There's no mistaking the impact some innovations have had on our world. The smartphone has revolutionized the manner and speed at which we communicate. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have created a sort of radical connectivity most thought impossible two decades ago. And, with the hyper-development of the new “sharing economy,” transportation and hospitality will never look the same again.
However, regardless of the impact these developments have on society, I hesitate to call them life-saving. Our lives wouldn't end without our smartphone (although I know some Millennials and my grandchildren might think otherwise). Without Uber and Airbnb, the world wouldn't crumble beneath our feet.
While many of these new innovations we interact with daily are certainly life-altering, I do believe some innovating businesses and platforms really are actually life-saving. What if every entrepreneur had access to capital – however small – allowing them to follow their dreams and end the cycle of poverty? What about a world with a fully stocked pharmacy around every corner, or a refrigerator in every household?
These innovations go beyond life-changing into the life-saving category. This week I'd like to highlight some of those organizations that are finding new ways to make innovation benefit people around the world.
Kiva is Kick-starting Change
From time to time, everyone can use a little help, and even the smallest bit can go a long way toward changing the world. Don't believe it? Ask Matt Flanner and Jessica Jackley, the co-founders of the wildly successful platform Kiva. Founded in 2003, Kiva is a mircofinance and lending platform that successfully bridges the gap between successful, charitable donors in the developed world and motivated entrepreneurs in the developing one. Meaning “unity” in Kenyan, Kiva seeks to do just that: unify investors and entrepreneurs for inspiring and noteworthy projects.
Each loan request is accompanied by a highly personalized story from the energetic entrepreneur. They are real people, with real problems and needs who are asking for our help in changing their lives. David John Marotta, President of Marotta Wealth Management, mentions in an article in Forbes,
“These services usually involve such small amounts of money that traditional banking considers them inconsequential. But to people struggling to work their way out of poverty, any amount of money is significant. Like everyone else, they need a safe store of value for the savings they do have and access to investment capital that they can put to work.”
These microloans, $25 here or $50 there, can change people's lives, feed families, and end a cycle of poverty that may have been ongoing for centuries.
Reinventing Pharmaceutical Relief
When Daniel Yu walked into a small pharmacy in rural Egypt while studying abroad, I doubt he knew he was about to change the world of pharmaceuticals. However, that's precisely what happened. One look around the pharmacy, and Yu noticed a problem: Every crucial medication or drug was either expired or empty, and the clerk had no idea how to fix it. So, Yu devised a solution: ReliefWatch.
ReliefWatch is a mobile, cloud-based platform for aid organizations and health workers in developing countries that allows the ability to track crucial supplies. The platform has already launched on three continents and has currently helped track and digitize more than 18 million units of medical supplies. Simplifying this process ensures all people, regardless of continent or country, have access to reliable and high-quality medicinal supplies—a monumentally immense problem in today's world.
It amazes me how often we all take America's high-quality infrastructure for granted. Every morning our lights will turn on, we'll go to work where the heat is blasting, and we'll come home to food in a fridge and a bed to sleep in. We're blessed, and Spencer Taylor and Quang Truong wanted to give some of these blessings to those in need.
With the worlds' food production and preservation problems at the forefront of their minds, Taylor and Truong set out to make the worlds' most efficient, scalable and effective food cooling system—and they're well on the way. Evaptainers, an entirely mobile and nonelectric cooling system, created an extraordinarily affordable solution to the plethora of problems and challenges that arise when attempting to transport and preserve produce in developing countries. Taylor explains in the company's mission statement,
“By creating a refrigeration solution that runs on nothing other than sun and water, we can create dependable cold-chain solutions without dependence on costly infrastructure. This will allow small rural farmers to increase the percentage of their crops that get to market, thereby improving their standard of living and putting fresher food in the hands of consumers.”
Though these companies are indeed all making a big difference in the lives of others around the world, they are not outliers. They are only the beginning. Any online search will reveal dozens and dozens of passionate entrepreneurs using their intuitive and innovative minds to solve the world's biggest problems. While I know a great many entrepreneurs who aspire to make a difference in the world, these innovators are particularly inspiring to me.
Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation.