(Blog originally posted in the Innovation Alchemy Blog)
I have worked as a medical specialist for several years. Over the years, I have witnessed every kind of human misery. I have worked under challenging conditions in understaffed, overcrowded public hospitals, where life was a constant war against infection and anemia. I have even performed emergency Caesarian sections by candlelight! The worst cases were those where because of an ailment, indignities would be heaped upon the patient, and social discrimination would raise its ugly head. These were truly those who suffer, for they would have no food, no shelter, no family, no treatment, only pain and suffering. Tuberculosis (TB) is one such disease where patients have to face horrifying discrimination and violation of human rights.
What’s the catch? It seems too good to be true but a 2009 DM winner, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), has successfully developed a bamboo prototype and payment scheme that is affordable and appealing to the poor.
The project entitled "Elevated Bamboo Houses designed to Lift Communities above Flood Zones" is being implemented in Ecuador and it is already being considered a victory. Even before the project has completed its funding cycle with the DM, the European Commission and Common Fund for Commodities have contributed €1,647,959 and $2,007,300 respectively so the project can scale up.
In Vietnam, several women with extraordinary vision have been the technological leaders in agricultural innovation. From the laboratory, to the factory, to the farm, women have been the pioneers along every link of the supply chain in this project called “Sustaining nitrogen-efficient rice production.”
Under the DM in early March 2011, Agriculture Green Future (AGF), a non-profit organization devoted to promoting sustainable fertilizer, was founded on the research of the only female soil scientists in Vietnam: Phan Thi Cong (pictured).
AGF promotes the manufacture and use of BioGro, a microbial bio-fertiliser invented in the 1990s by Professor Nguyen Thanh Hien (also pictured). AGF provides starter cultures and training in quality control to BioGro manufacturers, while promoting the BioGro brand. Phan Thi Cong, who continues to advance the BioGro technology, represents a younger generation positioned to carry this work forward.
To highlight the work of social entrepreneurs, this animated video tells the story of a relationship between an Indian householder and a young social entrepreneur. In the story, the householder, Neeraj, is given the opportunity to pull himself out of poverty through the intervention of Amit, a social entrepreneur. The video tells of one man's journey from destitution, picking rags from a garbage heap, to owning a business of his own.
The Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation recognizes individuals whose technological innovations improve the lives of impoverished people in the developing world. The Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation celebrates outstanding technology-focused innovators who have improved quality of life in the areas of health, shelter, energy, agriculture, quality of air, water, soil, education, or ecosystem management in developing nations and have disseminated technology that is scalable or replicable.
In 2004, the World Bank invited us to Washington, to exchange lessons and experiences among other Latin American projects. Certainly, this opportunity was extremely beneficial to our project. Now, thanks to private sponsorship, our Cybercafé has become ATECNODIS, an NGO that promotes access to information and technology for the visually impaired.
How can one go to scale? This is the continuous challenge that confronts all successful social entrepreneurs. For Grupo EOZ in Mexico, there were a few key elements behind their answer: a combination of funding, partnerships and publicity, much of it due to its participation in a national TV competition called Iniciativa México.
From August to November 2010, 50 finalists from a pool of 47,000 initial applicants were featured weekly on the national TV competition.
In 2008 Development Marketplace competition, Helvetas was among the 22 winners with its proposal on Riverbed Farming for Landless and Land-Poor. The project has now entered its third season of cultivation.
Cultivation is done on large tracks of dry riverbeds in the Tarai region of Nepal, where land poverty is wide-spread and where at least 20 percent of households do not own land. The Nepalese climate allows riverbed farming for a maximum of seven to eight months a year except during monsoon season.
As a part of the project, local farmers are trained as extension agents. They receive technical assistance from the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) staff and a Helvetas agriculturalist.
Currently 3,000 households in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts are cultivating watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin and other vegetables on about 400 hectares of riverbed land. Through a lease signed between the landless groups and the land owners, (generally the village development committees or community forestry user groups), landless groups cultivate produce and generate a significant income from their harvest.
Almost 1.6 billion people on the planet don’t have access to electricity. And 70% of these are women and girls for whom the darkness is quite literal. Today, even though portable solar LED lighting technology is an affordable solution; lack of innovation in distribution channels has kept the products from being available in the rural markets where traditional supply chains simply do not exist.
The challenge is to marry technology innovation with a delivery system that is efficient, sustainable and scalable. Solar Sister is an innovative social enterprise addressing this weakest link through a market-based, gender inclusive, bottom-up solution to bring a new kind of clean energy revolution in Africa.
With an Avon-style women-driven business model, Solar Sister addresses both geographical access - making clean energy products available at the rural customer's doorstep; and cultural access - closing the gender-technology gap by including women as key players in the provision of technology solutions instead of as passive consumers of energy.