Innovation for the World
Each year, Bill Gates addresses his foundation with a letter summing up the high level priorities for the year. This year’s letter begins with a section on Innovation in Agriculture, to which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is committing nearly 2 billion dollars.
In his letter, Bill Gates raises a poignant question:
How can we drive innovation where the potential to impact people in need is very high, but the potential for monetary gain is very low?
Here are three examples of when innovation happened even though there was no clear probability of making any return.
Merck and Company Cure River Blindness
This is a well-known example of a corporation putting humanitarian priorities ahead of profit. In the 1980s Merck decided to actually give away one of their drugs to impoverished people in Africa. To this day this continues to help tens of thousands of people. The benefit to Merck has been a tremendous amount of good will. This enabled them to recruit better talent, but also created a sense of mission, loyalty and purpose for their current employees, driving engagement and productivity.
Full Wharton Article
Car Part Incubator
In many developing countries, babies with low birth-weights suffer from disease and many die. Incubators could save many of these lives, but incubators are expensive and even when they are donated and shipped to impoverished communities, they often break down. The expertise and parts required to fix them just aren’t available. Design That Matters has come up with an interesting solution: an incubator made entirely of car parts. The parts and repair skills are both easily available locally, and the Car Part Incubator provides the heat needed to protect a low birth-weight baby.
CNN’s Clip on the Car Part Incubator
Children + The Internet = Learning
Sugata Mitra, an educator and education researcher from India, did something curious. He embedded a computer (with Internet access) into a wall in a slum in India, and then he left. He returned months later to find that the local children had taught themselves how to browse, play games, and even some basic English. He’s escalated his research efforts since, and has developed an entirely unique approach to learning.
Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk