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As part of the opening of the UN General Assembly, USAID and partners hosted a side “MDG Countdown event to highlight how innovation is helping achieve the MDGs. The blog post below describes the five organizations that USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures showcased, including Dimagi. You can read the original blog post on DIV’s website

1. Biolite

BioLite develops and manufactures clean, affordable energy systems for off-grid communities around the world.  BioLite has designed the HomeStove, an ultra-clean, wood-burning cookstove, specifically for cooks in emerging markets. The HomeStove cuts toxic smoke emissions by 90%, reduces fuel consumption by 50%, and delivers on-demand electricity to recharge mobile phones and provide an evening’s worth of light. With generous support from the USAID Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) Program, BioLite is retailing 4,600 stoves through the village agent network of a leading solar lantern distributor in Orissa, India.  Through this pilot, we are gathering reliable customer data and testing a range of sales, marketing, and finance innovations before beginning to scale.

2. Off-Grid: Electric

50 years after Edison, more people still live off the grid than on the grid. That means 1.6 billion people are without access to modern electricity at this very moment, and that the world’s poorest people pay the most for the dirtiest energy. In East Africa, some 85 percent of households operate without electricity; the alternative, kerosene, can be both costly and dangerous. Off Grid Electric is a solar energy provider that provides low-cost electrical services to households and small businesses in Tanzania that don’t have grid power.  OGE installs M-POWER solar home systems in homes and small shops, and sells the electricity from the systems to customers on a pay-as-you-go basis via mobile money. Service levels start as low as $0.20 per day and M-POWER systems can power bright lights, phone chargers, and appliances such as radios or televisions. The company currently operates across Tanzania and is scaling quickly with the support of world-class investors like SolarCity, Vulcan Capital, Jasmine Social Investments, Omidyar Networks, USAID and Mulago Foundation.

3. Evidence Action

Many communities in developing countries seek solutions through protected communal water sources, but these systems are ineffective when clean water is stored in the household and then re-contaminated. Chlorination addresses this problem and has been shown to reduce childhood diarrhea by 40 percent, and it keeps water safe to drink for up to three days. While liquid and powder chlorine are available in household packages in retail stores, consistent chlorine use remains low, especially among the poor.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), is investing in Dispensers for Safe Water at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) that incubated the program. It is now managed and implemented by Evidence Action.  Evidence Action scales proven interventions that are based on rigorous research with new business models to serve millions.  The innovation focuses on how chlorine is delivered: chlorine dispensers with diluted liquid chlorine are installed directly at the local water hole or stream. Customers simply add a small amount of chlorine when they fetch their water at the source. Local community health promoters maintain the dispensers and provide community education, creating social pressures to increase adoption. Dispensers for Safe Water resulted in adoption rates averaging 43% that have stayed consistently high over time. Currently, over two million people have access to safe water though the program.

Today, with U.S. support, Dispensers for Safe Water is scaling in Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, with plans to add more countries. The goal is to provide five 6.26 million people with access to dispensers over three years. It is also encouraging replication of the intervention by others.

4. Dimagi

The shortage of health workers in resource-constrained settings is unanimously accepted as one of the key constraints to improving public health provision to the poor. Dimagi’s CommCare  platform provides mobile tools for community health workers (CHWs) and radically new monitoring tools for governments and health NGOs. After a successful launch as a Stage 1 project, Dimagi is expanding the CommCare platform throughout India to 50 organizations with support from DIV’s Stage 2 grant. CommCare has drastically reduced the cost of empowering community health workers, which at scale has the potential to save India and governments and NGOs around the world millions of dollars.

5. VisionSpring

It is estimated that uncorrected vision results in $202 billion in lost productivity to the global economy. Yet, 544 million people around the world could have their vision restored with a simple pair of reading glasses.VisionSpring reaches base of the income pyramid (BoP) customers in rural and peri-urban areas through outreach efforts that provide vision screenings and access to affordable glasses. Its unique business model supports the sale of glasses to the poorest customers (a target 70 percent of all customers) with revenue from higher-priced products sold to wealthier customers.