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7 Ingenious Innovations Alleviating Poverty In Asia

Since the dawn of the 21st century, social innovation has played a key role in academic debates and providing solutions to tackling some of the world’s most complex environmental and social issues. 

The Young Foundation defines social innovations as:

“New solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act [1].

Poverty has been an ongoing narrative in Asia. With the recent pandemic, the economy in this region has taken a blow and ASEAN reported that the COVID-19 crisis threatened to destroy the livelihoods of 218 million informal workers[2] and many others who belong to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, single mothers, disabled, stateless, undocumented and unemployed).

Poverty affects every facet of life, from health to housing, education to employment. In an effort to combat poverty, social innovators around the world are putting their thinking caps on and creating practical, cost-effective and efficient ways to help the poor and improve their quality of life. Here are seven ingenious inventions:

#1: Grub Cycle | Malaysia

Malaysia produces some 3000 tonnes of edible food waste that is capable of feeding 2.2 million people three meals a day. Redza acknowledged this issue and that led to the founding of Grub Cycle, Malaysia’s first social enterprise that is devoted to cutting down on food wastage in the country while making sure the poor is fed enough. There are four programs that Grub Cycle has created in its efforts to reduce food waste which are Grub Groceries, Grub Bites, Grub Homemade and Grub Bag. 

They procure surplus food from supermarkets at a cheaper rate as they approach their expiry date. These foods are then sold 20% below the market price  — this is their first pillar, Grub Groceries. Similar to Feeding Forward in the United States, Grub Bites focuses on pastry shops whereby they could upload their list of surplus food and customers can come and buy them for cheap. Grub Homemade focuses on turning fruits and vegetables into pickles and jams, expanding their lifespan. 

Visit them on their Facebook page to find out more about their efforts in reducing food wastage.

#2: WeatherHYDE | Singapore

Source: WeatherHYDE

Globally, there are approximately 100 million homeless people with 1.6 billion more people without proper shelter[3]. BillionBricks, a non-profit organization based in Singapore aims to address homelessness not only in Southeast Asia but also around the world. Their solution? WeatherHYDE — a reversible tent that works around the idea of trapping the inhabitant’s body heat. It serves as a makeshift shelter for the homeless shielding them from extreme temperatures.

Light and easy to set up, the tent has reflective panels on one side to keep extreme heat away while the other side keeps out cold temperature. The basic structure of the tent is assembled from commonly found PVC pipes. People can source or purchase these inexpensive pipes on their own and the tent fabric, as well as the joints, will be shipped to them — that was the idea. Prasoon Kumar, CEO of billion Bricks added that the goal of this tent is to provide safety for children and privacy for women all while facilitating adaptation to urban environments. 

To learn more about WeatherHYDE and the team’s progress, click here.

#3: Liter Of Light | Philippines

Source: World Habitat

Cheap, readily available and easily replicable  — those are the words that can be used to describe these innovative solar bottles. The Liter of Light project is a solar lighting project developed by the MyShelter Foundation, a Filipino non-profit organization. Fueled by solar batteries, this water-filled bottle has dual functionality incorporated into its design. It could be easily mounted on the roofs of the house, lighting up indoor living spaces with the help of light refraction. 

By nightfall, the solar batteries kick in and could light up as bright as a conventional 40W light bulb making them a much safer alternative than kerosene lamps which could lead to accidental fires. They now engage volunteers to help train the local community to build and install these devices. As of 2017, they have successfully impacted 145,200 households in the Philippines.

Check out their Youtube Channel here or visit them here to learn more about this innovation. 

#4: IoT Alternate Wetting & Drying | Vietnam

Source: World Bank

With water becoming increasingly scarce in the Mekong Delta and the occurrences of drought in recent years, smallholder paddy farmers in Vietnam are desperate for a solution. Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) is one such solution that helps these farmers alternately flood and dry rice fields  — reducing water usage and methane emissions by 28% and 48% respectively. Yet, this practice has not been widely applied due to its complex implementation.

This is where the Internet of Technology (IoT) technology comes in. The partnership between World Bank and MimosaTEK  — a Vietnamese start-up  — innovated an irrigation system incorporating it with IoT calling it the IoT AWD. After a successful pilot project, farmers now can monitor and adjust water levels in their paddy fields as recommended by a smartphone application. 

Interested in finding out in detail about how this smart agriculture system works and its impact? Head on to MimosaTEK’s website here.

#5: RxBox | Philippines

Source: RxBox

Developed by the Philippines Department of Science and Technology as a response to increasing the standard and quality of living for its people, RxBox is a multi-component program designed to afford improved access to life-saving healthcare services to Filipino communities living in isolation and those who do not have the ability to travel for healthcare. 

The program consists of a biomedical device, electronic medical record system and telemedicine training. This presents a revolution to disadvantaged communities as they are now able to receive fast, efficient medical care on top of reduced cost from hospital visits. These communities are now able to look after themselves and everyone around them.

To learn more about how RxBox is bringing about change, click here.

#6: SWEPA-Barefoot Solar Panels | Malaysia

Source: International Growth Centre

After spending five months studying solar electrification at Barefoot College, India, Inggai Suging returned home to Ranau, Sabah as a ‘Solar Mama’. The Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professional Association (SWEPA) then set up the Barefoot Solar Project 3.0 to train illiterate indigenous women in the installation and maintenance of solar panel units in an effort to bring electricity to rural Sabah.

A solar project committee was then established in Inngai’s village and a proposal for the women to venture into the organic fertilizers business was brought forward. With the help of SWEPA and their partners, Inggai was able to install solar panels in her village to not only give the villagers light but also promote sustainable energy utilization.

Read more about how these solar panels have transformed the lives of many indigenous people in Sabah here.

#7: Life Saving Dot | India

Distributed across medical camps in India, the Jeevan Bindi or the Life Saving Bindi was a product that addresses the issue of iodine deficiency among rural women in India. The problem with iodine deficiency is that it can lead to pregnancy complications, breast cancer and even brain damage, attributed to the low levels of iodine in the soil in which the vegetations are planted in. 

Costing 10 rupees for a packet of 30 bindis, this wearable mimics the traditional Indian bindis while supplying the consumer with enough iodine needed daily. This innovation was a result of a collaboration between an Indian medical research centre and Grey for Good with the aim of providing these women with their daily dose of iodine, saving countless lives. 

Check out this article by The Borgen Project to read more about this brilliant, life-saving innovation here.

Know of any other ground-breaking innovations that are out there to combat poverty and save lives? Let us know!

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Balamatsias, G. (2018). 8 Popular Social Innovation Definitions. Social Innovation Academy. Link. 
  2. Association of Southeast Asia Nations. (2020). “The ASEAN” Magazine – Issue 3. Link.
  3. Homeless World Cup Foundation. (2021). Global Homelessness Statistics. Link.

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