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In a world of incessant iPhone updates, it can be difficult to remember that most of the world struggles to access basic energy and technology needs. Brilliant agents of social, economic, and political change work across the globe to address big problems, but they sometimes lack the tools necessary to move forward. The annual PopTech Social Innovation Fellows actively work around the globe to address these needs. PopTech selects 10 to 20 innovators that are creating drastic positive change in fields like health care, energy, development, and social change. Fellows are found within for-profit and nonprofit companies that have the potential for extreme growth.
Scan through this slideshow to discover more about fourteen companies whose leaders were chosen as 2011 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows. Their projects range from mobile insurance and monitoring of small-farmer’s crops in Kenya to reuniting refugees with their families and friends through a social media site similar to Facebook. The fellows will participate in PopTech’s thought leadership conference held Oct. 19-22 in Camden, Maine.
Photos courtesy of PopTech
Erika Block: Bringing the Farmers Market to You
Local Orbit, Ann Arbor, MI
Erika Block founded Local Orbit to create a sustainable connection between local food producers and consumers. Block has revamped the farmers market for the web, using a slew of online tools to create a new way for consumers to “buy food and other local goods direct from producers.” Whether you’re a chef or a parent, using Local Orbit allows locavores to buy from multiple sellers in a single shopping chart and then pick up the goods from single hub, eliminating travel, cost, and environmental impact of acquiring multiple local products another way. On the producer side, Local Orbit allows smaller farmers and growers to get their product to a greater number of eaters, making local produce on the whole easier to both buy and sell.
Krista Donaldson: Designing for the Problem
D-Rev: Design Revolution, Palo Alto, CA
Donaldson has long worked at the intersection of design and international development. At D-Rev, she brings state-of-the-art technology and products to help empower and improve the lives of the four billion people living on less than four dollars a day. D-Rev’s approach is to identify opportunities to improve the lives of a million-plus people a day, design products to meet the need, deliver the products, and quantify the possible global impact these products could have throughout the world. Through projects like Global Scope, which prototyped field-ready microscopes to help identify malaria and tuberculosis in rural areas, D-Rev aims to lower death rates by aiding early detection strategies. D-Rev hopes projects like Global Scope will greatly improve the lives of the four billion people living in some of the most challenging conditions today.
Rose Goslinga: Sowing the Seeds of Food Security
Because of Goslinga and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture’s Index Insurance Initiative, 21,000 farmers in Kenya have benefited from micro-insurance strategies. Branded as Kilimo Salama—or ‘safe farming’ in Kiswahili—the initiative uses mobile phones to cost-effectively and sustainably monitor weather patterns and crop production to administer insurance and aid to small-farmers in Kenya. Before Kilimo Salama, farmers were hesitant to purchase better seed and fertilizer because of the looming possibilities of drought and weather events. Kilimo Salama advises farmers on what products to use, and then insures them against unforeseeable loss, upping productivity and therefore food security in Kenya.
Sameer Kalwani: Turning Clean Water on Across India
Piramal Water—Sarvajal, India
Clean, available drinking water is taken for granted in the United States: Turn the facet on and there it is, no boiling required. Sarvajal means “water for all,” but nearly 40 million people in India go without. A lack of clean drinking water means an increase in malnutrition and other diseases. Kalwani, the chief technology officer at Sarvajal, is hoping to alleviate the crisis by enlisting local businesses and entrepreneurs to operate bring water to their areas from company-owned filtration units. These technological innovations allow Sarvajal to track water production and quality in real-time, control filtration operations remotely, preemptively identify and remedy maintenance issues, and offer clean water directly to consumers through "water ATMs."
Christopher Marianetti: Bridging Communities Through Music
Found Sound Nation, Brooklyn, NY
Marianetti is in the business of building bridges. As a co-founder of Found Sound Nation, Marianetti works to unlock the creative potential of at-risk youth and underrepresented communities through original music projects. FSN partners with local youth and social organizations, music festivals, and artists to create a artistic network that links communities otherwise separated by geography, economic disparity, and cultural barriers. Through connecting people through art, Marianetti and an eclectic group of artists give voices to communities and demographics that were previously silent.
David and Christopher Troensegaard Mikkelsen: Uniting the Disconnected
Refugees United, Denmark
David and Christopher have taken the Facebook platform to a new, socially responsible level. At Refugees United, refugees and their families can create profiles, search for their family members and friends online, and then reconnect with each other in a safe and secure way. David and Christopher are working to combine their technological tools with a political campaign to ensure better and more reliable collaboration among refugee organizations and countries. Combined with an active political campaign working to reunite the disconnected, Refugee United is using all possible avenues to unite families and friends in today’s virtually connected world.
