Technological Solutions to Poverty
Technology is everywhere. Electronic dispensers squirt a predetermined amount of soap on our hands. Cell phones connect us to people across the world. Dishwashers wash our plates, planes transport us across the globe and video games entertain us. But technology has more uses than just entertainment or convenience. Modern technology can radically change the lives of the world’s poor by empowering and equipping them. Modern technology is one of the most effective solutions to poverty.


Innovative Aid: 10 Technological Solutions to Poverty


1. Mobile banking

Mobile banking offers the poor access to banking without transaction costs and without the need for a traditional, physical bank. A Brookings Institute Policy brief reported that access to banking helps the poor protect their assets and invest wisely. It allows them to save money without fear of theft.

Brookings reported that, “One study from the Philippines found that access to formal savings increased women’s economic empowerment by raising their influence over household consumption choices, children’s education and use of family planning.”

Furthermore, mobile banking makes direct cash transfer programs for aid organizations easier and more efficient.

2. Mobile health care

Cell phones offer access to medical information otherwise inaccessible to impoverished people. A recent Ghanaian project, for instance, targets pregnant women who lack access to information on how to promote healthy fetal development, reports the Research Council of Norway. Mothers receive weekly, automated messages designed to help counterbalance superstition and pregnancy-related myths.

“All they need to receive these messages is an inexpensive mobile phone,” says Jacqueline Møller Larsen of the Grameen Foundation in Ghana. “The health information they receive in this way can make a real difference in the health of both mother and baby.”

3. Access to clean water

Globally, more than 748 million people do not have access to clean water and more than 2.5 billion people have inadequate access to sanitation. More than 1,400 children die every day of diarrhea caused by unsafe water and improper sanitation. WaterAid, an organization dedicated to providing access to safe water and sanitation, writes that access to safe water would not only slow such diseases, but would also return an average of $4 of increased productivity per dollar invested.

Such advances are not out of reach and modern technology can create achievable goals for water and sanitation. Practical Action, for example, partnered with Kenyans from the dry, arid Turkana region to develop a solution to the area’s drought problems.

“We developed a solar-powered water pump that uses locally-sourced equipment to pump 30,000 clean litres of clean, safe water to the village every day,” the organization reported.

4. Improve farming techniques

Most of the 1.4 billion people who live on less than $1.25 per day rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, according to the United Nations. Technological advances in agriculture, from better plowing techniques to rice adapted from saltier water, can reduce hunger for millions.

“If we could get and invent new seeds, new mobile technology and open new data centers to help farmers connect their crop prices and understand weather variability we can do something transformational against hunger,” USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah told TIME. “And not just reach a small percentage of the people that are hungry with food.”

5. Increase access to education

Many children, especially disadvantaged girls, in rural areas have limited access to education. And many of the schools that rural children can attend struggle with poor-quality teachers and limited resources. But new technology like solar-powered computers and projectors allow students to participate in real-time, interactive lessons with quality teachers. Ghana recently started its first interactive, distance learning project, Making Ghanaian Girls Great! (MGCubed,) with the support of the British Department for International Development in Ghana, reported Ghana Web. This program uses new technology to provide access to education impossible before now.

6. Better waste management

The ever-increasing urbanization in many cities of developing countries, such as Nairobi, Kenya, has overburdened solid waste management facilities and created littering problems. From recycling plastics to managing human waste, technology has the potential to transform the life of the urban poor.

7. Empowering through information

By 2015, it’s possible that everyone in the world will have access to a cell phone. The United Nation reports that more people in the world have access to cellphones than justice or legal services. Currently, more than 5.4 billion people have mobile phone subscriptions. Since mobile phones require only basic literacy, phones offer almost everyone in the entire world access to information and the opportunity to make their voices heard.

8. Improved transportation

Especially for the poor living in villages miles away from large towns, trips to town for water and food can take hours. Often, in medical emergencies, they cannot make it to hospitals in time. Many villagers that have bicycles cannot use them to transport the ill. Practical Action works with villagers to build bicycle trailers to transport up to 200 kilograms of water, food or passengers.

“…Whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities,” wrote Matt Wenham of Practical action.

The simple creation of a bike trailer has the potential to save thousands of lives.

9. Disaster relief and management

Natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes affect the rural poor most, as they often have no idea anything is happening. Using mobile phones to alert them of impending disaster can give them enough time to flee to safety. Bangladesh, one of the most at risk countries in the world for natural disasters, has implemented a mobile alert system in an attempt to save lives.

“This new initiative will mean that people will get an alert on their phones warning them that they are likely to face flooding or a cyclone,” Syed Ashraf, communications specialist for the country’s Disaster Management Bureau, told Reuters. “So they will then be able to take action like evacuate their homes and seek shelter in assigned places.”

10. Sustainable energy

Access to energy enables people to work their way out of poverty, access education and improve their own health. New technologies, such as solar and hydro power, can provide access to energy without building expensive power plants. Even simple technological advances, like fire-less cookers that rely on stored heat, can save the poor money and time.

“Just providing a few hours of solar lighting alone improves the human condition,” Justin Guay, associate director of Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, told Take Part.

Further investment in technological solutions by both private donors and the federal government could radically change the lives of the global poor.

– Sally Nelson

Sources: Brookings, Ghana Web, Practical Action, Reuters, Take Part, Science Nordic, TIME, Water Aid, IFAD, United Nations Development Programme
Photo: Businessweek