Date Archives March 2011

Super MoneyMaker by Kickstart

In several African countries, poverty is experienced in agricultural fields where families subsist on what a small farm can provide. In the late 1990s, Martin Fisher and Nick Moon, from Kickstart, discovered that one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty is to help these families increase their production, thus shifting from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture that could generate income.

They developed a pedal water pumpĀ called MoneyMaker Irrigation Pump, a two-cylinder pressurized pedal pump that pumps water from a river, or lake, up to seven meters deep. It allows farmers to irrigate up to two acres of surface. The advantage of this product is that it can increase the production of a family by up to 400% allowing them to grow a variety of products even in the dry season when crop prices rise.

This product was thought of around a business model with people and users at its core. Interested buyers areĀ advised on ways to manufacture these pumps and sell them in their community, thus generating a new market in the local economy.

Kickstart estimates that with its products they have helped 533,700 people out of poverty and currently generate eight hundred businesses a month using their products. The selling price of Super MoneyMaker ranges from $ 35 to $ 95 depending on the location, since its inception in Nairobi, Kenya, Kickstart now operates in Mali and Tanzania.

SANA: a mobile health solution

In remote regions there is often a shortage of medical personnel prepared to meet basic needs and medical emergencies. SANA is an organization that is creating the first mobile health operating system using cell phones as an interface between marginalized communities and medical institutions. The use of cell phones is key, since it is quite common for remote villages to lack clinics. It is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of the world population lives near an area with access to a cellular network.

The SANA system is installed on cell phones of medical staff who diagnose patients. During a medical evaluation a questionnaire is installed on the phone. Photos and descriptions are recorded and sent to a hospital or medical center where the information is received for analysis. Finally, the staff make a diagnosis on site and help the patient to make a decision.


Images of the app interface.

Medical organizations in turn can share their diagnoses with other organizations and thus generate a collective intelligence that, based on the cases of millions of people, can generate better diagnoses and low-cost treatments.

The SANA system is based on an open source information system, which is shared for free and can be used by institutions in developing countries such as the Philippines and India. SANA is doing tests in Mexico to evaluate the possibility of using this system in the country.


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Sanitary towels by SHE


One of the best investments in developing countries is education since it prepares young people with skills for their adulthood. However, many women and teenagers in several countries lose school days and work during their menstrual period since they lack sanitary towels. If they exist in their community, they are often not within reach.

That is why many women prefer to stay at home during those days and avoid embarrassing moments in public or use non-hygienic products as an alternative: rags, pieces of bark, or even mud, resulting in potential infections. The shortage of these products in these countries results in labor or school losses of up to 50 days a year, up to five years of a person’s life.

Elizabeth Scharpf decided to do something about it. Instead of creating a charitable organization for its cause, Scharpf decided to address this situation from the perspective of business, a solution that can work in the long term. Scharpf is a social entrepreneur with two Harvard masters and with experience in organizations such as the World Bank and the Clinton Foundation. The 33-year-old entrepreneur started an experiment in Rwanda in 2009.

With a small team of friends Scharpf experimented with different materials to make their own female towels. They tested yucca leaf fibers, pieces of cloth, bark fibers and leaves from the banana tree and placed them in a blender, one material at a time, to test which was more absorbent. Fiber from banana leaf was the best option, also proving to be a cheap, biodegradable and a readily-available material in the region.

The organization she started was called Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), where she continues to develop their health product in collaboration with a team of students and alumni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called Komera that seeks to improve the manufacturing process. Part of the challenge is not just to make towels at a low cost. They also work on ways to make it a viable business.

By offering these sanitary-towel-making machines to entrepreneurial women by means of a loan, they can acquire a business that manufactures and distributes this product. For each business, or franchise, SHE estimates that 100 jobs are generated, benefiting 100,000 women and young people. The current price of these towels in Rwanda is between $2 and $ 3 for a pack of 10. SHE hopes to reduce the sale price to 75 cents with this product.

In their first tests in Rwanda, they have received comments from women mentioning that the product appears to be of inferior quality to imported towels. SHE and Komera are working to improve the appearance of the towels, making them more round and adding wings for greater acceptance. Last year, SHE received the CurryStone Design Award for its initiative and innovation potential.