Poverty isn’t just inadequate access to income — it manifests in a lack of access to health services, education and vital goods. It can also lead to societal instability, allowing sexism, ableism, classism and racism to flourish. And every day, innovators create new gadgets and other solutions with the world’s poor in mind.
Here are 16 ingenious innovations helping to alleviate poverty-related inequalities for developing regions across the globe.
1. The Shoe That Grows
Children are notorious for quickly outgrowing clothing and shoes, much to the frustration of parents who are constantly replacing hardly-worn items with larger sizes. Growth spurts are especially a challenge in developing nations, where money for worn or outgrown items is scarce.
The Shoe That Grows is a simple, adjustable shoe that children can wear for years, capable of expanding five sizes through a series of notches and snaps. The shoe generally fits a child’s foot from age 5 to 9, helping to curb foot injuries and cases of soil-transmitted diseases and parasites. Created by non-profit Because International, The Shoe That Grows is making an impact in developing regions around the world where the nonprofit delivers donated shoes to children and families.
2. Life Saving Dot
Credit: Life Saving Dot
In rural India, thousands of women are estimated to have iodine deficiency, which has been linked to breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, and pregnancy complications. But the Life Saving Dot, an iodine-rich variation on a traditional bindi, is helping provide women with the vital mineral.
The dot, which is worn between a woman’s eyebrows just like a bindi, delivers a wearer with the recommended daily amount of iodine. The Life Saving Dot only costs 10 rupees — or 12 cents — for a packet of 30, fitting the budgets of women in rural India.
3. Safari Seat
SafariSeat is a low-cost, all-terrain wheelchair designed to be manufactured and maintained in poor countries, creating a self-sustaining product. The innovation is made of bicycle parts, and the device is propelled forward by hand levers and durable wheels. Nearly 250 SafariSeats have been distributed as of 2023, while its maker The Accessibility Institute is on creating a cart that can be attached to it.
Credit: Intellectual Ventures
In developing nations, milk is an important source of income and nutrition for poor families. But transporting milk safely and easily with traditional open milk pails comes with spillage, spoilage, and an increased risk of contamination.
Mazzi, a durable, 10-liter plastic container designed with a wide mouth for collection, solves these issues by providing a safe and affordable way to collect and transport milk. The container is also easy to clean, with a specially designed funnel attachment that helps eliminate spilling.
5. NIFTY Cup
Credit: PATH / Patrick McKern
When an infant in a developing country is unable to nurse, they’re at risk of severe malnutrition — or even death. NIFTY cup is solving this issue in rural areas of Africa.
Developed over five years, the NIFTY cup was designed with a spout that makes collected milk easy to drink by infants with cleft palates or other related issues that prevent proper latching. The cup, which is reusable and costs only $1 to create, has already been credited with preventing starvation of infants in poor African communities.
Credit: GRAMEEN INTEL SOCIAL BUSINESS LTD / YouTube
In developing areas without electricity, soaring temperatures can leave huts unbearably hot. Eco-Cooler, a low-cost cooling system created from recycled plastic bottles, helps solve the issue by drawing cool air into homes.
The cooler is made of halved plastic bottles on a board, which is then installed like a window. When in place, each bottle’s neck compresses the hot breeze, cooling it down and dropping temperatures inside a hut as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rural communities in Bangladesh have implemented the environmentally friendly solution.
7. Lucky Iron Fish
Credit: Lucky Iron Fish
Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutritional disorder in the world, affecting an estimated 3.5 billion people. It can be especially devastating in developing nations, where nutritional needs are often unmet. Iron deficiency alone can lead to anemia, low energy, and difficulty concentrating.
Lucky Iron Fish is an iron, fish-shaped object that families can place in a pot of boiling water prior to cooking to enrich vegetables with additional iron. A portion of each sale goes to the company’s Impact Fund, allowing individuals in developed nations to buy their own fish while simultaneously contributing toward donating one to a family in need.
8. Embrace Warmer
More than 1 million babies die on the day of their birth every year. A staggering 90 percent of these deaths occur in developing nations, where hypothermia is a common cause of death in premature and low-weight infants.
Embrace Warmer is essentially an infant sleeping bag, helping to regulate a baby’s body temperature during their vulnerable first days. The award-winning innovation is reusable, low-cost, and requires no electricity, making it ideal for poor communities around the globe. Over 475,000 infants have used the life-saving blanket so far.
About 2.2 billion people — or 28 percent of the world’s population — lack access to safely managed sources of drinking water. Drinking contaminated water can lead to devastating disease and illness. It’s estimated that every two minutes a child dies from a water-related disease.
LifeStraw makes drinking contaminated water safer, which can be a game-changer in poor regions where water access is minimal. The straw-like device uses a simple filtration system made of specially designed cloth to render water safe to drink.
The company not only provides straws to communities in need for individual use, but also donates larger filtration systems to poor communities around the globe for community use.
10. The XO Laptop
Credit: XO Laptop
Education and learning are universal desires for today’s youth. But poor communities don’t always have the means to give children the comprehensive education they deserve.
The XO Laptop is helping to fill that gap. The small, low cost computer is highly durable and features a powerful screen that can be read in harsh sunlight. It has built-in wireless internet so kids can connect to information around the world.
The tech solution is specifically designed for children in developing nations, hoping to give youth access to self-empowered education. XO Laptops have been donated to more than 3 million children in several countries, such as Peru, Kenya, Nepal, and Afghanistan.
Credit: Mariko Products
Lack of access to menstrual products has devastating impacts on women and girls in developing nations. The inability to cope with menstruation often keeps girls out of school, with girls in Kenya missing an average of four days of school per month due to periods. Improper menstruation sanitation also has devastating health impacts, with reproductive tract infections around 70 percent more common among women with poor menstrual hygiene in India.
Flo, a simple, reusable menstrual hygiene kit, provides a solution for women and girls in developing nations to care for their bodies. The low-cost kit includes reusable pads, a wearable pouch to carry them, and a washer-dryer container for improved cleanliness.
Credit: Cathy Menees / YouTube
Cooking food safely with limited resources is something many poor families in rural areas struggle with every day. Using stoves or open fires for long periods of time without proper ventilation can cause sickness or even death. Every year, household smoke inhalation from meal preparation contributes to 3.2 million deaths globally.
Wonderbag is a reusable, zero-energy slow cooker that drastically cuts down on the time needed for food to cook on a stove or fire. Once ingredients are brought to a boil using traditional methods, a pot can be placed in a Wonderbag, where it continues to cook for up to 12 hours.
The company is distributing the innovation to regions in Africa as well as to people affected by the war in Ukraine, helping families cut down on cooking times in favor of a more sustainable method.
13. Hippo Roller
For poor women and children in rural areas, collecting water can be a physically demanding — and dangerous — task. But the Hippo Roller, a water collection drum designed to roll along rough terrain, is allowing those who collect water to do so safely and effectively.
The Hippo Roller lets women collect enough water to sustain a family for a full day during daylight hours, when there is less risk of harassment and sexual violence on the walk to a water source. The drum also reduces the risk of injury, allowing women to roll the hefty drum instead of carrying a heavy, smaller pail on their head. Approximately 65,000 rollers have been distributed across 56 countries over the past several years.
Credit: YouTube / Hemafuse
In emergency situations and during childbirth, blood transfusions are often necessary to save a person’s life. But in poor nations, access to a safe, reliable blood supply is relatively rare, leading to preventable deaths each year.
The Hemafuse, from Sisu Global Health, takes the donation and storage barriers out of blood transfusions, recycling a person’s own blood back into their body. The low-cost device acts like a large syringe, collecting blood and filtering it internally to remove clots and other particulates. The blood can then be deposited into a blood bag, where it can be pumped back into a patient’s body.
15. The Peepoo Toilet
Credit: The Peepoo Toilet
Around 3.6 billion people worldwide lack access to a safe toilet. Managing human waste is a massive issue in developing nations, with improper sanitation partially responsible for the spread of deadly disease. Approximately 484,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year, with poor sanitation being a leading contributing factor.
Putting aside its giggle-inducing name, The PeePoo Toilet is a vital way for people in developing nations to use the restroom safely, especially when they have a contagious disease. The slim, biodegradable bag is used by an individual in the absence of a toilet. The bag sanitizes human excrement, turning the contents of the bag into fertilizer in about a month.
The PeePoo Toilet, however, is a single-use solution, meaning it may not be practical for every time someone needs to use the restroom. Nevertheless, it’s providing an innovative, safe way to prevent the spread of disease in the absence of improved sanitation.
16. Jet injections
Vaccines and immunizations are crucial in curbing the impacts of diseases and illnesses around the world. But safely administering a vaccine in a developing nation can be difficult with the complexities of sterilization, especially when it comes to often misused needles.
Jet injectors help solve this problem, delivering vaccines to patients using pressure to penetrate the skin, rather than needles. The single-use medical device administers a vaccine through a fine stream of fluid that passes through skin into tissue. The solution is cost-effective and highly efficient, using up to 80 percent less vaccine than a traditional needle injection.
UPDATE: Jul. 24, 2023, 2:56 p.m. AEST This article was originally published in Oct. 2016, and has since been updated in July 2023.