Planetary warming and harsh weather conditions continue-on relentlessly; millions of people still live in desperate conditions with basic needs like access to clean drinking water and health care unfulfilled; gender inequality and childhood marriage persist worldwide. Global problems demand global solutions.
If we are to meet the universal call to action to accomplish the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we must each do our part in the struggle for a life of dignity for all. The good news is that there are countless globally-minded entrepreneurs around the world that are taking initiative every day to help us achieve the world we want.
Over 19-21 September, between 12-1 PM EDT in the SDG Media Zone at the UN headquarters, we will hear from eleven exemplary individuals tackling the world’s most pressing problems at the 3rd annual Solutions Summit. From equipping Syrian children with STEM education, to providing smallholder farmers with solar-powered irrigation, to using self-diagnostic tools to break the cycle of poverty, these entrepreneurs are committed to changing the lives of those around them and ensuring that our collective future is brighter than our present.
The Solutions Summit is a catalytic event that aims to elevate extraordinary solution-makers and connect them with the strategic advice, networks, and partners they need to scale up their efforts and increase impact. Each day of the three-day event will focus on a different theme, including Education & Economic Empowerment (September 19), Food, Water & Energy (September 20) and Health (September 21).
If you can’t participate in-person, make sure to join the conversation by watching the pitches live at webtv.un.org and commenting or asking a question using #SDGLive, or tweeting @SDGSolutions.
Thank you to the UN Foundation and its partners, the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS), the Global Innovation Exchange, and shift7, for making this year’s annual Solutions Summit possible.
Read more about the selected solutions and innovators below.
Poverty Stoplight: A Customized Poverty Elimination Plan
Presenter: Jimena Vallejos
Martin Burt developed Poverty Stoplight after realizing that many of his micro-finance clients remained below the poverty line despite access to credit. His foundation set out to design an integrated approach that facilitates poverty elimination, by providing both a metric and a methodology for families to quantify their level of poverty and identify customized strategies to address specific deprivations. The Poverty Stoplight app shows families three images, categorized as red, yellow or green, for each predetermined poverty indicator. Families then select the image that most closely resembles their reality. When the survey is finished, a clear picture of the families’ poverty strengths and weaknesses is apparent. Afterwards a personalized coaching and mentoring program is established to support them in designing a poverty elimination plan based on their motivation and skills. Poverty Stoplight is now in more than 20 countries being deployed by 24 partner organizations.
Afghanistan Learning Institute – Literacy via Text Messages
Innovator: Sakena Yacoobi
The literacy rate in Afghanistan for women and girls is one of the lowest in the world. Many women and girls do not have the time to study for years on end. In 2012, Sakena Yacoobi, the founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, spearheaded an innovative mobile literacy program where Afghan women and girls learn to read and write in only four months to a fourth grade level. This is the only classroom literacy program in Afghanistan that combines learning to read with texting over mobile phones. The program provides life skills, core values, critical thinking skills, boosts creativity all via mobile phones and text messages. After an evaluation to determine literacy levels the participants enroll in a four-month program that includes books and mobile phones and is based on a curriculum of more that 2000 messages covering a diversity of topics. To date 53 mobile literacy classes have been completed with nearly 1,700 graduates. 80% of the students read and write at a 4th grade level and continue their education with other institutions. %100 of the graduates know how to use a mobile phone and are confident in their abilities.
YCAB Foundation – Microfinance for Mothers, an Education Initiative
Innovator: Veronica Colondam
Indonesia has a young population, with more than half of its 252 million people less than 29 years of age. Veronica Colondam established the YCAB Foundation to tackle this generational challenge. YCAB addresses the crisis in a two-fold manner. First they provide access to education to those most in need. These programs include basic education, soft skills, vocational training and work readiness or entrepreneurship. Second, YCAB provides micro-loans to women entrepreneurs. Their strategy creates a virtuous cycle: the micro-loans empower low-income women entrepreneurs, most of them mothers, to increase their household income and allow the children to focus on their education to then become skilled workers or entrepreneurs themselves. The income generated from the micro-finance loans is then recycled back to support YCAB’s educational programs. Since 2009 the micro-finance program has acquired 88,130 clients, of whom 78% have seen an increase in their profits by 30%. Now 42% of clients who previously had no savings are now able to save. Clients have reported a 77% higher level of confidence in planning for the future, 99% have stated that food security has improved, saying that they have eaten enough food in the last year, and lastly, 99% of the children have participated in school as compared to %88 of the national rate.
Sonbola Group – STEM for Refugees
Innovator: Massa Mufti
There are 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the neighboring 5 countries. Nearly 800,000 are children out of school. Although there have been a number of international and regional efforts, access to quality education is insufficient. Massa Mufti launched STEM for Refugees to provide 21st century life skills and prepare these children for reconstruction. To better prepare her students for the future economy, she developed in partnership with The Little Engineer Cooperation a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum to support children in acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills through applied and insightful learning experiences that responds to the needs, contexts and aspirations of the Syrian refugees. The program has been successfully piloted in Lebanon, with a gender balanced enrollment rate, and is now ready to scale into 2 neighboring countries. STEM education can unlock the talents of the innovators of tomorrow. “I learned that for each obstacle there is a solution; nothing will ever stand in my way,” said Sondos Tayara, a 15 year-old participant.
Chipsafer – Livestock Tracking Technology and Dashboard
Innovator: Victoria Alonsoperez
In 2001, Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) caused more than half a billion dollars of economic losses in Uruguay. Cattle diseases such as FMD and the long duration of the decontamination process can have devastating economic and health effects on entire regions and countries. If rural farmers could track the location and health of their livestock, diseases like Foot and Mouth could be detected and treated or eradicated earlier. In 2012, Victoria Alonsoperez invented Chipsafer, a patented platform that tracks cattle remotely and autonomously. Now rural farmers in Uruguay, via a live-time tracking dashboard, can know where their animals are and receive warnings if anomalies are detected or if they move into dangerous areas. Information collected by a device on the animal is transmitted to servers providing actionable information about the performance of the livestock enabling rural farmers to improve production and protect precious livestock. Chipsafer is currently used in Australia, Brazil, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Uruguay.
SunCulture – Solar Powered Drip Irrigation / Pay-As-You-Grow System
Innovator: Samir Ibrahim
Farmers across Africa face many challenges including: unreliable rainfall, low crop yields, high-energy costs, lack of access to modern farming technology and insufficient access to capital. In Kenya, for example, there are 5.4 million hectares of arable land, but only 17% of this land is suitable for rain fed agriculture, leaving the remainder in need of irrigation and pumping technology. Seeing this as an opportunity, Samir Ibrahim founded SunCulture in 2013 as a turnkey solar irrigation solution to smallholder farmers. The one-stop shop provides on-farm training, soil analysis and agronomy support by mobile phone and a Pay-as-you-grow financing program. SunCulture’s products replace expensive and environmentally harmful petrol pumps with a more efficient, environmentally friendly and affordable solar powered solutions. The combination of solar power energy efficiency and the effectiveness of drip irrigation results in the best solution for farmers, at a cost they can afford. The full SunCulture system makes it cheaper and easier for farmers to grow higher quality crops and increase their yields by 300% or more. The organization services farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Zambia with the company’s headquarters located in Nairobi, Kenya.
Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc (AIDFI) – RAM Pumps and Upland Farmers
Innovator: Auke Idzenga
There are hundreds of thousands upland villages and farms all over the world without easy access to drinking, household or irrigation water. Manually fetching water with an average of 40 liters per household per day results in many problems: time or money spent for fetching water, no water for sanitation, water borne diseases, kids skipping classes and in case of rain fed farms: low production and sometimes crop failures caused by droughts. Auke Idzenga founded Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation (AIDFI) to tackle the problem of the lack of freshwater access to highland farmers via a nearly forgotten technology which utilizes the energy contained in falling water the hydraulic ram pump. Over the years AIDFI has perfected a model that uses the energy contained in falling water to lift a portion of this water to a higher elevation. The AIDFI model is a crossbreed (best of both) of expensive-heavy-duty-cast models commercially available and inferior-low-cost models. Made from locally sourced materials, the pumps reach an average of 600 people. AIDFI has had success in Afghanistan, Colombia, Nepal and the Philippines, assisting some 222,000 people in 370 villages.
