Businesses That Give Back

The sharing economy is firmly entrenched in our lives. From Uber to Airbnb, companies are changing the way people use what they already own to jump start their own side gigs. Other companies, like Netflix and HBO, go the subscription route and allow customers to access whatever they want on demand.

These apps and services may be making our comfortable lives easier, but they aren’t the top priority for most of the people in the world. Disease, access to clean water and sanitation, and pollution are still problems that we must face collectively. But just because getting a pizza in record breaking speed isn’t priority number one for many people doesn’t mean that the technology isn’t being used to solve other problems.

TechCrunch has explored several startups that are making an impact in the lives of millions. These entrepreneurs are starting companies with a mission to give back and make their communities healthier and safer. Sarvajal is an Indian company that is hoping to give clean water to the many people who lack access to it. Even though India is home to over one billion people, many people don’t have access to clean drinking water. In India, three quarters of diseases caused by water-borne contaminants, so clean water is a huge step forward for public health. Sarajaval is operating water purification plants in 12 Indian States, and people can expect to get 20 liters of drinking water for the cost of a cup of tea.

On the other side of the globe, an entrepreneur is looking to improve sanitation in Peru. Because the nation sits so high above sea level, water is scarce. The puzzle then, is to figure out how to operate with a lack of water. Dry toilets are part of that answer. Medem and her business partner have teamed up to start a company called x-runner. It’s a subscription based service that, for $13 per month, will get you a dry toilet and septic treatment that turns the human waste into compost. This treatment is environmentally friendly and cuts down on associated diseases.

Speaking of cutting down on things, what about material waste? There’s an “app” for that, too. Well, it’s more of a service. The Green Circle Project, which can trace its origins a more than a decade back to the Women Environment Preservation Committee, is making it a mission to raise awareness about paper waste. They sign up companies as members, and then collect all their discarded paper. And it’s not just a few scraps they’re grabbing — in under two years they’ve collected upwards of 8 tons of paper waste. They then repurpose it to be made into products like bags, or recycle it to go right back to market. Half of the collected waste has been rescued, and over three tons have been recycled.

In Kenya, a former teacher and a tech worker have launched Eneza Education. Their organization is democratizing learning, improving educational access to disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Students are able to get customized learning plans, and according to their site they have over 800,000 users taking courses! The app has expanded beyond computers and is now accessible via smartphones. But the creators, Toni Maraviglia and Kago Kagichiri, have gone one step beyond and made their courses accessible to those who aren’t able to access the programs through modern mobile apps. It’s growing quickly, and is expected to be in Nigeria and South Africa next year.

A bit farther to the North, in Saudi Arabia, Triage Project is improving people’s access to healthcare systems. Founded by Dr. Shaista Hussain and Princess Sama Faissal Al Saud, their organization hosts workshops teaching locals the fundamentals of medical treatment. They also run an app that collects data on the patients so that health workers can accurately determine the urgency of medical situations.

It’s pretty cool seeing how entrepreneurs can use evolving technologies to make a global impact. What initiatives are you excited about?