The four billion people in the world who live on less than US $2 a day have been described as the bottom of the economic pyramid, or BOP for short. In his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Indian business consultant and professor CK Prahalad argues that this attitude must be turned on its head: rather than seeing the world’s poor as a burden, only worthy of charity, Prahalad sees nothing but opportunity and unmet needs that business can address. In short, he argues, profits can be married with the goal of eradicating poverty.
Prahalad has gone so far as to claim this is a market potentially worth US $13 trillion, while the World Resources Institute puts it at US $5 trillion in its latest report, The Next 4 Billion.
One of the tools business is turning to reach the world’s poor is known as social franchising. The concept borrows from the business world and the highly successful franchise models that are more commonly associated with fast-food restaurants and computer and clothing retailers – wherever rapid expansion and scale are required to reach the biggest market possible. And there is no bigger market, social franchising advocates claim, than the world’s four billion poorest people.
In the past, most formal business in developing countries chased the small middle class or the even smaller elite or foreign expatriate communities. Traditional poverty eradication strategies have also been criticized for being too narrow, focused on a very small group, or for wasting time and resources replicating what has already been achieved elsewhere, and for ballooning and shrinking depending on aid grants or success at fundraising. Social franchising aims to bypass these weaknesses by finding models that work, making sure they are self-financing, and then quickly scaling them up to reach as many people as possible. It’s a model that is gaining more followers and the serious interest of big and small businesses.
One example is the Scojo Foundation in India, established to tackle the common problem of blurry vision as people age (presbyopia). Not a disease, the first symptoms occur between the ages of 40 and 50. Low vision affects 124 million people in the world according to the World Health Organization’s Vision 2020 campaign, organizers of World Sight Day 2007 on October 11.
Blurry vision is a serious disability for weavers, mechanics, goldsmiths and others whose livelihoods depend on near vision. As vision deteriorates, these people are unable to provide for their families. Yet it is easily treatable with a pair of eyeglasses.
Since, 2002, the Scojo Foundation (the social franchising wing of eyeglasses manufacturer Scojo New York, has launched operations in Bangladesh, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ghana. Its largest and fastest growing operation is in India, where it employs more than 560 entrepreneurs in rural villages, and selling more than 50,000 pairs of glasses since 2001.
It has grown quickly because the business model has been replicated by local staff who work as franchisees. It has followed the franchise model by building a network of “vision entrepreneurs” – low-income men and women, who in turn sell reading glasses directly to rural villagers throughout India. The franchise model enables the “vision entrepreneurs” to earn a good income, and gain respect from other community members.
Nico Clemminck, co-author of a case study on Scojo, found the price was very competitive with other options in India, and that the higher quality of the glasses made them attractive to villagers.
“The franchisees, or Vision Entrepreneurs as Scojo calls them, that we met were very involved with Scojo – some of them shifting away their focus from previous occupations to spend the majority of their time on conducting vision screenings and selling glasses. The main reason is that the business is quite profitable to them – they make a US $1 margin per glasses sold, which is very high compared to other retail products. A trend we did notice is that commitment decreases over time, as the entrepreneurs exhaust their immediate circle of relatives or target village populations, and the incremental sale becomes tougher to make.”
According to Clemminck, Scojo has been able to quickly and successfully expand to other countries by forming partnerships with existing networks that reach into villages.
The profit hierarchy works like this: the manufacturer charges US $1 for the reading glasses, Scojo charges another US $1, the franchisee a further US $1, and the customer pays US $3 for the glasses. By creating profit at each stage, the model ensures the financial incentives are there to keep the distribution network active.
Prior to Scojo, it was believed developing infrastructure in rural Indian communities is too high to sustain a franchising model for low-cost products. Scojo found it was possible to succeed with this model, by focusing on profitability and sustainability right from the start, pursuing aggressive growth through partnerships to build economies of scale, blocking competitors by having a strong brand and first-mover advantage, constantly refining the model across regions, and delivering a tangible social benefit, both economic and health.
On average, franchisees work 20-30 hours per month and earn US $15 to US $20 per month. Considering most franchisees were living on US $1 a day, the extra income is very welcome, Clemminck said.
“This project gave me insight into the large, untapped market opportunity that exists,” says case study co-author Sachin Kadakia, “and how the concept of ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ provides a tangible and significant improvement to the quality of life of people in these communities.”
Another social franchise gaining ground in India is Medicine Shoppe. As a chain of pharmacies, Medicine Shoppe targets underserved communities by offering entrepreneurs franchises. It is an offshoot of the largest franchiser of independent community pharmacies in the US, Medicine Shoppe International Inc.. It can draw on its strong brand and identity to appeal to potential franchises.
Acumen Fund fellow Nadaa Taiyab, who is working with Medicine Shoppe’s expansion to help the rural and urban poor, found it was important to learn lessons and adapt the model.
“When I arrived in December (2006),” she said, “we opened the first Sehat Clinic. Last weekend we opened the seventh, with an eighth shortly underway. The model has undergone a tremendous evolution in the past six months. We shifted our site selection strategy from relatively affluent areas with a slum nearby, to locating the clinics right inside slums. We redesigned the process through which we recruit doctors and created an employment package that allows us to hire experienced doctors at a salary we can afford.
“We also implemented an entirely new concept for Medicine Shoppe called community marketing outreach. Through this program, we hire local women in each area to make daily home visits, refer patients to the clinic, spread health education and awareness, and promote our free health camps and health clinics. In the past four months we have held over 35 health-plus-vision-testing camps, serving over 4,000 people.
“We have also made some changes to the look and feel of the clinics and shops and put all our marketing materials in the local language, to make our services more appealing to low-income markets.”
There are critics of the BOP approach, however. Aneel Karnani from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, argues from a for-profit perspective, business would be much better off targeting the needs of the growing middle classes, especially in countries like India and China. He, however, does acknowledge that social franchising businesses like above, where social responsibility is key, are relevant to meeting the needs of the poor.
Published: August 2007
A detailed and thorough case study of how the Scojo Foundation model works is found here
An excellent set of decision matrices to help budding social entrepreneurs and existing businesses to decide if social franchising is the right solution: www.createproject.org
More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a critical Millennium Development Goal target. And the scale of the problem is vast: this year half the world’s population will live in cities, and already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums. In the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent.
The UN has estimated it will take US$18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.
An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.
The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly. He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities.
Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.
Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.
Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.
“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.
In the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, the incidence of fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.
“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.”
Another initiative in Bangladesh is bringing first-rate healthcare to the country’s water-logged slum dwellers. They live in areas called ‘chars’ — effectively stranded islands surrounded by rivers, plagued by frequent flooding and physically cut-off from the country’s transport and infrastructure networks. Located in northern Bangladesh’s Jamuna river regions of Gaibandha, Kurigram and Jamalpu, these areas are very poor and overlooked by most government and foreign aid programmes. The fact the islands shift around has made it difficult for much help to reach the people.
Bangladesh also has a severe shortage of doctors: there are 12,500 people per doctor, compared to 2,000 in Pakistan.
But a hospital ship run by the Friendship NGO (funded by private companies and NGOs) now brings healthcare to 4 million people, treating everything from cataracts to skin infections. It sees between 200 to 250 patients a day aboard a converted former river barge. Called the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital because of its sponsorship by Lever Brothers Bangladesh Ltd. — makers of Lifebuoy soap — it cruises the river Brammaptura, helping 172,000 people since it set sail six years ago.
“People of the area look forward eagerly to our arrival,” said Dr Feroza Khatun, a doctor on the hospital ship. Other doctors and surgeons are provided by NGOs from Sweden, the Netherlands and France.
The ship carries a team of two doctors and four nurses, who live on board. It provides a range of services, from basic healthcare and immunisations to minor surgery. The ship is fully equipped with modern facilities, including clinics, a pharmacy, a treatment room and an operating theatre. There is also a four-bed ward for short-term care, a pathology lab and store, x-ray unit and dark room and an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Stays in the individual ‘chars’ are usually from three weeks to two months. When it leaves, a satellite clinic continues to provide care until the next visit. “In our satellite programmes, we bring in professionals for health and rural social education, provide paramedical care, give special treatment for mother and child health, family planning and pregnancy hazards, child nutrition and identify the needs for secondary care interventions,” said executive director Runa Khan to Bangladesh’s Star Weekend Magazine
Started as a trial in 2001, the ship began full operations in 2002. It has been so successful, it is currently expanding by building new ships paid for by the Emirates Airline Foundation.
Published: February 2012
Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, an NGO working on slum rehabilitation.
SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers.
The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.
This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.
But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.
Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.
The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.
Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.
China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.
But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.
Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.
The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”
The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.
The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.
This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.
Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.
An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.
The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.
It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.
Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.
An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”
The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.
This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.
Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.
The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.
The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.
“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”
Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.
Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.
To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.
The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.
The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.
“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”
The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.
2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/
4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com
5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com
6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org
The fourth issue of Southern Innovator has launched online and in print. Order copies now for distribution. Email: email@example.com.
Baker Cookstoves – Designing for the African Customer Development Challenges: An innovative social enterprise is using design to create an energy-efficient cookstove for Kenya. By turning to an experienced Swedish architecture and design firm, the people behind the Baker cookstove wanted to make sure the stove’s design was as efficient as possible and relevant to the customers’ needs, while also making sure it is visually appealing and something a person would proudly want in their home.
Texting for Cheaper Marketplace Food with SokoText Development Challenges: An international group of graduate-social entrepreneurs from the London School of Economics (LSE) is pioneering a way to reduce food prices in Kenya using mobile phones.
Ethiopia and Djibouti Join Push to Tap Geothermal Sources for Green EnergyDevelopment Challenges:Ethiopia and Djibouti are the latest global South countries to make a significant commitment to developing geothermal energy – a green energy source that draws on the heat below the earth’s surface (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_energy) – to meet future development goals.
Tackling China’s Air Pollution Crisis: An Innovative SolutionDevelopment Challenges: China reached an undesired landmark in 2013. While the country’s impressive economic growth has amazed the world, it has come at a price: pollution. China recorded record levels of smog in 2013, with some cities suffering air pollution many times above what is acceptable for human health.
Ghana Wants to Tap Global Trendy Party Scene Development Challenges: Tourism is big business – and one of the most resilient parts of the global economy. Despite the international economic crisis that has wreaked havoc and increased unemployment and poverty in many countries since 2007, tourism is still going strong.
China Pushing Frontiers of Medical ResearchDevelopment Challenges: Cutting-edge medical research in China is promising to boost human health and development. Futuristic science is being conducted on a large scale and it is hoped this will increase the pace of discovery.
Perfume of Peace Helps Farmers Switch From Drug Trade Development Challenges: A tragedy in a time of war has led to a social enterprise that is creating jobs – and making the world smell a little better, too.
US $450 Million Pledged for Green Economy Investments at Kenyan ExpoDevelopment Challenges: Innovators working in the global green economy could benefit from over US $450 million in investment recently pledged at the UN’s Global South-South Development Expo held in Nairobi, Kenya.
African Fashion’s Growing Global Marketplace Profile Development Challenges: Tales of African global fashion successes have multiplied in the last few years. African fashion is seeing its profile rise as more and more shows and festivals boost awareness of the continent’s designs, designers and models. In turn, African fashion and design is being taken more seriously as an income and job generator, and as a sector able to weather the ups and downs of the global economy: people always need to wear clothes.
Cuban Entrepreneurs Embracing Changes to Economy Development Challenges: The Caribbean island of Cuba has gone its own way economically and socially since its revolution in 1959. The country has seen significant gains in its human development in the decades since, and can boast impressive education levels and good public health care.
Radical Drone Solution to Woeful Infrastructure in Poor CountriesDevelopment Challenges: Drones – unpiloted aircraft, formally called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) – have long been used for military purposes. The U.S. military claims to have 7,500 drones – a massive growth from just 50 a decade ago – and has used them for surveillance and combat in conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Pioneering African Airlines Help to Expand Routes Development Challenges: The last decade has seen a revolution in African air travel. The number of air routes has grown and this has paralleled the economic growth across the continent. As demand has been strong for Africa’s resources, it has also fueled a consumer boom that is benefiting an increasing number of people.
Affordable Space Programmes Becoming Part of South’s DevelopmentDevelopment Challenges: Space: the final frontier. At least that was how heading off into the stars was portrayed in cult television and film series Star Trek. While many countries are working to raise living standards and eradicate poverty on earth, some are also looking to space for solutions to earth-bound problems.
Solar Bottle Bulbs Light Up Dark HomesDevelopment Challenges: Finding ways to generate low-cost or free light has captured the imagination of innovators across the global South. The desire for light is strong: Light gives an immediate boost to income-making opportunities and quality of life when the sun goes down or in dark homes with few windows.
China Sets Sights on Dominating Global Smartphone MarketDevelopment Challenges: The rise of smartphones – mobile phones capable of Internet access and able to run ‘apps’ or applications – is the latest wave of the global connectivity revolution. Mobile phones rapidly made their way around the world to become almost ubiquitous – the most successful take-up of a piece of communications technology in history – and now smartphones are set to do the same. The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the world surpassed 6 billion in 2012 (out of a population of 7 billion) and, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the number of mobile phones will exceed the world’s population by 2014.
Poorest Countries Being Harmed by Euro Currency Crisis Development Challenges: The ongoing economic crisis in Europe is forecast to harm the economies of the world’s poorest countries if it continues, according to a study by the United Kingdom’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) (odi.org.uk).
Solar-Powered Mobile Clinics to Boost Rural Healthcare in AfricaDevelopment Challenges: Around the world, innovative thinking is finding new ways of using solar power technology to bring electricity to underserved areas of the global South. Innovators are experimenting with new technologies, new business models and new ways to finance getting solar power into the hands of the poor.
Vietnamese Google Rival Challenging Global Giant Development Challenges: Information technologies are creating new business opportunities across the global South. As more and more people gain access to the Internet in one form or another, opportunities to offer them services also increase.
More Futuristic African Cities in the WorksDevelopment Challenges: It has been well documented that China is undergoing the largest migration in human history from rural areas to cities. But this urbanization trend is occurring across the global South, including in Africa, as well. According to the UN, more than half the world’s population already lives in cities, and 70 per cent will live in urban areas by 2050. Most of the world’s population growth is concentrated in urban areas in the global South.
Haitian Coffee Becoming a Hit with American ConnoisseursDevelopment Challenges: The Caribbean country of Haiti has had to deal with the twin challenges of recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010 while also pulling itself out of the economic and social chaos that has resulted in its status as the poorest place in the Western hemisphere.
New 3D Technology Makes Innovation Breakthrough and Puts Mind over MatterDevelopment Challenges:Revolutions in technology are placing more and more power into the hands of the individual, and 3D printing and fabrication machines are opening a whole new chapter. These devices come in many forms, but they all do one thing: they can manufacture pretty well any three-dimensional object on the spot, from digital plans. These machines come in many sizes, from factory scale to smaller, home versions which are no bigger than personal computer printers, such as the well-known MakerBot Replicator 2 (makerbot.com).
Mobile Phone Microscopes to Revolutionize Health DiagnosticsDevelopment Challenges: Mobile phone usage has increased hugely across the global South in the past five years. In Africa, the number of mobile phone subscribers reached 545 million in 2013, while there are 3.5 billion mobile phone users in Asia and the Pacific (ITU). Some 93 million people in Africa and 895 million in Asia and the Pacific have mobile phone Internet access (ITU).
Small Fish Farming Opportunity Can Wipe Out MalnutritionDevelopment Challenges: Pioneering work to boost diets across the global South is turning to the smallest of fish. While small in size, tiny fish are packed with nutrition when eaten whole, as they are in many cultures. Often these fish come packed with vitamin A, iron, zinc, calcium, protein and essential fats – all necessary elements to eradicate malnutrition and hidden hunger, especially among women and children.
Burgeoning African E-commerce Industry Full of OpportunityDevelopment Challenges: Africa has seen huge change since 2000 in the way people access information and do business electronically. The most championed accomplishment has been the widespread take-up of mobile phones. This has given birth to countless entrepreneurs and innovators who are using phones to help people, do business and sell goods and services.
Staple Foods Are Becoming More Secure in the South Development Challenges: Finding ways to ensure food security in countries experiencing profound economic and social change and stress is critical to achievement of development goals. Food security is crucial to ensuring economic development is sustainable, and it is vital to long-term human health. Just one bout of famine can damage a generation of youth, stunting brain development and leaving bodies smaller and weaker than they should be.
African Innovators Celebrated in PrizeDevelopment Challenges: Innovation is increasingly being recognized as the key to tackling long-standing development problems in Africa, as well as across the developing and developed world. While it is easy to draw up a list of challenges facing the global South, it takes a special person to see not problems but solutions.
Solar Solution to Lack of Electricity in AfricaDevelopment Challenges: Electricity is critical to improving human development and living standards. Yet, for many in the global South, electricity is either non-existent or its provision is patchy, erratic, unreliable or expensive.
Time-Tested Iranian Solutions to Cool and Refrigerate Development Challenges: Keeping food cool is critical for human health. No matter what the climate, a cool environment will prolong food preservation, stave off spoilage and lower the risk of food poisoning. This is crucial for the poor because it means they can reduce food waste and avoid illnesses caused by food poisoning. Diarrhea is a common problem when people do not have access to refrigeration for their food.
US $1 Trillion Opportunity for Africa’s Agribusinesses Says ReportDevelopment Challenges: As the world’s population continues to grow – surpassing 9 billion people by 2050, the United Nations estimates – and more and more people move to urban areas, producing enough food to feed this population will be one of the biggest economic challenges and opportunities in the global South.
Ambitious Schemes Hope to Advance Economic DevelopmentDevelopment Challenges: Sometimes it takes a bold, fresh start to speed up economic and human development goals. Taking a large-scale approach has been used around the world, either establishing new trade zones or even a new city.
Indian Initiatives to Make Travel Safer for Women Development Challenges: Shocking assaults on women traveling in India have galvanized innovators to find solutions. One solution that is proving successful is to establish specialist taxi services for women. As a happy additional benefit, these taxi innovators are transforming the taxi experience, introducing more ethical practices such as honest fares, professional and safe driving habits and clean, hygienic and comfortable taxis.
Kenya Reaches Mobile Phone Banking Landmark Development Challenges: Financial transactions and banking with mobile phones have been a Kenyan success story.
Online Education Could Boost African Development Development Challenges: Education is recognized as a major catalyst for human development. During a high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview.html) in 2010, UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – pointed out the necessity of making rapid gains in education if all the MDGs are to be achieved. The goals deadline is 2015 – just two years away.
African Digital Laser Breakthrough Promises Future InnovationDevelopment Challenges: For decades many African countries have experienced low investment in research and development (R&D) and scientific innovation. One of the few nations to benefit from a sophisticated university network and research and development sector was South Africa. It still ranks top on the continent for funding R&D and its high number of scientific journals.
Preserving Beekeeping Livelihoods in Morocco Development Challenges: The clever combining of tourism and long-standing beekeeping skills has revived a local craft and is also helping to preserve the ecology of Morocco. Beekeeping, or apiculture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping), has two clear benefits. Bee products, including honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen and royal jelly can be a valuable source of income. The other benefit is the critical role bees play in the ecology by pollinating flowers and plants as they go about their daily business.
A New African Beer Helps Smallholder Farmers. Development Challenges: Africa’s growth in the past decade has held steady despite the trauma of the global economic crisis and the tumult of the “Arab Spring” in several countries of North Africa. African economies are growing because of a number of resilient trends. These include growing regional trade links, greater investment in infrastructure and the remarkable rise of China to become Africa’s number one trade partner, pushing the United States to second place (Technology + Policy). This has given birth to a growing consumer marketplace and consumer class – some 300 million people earning about US $200 a month (Africa Rising).
Boosting Tourism in India with Surfing Culture Development Challenges: Tourism has experienced decades of growth and diversification and is now considered one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. According to the UNWTO – the United Nations World Tourism Organization – modern tourism is “a key driver for socio-economic progress.”
Made-in-Africa Fashion Brand Pioneers Aim for Global SuccessDevelopment Challenges: African fashion brands have not always been the first place fashionistas turned to when shopping for new clothes or shoes in developed economies. While Africa has long been a source of inspiration in contemporary and traditional fashion, the continent has had a weak reputation for manufacturing and selling mass market global fashion brands.
Kenyan Book Company Brings Online Sales to East Africa Development Challenges: The Internet has revolutionized retail sales in many developed countries – and nowhere more so than for booksellers. The ability to offer an almost unlimited supply of books through a website is revolutionizing the way people shop and giving life to books long out of print or by unknown authors.
African Innovation Helps Make Banking Transactions SaferDevelopment Challenges: As economies grow in Africa, more and more people are conducting their financial transactions electronically. This can be either through mobile phones and digital devices, or through the hole-in-the-wall of the automatic teller machine, or ATM.
New Apps Make Driving and Travelling in Egypt Easier, SaferDevelopment Challenges: Mobile phones are ubiquitous across the global South. They have spawned whole new business opportunities and changed the way people solve problems and find solutions.
Bangladesh Coffin-Maker Offers an Ethical Ending Development Challenges: Few people want to think about death, and many are ill-prepared when it happens to a loved one or friend. But it will happen to us all – and growing ethical and environmental concerns are reshaping the way many deal with the inevitable event. More and more people are seeking a lower-cost option for being disposed of that also does not harm the environment.
Thai Organic Supermarkets Seek to Improve HealthDevelopment Challenges: A Thai business is working hard to expand access to organic food in the country. It sees this as part of a wider campaign to improve health in the country – and its success has caught the attention of the government, which wants to turn Thailand into a global health destination.
Global South Experiencing Transportation Revolution Development Challenges: Away from the news headlines, a quiet revolution has been taking place in public transportation across the global South. As cities have expanded and grown, they have also been putting in place public transport systems to help people get around and get to work.
Global South’s Middle Class is Increasing Prosperity Development Challenges: The global middle class is on the rise – and this is creating both challenges and opportunities. As poverty rates have come down across the global South, many countries have seen a rise in the proportion of their population categorized as “middle class”. Globally, being middle class is defined as a person able to consume between US $4 a day and US $13 a day (ILO).
Angolan Film Grabs Attention at Film Festival Development Challenges: The power of the creative economy to transform lives, livelihoods – and perceptions – should never be underestimated. Creativity can transform the image of places and situations often seen in a negative light. A film from Angola is shining a light on the country’s music scene and showing the vitality of the nation in the wake of a long-running civil war.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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