Megan White Mukuria: Empowering Girls Across Kenya
This Harvard grad is empowering the women of Kenya one young girl at a time. ZanaAfrica, an NGO Mukuria founded in October 2007, reaches out to girls through mentorships, empowerment clubs, and the use of social media to make their voices heard. By distributing free environmentally friendly sanitary pads, girls that might normally miss up to five days of school a month keep learning in the classroom, highly increasing their chance of success in the future. Ten years, five businesses, and $1 million in donations later, Mukuria’s insightful influence in Kenya continues to grow.
Dominic Muren: Manufacturing for a Sustainable Tomorrow
The Humblefactory, Seattle, WA
Dominic Muren wants to change the way things are made. The inventor, architect, designer, and manufacturer created The Humblefactory, a sustainable design lab in Seattle, to solve contemporary production problems. Simply put, he wants to make high-end tech products like robots and smartphones while keeping the actual production local and low-impact. His cutting-edge ideas and the invention of Alchematter, an open platform for designers to share concepts, helped earn him a spot as a junior fellow with idea giant TED.
Michael Murphy: Building to Save Lives
MASS Design Group, Boston, MA
In developing countries, innovative design strategies can actually save lives. Michael Murphy co-founded MASS Design Group in 2007 to combine low-cost, easily attainable construction materials with relevant design for projects in countries like Liberia and Haiti. Murphy scored a year-long research grant from the Harvard Initiative on Global Health in 2009 to study architectural solutions to stop potentially deadly airborne diseases like tuberculosis from spreading. MASS Design Group’s projects provide a needed structure with social change. On every project, Murphy’s team strives to collaborate with local agencies and health care experts, train native laborers, and work toward longterm sustainability.
Photo courtesy of massdesigngroup.org
Paul Needham: Providing Endless Energy at an Affordable Price
Simpa Networks, Bangalore, India
Paul Needham has pioneered the concept of energy on layaway. The president and co-founder of Simpa Networks invented a revolutionary way to access affordable energy for struggling communities in India. Customers make an initial payment for a solar system, then unlock more increments of energy on a pay-as-you-go system through mobile phones. Once those payments add up to the total purchase price, the system produces free energy for the customer. This achieves a “radically affordable” energy source that was previously impossible for the billion people worldwide with unreliable access to electricity. The system also replaces dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps, the preferred energy source for many low-income individuals.
Jake Porway: Swapping Data for Development
Data Without Borders, New York, NY
In the Information Age, data talks. In a collaboration between data junkies and do-gooders, Jake Porway and his company Data Without Borders help nonprofits make the most of the data they obtain by hooking them up with pro bono data scientists. The scientists work with the organizations to break down the information, find its value, provide resources to further the organizations’ goals, and teach data-related skills along the way.
Photo courtesy of jakeporway.com
Mohammed Rabah Salem: Collaborating for Energy in a Divided Country
Brothers Engineering Group, Palestine
Mohammed Rabah Salem found a way to unite Palestine and Israel, at least when it comes to energy. His company, Brothers Engineering Group, builds wind turbines and solar installations in a barren landscape. Common needs of both Palestine and Israel led to an unusual collaboration to provide the battered area with community-transforming energy sources.
Nithya Ramanathan: Collecting Information For a Better World
Nexleaf Analytics, Los Angeles, CA
Thanks to Nithya Ramanathan and Nexleaf Analytics, expensive information-gathering hardware around the world is being replaced by simple and cheap mobile phones. Ramanathan began inventing mobile phone sensing applications (in other words, making an everyday object a scientific instrument) as a research faculty member for UCLA. Now, her applications provide important health and environment information for 10 to 100 times less than options already in use, providing scientists useful data for initiatives such as clean water distribution and wildlife monitoring.
Amy Sun: Creating Technology Through Grassroots, for Grassroots
Fab Folk, Cambridge, MA
Fab Labs around the world exist to help local residents become fabulous innovators and mobilize their communities. Amy Sun, a founder of the program and director of the Fab Lab in Jalalabad, Afganistan, provides community members with the tools to create necessary technical equipment. Fab Folk takes science down a peg and trusts in grassroots efforts to create new technologies that simultaneously improve living conditions. FabFi, one current project, gives wireless internet access to an entire city.