Humanity is facing a multitude of challenges, ranging from long-standing problems like childhood hunger and disease in low- and middle-income countries to emerging threats such as the climate impacts of the global food system and the potential dangers of unmitigated artificial intelligence.
Although progress on these issues may seem slow and daunting, there is growing collaboration between philanthropic organizations and some of the most innovative tech and life sciences experts, which could help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Let’s explore four areas where NGOs and nonprofit foundations are currently working with tech leaders to drive positive change.
1. Fighting ‘Legacy’ Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Vaccine-preventable childhood diseases like measles and poverty-correlated communicable diseases like tuberculosis are rare in higher-income countries like the United States and Canada. But they continue to cause untold misery and death in much of the world.
Preventable diseases like measles and polio can be significantly reduced through simple yet resource-intensive public health measures. UNICEF has a long history of promoting public education and vaccine access campaigns in the Global South, which have saved countless lives.
However, the progress made in these efforts is threatened by climate change and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the effectiveness of vaccine drives and awareness campaigns, they have limitations. To address these shortcomings, tech innovators and philanthropies have formed partnerships that can make a significant difference. An example of such a partnership is between the Bill and Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (Gates MRI) and Calibr, a division of Scripps Research.
They are working together to study and potentially commercialize a compound that may improve upon current TB treatments. This development would be particularly beneficial to vulnerable populations in Africa and parts of Asia, where tuberculosis is prevalent and inconsistent access to treatment is an issue.
2. Recruiting Gamers to Advance Medicine
Scientists were able to sequence the full genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, within days of its isolation. However, initially, this achievement did not lead to significant progress in the medical community’s understanding of COVID-19 disease progression or treatment protocols. It took several months of tragic trial-and-error in overcrowded emergency departments to improve treatment protocols.
Nevertheless, an innovative solution emerged during the early days of the pandemic that potentially saved many lives. This solution could have far-reaching implications for future studies of viral diseases, immune system disorders, and certain types of cancer.
The solution involved Dotmatics, an R&D software development company that typically partners with research universities such as the University of Oxford and MIT. Going beyond its usual lab-focused products, Dotmatics developed two online games that enlisted thousands of citizen scientists to analyze cellular-level changes in patients with COVID-19 and other immune system diseases.
These citizen scientists were able to perform analyses that usually took weeks in just a few days. More crucially, they provided extensive data that will be used to train the next generation of software that will operate even faster.
3. Growing Sustainable Food Solutions
Agriculture and related activities contribute to almost 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The primary source of emissions from agriculture is meat production, with red meat production (primarily beef) being responsible for the majority of meat-related emissions.
Although animal protein is culturally significant and delicious, humanity must find alternatives that are not only palatable but essentially indistinguishable from traditional meat if we hope to reduce our reliance on conventional livestock farming in the foreseeable future.
To address this challenge, the Good Food Institute (GFI) has partnered with alternative protein developers like Fishtown Seafood and UPSIDE Foods, which recently received FDA approval for their lab-grown chicken product.
GFI is supporting dozens of companies that are working to commercialize and scale cultivated or plant-based meat products over the next decade. While not all of these innovations will succeed, it is hoped that enough will significantly reduce agricultural emissions without disrupting our dinner tables too much.
4. Electrifying Transportation in Latin America
Despite the progress made towards fleet electrification, the transportation sector remains the largest single emitter of carbon pollution in many parts of the world.
It is not easy to change this situation globally. While providing tax credits to incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) may work in wealthy regions such as the United States and Europe, it is more challenging in low- and middle-income countries with volatile currencies and limited national reserves.
The Green Climate Fund, a significant funder of low-carbon solutions, recognizes these challenges and is partnering with local governments and other stakeholders across Latin America in a large-scale effort to accelerate the region’s transition to EVs.
At present, the focus is on providing financial and technical assistance for the development of electric bus fleets, expanding access to light electric commercial vehicles (such as delivery vans), and procuring distributed Level 2 charging infrastructure. These partnerships could result in more fundamental shifts in electric mobility and serve as a model for other countries.
These productive partnerships between philanthropy and technology offer hope amidst a constant stream of negative news. While the world faces numerous significant challenges that will not be resolved quickly, it is encouraging to see what can be achieved when stakeholders work together towards lasting solutions.
Moreover, these four examples are just a small sample of the many similar initiatives taking place across various fields, with funders and tech innovators collaborating to create a better world.
Despite the world’s numerous challenges, there is hope in the collaboration between philanthropic organizations and tech experts. This joint effort is tackling issues such as diseases, leveraging gamers for medical progress, promoting sustainable food solutions, and electrifying transportation in Latin America.