Welcome to The Big Issue’s Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here’s our rundown of individuals and organisations in the technology sector that are striving for a better world in 2019
BanQu is using its technological know-how to help the estimated 2.7 billion people – including refugees and those in extreme poverty – who don’t have credit or access to banks or any other formal financial institutions. Under the banner ‘Dignity through Identity’, BanQu have found a way round this by creating the world’s first and only non-cryptocurrency blockchain platform to enable people to connect to international supply chains and the brands, organisations and governments that power them. BanQu lets them maintain a free and secure online profile and build a recognisable, vetted economic identity.
BanQu users decide themselves what information to share, giving the disenfranchised empowerment and control. Growing demand for ethical products has encouraged more companies to certify output, making BanQu the go-to for global brands desiring traceability and transparency across supply chains.
Pro chef turned inventor dad, Chaytor, has a virtual vision. After noticing daughter Imogen’s fascination with his VR headset, Chaytor set himself the challenge of creating a device that could transform the lives of other children with learning disabilities.
Nine-year-old Imogen has Williams syndrome: a condition that carries learning difficulties and developmental delays. Chaytor believes virtual reality has an important role to play in eradicating these issues. Teaching himself software design, editing and sound production, he created Imogen’s own 360 real-time adventures, and changed her life.
Now he’s got big plans to mass produce and to help other children learn to harness their unique sense of adventure, focus and learn, hoping to get his VR book into schools and hospitals in 2019.
Alongside Attenborough, surfers are at the front line of the battle against ocean pollution. In the vanguard of the fight in 2019 will be the Seabin Project. Founded by surfers Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, the Mallorca-based company is starting to ship its cleaning device as far afield as Singapore and the USA. The Seabin is a floating rubbish bin that bobs up and down collecting waste. It sucks in surface water, which is pumped through a filter that leaves debris and a percentage of oils and pollutants in the bin, then pumps clean water out again.
This company is the definition of tech for good. The Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum planted the seed for what would become Wayfindr in 2014, recognising that independent travel was a huge challenge facing visually impaired young people. Their suggestion was an app that could direct them around public transport, shopping centres and hospitals.
With the help of design firm Ustwo, they brought the idea to life. Bluetooth signals placed at corners, stairs, and busy thoroughfares deliver an audio instruction to the user which tells them where to go, even finding the toilet in a cafe.
Successful trials have been run in Pimlico and Euston Tube stations, and cities across the world. The Wayfindr team also wants to increase the number of developers who could enact the technology in their area – they’re offering the first ever online indoor digital navigation course.
Tech and soil might seem unlikely bedfellows. But the devastating sight of hundreds of her family’s 8,000 olive trees dying off in the frost each year drove Chilean software designer Abby Rose to develop Vidacycle. After discovering that close monitoring and logging of information on a digital programme could reduce losses by recognising where changes in farming practice were needed, Abby came up with the idea of making it into an app.
The app assists smaller-scale winemakers and farmers to track sectors, trees, work, vines and productivity, and to monitor the people involved in harvesting, all by logging information into simple apps. Rose is now creating a podcast, Farmerama, which will help even more producers connect across the globe, ensuring that by 2050 the world can feed itself, unshackling food production from industrial farming.
Techfugees is a politically independent global tech movement formed in response to the refugee crisis.Led by TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher, an 18,000-strong international community donates masses of time, skills and money to create tech solutions to the challenges faced by refugees.
The social enterprise identifies needs; for example, they brought wifi to the Jungle camp in Calais, kick-started GeeCycle for people to donate old mobile phones to refugees and live-streamed dance performance Requiem for Aleppo around the world to raise money for displaced people in Syria.
Following a turbulent year for Facebook, Techfugees plan to mount their own challenge: this year they will launch a “trustworthy online space” for their innovators and investors to brainstorm ideas, dubbed Basefugees. It also plans to lobby for governments to prioritise ethical tech.
Van De Keere, a former biomedical engineering scientist, founded virtual reality tech start-up Immersive Rehab after a heavy lamp fell on her head at work, landing her in long-term rehabilitation for neurological trauma. She left wishing the rehab experience could be fun, certain that a different approach would improve outcomes.
