and Help the People in Developing Nations

Throughout history, the great majority of people have lived in poverty. The Industrial Revolution began to change that in the 19th century, and by the end of World War II in the middle of the 20th century, prosperity was quickly expanding around the globe. Literacy rates soared and the world’s new middle class got advances like electricity, medicine, automobiles, and television.

Unfortunately, many people in developing nations were left behind. Extreme poverty and starvation still affected many parts of Africa, Asia, and South America. With Asia’s transformation from old fashioned agrarian economies to modern information industries, poverty in Asia has fallen by more than 90 percent in the past three decades. Economic progress is also beginning to assist Africa and South America. The international community has also been working together to reduce poverty in these regions. There has been a great deal of progress, and the proportion of people in extreme poverty has declined by more than half in the last twenty years. Over 3.8 billion people now have access to the Internet, which wasn’t even available to kings and billionaires thirty years ago. Yet there is still a lot of work to do. 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, and almost half of the world’s population of 7.5 billion makes under $2.50 a day. More people have access to a mobile phone than a toilet or clean water. Solving these problems will require innovation and hard work, but progress is moving in the right direction.

In the novel, Danielle realizes that the world’s poorest countries have several overlapping problems. A lack of safe drinking water causes conditions like cholera. Droughts cause famine and make people more vulnerable to disease. Without electricity, people use oil lamps that cause air pollution, illness, and fires. These conditions force many children to drop out of school to care for their families. Danielle works to solve several of these issues and improve overall quality of life in developing nations, starting with her efforts to help overcome the lack of clean water in Zambia at age six. Let’s take a look at some of the most urgent problems in these countries, and what you can do to address each one—from nonprofit organizations you can fundraise for to innovations you can create on your own.

  • Food security. Droughts and conflict have left many people in the developing world without enough nutrition to stay healthy. This can make people more vulnerable to disease, and when children grow up malnourished, they may suffer permanent cognitive and physical problems. Here are some famine-relief nonprofits worth your support, along with ideas to spark you own innovation:
  • Oxfam1 provides a mix of food, water, equipment, and cash to the people hardest hit by famines. They not only help people survive during an acute crisis, they also focus on getting them back up on their feet so they can support themselves afterward.
  • UNICEF2 is the UN’s emergency assistance organization for children. It focuses on making sure that babies, children, and teenagers have the nutrition they need to get through famines and grow up healthy.
  • Action Against Hunger3 is active in around 50 countries, and provides assistance to about 13 million people each year, with a focus on Africa. In addition to emergency food aid, they provide services like micro-loans, veterinary care for farm animals, and entrepreneurship training, all of which help prevent food insecurity from starting in the first place.
  • People in extreme poverty typically can’t afford enough food. Innovations that make food cheaper to produce make it easier for the poor to get what they need. For example, if you can figure out an inexpensive way to set up vertical farming4 in developing countries where clean water is scarce, you could make fresh food more affordable. Study the factors that affect food production costs and think about how you could bring those costs down.
  • Another problem is delivery of food. When famine strikes, international aid agencies try to send people the food they need, but roads are often poorly maintained or non-existent, and sometimes violence makes it difficult for supplies to get through on trucks to remote villages. Brainstorm some alternate means of sending food packages to remote areas, and consider the pros and cons of each. One innovative idea is to use small automated drones to deliver food and medicine.
  • In some developing countries, millions of people live in dense urban slums. Even though they aren’t starving, the only food they can afford is junk food. As a result, there has been an increase in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in many of these places. Try designing a program for poor city-dwellers to grow fresh, healthy food right where they live. What are the obstacles they might face? And how could they overcome them?
  • Clean water. Lack of sanitary drinking water causes cholera and other diarrhea-related conditions. Kids are especially vulnerable, and diarrhea kills about 800,000 young children every year. Here are some ways you can help people in developing countries access safe water and prevent waste from contaminating it:
  • To deal with the acute side of the problem, you can raise money to buy water purification devices and send them to people who need them through Water is Life.5 About $10 buys a filter that will give a child clean drinking water for a year. Another similar technology is the Lifestraw6
  • Lifewater7 focuses on community education about good sanitation practices. They help people prevent feces from contaminating drinking water and causing diseases.
  • The Africa Sand Dam Foundation8 is a nonprofit that helps villages use their natural environment to construct safe water storage facilities.
