Social entrepreneurs are changing the world with ideas that solve some of the most difficult challenges, such as poverty, education, malnutrition and disease. Social entrepreneurs sometimes make a profit and sometimes do not, but the commonality that brings them all together is the desire to solve social ills. In 2006, John Voelcker of the Stanford Social Innovation Review reviewed ten innovative technologies that are going a long way to driving social change across the globe. All of these organisations were argued by Voelcker to: “…apply the principles of running a commercial venture: clarify the value of the product, test the product extensively before launching and always listen to customers.”
These differentiated them from other social entrepreneurs. The innovative technologies focused on are not just gadgets that have been invented and put out there to market without a plan. As William Gibson says:
“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
How then, to distribute it ? That is the unique quality of the social entrepreneurs that we expose in the following list. They invented technologies that focus on all aspects of the products’ operations such as distribution, adoption, maintenance and payback period. As Timnothy Prestero, from Design that Matters says in the following video, to have a great idea and to design is easier, than implementing and distributing that idea, as well as adapting it to the real world:
Some of the technologies that are really fostering social change in the world are:
1.Enviro Options, South Africa – this company created a self-contained toilet that dealt with the waste without using water or chemicals, making sure that drinking water would not be contaminated with waste. The Enviro Loo does not use electricity and does not breed flies. It uses aerobic bacteria to convert waste to compost.
2. Worldreader – is a non-profit on a mission to bring digital books to every child and her family, so that they can improve their lives. Worldreader uses inexpensive e-readers with extended battery life to provide books to children and young people. The program support the e-readers with extensive training and capacity building for teachers, facilitators, and librarians, and features fun activity plans that are designed to nurture a love for reading. Worldreader rigorously monitors and evaluates the project for literacy outcomes.
3. Gooru – provides a free learning facilitator for teachers to easily customize instructional content using digital collections from a catalog of educator-vetted, standards-aligned content. With Gooru Students are more engaged by personalized learning experiences, and teachers are able to track their progress through data analytics.
4. Envirofit International USA – this company developed a product that works to “clean the air” according to Voelcker. The way it works is that it converts two-stroke engines that are commonly used to power vehicles in Asia and Africa into cleaner and more efficient operators. There is a retrofit kit that has to be attached and this costs $250 but this is made up for in just one year in reduced fuel costs for the driver.
5. SELCO Solar Light Private, India – this organisation has developed small scale solar power systems. This enables people to produce electricity as well as start home businesses. It does not require the infrastructure investment that bringing electricity to slum areas usually would.
6. Malnutrition Matters Canada – this company noticed that villagers are unable to store food that is over produced due to no refrigeration. It produced a system called VitaGoat that means that villagers can store additional produce with no need for electricity. It uses locally available fuels to do so.
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA – the OpenCourseWare (OCW) project at MIT aims to help educate people everywhere through uploading materials from all of MITs schools. This information is available to educators who can use the information to create their own courses, or for students to use as a supplement to their education.
8. Design that Matters, USA – this organisation worked to create a solar power microfilm projector which can be used to help Africans to learn to read. This creates learning options that would not otherwise exist since people have to work during the day, so projecting the information on a wall when it is dark opens up learning opportunities.
9. Hib Vaccine Team, Cuba and Canada – this innovative team from Cuba and Canada has worked to create a cheap vaccine to save babies’ lives. The Hib bacteria kills 0.5 million babies each year, and the vaccine produced is cheaper than other options, making it accessible to those in developing countries.
10. Adaptive Eyecare, England – according to Voelcker one billion people have uncorrected vision problems, and there are not enough optometrists to treat them, as well as the fact that lens equipment is expensive. This organisation created glasses that people can tune themselves to be appropriate to their own use.
11. Centre for the Improvement of Working Conditions & Environment (CIWCE), Pakistan – this organisation developed a loom that allows adults to create rugs as easily as children can, with a view to reducing the dependency on child labour, by reducing the pain in adults’ backs, making adults more likely to be able to work in this area.
12. CEMINA, Brazil – this company focused on developing “telecenters” that offer telephone service, computer training, internet access and more to poor people and working class people, providing people the opportunity to gain skills.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.