We talk a lot about hip apps that let you rate beer, get a cab, or locate friends in a crowded room. But beyond that is a whole world of technologies created in and for communities that need help a lot more than you or I need another daily deals app.

Each year, the Tech Awards honor innovators and entrepreneurs who make a difference around the world in education, medicine, struggling economies, and social services. Here are the laureates for 2012.

Lehr’s Propane-Fueled Outboard Engines

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Lehr, a company focused on environmentally friendly technology, developed the first outboard boat engine powered by propane to replace more polluting gasoline engines. The engines are cheaper and safer and create fewer harmful emissions; plus, they won’t degrade over time or contaminate soil or water.

Transforming Arsenic Crisis

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Transforming Arsenic Crisis provides a technology to provide arsenic-safe drinking water through installation of arsenic removal units in remote village locations using regenerable adsorbents.

“More than 200 million people in South and Southeast Asia are routinely exposed to arsenic poisoning by drinking naturally contaminated groundwater,” reads a synopsis of the project. “For over ten years, Lehigh University has led an international team in developing, installing, and monitoring community-based arsenic removal systems in several Southeast Asian countries. … This team has developed an equally efficient, reusable, arsenic-selective adsorbent that will cost 50 percent less than the current product and will be able to be made in India as opposed to the U.S., thus eliminating the importing issues.”

Literacy Bridge

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Literacy Bridge makes the Talking Book, a portable device designed for people in oral cultures to provide on-demand audio education, recorded by local experts. The device is having a huge impact in farming communities in Ghana.


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TeachAIDS lets people make educational materials for HIV prevention that are platform independent, culturally aware, and available online or offline.

“We believe in harnessing medical and educational expertise and utilizing technology to freely disseminate HIV and AIDS materials around the world to those who need them most,” reads the organization’s website. “AIDS is a preventable and treatable illness, and with the proper education, it can be controlled effectively.”

Angaza Design

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Angaza Design brings rent-to-own solar power systems to customers in East Africa. The system can light a small home and charge cell phones, keeping families safe and connected to the broader world.

Safe Agua Team

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Students at the Art Center College of Design create devices to help families in Latin America use water more safely and efficiently. The Balde a Balde (literally, “bucket to bucket”) is a portable faucet that delivers flowing water from a bucket, so human hands and unwashed kitchen implements don’t need to reach into the bucket and potentially contaminate water. The team’s second project, Gira Dora, is a highly efficient, human-powered clothes washer and dryer that can save time and effort as well as support a startup clothes-washing businesses.

BioLite Stove

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The BioLite HomeStove is a low cost, highly efficient wood-burning stove for use in low-resource areas. The company is based in Brooklyn, and its stoves are being used around the developing world, particularly Uganda.

Embrace Infant Warmer

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Conceived of by four Stanford students, this lifesaving technology is a small, reusable sleeping bag for babies. The infant warmer can keep a child warm for four to six hours in areas or situations where an incubator might not be readily available but warmth for critical-condition infants is vital to their health and survival.

Community Knowledge Worker

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This initiative from the humanitarian Grameen Foundation is focused on the information gap and limited reach of traditional agriculture extension services. “Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program uses mobile phone applications and human networks [Grameen has] developed to provide poor farmers with relevant, timely agricultural information, including caring for animals, planting crops, treating pests and diseases, and getting fair market prices for produce and livestock,” reads the program’s website. “This information helps farmers improve their lives and livelihoods by increasing their productivity and income.”

Submergence Tolerance in Rice

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This project in South Asia identified a critical gene that allows rice to withstand submergence in water for up to two weeks and still germinate with high yields. David Mackill of the International Rice Research Institute helped cultivate this gene into rice varieties prominent in South Asian countries, meaning more supply of a food staple in areas that need it most.


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In sub-Saharan Africa, 80 percent of people cook their meals over wood fires. At today’s literal burn rate, the entire area could be stripped of all forests by 2050. Eco-Fuel Africa developed an innovative way to transform agricultural and municipal waste into clean-burning fuel briquettes and organic fertilizer.

Simpa Networks

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Simpa Networks combines microfinance with an innovative payment scheme to make solar-powered electricity and lighting available to the rural poor. The company’s pay-as-you-go pricing structure is similar to that of familiar mobile phone cards, and as soon as the initial cost of the equipment has been paid, the device belongs to the customer and his or her electricity is free.

Image courtesy of Alexander Kirch, Shutterstock

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