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3p Weekend: 8 Simple Ideas That Save Lives

Mary Mazzoni headshotWords by Mary Mazzoni
Leadership & Transparency
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With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Sometimes we make things damn difficult. In the Western world, we shake our heads at "smart" electronics no one asked for (electronic egg monitors, anyone?). But in the developing world, over-thinking things -- and funneling millions of dollars into over-designed (and ultimately fruitless) concepts -- can be far more costly.

When it comes to life-changing solutions -- and life in general, if you ask us -- it's often the simple things that make the biggest impact. This week we tip our hats to seven simple ideas that save lives.

1. Lamps made from recyclables make a world of difference


This is the definition of a simple, life-changing idea. Dreamed up by Brazilian engineer Alfredo Moser, these lamps can be completed in three easy steps: grab an empty plastic bottle, fill it with mineral water and a few drops of bleach, and attach it to a roofing shingle.

Moser came up with the idea when his neighborhood in Sao Paolo, Brazil, experienced a long cut in electric power. After learning of the concept, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and MyShelter Foundation set about scaling it up, launching pilot programs in the Philippines, Pakistan and beyond through the Liter of Light Project.

2. Reverse innovation helps mothers save their newborns

An estimated 15 million babies face hypothermia every year, and 3 million die during the first month of life, Rahul Panicker, co-founder and president of Embrace Innovations, told Unreasonable.is.

Enter the solution: The Embrace Warmer, which looks like a tiny sleeping bag, is as effective as an infant incubator at less than 2 percent of the cost ($300 compared to around $20,000). The company has reached 150,000 infants so far and is seeking new ways to scale up faster.

3. Portable water filters let users drink anywhere

Would you drink water from a toilet? It may sound a little strange, but this life-saving product makes it possible. The Lifestraw water filter, from Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen, can remove remove 99.9999 percent of all waterborne bacteria and 99.99 percent of parasites.

The Lifestraw is available in a single-user straw that suits its namesake, as well as a portable water bottle and a family-sized jug that can filter more than 4,700 gallons of water. As well as saving lives in the developing world, the Lifestraw has become a favorite of campers and backpackers. In response, Vestergaard launched Follow the Liters: a one-for-one giving program that gives a child safe drinking water for an entire school year for every Lifestraw product purchased.

4. Modified fitness trackers are put to good use


Most fitness-tracker owners stops using their devices after an average of six months. What would ordinarily inspire a face-palm over first-world country waste may just have a silver lining: UNICEF says these tossed trackers can save lives in developing countries.

The organization is challenging designers, tinkerers and do-gooders the world over to develop "Wearables for Good." These simple designs transform wearable fitness trackers into devices that improve health, disaster response and more. Do you have what it takes?

5. Affordable solar lighting brightens homes


While plastic bottle lighting works well in a pinch, it's far from a permanent solution. This portable and affordable solar lamp from d.light Designs, however, is another story.

These small but mighty lights can provide up to 100 hours of light on a single day's solar charge (from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The lights are available in various sizes -- to suit everyone from a child trying to read at night to a small business looking to stay open after sundown -- and many are water, dust and insect resistant making them virtually indestructible.

Founded by a former Peace Corps volunteer and a Stanford student, the company has provided light to 50 million people since launching in 2008. D.light also allows people to donate light to those in need. Click here to provide light in Nepal.

6. Drought-resistant superfood nourishes, fights disease


By now you've probably heard of moringa. You may have seen it highlighted as a key protein shake ingredient at a pricey juice bar or noticed it on the shelf of your local Whole Foods. But did you know this simple superfood can save lives in the developing world?

The moringa tree, native to parts of Africa and Asia, provides a crazy amount of nutritional benefits. Each leaf contains seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots, four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas, and twice the protein of yogurt. And that's not all: According to the ancient Indian medicinal tradition of ayurveda, the leaves of the moringa tree can prevent 300 diseases – and modern science confirms these claims have credence.

The trees grow quickly and are resistant to drought -- meaning they're perfect for cultivation in regions where traditional agriculture is difficult, if not impossible. Social enterprise Kuli Kuli harnesses the power of moringa by training communities in the developing world to cultivate and harvest the plant for nutrition -- and make a living by selling some of their product for fancy protein bars here in the states.

7. Handwashing campaigns transform habits to save lives


Sometimes it's hard to remember that the skills and habits we learn in the Western world -- things as simple as washing our hands regularly or brushing our teeth twice a day -- aren't a given for millions of children and adults in developing countries.

For this reason, several multinational companies -- including Unilever and Dow Chemical -- have set out to teach healthy habits and save lives in the process. Unilever's Lifebuoy handwashing programs have reached 257 million people in 24 countries over the past six years. Dow joined forces with Unilever in 2011, when the two companies came up with a soap that people in developing countries could afford and would last longer than other soaps.

8. "Lucky" iron fish promotes health and wellness


An estimated 6 million Cambodians, or almost half of the country's population, are iron deficient, and more than 3.5 billion people worldwide suffer from this preventable condition. Iron deficiency can lead to low energy, poor blood circulation and other medical maladies.

But there is good news: It turns out preventing iron deficiency and anemia isn't that hard. At least that's what Gavin Armstrong, president and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish, and his team are out to prove. Inspired by Cambodian culture that considers the fish lucky, Armstrong devised a simple, affordable and fun concept to boost people's iron levels: Dropping the Lucky Iron Fish into a cooking pot for 10 minutes provides diners with 75 percent of their daily iron intake.

Hand-crafted at local production sites, the "lucky" fish is affordable and lasts for five years. The concept is already making a difference for thousands of people in Cambodia. Check out the Lucky Iron Fish website to buy a fish for yourself or give one to a person in need.

Image credits: Lifestraw, Embrace Innovations 

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious CompanyAlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia, PA.

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni