Solving poverty is a multi-faceted and complex problem. Still, I’m trying to gather some of the current technologies and start-ups in this blog post that could make it possible to solve the most pressing issues of the poor.
What do people need to survive and thrive?
Food, water, shelter, hygiene, energy, education, healthcare and income to afford these.
I think the solutions for the world’s poverty, inequality and sustainability problems are:
Decentralized, affordable and sustainable solutions for food, water, shelter, hygiene, energy and especially education.
Globally, 1.9 billion people were food insecure in 2017. Whilst the greatest number are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, moderate food insecurity is a major issue across all regions, even high-income countries. Access and affordability of diverse, nutritious diets is therefore important for all countries. — Our world in data
This also benefits people with average income, because around 50% of their monthly income is also spent on food, water and housing. So let's start with the solutions.
Solving food safety
One of the most innovative food start-ups in this space is Solar Foods. They've built a fermentation process that uses solar energy and CO2 from the air, some minerals and microorganisms to produce Solein, a clean protein powder that can be used to make all kinds of food. They're currently planning their first factory and got investments from the Finnish government. This technology makes it possible to replace big parts of agriculture, a sector which currently is one of the biggest polluters and takes a lot of space. It also makes it possible to produce foods in deserts and dry areas which is especially important because many poor people live in areas where agriculture is difficult to do due to draught.
Currently we have a housing crisis because building houses is expensive and market forces are not aligned with renters. You need a lot of materials and people to build homes. With 3D printing, this process gets automated and can be done by as little as 3 people in 2 days for under $10,000. One of these 3D-printed house start-ups is ICON which already built housing projects for poor households in Austin and Mexico. And they also look great and can be built using eco-friendly materials.
Solving water, waste management and energy
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a project called Omni Processor solving 3 pressing issues with one machine. The Omni Processor takes waste from the community and turns it into drinking water, energy and construction materials. The system costs around $1.5 million, but the good thing is that it pays for itself by taking care of the waste and generating energy and water for around 50,000 to 100,000 people. Watch this video from Senegal where the system provides water, energy and waste management for the community.
Besides the Omni Processor, there is another great start-up solving the problem of private toilets. Tiger Toilet uses worms to compost waste and produce fertilized earth that can be used for agriculture. And it doesn't need any infrastructure to function. This video shows how the Tiger Toilet positively affects the daily lives of the people using it.
Another company that is solving hygiene issues is LifeStraw which built LifeStraw Mission, a small water filter that is able to filter viruses and other pathogens from unclean water sources. These systems can be life savers in emergency situations.
Other systems for water treatment that are affordable and can provide for communities are e.g. solar sterilisation and slow sand filtration systems. Read about 10 low cost ways to treat water here.
Solving education and income
Start-ups like Starlink and others will enable people to have global internet access. This in turn gives people access to all the education resources in the world using a smartphone. Projects like edX and adult literacy companies that teach people how to read and write enable people to learn for free via internet.
Besides the internet, there are also successful projects enabling people to start their own businesses. Read here about a successful Women Empowerment project that enabled many women in rural India to provide for their families.
This issue is more related to governmental infrastructure, so this is a topic that must be solved by policies and right governmental action. Still, there are many ways how pressing issues here can also be partially solved. After solving food safety and water quality and waste management, many of the current health problems related to poverty are already less severe.
Still, using educational resources like the book "Where There is no Doctor - A Village Health Care Handbook" which provides a guide for many emergency situations and the book "Where There Is No Psychiatrist: A Mental Health Care Manual" for psychological issues can support people helping others in their community.
System solutions that are also related to nation building and building democratic government institutions, solving corruption, reducing exploitation by richer countries and electing honest politicians is a big part of this process, too. This is something that can't be solved easily by technological progress. But I hope that I still could present some of the current leading solutions that can help us reach our goal of solving poverty so that nobody needs to starve anymore.
We need to scale up these existing solutions to allow economies of scale to reduce costs in production and distribution and increase the affordability for all income levels.