How New Technology is Fighting Human Suffering

At 201 South Market Street in San Jose, you’ll find the Tech Museum of Innovation. But this museum isn’t concerned just with the technological past. It’s also focused on the future. One major element of the future in particular: making life better for more people around the world.

Last month, the museum held its 16th annual tech award gala. At the event, six out of 287 laureates from the past 16 years of awards were awarded $50,000 each. Their rewards are well earned. Having successfully “scaled’’ their ideas to improve lives, these individuals prove the power of innovation to alleviate human suffering.

Read and be inspired!

Award 1: The Intel Environment Award — Accountability

This award went to Flaviano Bianchini. He’s just 34 years-old, but Bianchini is having a global impact. His mission helping impoverished communities hold malfeasant corporations to account. To that end, Bianchini provides specialized scientific assessments that measure pollutants and environmentally harmful impacts from corporate activities.

That’s a noble task. After all, he has brought injustice to light. As the museum notes:

In some places he has discovered tainted water that measures 1,000 times above safe drinking limits. In the 400-year-old city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru, Bianchini found that 100 percent of the residents tested had metal contaminants in their blood due to pollution from a mining operation. One community in Honduras had an infant mortality rate 12 times the national average.

Such findings deserve our attention. Whatever our political views — and I am a conservative who believes free market activity (and thus corporations, not government) best serve humanity’s better interests — we must all oppose malpractice. Private enterprise should go hand-in-hand with the public interest. It should never be an enemy. If innocents are polluted at the altar of greed, their suffering is a conservative cause for remediation.

Award 2: The Microsoft Education Award — Education

Delivering accurate and accessible news and educational programming, San Francisco-based Equal Access International serves 67 million households in nine nations. Its mission is to expand understanding of key societal challenges in impoverished nations. While that mission sounds basic — and to some may sound naïve — education and opportunity are key weapons in helping suffering peoples forge a better future. We know, for example, that where opportunity displaces hopelessness, everyone benefits.

Award 3: The PayPal Equality Award — Opportunity

Too often, the best games or apps or other tech opportunities exist subject to the most advanced technology platforms. Souktel has changed that. Leveraging basic cell phone technology, Souktel now serves 1 million people in 30 countries . The company connects job-seekers with employers. It’s a basic concept. By opening doors to connections, everyone can benefit. Moreover, as many poverty researchers have shown, the easier we can make it for individuals to find work, the more likely they are to get work. What Souktel does is to transform the physical job center into a digital marketplace. The name, Souktel, is well chosen. It is Arabic portmanteau combining the market with the telephone.

Award 4: The Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award — Energy

The Angaza Company leverages renewable energy with technology, providing low-income households mainly in Africa with an installment payment plan to use solar power. The beauty is in the simplicity of the idea. Prior to Angaza, most African households could not afford solar technology. The start-up costs were simply too high. Angaza changes that reality by allowing payments to be deferred over a longer period.

Not only does Angaza help make lives better; it’s also a profitable enterprise.

As the museum notes, “since 2012, Angaza has grown from three co-founders and several pilot projects to a thriving business with 20 employees and more than 30 partners who are impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of off-grid consumers, and are on track to impact the lives of over 1 million people by the end of 2016.”

Award 5: The Sobrato Organization Economic Development Award

Travel to a nation where human-dependent agricultural practices predominate over equipment, and you’ll realize that we have it good in America. But now, for some of the poorest farmers in the world, there’s growing hope. International Development Enterprises-India (IDE-I) is the new hope. In recent years, IDE-I has given 1.3 million people access to easier and simpler irrigation systems. Developing a tool for low-cost, high-effect water access, IDE-I has allowed communities to provide for themselves in a far more efficient manner. As the Tech Museum explains:

“The ripple effect from increasing farm yields is far-reaching. Families now can feed themselves. Men no longer have to leave their homes to find low-paying jobs in the cities. Children can attend school instead of working to earn extra income. The standard of living rises by an average of $400 a year.”

These developments don’t make life perfect. But when applied at economies of scale, or societies at scale, the results are worthy of excitement. Doubt me? Visit Bangladesh and you’ll understand why.

Award 6: The Sutter Health Award

“Each year,” the Tech Museum notes, “6 million infants around the world suffer from jaundice. The condition can be easily treated by shining an intense blue light on the skin of those sick babies.

So San Francisco-based nonprofit D-Rev has developed a solution. A lamp, named “brilliance,” is strong enough to endure constant use in developing nations. D-Rev’s development is also practical: its blue lamps cost 7.5 times less than standard blue lamps. Again, D-Rev recognizes that low-cost is crucial for sustainability. And today, the proof of its success is in the statistics: D-Rev now partners with 20 nations.

Ultimately, the Tech Awards remind us of something crucial: the power of private interests to accomplish great things. As Opportunity Lives has reported before, whether groundbreaking research, or new medicines, or general innovation, the private sector is the key tool of society’s better future. The Tech Awards prove that when good people employ their unique skills in the service of others, everyone can profit.

More than that, lives around the world can be made better.

Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.