51 Breakthrough Technologies to Defeat Poverty

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Simple technologies like Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money system can have a huge impact in the developing world. Offering something genuinely new, reliable and, above all, cheap, they can stitch together communities, catalyze markets, improve economies, and ultimately change lives.

So here’s the question: What other technologies could have a similar impact?

The Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies (LIGTT) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has been thinking about that and recently published 50 Breakthroughs: Critical scientific and technological advances needed for sustainable global development. The study looks at innovations (actually there are 51) that don’t exist yet, but could be feasible through work by scientists, engineers, and designers, and with support from philanthropies, aid agencies, businesses, and others.

“They represent breakthroughs because they have to be dramatically different from existing technologies in industrialized settings: available at a fraction of the cost, requiring only a fraction of the energy, significantly less reliant on technical skills to operate, not needing elaborate infrastructure, and being generally robust and maintenance-free,” says the report.

The ideas cover health, food security and agricultural development, human rights, education, digital inclusion, water, access to electricity, gender equality, and climate change, with the focus on the lives of the poor in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Here are some of the ideas. The report charts the technical complexity of achieving each innovation with estimated years to completion, and the commercial potential for each idea. LIGTT hopes funders will be inspired to follow up, placing dollars and manpower where they can have maximum impact.


Health makes up the biggest category in the report, with 16 ideas. They include obvious, and highly important things, like new HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis vaccines (these diseases kill almost four million people a year), and less obvious things like a low-cost (sub-$10,000) solar-powered birthing kit for mothers. Other items on the wish-list: condom substitutes (because men don’t like wearing them), integrated diagnostic systemsfor rural clinics, and longer-lasting antiretroviral therapies (because today’s HIV drug cocktails are expensive and too toxic).

Source: Fast Company (link opens in a new window)

Energy, Technology
poverty alleviation