Technology diffusion: casesback to issues

Innovation Insights is committed to policy-making that reflects long-term considerations and that is rooted in evidence and experience. Important lessons can be gleaned from the many transactions and technology activities taking place every day around the world. Case studies can reveal key factors that lead to successful innovation and technology deployment, and can provide necessary context for policy and business choices.

  • Innovation for Chocolate

    This article by Myles Karp for the New York Times presents the results of over three decades of work by Dr Wilbert Phillips-Mora in Costa Rica, aimed at developing new varieties of cacao trees that are more naturally tolerant and productive. As explained in the piece, breeding hybrid cacao clones is a lengthy process, and there has not generally been much success worldwide. In contrast, in 2006, Dr. Phillips-Mora released his first batch of hybrid cacao varieties, which have been demonstrated to have significantly improved disease resistance and yields. They produce as much as three times more cacao than standard varieties, and, under certain conditions, as much as six times more. The objective of this effort has been, in the words of Dr Phillips-Mora, “to give the basic living conditions to the farmers. Most cacao farmers are very poor, because the system is based on material that doesn’t have good yielding capacity”. His hybrids – which have been developed through a process that prioritizes flavor as a key criterion for success - are now growing in all Central American countries, as well as in Mexico and Brazil.


  • New Program in India to Support Social Entrepreneurs

    Qualcomm Wireless Reach recently showcased, with partners, the results of the Soochnapreneur program in India. In India, approximately 70 per cent of the nation’s 1.3 billion people live in rural areas. Largely due to poverty and illiteracy, many of these citizens are unaware of the government entitlements that exist to help them, in part because they do not have access to the Internet in order to obtain information about these programs. Soochnapreneur is a Wireless Reach inititiative, launched in 2016, that trains rural youth on the use of Qualcomm technology so they can provide their communities with information about, and access to, more than 600 government entitlements available in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Odisha. "Soochna" means "information" in Hindi; the trainees in the program are called "Soochnapreneurs". Over the last year, 100 Soochnapreneurs from the above five Indian states have been recruited and trained, enabling them to deliver fee-based services to over 7,000 villagers. Participants are currently earning a monthly average income of Rs. 1600 (roughly US $25). Wireless Reach and partner Digital Empowerment Foundation plan to add 100 additional participants - all women - to the program this year, and to work with government departments to add additional services. The Soochnapreneur program has been featured in MINT, a leading English business daily in India.




  • USA: Developing Biodegradable, Organic, Flexible Electronics

    Sarah Derouin of Stanford News reports that Stanford University engineer Zhenan Bao and her team have developed a semiconductor that is as flexible as skin and easily degradable. She notes that this innovation could have diverse medical and environmental applications - without adding to the mounting pile of global electronic waste. “In my group, we have been trying to mimic the function of human skin to think about how to develop future electronic devices,” Bao said, in reference to skin's properties of being stretchable, self-healable and also biodegradable – an attractive list of characteristics for electronics. Having achieved the first two qualities, the team tackled the third and developed an electronic device that can easily degrade just by adding a weak acid like vinegar. The results of their work - which produced the first example of a semiconductor polymer that can decompose - were published in early May 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was funded by the Air Force Office for Scientific Research, BASF, Marie Curie Cofund, Beatriu de Pinós fellowship, and the Kodak Graduate Fellowship. 

  • Kenya: Using AI for Cancer Screening

    Cary Chaplin, David Bell and Celina Shocken, in an article posted on IEEE Spectrum, present a promising new cervical cancer screening campaign in Africa, by Global Good in partnership with MobileODT and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, that relies on AI and visual images to detect cervical cancer. The AI system determines whether signs of cancer are present based on photos taken using the "EVA Scope" (Enhanced Visual Assessment Scope), which is a clip-on attachment for a smartphone. This turns the smartphone into a device similar to a colposcope, the tool gynecologists use to view a magnified image of a woman’s cervix. With an associated phone app, the screeners can analyze the image, show it to the patient, and store the data in the cloud. The authors detail the development of the analytic tool that is used in the system, describing in detail the underlying technology (Convolutional Neural Networks, or CNN) and how the AI system must be trained to recognize signs of cancer - a fascinating story. The system, which could potentially be adapted to perform other types of health screening in the field, is being launched in rural areas in Kenya, and additional trials will begin in Ethiopia during 2017. 

  • Electrification for Refugee Camps

    The first 2MW of a 5MW solar PV plant that will provide power to the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan (which houses 20,000 Syrian refugees) has been switched on by UNHCR. This €8.75 million plant was funded by the IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign. The solar farm will provide energy to 5,000 shelters in the camp, in addition to providing employement and skills to residents at the camp, 50 of whom have been trained and are working with Jordanian company Mustakbal to build and maintain the farm.  plant will generate important cost savings for UNHCR - as much as USD 1.5m per year initially - while allowing the organization to provide electricity free of charge to camp residents. Once the solar plant is running at full capacity, it is expected to not only cover all of the camp's energy needs, but also to contribute to the host country's energy needs by sending unused electricity to the Jordanian grid, to which it is connected. The plant at the Azraq camp illustrates the critical contribution of renewable energy technologies in meeting the world’s rapidly changing electrification needs. 

  • Multi-Stakeholder Initiative to Extend Access to Contraception

    This article from the European Pharmaceutical Review describes the work of a consortium of public and private actors - including the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, Becton Dickinson, Pfizer, USAID, DFID, the Gates Foundation, and UNFPA - to extend access to an all-in-one injectable contraceptive called "Sayana Press" in developing countries. Contraceptives are cost-effective health investments that save lives. If every girl and woman who wanted to use modern contraception could do so, an estimated 170,000 maternal deaths and 1.6 million newborn deaths could be prevented each year. As a result of this initiative, by the end of 2016, 6.4 million units of Sayana Press had been shipped to 20 developing world countries, potentially reaching more than 1.5 million women. Pfizer supplies Sayana Press at a low guaranteed price, and has invested to ensure that manufacturing capacity can meet growing demand. 


  • Promising Urine Malaria Test

    This article, by Jaci Arthur for the Innovate4Health initiative, presents a patented urine malaria test that was developed by Dr. David Sullivan, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor and microbiologist. The test, which offers a rapid, accurate, more convenient, and less expensive alternative to traditional laboratory testing, is the first point of care diagnosic test for malaria that does not require the use of trained personnel or a blood sample. Expeditious diagnosis of malaria can result in faster treatment and lower mortality rates. Fyodor Biotechnologies, a US company established in 2008 by Nigerian biotechnologist Eddy Agbo, was granted an exclusive worldwide license from Johns Hopkins University to research, develop, and commercialize the urine malaria test. The test is currently in clinical validation, after which Dr Agbo expects it will be commercialized starting in Nigeria (home to 25 per cent of malaria cases) then extending to other African markets. 

  • Lancet: New Insights on Reducing Maternal Mortality

    An inexpensive generic medicine, tranexamic acid, has been found in a major trial (known as the "World Maternal Antifibrinolytic", or WOMAN, Trial) to reduce maternal bleeding deaths by a third if administered within three hours. The six-year trial involved more than 20,000 women in 21 countries. Tranexamic acid, a blood-clotting medicine invented more than 60 years ago, costs less than $2 a dose and does not require refrigeration.  The trial was led by doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and paid for by the Wellcome Trust, Pfizer, Britain’s health department and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Results were published in The Lancet on Wednesday and were reported by the New York Times here

  • Innovate4Health

    The Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) have launched Innovate4Health, a new initiative aimed at raising awareness of the critical role that intellectual property (IP) rights play in spurring the development of innovative solutions to pressing global health challenges. Innovate4Health will generate case studies and other analysis about how IP-driven innovation is helping to address the world’s toughest health challenges. At the launch on April 26, the Innovate4Health website already featured several case studies about healthcare inventions and the IP stories underlying their development. 

  • India: Using Wireless to help Rural Fishermen

    Qualcomm's Wireless Reach program - with more than 100 projects in nearly fifty countries, on five continents - brings the benefits of wireless technology to underserved communities globally. For instance, the Fisher Friend Mobile Application was developed to help rural fishermen in India, through collaborative work involving Qualcomm, the Government of India, and other partners. This app provides critical information about weather and ocean conditions up to 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from shore, including disaster alerts, potential fishing zones, and current market prices of fish, in order to help fishermen to improve their catch, safetey, and income. The app has been lauded by the National Council of Applied Economic Research of India, which suggested that a similar solution be developed for Indian farmers. Information about other Wireless Reach projects is available online.