It’s been said that there’s an app for everything these days, so why should the world’s most pressing challenges be any different?
That’s the message behind the Vodafone Americas Foundation’s Wireless Innovation Project Competition (WIP). Developed by June Sugiyama, director of the foundation, WIP has provided funding for a range of wireless technology innovations–awarding more than $2 million to universities, nonprofits and NGOs since its inception in 2009.
Applicants can win from a total prize fund of $600,000 for innovative mobile solutions that have potential to solve critical global issues. The technology developed by past WIP winners is poised to impact poverty, health, environment, disaster relief and technology access around the world.
This year’s eight finalists, who were recognized at a reception in Redwood City, Calif. on April 1, presented mobile-based solutions to a range of critical issues–from addressing deforestation and improving communication during natural disasters to diagnosing illnesses quickly and non-invasively.
Vodafone Americas Foundation announced the winners today during the Social Innovation Summit 2014, being held at the United Nations Plaza, and it’s tough not to get excited about their ideas.
First place: MobileOCT
First place went to MobileOCT, a medical device company seeking to eradicate cervical cancer by making screening as ubiquitous as mobile phones.
“More than 5 billion people around the world have access to mobile phones, but not to a physician,” the company points out on its website. “They deserve to catch cancer early enough so that it can be treated.”
The technology converts any digital camera—even one attached to a smartphone or an endoscope—into a device capable of providing the evidence clinicians need to catch cancer before it develops. Plans for field testing the device to help detect cervical cancer are in place for a clinic in Mexico.
Second place: Soko Enterprise
Second place was awarded to Soko Enterprise. Created by Gwendolyn Floyd, an internationally recognized expert in using mobile technology to achieve development goals, and Ella Griffith, an MIT graduate who has worked on social enterprises in and around the slums of Nairobi for four years, Soko aims to put the global marketplace in the hands of artisans in the developing world.
“At Soko, we believe that talented artisans everywhere should have access to the online marketplace,” the company writes on its website. “By providing tools and connectivity to global markets, Soko enables direct access to opportunities for entrepreneurial growth, streamlining trade and making it simple and transparent.”
Its enterprise tool enables small-scale producers to manage production and operations, sell to global consumers and get paid directly–all via mobile. Using Soko, artisans and craftspeople in countries like Kenya will be able to participate in the global marketplace in ways that were typically not possible without the help of a larger organization. Check out the video below to learn more about Soko’s enterprise tool.
Third place: eyeMITRA
Developed by a research team at MIT, the third place winner, eyeMITRA, is a mobile phone attachment with the potential to prevent the most common cause of adult blindness.
“Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of adult blindness,” the research team writes on the eyeMITRA website. “Today, there are over 366 million diabetics globally and this figure is expected to rise dramatically in the next decade. About a quarter of this population comprise individuals who either have or will go on to develop DR.”
Specifically, the attachment is used for imaging of the retina (the nervous tissue in the back of the eye) to provide real-time health status assessment and potentially diagnosis. The tool is targeted towards detection and monitoring of retinal diseases, as well as systemic illnesses that manifest in the retina, such as diabetes. Along with visiting scientist Karin Roesch, who specializes in retinal disorders, and MIT associate professor Ramesh Raskar, graduate student and research assistant Everett Lawson played a key role in developing this potentially sight-saving tool. Check out the video below to learn more.
Chair of the Vodafone Americas Foundation and head of Vodafone xone, Vodafone’s innovation, incubation and venture arm based in the Silicon Valley, Fay Arjomandi had this to say about the 2014 WIP Competition:
“This is an exciting stage for many startup organizations that are seeking to bring their applications and technologies for social good to the people who need it the most. In a few short months, the organizations [that] our judges have selected as the most cutting edge and viable concepts will not only receive financial support, but will be able to draw on the cutting-edge labs and expertise of a global leader in mobile technology. Some of our past WIP winners have already gone to market and have started to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Only time will tell how these ideas will manifest once they hit the open market, but if the experiences of past WIP winners are any indication, they’re likely to spur change where it’s needed most. Some of the innovations developed by winners past—in the market and also in beta testing—are already impacting people and countries around the world.
One thing is for certain: By recognizing ideas like these, we give inspiration and encouragement to the innovators and change-makers of tomorrow–and that in itself is a pretty big win.
Images courtesy of the Vodafone Americas Foundation
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and the Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.