  • Several young people have designed innovative new water filtration systems, just by studying how filtration works and experimenting with potential solutions. Study existing filtration technologies and see if you can find an area you can improve on, or find gaps in functions you could fill. For more information, see the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Combat Drought and Polluted Water in Poor Nations.”
  • Talk with someone native to a developing country with sanitation problems and learn from them how unsafe hygiene habits there lead to disease. Help them create videos aimed at changing these habits so people can prevent waste from contaminating their water.
  • One problem with sanitation in the developing world is that toilets are still fairly expensive to build and install, and sewage systems are often inadequate. Take a look at these eight innovative toilet designs9 that are more practical for developing countries, and try to think of a way of improving on them. How could they be cheaper, simpler, or easier to install?
  • For more information, see the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Combat Drought and Polluted Water in Poor Nations.”
  • Infectious diseases are one of the greatest burdens on human prosperity in developing countries. Disease kills people early, makes many others sick, and forces people out of school and into poverty. Here are some ideas for tackling disease:
  • The Against Malaria Foundation10 is one of the most efficient lifesaving charities you can donate to. For the amount of money that’s considered cost-effective to save a single life in America, the insecticidal mosquito nets they distribute can save almost 2,700 lives in developing nations.
  • Doctors Without Borders sends physicians into poor and dangerous areas where people otherwise couldn’t get medical care. In addition to treating illnesses and injuries, they provide vaccinations that prevent deadly diseases, like tuberculosis.11
  • Several common diseases in developing countries cause blindness, but can be cured relatively cheaply and easily with proper medical care. Sightsavers12 is an international charity that has provided vision treatment to almost 350 million people, including 6.1 million sight-restoring cataract operations. If you’re looking to support an organization with a country-specific focus, the Aravind Eye Hospital13 in India is known as the developing world’s top center for curing blindness.
  • Although few women in wealthy countries die from childbirth anymore, maternal death is still common in many developing countries. CARE14 provides a range of services to pregnant women in poor communities to lower their risks and reduce the danger of medical problems from pregnancy and childbirth.
  • People with AIDS still face shaming and shunning in many parts of the world. You can find a group or organization working to reduce the social stigma of AIDS, and work with them to create videos and memes that share a message of caring and acceptance with young people. Contact students living in a developing country for suggestions on how you can tailor this message to people living there.
  • Mosquitoes are one of the main carriers of disease in many developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. There can be huge benefit from new technologies for repelling or killing mosquitoes. Insecticidal nets are already very good at protecting people while they’re sleeping in bed, but there’s need for better anti-mosquito technology that can protect people during the day. Read about mosquitoes’ biology to see if you can think of a better way to disrupt their breeding, or to make them avoid contact with humans who are outdoors.
  • Although anti-smoking campaigns have greatly reduced lung disease in wealthy nations, smoking is still a major killer in developing countries. What do you think could be done to reduce smoking and save lives? Break down the problem into smaller parts. How could people be convinced to not start smoking in the first place? What could help them quit? How could ex-smokers form healthier habits? Talk to a smoker or former smoker to learn from their experiences.
  • For more information, see the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Promote World Health.”
  • In much of the developing world, rural communities don’t have access to electricity. This puts people at a huge disadvantage, because electricity is so vital to modern society—from lighting, to healthcare, to Internet access. Consider how you can help bring electric power to those who need it.
  • SELF,15 the Solar Electric Light Fund finds communities without good access to electricity and installs photovoltaic grids and solar-powered devices like refrigerators and cell phone charging stations. Supporting SELF can create a positive cycle of electricity, health and education, and growing wealth.
  • The Janicki Omniprocessor16 is a breakthrough technology that turns raw sewage into both electricity and pure drinking water. The Omniprocessor is too expensive for you alone to buy for communities that need it, but you can raise awareness about the technology on social media and encourage governments to pay for their installation in developing countries.
  • There is always need for new methods of generating electricity from trash or waste material. The Janicki Omniprocessor is a great innovation, but it’s very large and expensive. Ask someone who has lived in a developing country what kinds of waste is generated in poor communities. Study what chemical compounds they contain, and look for potential reactions that could be used to release energy that can be turned into electricity.
  • When communities in developing countries lack electric lighting, they often use kerosene lamps to work at night. These lamps give off smoke that causes lung disease and other breathing problems. Their emissions even contribute to climate change. Solar Aid17 is a nonprofit that provides solar-powered lights to help people see in the dark without the need for dirty lamps.
  • One obstacle to installing photovoltaic systems in remote areas is that they require special training to install and repair. If you could design a solar electricity system that villagers could install without any training, and that they could easily maintain in working condition, it would be much easier for these communities to access inexpensive, clean energy from the sun.
  • In wealthy countries, we use expensive batteries to power devices like cell phones, radios, computers, and e-books. But in the developing world, people may not have access to those batteries, or convenient electricity sources to charge them. Human-powered electricity might be a helpful solution. Using your knowledge of physics and engineering, you could design a more efficient system for powering hand-held electronics by turning a crank, pedaling a wheel, or something similar.
  • Developing countries are at high risk for harm to the environment. Pollution and deforestation combine to cause long-lasting damage. Not only does this disrupt natural ecosystems, it can also cause major health problems in people living there. Here are some ways to help prevent and reverse environmental damage in developing countries:
  • It’s common for people in developing countries to cook their food over dirty stoves that damage their lungs over time. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves18 provides cleaner stoves that people can use safely.
  • Many kinds of pollution can easily cross national borders. Air pollution from one country can make people sick in a neighboring country. Polluted water circulates from one nation into the waters of another, killing the fish that people rely on for food. Since no nation can solve the problem alone, UN Environment19 is the United Nations group that helps countries work together to fight pollution.
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists20 uses scientific evidence to advocate policies that protect the environment. This is particularly important to the welfare of people in developing countries.
  • A great tragedy of the developing world is that people often have to sacrifice their long-term future to meet their short-term needs. For example, during famines, farmers kill the dairy cows they use to make a living, because they need meat. Deforestation is a similar problem. In order to get more land for grazing animals or farming, people burn down forests, which damages the environment for decades and causes harmful air pollution. There is a need for social innovation that provides incentives to not deforest the land. You can pick a developing country and research who owns the forested land there. Think of ways to create incentives for them to protect the environment.
  • Millions of people in developing countries die because of air pollution. This is due to a mix of dirty electricity-generating technology, old gasoline-powered cars, sooty cooking stoves and heating fires, and cheap kerosene lighting. Clean energy technology can solve all of these problems. You could raise money to install photovoltaic panels in needy communities, or if you’re old enough, organize a volunteer trip of young people to install photovoltaics yourselves.
  • War and conflict. Many developing countries are affected by terrorism, war, ethnic cleansing, or other forms of violence. When people don’t have the sense of security to know that they will be alive next year, basic survival becomes an all-consuming priority. This leaves little time for education, political development, or economic education. Take a look at these opportunities to help people in violent areas stay safe and get the help they need:
  • The International Rescue Committee21 works to provide emergency services to refugees and people displaced within their own countries. They also advocate policies by the world’s governments to provide more help to victims of violence.
  • Because young people are disproportionately impacted by violence, Save the Children22 focuses on providing services like nutrition, education, and healthcare to children in conflict zones.
  • Preventing or stopping genocides requires good information about crises to be shared with the world before it is too late. Genocide Watch23 monitors areas where genocides might happen and sounds the alarm about what outside governments and organizations can do to help.
  • Millions of people have been displaced from their homes due to war and terrorism in developing countries. Unfortunately, much of this suffering is hidden. Conflicts like the civil war in the Central African Republic get very little news coverage in English-speaking nations—and while there is a lot of news about the fighting in Syria, not much of it shows the stories of refugees in a way that people can relate to. You could create a media app interviewing victims of conflict and helping them share their stories with the world. If you make it easier for people in wealthy countries to empathize with them, these citizens will be more likely to demand humanitarian action from their governments.
  • People in conflict zones often struggle to get reliable information about how to keep themselves safe. Cell phone networks go down, or radio broadcasts may not have information relevant to a particular person’s situation. Think of alternate ways people could get safety updates in a chaotic area. What would it take to reestablish cell service with drones? Or make satellite communi-cations inexpensive enough for victims of violence to access?
  • Genocides happen because people forget the lessons of history. If people kept in mind how easy it is for terrible atrocities to happen, they would be much more insistent about preventing them. Find survivors of past genocides in your community—such as the Holocaust, the Bosnian genocide, or the Rwandan genocide—and interview them about their experiences. Share their stories on social media to help young people around the world understand, on an emotional level, why it is so important to prevent genocides.
  • For more information, see the entries for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Promote Peace and Understanding in the World” and “How You Can Be a Danielle and Combat Totalitarianism in the World.”
  • Democracy and rights. Many developing countries are governed by authoritarian regimes. They do not allow the people to freely choose their own leaders, and often violate the human rights of their citizens. Supporting democracy in these countries can have great benefit, so here are a few ways you can make a difference:
  • Healthy democracy isn’t possible without a wider framework of traditions and unwritten rules that let people trust each other and work together. The National Democratic Institute24 is a nonprofit that works with local pro-democracy activists to help them lay the foundations for freedom in developing countries.
  • Some of the worst violence and political repression in the developing world has been in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Centre for Democracy and Development25 helps countries in this region make the transition from authoritarianism to democratic governance, especially in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
  • Because women don’t have the same rights as men in much of the developing world, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development26 (AWID) focuses on promoting the rights of girls and women. In addition to fighting for full legal equality, AWID also works to improve economic, political, and educational opportunities for female citizens.
  • Authoritarian regimes usually try to manipulate their citizens with propaganda. As a result, even if those countries have elections, the people can’t truly make a free choice because they have been given false information. An app or website that makes it easier for people in developing countries to find accurate information about their governments, in languages they understand, could make it harder for non-democratic regimes to stay in power. If you haven’t learned computer programming yet, take a look at the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Learn to Program Computers from a Young Age.”
  • When governments violate people’s rights in developing countries, it often goes unreported. If someone doesn’t have a video camera or an easy connection to YouTube, it’s hard for them to show the world what is really going on. Even if they upload video of abuses to YouTube, if it is captioned in a non-English language or categorized improperly, it might go unseen. There’s a need for simple, affordable technology—whether hardware or software—to help people document abuses by their governments and then share them with the international community in a way that gets enough attention.
  • Countries can’t say they support human rights if they don’t support women’s rights. Women and girls are half the population of developing countries, but face many disadvantages. They own a small fraction of the property, get much less education, and suffer a disproportionate share of sexual violence. You could start a campaign among young people to put pressure on governments to protect women’s rights in developing countries. Authoritarian regimes get a lot of their money by selling resources to wealthy democratic countries, but if students convinced those democratic governments not to buy resources from governments that oppress women, there would probably be reform.
  • Economic wellbeing naturally follows when people are able to get the education they need. Poor children who go to school are much less likely to stay in poverty, and this increase in wealth is what lifts developing countries up to developed status. Yet it is hard to expand education when communities don’t have electricity or Internet access, or when violence or remote location makes it impossible for kids to get to school. Consider these options for promoting education in developing nations:
  • The World Literacy Foundation27 works to expand access to reading materials, using a solar-powered tablet called Sun Books. This is a much more efficient solution than sending individual books to remote regions.
  • If you’d like to support a nonprofit that focuses on a single region, take a look at United World Schools,28 which builds schools and provides education to extremely poor children in Southeast Asia. Many of their schools cost less than $1 per child per week.
  • Libraries Without Borders29 provides books and educational materials to people affected by poverty and conflict. In addition, they train people in entrepreneurship, so they can put their innovative ideas into action to help their communities.
  • In many developing countries, few people grow up speaking English, which is the common language of the Internet. As a result, those people don’t have access to the vast wealth of educational materials available online. Instead, they speak hundreds of relatively small languages with few educational materials. You could create a platform for connecting people fluent in both English and another of these languages with students in the developing world, to translate for them the resources they need.
  • Similarly, you could design a simple and social language-learning platform, to connect students in developing countries with English-language tutors. Live interactions between people allow for faster and deeper learning than these students could get from books alone.
  • A common reason for students to drop out of school in developing countries is that walking to class is not safe. Bandits might rob them, terrorists might kidnap them, or government soldiers might harass them. Many girls worry about the risk of sexual assault. You could create a distance-learning system for people who cannot safely go to school. Think of all the things it would need—like electricity and an Internet connection—and try to figure out how your learning system could provide them. Then, consider what educational resources and features it should include. Try to bring together a team of teachers, programmers, and engineers to support your idea and make it a reality.

For more information, please see the following entries in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): The Haitian Earthquake, Vertical Agriculture, Three-Dimensional Printing of Building Modules, Organisation of African States.


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