In with the old

When we think about innovation, new technological advancements usually come to mind; and for good reason. Technological advancements have helped our world move forward in various aspects. In the social impact space, as our previous posts have demonstrated, we see new technology playing a major role in supporting mental health, in the medical field, and in many more areas. But there’s a less glamorous means of innovation that we shouldn’t neglect to consider because it can be just as impactful – using old products or programs in new ways.

One instance is the Rainforest Connection. Topher White, the founder and an engineer by trade, devised a way to use old mobile phones to monitor, identify, and locate illegal logging activity in rainforests. The idea came to him when we was hiking in the rainforests in Indonesia and came across loggers illegally cutting down trees. Rather than thinking about how drones and big data can help solve this problem, White focused on using what was readily and cheaply available in those areas to solve the problem. Our old, “useless” mobile phones are now protecting over 26 thousand hectares of nature across six countries from illegal loggers and wildlife poachers as well.1

Another example is the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. The tradition of horsemanship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, goes back over a hundred years, and in 2009 the urban cowboys took their passion to the youths of Philadelphia. Horse-riding and care provided a meaningful way for teenagers and young adults in the toughest parts of the city to spend their time after school or work. The program kept vulnerable youths away from crime and drugs, while teaching them the values of discipline and academic excellence. Their innovative ways of community outreach led to numerous documentaries and videos being made about them. Most recently, Google Pixel 2 came out with an ad featuring them.

What we can learn from the Rainforest Connection and the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is that we don’t always need new inventions to solve the problems around us. Sometimes the solution to the problem is right under our noses.


Article written by: Ali Birouti

Ali is an aspiring social entrepreneur. He has 10 years of experience helping organizations develop software solutions. Currently, he is pursuing his MBA at IE Business School. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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