Wednesday, 2 December, 2009

Do you wanna change the world?

As an electronics engineering graduate and having worked at India’s second largest software technology firm, I strongly believe that technological inventions can drive social change in a huge way.

During my graduation, I developed innovative electronic gadgets for the visually impaired, exhibited them at national level competitions and also won some accolades for the same. After graduating, I designed a model for carpooling for the corporate world, which was shortlisted in Asia’s largest business plan contest among the final few. I always regret that I could not get the prototypes in to production. Nevertheless, it is pleasing to see that several individuals and companies are able to do it today – use technology to design, implement and market products that solve various intricate global problems!

Amitabha Sadangi of Delhi-based International Development Enterprise (IDE) has leveraged technology to invent simple and affordable gadgets for the farmers. For example, he has developed a treadle pump that can draw water from depths up to 25 feet and costs just $10 (Rs. 500). This foot-operated pump is a boon to the farmers in a country like India, which ranks 133rd in the world in terms of water availability. IDE also manufactures low cost drip irrigation kits which are priced at $100 (Rs 5000), one tenth of traditional systems. These irrigation kits have eventually raised the income of its small-scale farming customers by an average of $400/year.

Similarly, Five B-School grads took up the challenge to design highly cost-effective LED lamps that have eliminated darkness from thousands of Indian households. About 18000 remote Indian villages (more than 50% of Indian households) today, have no access to electricity. DLight Design’s LED lams are certainly making an impact as an economical and ecological alternative to kerosene and oil based lamps. In the last 2 years, DLight has sold 200,000 units and expects to sell 20 million by 2020.

Rajeev Kher has started Shramik Sanitation System using his engineering excellence and product design skills. Shramik System leases and sells cost effective portable toilets. India is ranked as the 2nd worst country for sanitation by WaterAid and 55% of her population i.e. 660 million people defecate in the open. Thus, low-cost and well designed portable toilets are a need more than a want. Today Rajiv sells over 1000 toilets and expects to sell over 5000 in the next 3 years, thus making an impact in a country where thousands die of diarrhea everyday!

In another remarkable venture, Sulax Shah manufactures only one of its kind microprocessor to weighing scale and fat-testing machines which have revolutionized milk industry in south Gujarat, India.

In Mumbai, Anurag Gupta of A Little World uses mobile networks to enable banks, financial institutions and governments to conduct financial transactions with over 3.5 million people spread across 8,300 gram panchayats in 22 states. Apart from the little world, there are several other players like Fino and Ekgaon technologies which exploit technology for cost effective micro-finance transactions.

There are hundreds of other social entrepreneurs around the globe who are making an impact and eventually changing the world! Having said that, there are still ample opportunities for applying technology to solve everyday problems. Every techie needs to observe the world around him and use his creativity and skills to develop innovative solutions to combat the several global challenges. While technology has drastically improved lives of the wealthiest 14% of the world population, there is a lot to be done to make an impact in the lives of the remaining 86%, 4 Billion strong base of the pyramid!


Ashoka: Innovators for the Public are hosting Tech 4 Society, a conference exploring technology, invention and social change, in Hyderabad, India, in February 2010. Find out more about the conference here. This blog post is an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event.

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