Monday, August 16, 2010

When Supply Meets Demand for Innovation

Guest post by Britt Lake

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with InnoCentive, we at GlobalGiving have been piloting a way to enable communities to tell the world what problems they need help solving.  We've then been crowdsourcing solutions to these problems to bring clean water and electricity to communities in India, Uganda, Peru, and around the world.

First, we reached out to hundreds of local organizations around the world to determine their communities' biggest challenges.  The responses came pouring in: How can we build a rainwater harvesting storage tank that is appropriate for our region? How can we design an indicator that would show us when water has enough exposure to UV light to make it safe to drink? How can we create river turbines with local materials that would provide electrical power to villages in the Peruvian jungle?

We then posted five of these challenges on the InnoCentive website, which in turn broadcast them to potential inventors around the world. The initial results are promising.  Four of the five challenges have already found potential solutions. 

Take the EDGE Project.  EDGE is an organization that researches, designs and implements sustainable development projects on the Ugandan island of Lingira in Lake Victoria.  Since they were founded, they’ve been trying to find a way to make water from Lake Victoria safe to drink for the Lingira community.  They have tried boiling the water, using biosand filters, chemical water treatments, and an electrochemical system, but none of these have provided sustainable solutions for the local environment.  These existing methods make the water taste bad, require expensive replacement parts that are not found in the community, or don’t get the water completely clean.  In the two months after the challenge was posted, the EDGE project received 85 potential solutions!  The EDGE team reviewed all the submissions and selected one promising new approach - a new type of ceramic pot filter that both cleans the water and stores and protects it from re-contamination. 

Through this process we’ve been able to figure out what people need, and we’ve identified potential solutions to these challenges.  Our final step is getting these solutions funded and tested.  We’re working with our partners now to find out what it will take to get these solutions working on the ground, then we’ll use crowdfunding to actually get these solutions tested.