas where medical services are few and far between.

When it comes to physical disability, studies have shown that there is another correlation between access to wheelchair and GDP per capita. In developed countries, there are about 30 wheelchairs per 10,000 people. In developing countries, however, this figure decreases to only two or three wheelchairs per 10,000 people. But a severe difference between these cultures lies in the amount of walking done: in countries like the U.S., those aged 65 and older walk eight percent of daily trips. In Sub-Saharan Africa, walking comprises 50 percent of all daily trips. Mobility for disabled persons in developing countries is also the area where such access lies farthest beyond reach.

But Janna Deeble, creator of SafariSeat, could very well be the solution. SafariSeat is an off-road, hand-powered redesign of the wheelchair purposed to travel on all-terrain.

When growing up in Kenya, he had befriended Letu, a man immobilized by polio and thus trapped in the confines of his home. Ten years later, when Deeble had left Kenya and Letu, he suffered an accident that caused him to be wheelchair-bound for months. His tough experience surfaced memories of Letu’s lifelong hardship—and SafariSeat sparked in his mind.

SafariSeat uses an easy mechanism that “mimics car suspension ensuring all wheels remain on the ground at all times”. The wheelchair itself is intentionally low-cost, with the idea that local workshops can use even materials like bike parts to repair them. Deeble also called for the designs to be open-sourced, meaning that the blueprints are free to all people in all nations. This enables workshops to make SafariSeat for their residents, create “local, sustainable employment” and provide access to mobility for disabled persons in developing countries.

When finished, Deeble hopes to take this design to those in the remotest areas of East Africa and revolutionize the lives of all like Letu.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Reducing Food Loss
A simple invention aims to revolutionize the preservation of perishable goods and reduce food loss.

The invention in question is known as FreshPaper, a small sheet of biodegradable material infused with a special mixture of botanical extracts that claims to preserve food freshness. It’s inventor? Then 16-year-old Kavita Shukla, who was inspired to tackle the problem of food waste in a unique way.

It began with Shukla trying her grandmother’s home remedy for an upset stomach: a mixture of plant extracts, botanicals and spices. Upon the remedy’s success, Shukla was inspired to test it further, thus discovering its antimicrobial properties.

Several years of research later, she was able to receive a patent for the mixture, now known as Fenugreen. At 27, Shukla joined forces with a friend to launch the product in Cambridge.

Food waste is a big problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N., one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is wasted annually. This waste typically happens at the consumer end of the production process. “Food loss” occurs earlier on during production, post-harvest and processing.

Developing countries in particular struggle with food loss, since they often lack the industrialization necessary to preserve food long enough to reach consumers. The National Geographic states that India loses up to 40 percent of its fruits and vegetables in this manner.

There is no one solution to food waste or loss. Instead, it is important to take action at multiple steps in the food making process. In developing countries, aid organizations are providing for better storage facilities for farmers, preventing them from losing excessive amounts of crops during transit.

Since 1997, the FAO has donated metal silos to more than 15 countries by training local craftsmen in their construction, use and delivery to farmers. In one study, 96 percent of the beneficiary farmers in Bolivia responded that the silos in question improved food security by reducing the amount of food lost post-harvest and maintaining grain quality.

Shukla is currently working to make FreshPaper available to food-banks and to farmers in developing countries. She hopes that her invention can have a big impact in reducing food loss.

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

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