African start-ups included in tech for good

Innovation

Three South African tech startups have been listed as being among the world’s most inspiring by Nominet Trust, a leading social venture funder. The 100-strong list, chosen by a steering committee which includes angel investor Sherry Coutu, Google Ventures Tom Hulme and Director of Wayra Europe, Simon Devonshire, aims to showcase how technology’s transformative power is driving change around the world.

The South African startups featured in the list are:

  • MAMA: A service which texts antenatal and health information to mobile devices. Although the project is based in South Africa, it was its success in Bangladesh which allowed it to do a proper rollout in its home country, as well as India and other nations.
  • TxtAlert: A Praekelt foundation project, TxtAlert provides appointment, medication and health information to patients by text. The service is aimed at patients with chronic conditions, especially HIV/AIDs.
  • Young Africa Live: Another Praekelt Foundation project, Young Africa Live is aimed at helping young Africans to combat HIV/AIDS with multi-format information. Launched on World Aids Day 2009, the service now has a 1.8-million strong community, making it one of the largest private social networks in South Africa.

Taken as a whole, the projects on the Nominet Trust list are active in more than 200 countries, all using technology to tackle some of the world’s biggest social problems from education and human rights abuses to climate change and health.Annika Small, CEO of Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading tech for good funder, said: “There is a striking progression in the quality and maturity of this year’s NT100, indicative of a wider evolution in the ‘tech for social good’ sector as a whole.”This year, organisations from established tech markets in the US and Europe, such as Freecycle, Random Hacks of Kindness and Google’s self-driving car, rub shoulders with initiatives from emerging economies, including eCompliance, a revolutionary use of fingertip-readers to record tuberculosis treatment in India; philanthropic food-photo-sharing app Feedie from South Africa and HarassMap, an anonymous crowd-mapping platform for sexual harassment in Egypt. Small said: “More people than ever before are using technology to solve problems that matter to them in bold new ways. This year’s NT100 list is populated by extraordinary people with inspirational stories to tell and it shows us that imagination, social conscience and technology make a potent mix to affect change.”  The list highlighted a range of global trends in social tech

Healthcare is the primary ‘tech for good’ focus for 2014

The NT100 features a prevalence of healthcare and accessibility applications (34 per cent) that are embracing new technologies. These include e-NABLE, which harnesses 3D printing to create affordable prosthetics; FingerReader, a wearable tech device for sight loss; and MAMA, a global community which delivers vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones. In Africa and Asia, nine ventures are transforming the health of communities across 45 different countries.

Post-Snowden, personal privacy is key

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the list highlights nine initiatives protecting personal information and privacy. These include the counter-surveillance Tor network, DuckDuckGo, an Internet search engine that protects the searchers’ privacy; and MailPile, an encrypted email service.

Africa leads in mobile, while Europe focuses on tangible technologies

Whereas mobile technology is the dominant solution in Africa (nine ventures make the final list), data is leading the way in the US, with 19 listed projects using it to solve social issues. These include DataKind, a community platform that connects data experts with charities in order to solve big data challenges and SumAll, an organisation which helps NGOs use advanced analytics tools they would have neither the funds nor skills to otherwise deploy. Physical computing is most prominent in Europe, with 16 tangible ventures ranging from the huggable pediatric tech toy, Teddy the Guardian, to Special Effect’s adapted gaming hardware for physically disabled people.

US dominates, but BRICS countries show major growth

The US is home to the largest share of NT100 ventures – 37 of the final 100. 25 ventures have been developed in the UK and are making an impact in more than 70 countries. Nine ventures are actively working in the large emerging economies of MIST countries (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey), while 29 ventures are actively supporting people in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

Ventures sparking investment interest

In total, 56 per cent of this year’s projects are at ‘Growth’ stage (up from 44 per cent last year), with a raft of projects demonstrating increased investment and a growth in their user base. Notable examples include Open Utility, the peer-to-peer renewable energy trading platform, which raised a funding round just last month and Lift Lab’s, Liftware device, a tremor-canceling spoon aimed at improving the lives of people suffering from Parkinson’s, which was acquired by Google in September of this year.

UK projects setting standard for solving international and domestic social challenges

On home turf, UK projects are tackling a range of pressing social issues, such as healthcare, housing and an aging population. Ventures include Casserole Club, an online community which helps people share extra portions of home cooked food with less able members of their community; WikiHouse, a low-cost 3D-printed housing initiative that anyone can design and put together; and Skin Analytics, a Cambridge-based organisation which enables people to self-monitor moles for melanomas.

Further afield, the likes of Buffalo Grid, a PAYG solar phone charger for the world’s poorest countries; Ideas Box; a pop-up media centre for refugee camps; and the Natalia Project, the world’s first alarm and positioning system for human rights defenders at risk, are all examples of UK projects developing solutions to help overseas issues.

Simon Devonshire, Director of Wayra Europe and Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Social tech has been bubbling away under the surface in recent years but the 2014 NT100 demonstrates that now is the time we should all sit up and pay attention. Many of these projects are beginning to scale up, or have the potential to do so in the near future. Given the right support, they will reach a point where their global social impact can match their ambition.”

Lucy Bernholz, Senior Fellow at the Stanford University Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society, said: “The NT100 captures the diversity of digital social innovation. People all over the world are putting digital tools to work for good in ways that inspire and amaze. The innovations in the NT100 help us imagine a better future.”

Small added: “Technology is a powerful enabler of social innovation. The NT100 shows how improved access to technology is making it possible for people to take action and develop radically new solutions to the problems that they face in their communities.”

Editor’s Note:  This post first appeared on VentureBurn on December 4, 2014.

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