Her London-based company develops interactive rehab environments and games using virtual reality. The platform is intended to solve the limitations of rehab for neurological trauma like stroke, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.The start up’s research shows that engaging someone’s brain into thinking they are actually moving objects around can change and adapt the neuroplasticity of their brain, which is key to improving motor function.
Van De Keere kicked off January by broadcasting her TEDx talk, in which she highlighted healthcare injustices.
Kids love making stuff, sometimes they even love learning too. Coding is the junction where the two meet, so enter writer, musician and maker Helen Leigh. Her invention, the MINI.MU glove kit lets kids sew their own wearable musical instrument with just felt, cables, batteries and a dinky speaker. They also do all the coding and wiring themselves, ending up with a very cool gadget.
Singer-songwriter Imogen Heap also had a hand in the glove and it’s garnering rave reviews from kids who were previously left cold by tech. And 2019 for Leigh will be all about her new book, The Crafty Kid’s Guide to DIY Electronics. The projects playfully bridge the gap between craft and electronics and leave youngsters with something cute and functional to show for their efforts. After all, a felt plush is so much better when you make it light up with conductive thread. And you don’t even need to know how to sew!
Briganti and Tucker are on a mission to make single-use plastics obsolete. But forget recycling or reusing plastic products – now you can eat them.
Their New York company Loliware developed the first certified edible bioplastic in the world, and they started with straws. The seaweed-based products are better for disabled people than paper straws, and are ‘hypercompostable’ and marine degradable. They’re also tasty.
Last year the company smashed its crowdfunding goal by raising £66,000 and orders will be shipped this year. The former industrial designers calculate that they’re on track to replace millions of plastic straws by the end of 2019.
The battle to find alternative uses for the 20 million tonnes of plastic that ends up in our oceans each year rages on. But so-called ecobrickers are working to ‘solve’ plastic and the impact it has on our environment with ultra low-cost regenerative technology – using plastic bottles.
The Global Ecobricks Alliance promotes using a mixture of soft and hard plastics, like plastic bags and shaped food packaging, to cut up and pack tightly into a large plastic bottle using a wooden stick. The more material packed in, the denser the brick, and the more durable it will be as a building block for your next piece of furniture – or in some cases, your house.
The people-powered global initiative is based on an understanding that plastic isn’t going anywhere and that industrial recycling plants hurt the environment. GEA teaches people around the world how to make the bricks and collects them to be used in larger projects.
It was during her run for the US Congress in 2012 that 43-year-old lawyer Saujani founded Girls Who Code. The international non-profit organisation works to close the gender gap in technology and move away from the stereotypical image of a drab and dowdy computer programmer.
Through after-school clubs and summer campus, the programme teaches high school girls programming, robotics and web design – even offering projects and backing from big names like AOL, Google and Microsoft and social media giants like Facebook and Twitter.
Seven years on, the organisation reached 90,000 girls in all 50 states in America and even opened up its model to the UK. Saujani’s book, Brave, Not Perfect, out in February, draws on hundreds of interviews with women and girls who have taken bold steps to change the world. A striking read, and one that will inspire Britain’s young women to engage with computer science.
With Children’s Mental Health Week around the corner (February 4-10) focus is growing on how to fix the myriad problems in this sector.
So Bounce Works, a social enterprise specialising in tech to improve children’s mental health, has never been more vital. Founded by psychologist Louis Weinstock and software developer Ben Page, the Apart of Me app combines gaming technology and the best therapeutic techniques for dealing with grief, training players to become ‘Guides’ to provide support through the game to other youngsters.
“In the UK alone it’s estimated one child in every classroom has lost a parent or sibling, and we know that young people are using social media to grieve,” says Weinstock. The game has psychological techniques woven through it: a magical cave lets young people listen to ‘stories of love and loss’, reducing isolation; fireflies teach about emotions associated with grief and how to deal with them; and ‘quests’ equip young people to have difficult conversations with loved ones.
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