* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.From low-cost textbook tablets to a simple device that makes toilet water reusable, social entrepreneurs are trying to tackle global problems through innovation
SAN FRANCISCO - A place for "disruptive technology" and "personal connection" - this is how Kevin Jones, co-founder and convener of SOCAP, an annual event that gathers investors, foundations, institutions and social entrepreneurs, introduced this year's conference.
Jones said to his mind there was one person who exemplified why the conference, which bills itself as a space at the “intersection of money and meaning”, takes place - Tonee Ndungu, who started Kytabu, a textbook leasing service in Kenya that aims to make them affordable and accessible for students.
Kytabu aims to source low-cost tablets that cost only $40 to make. Reducing the cost of a book by more than 60 percent, users can rent textbooks on an hourly, weekly, monthly, school term or annual plan.
The price of books has risen by 700 percent in recent years, making them out of reach for the poor. By making both the tablet and e-books affordable, educational content can reach a much larger number of people. But like many social enterprises Kytabu needs funding to operate and scale.
Ndungu is raising money for the beta stage of the project. This will pave the way for a pilot phase, scheduled for 2013, where he plans to launch Kytabu with a group of 2,000 students to demonstrate the validity of their model and application.
Ndungu was one of five social entrepreneurs to take the stage on SOCAP Day 1 for a 30-second pitch to introduce their business with the goal of expansion through investment.
The five entrepreneurs were the top five selected from a pool of 100 in an "Impact Accelarator" at the San Francisco conference.
The accelerator, sponsored by Halloran Philanthropies among other socially minded enterprises, provided customized support over a week-long process and offered the entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their projects in the main hall of the Fort Mason conference venue.
Conference participants were encourage to engage with the entrepreneurs, donate, and invest in their ventures.
Another aspiring social entrepreneur making his pitch on the stage was Alexander Eaton of Sistema Biobolsa, based in Mexico. The company takes organic waste and produces bio-fertilizer for crops and biogas for heating and cooking.
Sheikh Turay of Liberia's Liberation Chocolate helps former child soldiers reintegrate into society by employing them to restore cocoa farms.
Veronica D’Souza made her case for Ruby Cup, a Denmark and Kenya-based company that makes and affordable menstrual hygiene product that helps girls and women in emerging markets manage their menstruation. Girls in developing countries often miss school during their period because they do not have sanitary products, and women lose out on business and employment opportunities.
Paseka Lesolang introduced Water, Hygiene, Convenience (WHC), which produces a simple device that when installed in a toilet, releases an organic detergent that makes the water reusable.
Paseka got the idea for his device after he discovered that one leaking toilet can waste approximately 80,000 gallons of fresh water a year, an enourmous waste, especially in a country like South Africa where the World Health Organisation predicts consumption will outpace availability by 2025.
The term "disruptive technology" was coined by Harvard Business Professor and innovation guru Clayton Christensen. It refers to innovative technologies that create new markets and value networks. Disruptive products or services move into existing markets with lower quality, cheaper technologies that satisfy similar needs as their existing counterparts.
SOCAP is an annual event that gathers investors, foundations, institutions, and social entrepreneurs in San Francisco with the aim to increase the flow of capital to social good.
The 2012 conference marks the 5th year of the 3-day SOCAP conference. There are a record 1,600 people in attendance from over 25 countries, according to SOCAP.
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