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Local Tech: How Community Innovation is Driving Global Progress

By Amilcar Estrada-Molina - Bleps Vision


Amilcar Estrada By Amilcar Estrada | Cofounder - Bleps Vision. Clinical Director - ROCOL International - Thu, 05/11/2023 - 10:00

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When we develop technology-based ideas, we often hope to hit a home run with a holistic solution that addresses the most relevant societal problems or creates a product with a global reach. It's only natural to think this way, as we have witnessed the empowerment of the internet and the impact of smartphones on daily life (these devices have changed how we interact with the outside world). In some way, we are influenced by the disruptive and the global.

There is a mistaken perception that a tech solution is only helpful if it has a global impact. However, we should remember that Facebook started as a social network for building communities locally at Harvard University. It quickly scaled to become what it is today, the social network with the most significant number of connected users globally, with over 2.7 billion users.

Global technological solutions are very effective in solving large-scale concerns. However, sometimes they may not be appropriate or may not take into account the unique needs and challenges of a region, niche, or simply a particular community. 

In other words, these kinds of solutions or technologies may not be "tropicalized."

Local solutions seek to address the problems of the environment in which they are developed. These solutions manage specific issues without necessarily considering scalability or adaptation to other regions or communities facing similar troubles.

This approach is more effective than adopting imported solutions that may not solve local problems.

That is why the global trend of using technologies to solve local problems is growing. Some examples include:

  • The northwest of India is an essential region for cultivating two kinds of cereals: rice and wheat. It is frequently affected by the depletion of aquifers and climate change, which results in prolonged droughts that endanger crops that serve to meet part of India's food demand. It is an extraordinary situation because this region depends on agriculture as its first income source. Indian and international researchers worried about this situation put their heads together to  understand the problem first and later provide a possible solution. They developed combined drip irrigation and the existing cultivation system to overcome this issue. It uses 40% less water, offering a more sustainable and cost-effective solution than conventional methods.

  • In the medical field, a novel portable corneal topographer (TOCO) is being developed in Mexico to help overcome blindness in children who live in regions with low incomes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), blindness in children is growing in areas where primary healthcare and eye care services are limited. However, its causes can be reduced by offering on-site technology to prevent or treat blindness. TOCO started in 2009 as part of a graduate project to assess the corneal topography of neonates and children under 6 years old. The main problem faced in measuring the corneal topography in children, especially with neonates, is those commercial corneal topographers are designed for patients who can follow instructions for measuring the cornea; they are asked to be upright seated, with the chin and forehead posed on specific support bases and the eye under study observing a fixed point. TOCO is a low-cost and lightweight device that is easy to handle and transport from one place to another. It is suitable for use in health brigades in towns and communities far from the outskirts of cities with less accessibility to visual exams.

The two most essential aspects when seeking solutions are: 

  1. Identifying the issue to be solved after full feedback from the community. The purpose is to define detailed pain points that help give a narrow and more impactful value proposition. Challenges related to health, education, environment, and agriculture, among others, may arise here.

  2. Educating and disseminating the technological solution correctly within the community so that it is effective and sustainable. I recall reading the book, The Paradox of Prosperity, by Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo, and Karen Dillon. This book shares the story of a nonprofit organization that had raised money to install water wells to improve the health and food conditions of a native community in Nigeria. They managed to set up five wells with the money they raised, but sadly six months later, just one was still functioning. They failed because they should have correctly educated the community and disseminated information on the water wells' use, impact, and preservation. It is not enough to provide a local solution; it must be guaranteed that there is understanding: a social appropriation.

In summary, both tech solutions have their place and purpose, and the most appropriate solution depends on the specific situation. Collaboration between local and global tech solutions may be the key to effectively addressing large-scale problems while considering each community and region's diversity and unique needs.

Let  local tech rise

Photo by:   Amilcar Estrada-Molina

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