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% of the world population—over a billion people—have a disability. Of this population, 80% 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, thereby reducing 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. Its 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 LabsMore 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 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