App for the Illiterate and DeafApproximately 5.3 percent of the world’s population lives with hearing loss. That amounts to 360 million people across the globe. The disability is more prevalent in developing countries, where most of the deaf population is also illiterate. MindRocket, a startup company in Jordan, seeks to improve the deaf community’s engagement in society by developing an app for the illiterate and deaf.

In developing nations, most deaf and hearing-impaired children rarely receive formal schooling. Those who do usually don’t advance past third or fourth grade level and struggle with reading. This lack of schooling paired with communication struggles creates a gap between the deaf and hearing communities. This resulted in a high unemployment rate among the deaf. A higher percent of those with hearing loss work low-grade jobs compared to those in the hearing workforce.

There are some resources that translate spoken word into written word instantly, yet these apps do not help the deaf that cannot read. MindRocket’s founder, Mahmood Darawsheh, noticed this unfair disadvantage and felt compelled to help. He started his company aiming to create technologies to assist the deaf. Their first product, Mimix 3D, is a mobile app that translates written or spoken English into American Sign Language acted out by an avatar. The app is available for both iOS and Android.

The company also developed an Arabic version for Android called Turjuman, which has reached 10,000 users. This app was more challenging to develop due many different dialects spoken in the Middle East and North Africa. It currently understands the Gulf countries and the Levant dialects.

The app allows for a hearing-enabled person to speak or write a message that the avatar will immediately act out. The deaf participant can reply through a sign language keyboard that will translate the symbols into written text. MindRocket plans to develop a web plug-in where website content can be translated through avatar hand symbols appearing on screen. They are looking doing the same for movies as well.

Darawsheh believes that his app for the illiterate and deaf should be free for those who require its assistance as well as those who wish to learn sign language. He hopes that products will help integrate deaf communities into the public and private sector,as well as improve their engagement and independence in society.

Hannah Kaiser
Photo: Flickr

Innovative and Ecofriendly Startups
This year’s UN High-Level Political Forum came with more than just talks. Some of the most innovative and ecofriendly startups of the year gained recognition and further development opportunities. The theme for 2017 was “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.” The SWITCH Africa Green-SEED partnership granted the awards.

SEED itself is a byproduct of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It works to promote social and environmental entrepreneurship at the local level for sustainable development and poverty reduction.

SWITCH Africa Green is a multi-country project, working in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda. They push for sustainable development through a greener economy in the private sector. SEED’s national project partners alongside the United Nations put these plans to action, and the EU funds them.

A jury of independent international experts select the SWITCH Africa Green-SEED award winners. Additionally, they must operate within agriculture, manufacturing, tourism or waste management as innovative and eco-friendly startups. 2017’s winners are as follows:

Burkina Faso

Coopérative Sahel Vert, of the Sahel region, is the first enterprise to construct efficient biodigesters that release biogas and organic fertilizer from human and animal excrement. This allows households to gain additional income.

Lagazel produces and markets two types of sustainable solar lamps of robust and high-quality nature for urban and rural regions with no electricity. Its production strategy allows local employment. In addition, the lamps address climate change mitigation and encourage eco-friendly lifestyles.

TECO2 develops resistant school benches made from plastic waste and other locally sourced inputs. They also mitigate deforestation and environmental pollution in substituting the use of wood as a raw material.


Recfam creates biodegradable and affordable self-titled PRIDE pads out of banana and plantain fibers for schoolgirls and women without access to proper menstrual hygiene products. Women are included in the manufacturing process and personal health education for young girls is provided.

WASHKing supplies and installs biodigester toilets, built locally using available materials, for low-income urban households. It incorporates a biodegradable powder developed in India, and the system is able to separate effluent and turn it into nontoxic water for agriculture or landscaping.


Horizons Business Ventures Limited processes essential oils from local seeds and leaves. They employ women in collection groups and creating biodiverse commercial products from existing natural resources. By-products are redeveloped into animal feed and organic pesticides.

ICOSEED Enterprises found an alternative for costly sisal in leftover banana stem fibers from harvests and integrates them into fabrics for marketable items. Farmers gain additional income for the fibers and stitching, and slurry returns from fiber extraction go to manure or biogas usage.

Kencoco Limited produces long-lasting and high heat reaching charcoal briquettes made of coconut shells and husks. Targeting rural Kenya, it saves households money long-term compared to alternative fuels that damage the environment, and makes use of coconut waste and charcoal dust.


Walali Company Limited, located on Rodrigues Island, fashions an agro-processing chain that utilizes retort pouch technology to package native octopus and red beans. The goods are perishable and add value to these culturally significant and organic products. Contracts granted to individual suppliers ensure warranted prices and a secure market.

South Africa

Ekasi Energy manufactures natural biomass pellets from compressed wood waste, alongside clean cooking appliances, for homes with little or no grid power. The product further reduces health threats caused by burning wood or other energy sources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

iThemba Phakama allows voluntary waste pickers no-cost lease agreements to use specialty manufactured tricycles equipped for waste transport. Salvaged waste can then be recycled and sold by members, and the enterprise is financed through advertisements put on the tricycles’ sides.

Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute supports more than 41 local farmer cooperatives with a sustainable and organic food growing system. Umgibe allows small-scale or urban farmers to build up capacity and earn more income to become commercial businesses.


Brent Technologies transforms sourced motor oil waste into diesel fuel or fresh motor oil. Wastes from the process create roofing asphalt shingles, forming an eco-friendly supply chain.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee prevents small-holder farmers bordering Bwindi National Park from damaging the forest with poaching or wood chopping. It buys premium coffee and processes it to sell as a branded roasted coffee. This benefits the farmers, and the organization donates funds upon purchase to the protection mountain gorillas in the region.

Masupa Enterprises is the last of these innovative and eco-friendly startups. It offers affordable briquettes made from dry leaves, peels, paper and other wastes, sold in conjunction with cooking stoves. Women are employed in production and marketing. Otherwise necessary negative health and environmental effects are avoided.

These 15 innovative and eco-friendly startups have come to accomplish much in terms of sustainable development, reducing poverty and improving livelihoods in their locales, and stand as global examples for all other entrepreneurs and those in the fight against poverty.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr