How Do They Do It?

How can social innovators help poor communities with big problems—like lack of HIV/AIDS awareness, or electricity, or even rain?

How Do They Do It?
Keep walking: As part of the Tech Awards, IDE-India was recognized with the Sobrato Organization Economic Development Award, presented by John M. Sobrato ’83. View full image. Photo courtesy The Tech Museum/IDE-India

Not every startup succeeds. That’s true when it comes to social benefit startups as well. So for the 2016 awards, the judging committee reviewed its honorees since the Tech Awards’ founding—granting $50,000 to those most successful.

The awards are presented by the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. Among the 2016 winners are three alumni of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), run by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at SCU. They are: Equal Access International, Angaza, and International Development Enterprises-India (IDE-India). These orgs have expanded their work over the years by thinking big but beginning small, and never losing sight of how to serve the most people.

GSBI pairs up Silicon Valley mentors with social entrepreneurs who are harnessing technology to help people sustainably release themselves from extreme poverty. There’s also a cool kind of leveraging of the network: Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellows program sends SCU students to work with GSBI partners worldwide.

In 2003, Equal Access won the Tech Award for educating 10,400 remote Nepalese on female empowerment and HIV/AIDS prevention through the radio show “Chatting with My Best Friend.” This time around, the company was recognized for serving 67 million households in nine nations through its expanded news and educational programming.

Angaza puts solar power within reach of poor villagers in sub-Saharan Africa. Embedded in affordable solar lamps, panels, and batteries is pay-as-you-go technology, so customers can pay off the solar devices in small increments. Since its first award in 2012, the company has provided 250,000 off-grid consumers with solar power.

“It’s a neat model,” says Craig Stephens, a biology professor at SCU who helped judge the awards. “Their pay-as-you-go platform was the really innovative part.”

In India, poor farmers without access to water sources have been at the mercy of the monsoon season. But thanks to IDE-India, 1.3 million households are now using its irrigation products, like a foot-powered pump with bamboo handles, to get the irrigation job done.

“The ripple effect from increasing farm yields is far reaching,” says the Tech Museum. “Families now can feed themselves. Men no longer have to leave their homes to find low-paying jobs in the cities. Children can attend school instead of working to earn extra income.” All told, the standard of living—thanks to IDE-India technology—rises by about $400 a year.

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