I don't generally blog press releases (Ed's Note: If Jeff did, I could probably get him to post more than twice a week), but one from InnoCentive today caught my fancy. In brief: Non-profit in India uses the InnoCentive network to design technology crucial to allowing them to expand their worthy efforts. This isn't without precedent. The group Prize4Life, which is trying to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, has used InnoCentive to identify biomarkers for the disease. But the particulars in this case make it worth highlighting.
ASSET (Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology) India Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps train the children of sex workers and girls rescued from trafficking, in technology, so they can escape the sex slave industry in India. (Not that anyone doubts the immense, multi-layered value such a project has in India, but please rush home anyway and rent the incredible documentary, Born Into Brothels).
While ASSET had computer training centers (they also teach English to the children) in India's major cities, the organization received 10 to 12 requests each month for new centers in much smaller towns. But opening facilities in villages presented several hurdles, the most onerous one being the lack of employment opportunities in such areas. For ASSET to spread to rural India, they not only needed equipment and funding, but a way to allow IT companies to open branches in such areas. And to do that they needed power. And for power they needed electricity. Or did they?
What if the hardware needed to open shop could be run off solar energy? At this point another non-prof, Global Giving, connected ASSET to the Rockefeller Foundation, which agreed to pay to post the problem to InnoCentive's site. Several months later some 27 solutions had been submitted. The "challenge" called for the design of a solar-powered wireless router composed of low-cost, readily available hardware and software components. A few months later, a software engineer named Zacary Brown came up with the solution. "I found the problem interesting because it combined several of my hobbies," Brown says. He got discouraged at several points, but kept plugging away.
What I love about this is that, because InnoCentive seeker companies keep all the intellectual property, ASSET can port this solution all over India, and even give the design to sister organizations doing work in other developing economies. I'm out of depth here, but I'd hazard a guess that this little piece of low-cost tech could have a major affect on how IT companies in India and beyond do business.
And my favorite detail? Brown's design runs on the original crowdpowered project—Linux!