Impactful Innovation

Washington State’s Technology Culture Drives New Solutions in Global Development

It’s not hard to imagine how a city like Seattle could become a hub for breakthrough innovations in global development. Washington state is home to many of the companies that are creating the future of technology. We also play host to the most recognizable names in global health. As we dig a bit deeper, however, we uncover a diverse community of for-profits, nonprofits, academic and philanthropic groups dedicated to changing the face of global development through innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies.

These organizations understand that technology is not a panacea when it comes to alleviating global poverty. They see innovative technologies as tools to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development work rather than solutions in and of themselves. These organizations also know that technology can potentially exacerbate poverty and inequity, so they also focus on “inclusive innovations” — breakthroughs intentionally designed to reduce poverty in low-resource settings.

Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) describes the space in which technological innovation complements and enhances global development to bridge the digital divide, reduce poverty and improve livelihoods throughout the developing world. Because technology plays an increasingly important role in our lives, it’s important to understand how it’s changing the nature of development in diverse sectors such as:

Health: With increased access to information, technology enables health workers and patients to make better decisions, map health risks/outbreaks in real time and improve the overall efficiency of health systems. Solutions can be “low-tech,” as is the case with Days for Girls and IMEC. They can also be “high-tech,” as is the case with vaccine development work at PATH. In addition, Washington state has been a leader in the design of innovative water treatment solutions, as was highlighted in our March newsletter. Over 20 Global Washington members focus on access to clean water and Splash, Cascade Designs and Water for Humans stand out for their innovative devices.

Rural livelihoods and agriculture: Building on the success of M-Pesa in mobile finance, companies and NGOs work with mobile technology to provide people with information they need to improve their lives. For example, farmers in rural areas can gain access to information like market prices and agricultural best practices to boost yield and quality. In April, we wrote about the partnership between Grameen Foundation and Starbucks that uses mobile technology to connect farmers to markets with real-time information and create tailored interventions to improve the quality and quantity of coffee production in Colombia.

Climate and emergency response: New technologies provide real time information about environmental issues and how they affect people. For example, during natural disasters, many people use mobile phones to quickly disseminate information across difficult geographical terrain, find and help victims, transfer relief funds and manage disaster response efforts. Jet City Stove Works helps transform old tech into stoves that decrease the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to a cleaner environment and healthier families.

Education: As technology makes our world smaller, breakthroughs in education have been instrumental in developing countries. Access to education is fundamental to one’s success and education-focused technologies have had an impact on economic development, gender equality, health and poverty reduction. Literacy Bridge is using its Talking Book to provide education and combat illiteracy in Ghana.

People with disabilities: Technologies that provide new ways for people to see, hear and move reduce the barriers to entry for those with disabilities by integrating them into society and helping them gain employment. Two organizations that lead these efforts, Mobility Outreach International and Mobility Builders, call Seattle home.

Civic engagement: Social media platforms provide a space for individuals to engage with public officials and participate in conversations on topics such as spending, corruption and security.

Given the wide range of potential applications for technology in the developing world, as well as Seattle’s technology culture, it is no surprise that our state is home to a long list of innovative organizations. These Global Washington members are tackling global poverty in innovative ways, and weaving the fabric that connects Washington state to the world.

Cascade Designs: Cascade Designs’ Mountain Safety Research (MSR) brand started a global health department in the wake of the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami. MSR Global Health focuses on improving access to food, water, shelter and mobility. They recently launched the SE200™ Community Chlorine Maker, a small, portable and easily-to-use chlorine generator. With a push of a button, the device creates chlorine from salt, water and electricity in just five minutes. Each batch generates enough chlorine to purify 200 liters of water.

Days for Girls International: Days for Girls International provides quality feminine hygiene products for girls by assembling and distributing feminine hygiene kits to areas in need. Girls around the world suffer indignities, infections and exploitation trying to stay in school without proper equipment for their menstrual needs. Days for Girls International works to ensure that every girl is safe and dignified with access to the proper information and supplies to stay healthy.

Engineers without Borders: Engineers without Borders designs and implements innovative engineering solutions for developing communities by addressing immediate needs, ranging from water supply and sanitation to information gathering and agriculture. The organization helped the Nepalese government design a solution to a water contaminant caused by improperly disposed human waste on Mt. Everest. A team based out of Seattle went to Nepal and designed the Biogas Digester system which disposes human waste in an environmentally friendly way.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: The Gates Foundation works to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty. The Foundation has taken great strides in preventing, diagnosing, treating and eradicating a number of infectious diseases. Through their support and worldwide distribution of medical innovations, the Foundation has made an enormous impact. One of the many new innovations the Gates Foundation is currently pursuing is an economical single-dose malaria treatment.

Global Partnerships: Global Partnerships is an impact investor specializing in heath, micro- entrepreneurship and green technology for people living in poverty. Innovative investment strategies integrate developing communities with the organization’s partners to create sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships. Global Partnerships uses value chain investments by analyzing every step a product must go through – from raw materials to final product – to equip developing communities with sustainable, holistic economic systems.

Grameen Foundation: The Grameen Foundation connects some of the world’s poorest people with financial services and resources. Through the use of mobile phone technology (MOTECH), the Foundation provides information regarding good farming practices, weather reports and prices for goods, effectively increasing productivity and crop yields for 246,000 farmers in Colombia, Guatemala and Uganda. Mobile phone technologies also serve 3 million people in eight countries by sending weekly advice on maternal and infant care.

IMEC: IMEC specializes in providing IMEC Suites – fully supplied rooms outfitted with the necessary equipment to operate a service or department. These Suites supply doctors, teachers and farmers with the materials they need to serve their communities. In the medical field, IMEC offers 40 different types of Suites which, when combined, can equip an entire hospital. An IMEC Farm Suite contains all of the tools a small farmer needs to create and sustain a productive farm. Education Suites provide teachers, schools and training centers with the tools they need to educate their students.

Jet City StoveWorks: Jet City StoveWorks designs, tests and produces stoves that burn renewable fuels that are easily accessible in developing communities. One of Jet City’s current projects is called the Jiko Stafi, a whole-seed burning stove which uses Jatropha, a plant often found in the southern hemisphere. Not only does the Jiko Stafi provide an inexpensive alternative to traditional stoves, it burns much cleaner making it a healthier option, as well.

Literacy Bridge: Through Literacy Bridge’s Talking Book program, the organization provides an innovative, low-cost audio computer system designed to fulfill the learning needs of illiterate agricultural populations. Rather than having an agriculture extension or health agent visit remote locations to teach locals who have no method of taking notes, the Talking Book gives people who are unable to read and write an accessible medium for receiving critical information.

Microsoft: Microsoft is in the business of connecting the world through the use of technology. International calling on Windows Phones and Skype allows for low-cost communication without internet connectivity. Microsoft is the leading mobile phone supplier globally, giving people near-unlimited information that is accessible from their pockets. The company has also recently begun providing disaster relief with its Humanitarian Toolbox which connects victims of disasters with organizations who can help them recover and rebuild.

Mobility Builders: Mobility Builders provides affordable, locally-built wheelchairs for children with disabilities in developing countries. By increasing their mobility, the organization gives these children the opportunity to attend school, improve health and interact with the community. Moreover, their parents can maintain employment as the need for home care decreases. Mobility Builders offers trainings and resources to give children with disabilities around the world a new level of autonomy.

Mobility Outreach International (MOI): Mobility Outreach International strengthens developing communities by training individuals in prosthetic care, orthopedic surgeries and clubfoot to offer children and adults with orthopedic disabilities the opportunity to regain their mobility. MOi increases in-county production of prosthetic limbs, bringing people around the world the gift of mobility. This innovative strategy allows local healthcare professionals better address their patients’ needs in a sustainable and accessible manner.

PATH: PATH has established itself as a global health leader by offering a multidimensional approach to solving challenges and by providing innovative vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices and services to people worldwide. PATH identifies issues and creates inexpensive, sustainable solutions. The organization recently developed a creative solution to solve the issue of vaccines being improperly stored by creating temperature-stable vaccines, freeze-safe vaccine carriers and vaccine vial monitors to alert workers when a vaccine has been damaged by heat.

Splash: Splash sets the standard for clean water across the globe. By working with foreign governments and local businesses, the organization creates sustainable, safe water projects for kids living in urban poverty. Through innovative water technologies, Splash provides clean water to 310,067 children in eight developing countries daily. Splash’s water purification system includes: Mesh Strainers, UF Membranes, Carbon Filters and UV Disinfection, which filter particles, bacteria, viruses, odors and microbes exceeding World Health Organization’s standards for drinking water.

TASCHA: The Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington Information School explores the design, use and effects of information and communication technologies in communities facing social and economic challenges. TASCHA has conducted research on the availability of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While MOOCs have the potential to expand education and career training, very few people in developing countries have access to them. To combat the dearth of widespread usage of MOOCs, TASCHA created a project to alleviate the data gap and develop a framework for training young workforces using MOOCs.

Water for Humans: Water for Humans designs low-cost, clean water and sanitation solutions to developing populations. The organization is currently working in five remote mountain villages in northern Oaxaca to harvest rainwater for the dry season. In the past, these communities have encountered serious drought issues during the dry season. They now have the resources to continue agricultural production and enjoy safe drinking water during the hardest seasons of the year.