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Kopernik: Design and Technology Matchmaking for the Developing World

How connecting cutting-edge technologies with the people who need them the most is revolutionizing the traditional aid model and empowering communities to take charge of their own well-being.

Earlier, we noted the paradox of brilliantly innovative design-for-good concepts that never materialize into the mass market. Today, we’re turning to a new platform that seeks to battle precisely that: Kopernik, a new portal that connects innovative designs and technologies with the communities that need them, microfunding their execution along the way via donations from ordinary supporters like you.

Co-founded by World Bank and UN Development Fund alums Ewa Wojkowska and Toshihiro Nakamura, Kopernik seeks to revolutionize the traditional model of top-down assistance from aid agencies and empower local organizations to take the fulfillment of their needs in their own hands.

The platform offers a refreshingly straightforward process. First, tech-seeking local organizations — which range from the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development to Sisari Women Initiative Group to Action for Child Development Trust — submit proposals for the designs and technologies they need, and how they will be implemented to aid their community. Then, donors browse proposals and choose which ones to support. Once enough funds to cover the cost of production have been raised, Kopernik relays the proposal to the technology providers, who in turn bring it to life and ship it back to the technology-seekers. Finally, once the technology is implemented, its recipients report on how it’s being used and progress reports get posted on Kopernik for full transparency and accountability.

The projects being funded are remarkably wide-spanning, from providing displaced families with LifeStraw for access to clean drinking water, to granting computer access to local organization staff, to equipping refugees with self-adjustable glasses, something the pivotal importance of which we covered last week.

From solar-powered lanterns twice as bright as kerosene lamps to rollable water containers that make water portability tremendously more manageable to online English courses, the products funded through Kopernik address a wide array of social, economical and health issues in countries where more traditional solutions, if at all affordable in the first place, may take years to implement. More importantly, the platform gives hope for improving quality of life through a collaborative process and a cross-pollination of design, technology, commerce and community, rather than the siloed and largely inefficient model of traditional product development and aid delivery. By making problem-solving a grassroots process, Kopernik empowers communities to take ownership of their problems and the respective solutions, which any social psychologist can attest is essential to long-term progress and economic development.

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.


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