The folks at Centro de Innovación in Santiago, Chile, aim to change that.
I met Julian Ugarte, an Industrial designer, and his team during a recent trip to South America, and I was blown away by what they are trying to do. On March 22, Ugarte and Centro de Innovación launched a contest with Movistar — a mobile subsidiary of Telefonica — and TechoLab, a non-profit subsidiary of Un Techo para mi País (UTPMP) — a pan-Latin American NGO that dispatches youth volunteers on projects to eradicate the extreme poverty that affects tens of millions in Latin America. A $10,000 prize will be given to each of the creators of the best three apps that address problems facing the millions of people living at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP).
The UTPMP builds houses, provides clean water, and gives the poor tools and technologies to improve their lot in life. UTPMP executive director Javier Zulueta told me that his team, with the help of more than 400,000 volunteers, had constructed 78,000 transitional houses in Latin America and completed numerous other anti-poverty projects. An important aspect of these projects is that the volunteers seek to include the poor in the development process by encouraging them to contribute to and guide the projects benefiting their communities. In other words, UTPMP seeks not only to give them a fish but also a fish hook and pole, metaphorically speaking, to become more self-sufficient.
Zulueta said that UTPMP had inaugurated Centro de Innovación three years ago, to develop innovative new products, services and business for those most in need. Here’s the rub. The Center seeks to do this by treating these impoverished households as customers of real economic value rather than as charity cases needing a handout.
Last year, Ugarte’s team partnered with Alfredo Zolezzi, Chief Innovation Officer of Chile Advanced Innovation Center, to test a revolutionary pint-sized Plasma Water Sanitation System that his company was developing. This can purify 35 liters of water in five minutes using only the power required to light a 100 watt bulb. If the system can be mass produced for less than $100, as Zolezzi believes, and the output passes the lab tests to which it is being subjected, it has the potential to provide clean, safe water to billions in the developing world. The slum dwellers that I met in Santiago told me that they would routinely get sick and have to go to the hospital because of the bacteria in the water they used. Since the test unit was installed, no one in their community had gotten ill from a water-related disease, according to Rosa Reyes, community leader of the Fundo San Jose shantytown.