Innovation where it is most needed

NB: This piece Alex wrote for Progress and appeared in April 2018

Digital innovation is now spreading across the globe, and is levelling the playing field. There can be no argument that technology is now having an enormous impact on all our lives. If this is a good or bad thing can debated at length.

Certainly, if I Google toilet training tips for my two-year-old and then am inundated with adverts for pull up training pants across my social media streams and web searches for the next few weeks, it does make me wonder how personalised I want my digital experience to be.

However, when I went to university 20 years ago, I had a pager to keep in touch with friends and a BT call card so that when I called my parents, they would pay. Now we have watches that read out heart rate every few seconds, phones that count our steps and apps that record calories burnt – all this linked to health insurance companies that monitor this data and reward you for leading a healthy lifestyle. Amazing, right?

The speed of recent digital innovation has been staggering. However, although we have seen huge advances in developed nations, there has only been a tiny trickle of this innovation making it to the mainstream in developing nations – where, arguably, the impact of the innovation we now take for granted has a far more important role to play.

But I think we are about to see a real change in that. I am involved in a number startup communities both in the United Kingdom and overseas and have been lucky to come across some truly ground breaking companies that have created unique technologies and are disrupting the norm in everything from healthcare to power, and education to agriculture.

Delivering quality healthcare, reducing infant mortality and increasing life expectancy regardless of where a person is born is a must. Boabab Circle, a mobile health app, has a mission to provide health coaching and remote monitoring for hard to reach populations living with chronic health conditions. They have already setup successful trials in Kenya and are aiming to expand across east Africa this year.

Access to a constant stable power supply that is clean is key for a variety of reasons. Pavegen, a smart flooring system, is converting footsteps into energy through high-tech tiles. From football pitches in Rio de Janeiro to walkways in Washington DC, they have completed over 150 projects across the globe.

With the right support and a tiny bit of luck these companies and others have the opportunity to create seismic shifts in their field and have the potential to provide life changing solutions to some of the toughest challenges we are facing.

Innovation tends to be driven in countries where there is a commercial case to drive innovation, where companies are able to take a risk and push the boundaries of what technology can do. Until recently the innovation we increasingly take for granted has been a trickle to those that need it the most. My hope is this will quickly turn into a torrent.

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