Gifted Mom – 2 Way Communication App / SMS to Inform Maternal Health
Innovator: Blanche Awafack
In Cameroon, 20% of pregnant women never have an Antenatal Care (ANC) appointment and only 35% do an ANC visit during the critical first trimester. ANC is a key driver in reducing maternal and newborn deaths. After witnessing the dire lack of information in hospitals across Cameroon, Blanche Awafack decided to contribute to making relevant health and medical information to every pregnant woman and mother. Gifted Mom was born of the desire to prevent infant and maternal deaths by delivering critical health information to women via mobile technology. The service uses SMS and voice messaging to deliver stage-based and customized notifications for pregnant women and new mother, with information on topics like when to go their next antenatal care session or baby vaccination. Over the past 2 years, Gifted Mom has contributed to improved antenatal care attendance by up to 80% in some urban areas and up to 64% in some rural areas. The SMS messaging has also improved vaccination outcomes turnouts increasing by 90% in some health facilities.
MUrgency Inc. – Platform to Improve Coordination of Emergency Response
Innovator: Shaffi Mather
Over six billion people lack sufficient access to emergency care. Globally, more people die from injuries than from AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. Many could be saved by timely medical care. Emergency response has not fully applied the technology, connectivity, and social models currently transforming the way we work together. Shaffi Mather leads a tech startup, MUrgency, that uses the power of cloud technology to aggregate existing medical resources to deliver quick, efficient, effective and inexpensive emergency medical response to a patient or victim by alerting the nearest medical responder online. The new One Global Emergency Response Network aims to transform emergency services where no such infrastructure exists in the Global South and in the developed world where good infrastructure exists but is stretched due to increasing calls and reducing budgets. The One Global Emergency Response Network is a worldwide community-based network of people helping people, available to anyone, anytime, anywhere at the tap of a mobile phone. Building on the technology and success of MUrgency’s proven work, the platform enables people in urgent need to instantly mobilize local qualified first responders, cutting down response times to health or relief points and overcoming scarcity of public emergency services.
Global Vision – Cheap Eyeglasses
Innovator: J. Kevin White
It is estimated that there are 2.5 billion people in the developing world that need, but have no access to eyeglasses. Current conventional eyeglasses distribution programs rely on well-trained optometrists or ophthalmic nurses to properly diagnose refractive error and provide accurate prescriptions. They also require a skilled technician to grind the appropriate lenses, and assemble the glasses. This infrastructure is both extremely expensive, and extremely rare in most of the developing world (approximately 1 optometrist to 1 million patients in Africa). Kevin White designed the USee to be simple enough to use with less than a day of training. The USee system can be used anywhere, by virtually anyone. It provides patients with accurate prescriptions in stylish, lightweight, functional eyeglasses. The USee itself is a diagnostic tool that allows the patient to adjust the refractive power on the lens in front of their eye in a smooth and simple way, making the transition from blurry vision to clear vision very intuitive (much like a pair of binoculars). Once the patient finds their most clear vision, they can be re-tested on an eye chart, ensuring that they have improved their vision to the maximum possible extent. With this prescription, the refractionist can assemble a pair of custom eyeglasses, ensuring that the patient receives the best prescription for each eye. Once the glasses are assembled, a final and immediate visual acuity check ensures that the patient receives the best possible prescription. The USee system is in Mozambique in High Schools, and in Ghana in remote villages, both using local nationals as dispensers.
PharmaChk – A Portable Suitcase to Test Drugs
Innovator: Muhammad Zaman
Fake, substandard and poor quality medicines lead to nearly half a million deaths annually and cost upwards of 15 billion dollars. Low-income countries are unable to safeguard their pharmacopeia, and hence these poor quality medicines lead to loss of life, create morbidity and long-term drug resistance. PharmaChK, developed by Muhammad Zaman, is a portable suitcase that tests drug quality affordably, easily and at all points in the supply chain, therefore protecting investment, consumers, and health of all. The technology is a portable suitcase and is based on optical engineering and microfluidic chemistry. The research team behind the technology has developed specific probes that combine with the drug in question and provide quantitative information on how pure the drug is, and how it will function. PharmaChk is a small suitcase (~10-12 lbs) which is fully functional, portable and self-consistent. The user just needs to select the drug that he/ she wants to test, add it to the specific chamber and use a touch screen to run the test. There is minimal sample preparation and in a matter of 10-15 minutes the entire test is run. This is significantly simpler, shorter and more accurate than existing methods. PharmaChk has conducted two rounds of tests in Ghana and have demonstrated the efficacy of the technology against the metrics of quality, ease of use, affordability, quantitative results and viability within the system.