Is technology innovation the answer to our global humanitarian crisis?

By James Steward

16th February 2017

As the threat of insular isolationism spreads across the West, optimistic ambitions of humanity journeying towards an ever more globally connected, safe and prosperous world sadly dwindles. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals of bringing an end to extreme poverty within a generation seems difficult to fathom when two of the most powerful nations on the planet have set in motion plans to isolate themselves even further from international commitments.

Before we get too accusatory, in their defence, the US and UK did shovel a whopping £22.5bn and £12.2bn respectively into international aid in 2015, contributing towards some hugely important causes, from reconstructive surgery for those injured in the Gaza conflict, to funds to fight the spread of Ebola.

However, under our new world order, a growing atmosphere of “me” first, and with recent suggestions from Theresa May of an impending review of the spending of 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to foresee government priorities taking a more inward focus.

With this prospect on the horizon, there is a clear opportunity opening up for more humanitarian-focused companies to fill elements of the void that will remain and deploy products and services, which will hopefully provide long term solutions to issues faced in developing and conflict-torn nations.

Mobile health tech, smart sensors, solar devices, drones and fintech are all evolving areas making a big difference already, with a host of companies emerging across the world. MobiSante, is one such example, which has developed a smartphone-based ultrasound device which can be used in the most remote of areas, where health infrastructure is essentially non existent. Another example is Orb Energy, which provides low cost solar power to rural areas in India, opening up huge opportunities for communities where electricity is at best unreliable and in most cases completely absent.

The demand is there but these emerging tech companies often face a broad range of challenges before they can succeed – from finding the right talent, to deployment on the ground, to educating the end user. One of the largest challenges, however, is securing funding to make it all possible in the first place. On the positive side, there is an increasing amount of interest in investing in ethical portfolios. The clean energy sector, in particular, is attracting serious attention from investors, with groups such as Oikocredit, The DOEN Foundation and Bamboo Finance betting big in the space. According to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance report, there was a record $329bn of global investment in clean energy in 2015.

A vital part of attracting investment from these organisations is hitting the right note when promoting the key elements of the business to the intended investor audience, and there are a number of ways this can be achieved. Bamboo Capital Partners expresses that they look for “mass market opportunities for high growth and social impact”, while Oikocredit state they require companies with “financial sustainability and development impact” alongside “management quality, integrity, governance and growth capacity”.

One of the fundamentals is raising the profile of a passionate and engaging leader within the business. Investors need the reassurance that at the helm of the business is a leader with vision and talent that will grow the business and ensure its success.

Displaying support from industry and endorsement from recognised companies is also key to increasing credibility and giving reassurance to potential investors who need to know their funds are being invested wisely. Beyond that, scalability and the opportunity for growth is absolutely essential. Investors need affirmation that their investment will provide a good rate of return. This can be demonstrated by showcasing a healthy new business pipeline and expertise from leading minds in the company discussing the wider opportunities in the market.

In the current outlook of gloom, innovative technology companies could be the answer to a number of the world’s humanitarian problems. However, the more immediate challenge these companies face, before they can truly start to tackle global issues, is ensuring they’re communicating themselves in the best light to attract the investment they need to scale.