50+ Global Issues Makers Can Solve

Biohacking Education Energy & Sustainability Science


Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—along with USAID’s Global Development Lab, The Lemelson Foundation, The Schmidt Family Foundation, Dalberg Global Development Advisors, The Good Company and OMG—has put together a list of challenges primed for Makers to solve. They call these “Top 50 Game-Changing Technologies for Defeating Global Poverty.” These are summarized in a 20-page list, and then fully explored in the full 600-page report. They shared this list “because the problems we all seek to address require urgent action,” and they invite the problem-solvers of the world (you, dear readers!) to “begin the conversation.”

The top challenge?

The single most needed breakthrough is a cost-effective, energy-efficient method for desalinating water. “Water will be the defining problem of the next 50 years,” [Shashi] Buluswar [director of LIGTT, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies] said. “It’s probably the single most important thing that needs to be solved.”

50-breakthroughsThe researchers analyzed each on its “Difficulty of deployment”: (Simple / Feasible / Complex / Challenging/ Extremely Challenging) vs. “Likely time to market” (from “Potential quick wins” to “The most difficult challenges: very complex technologies and daunting deployment hurdles.”) In another matrix, they arrange the challenges by commercial potential, in terms of how attractive these would be for industrialized and emerging markets. They are also categorized into nine areas:

  1. Global health
  2. Food security and agricultural development
  3. Education
  4. Human rights
  5. Gender equity
  6. Water
  7. Access to electricity
  8. Digital inclusion
  9. Resilience against climate change and environmental damage

Take a look at how you can help save the world—especially the bolded items that have Makers’ names written all over them! (But really, I could have bolded the whole list.)

Add a comment below if there’s a challenge you would have added to this list that you don’t see!

  1. Energy-efficient desalination
  2. Vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
  3. Vaccine for Malaria.
  4. Vaccine for TB.
  5. Smart electronic textbooks
  6. Biometric ID systems
  7. Affordable smartphones
  8. New generation of homes for the poor
  9. New fertilizer production systems
  10. Utility-in-a-box for solar mini-grids
  11. Short-course TB treatment
  12. Microbicides for HIV / HPV
  13. Long-lasting antiretroviral for HIV
  14. PrEP antiretrovirals for HIV prevention
  15. Complete cure for malaria
  16. Long-lasting chemical mosquito repellent
  17. Non-chemical spatial mosquito repellent/attractant
  18. Clinic-in-a-box
  19. Oxygen concentrator
  20. Automated multiplex immunoassays
  21. Point-of-care nucleic acid diagnostics
  22. Fully integrated diagnostic panels
  23. Off-grid vaccine refrigerator
  24. Thermo-stabilizing mechanism for vaccines
  25. Nutrient-dense infant weaning foods
  26. Off-grid refrigerator for households and farmers
  27. Low-cost refrigerated vehicle
  28. Precision agriculture systems for irrigation and fertilizer
  29. Low-cost shallow water drilling system
  30. Solar-powered irrigation pumps
  31. Herbicides for weeds
  32. Low-cost tilling machine
  33. Alternative to liquid nitrogen for preserving animal semen
  34. High-nutrient animal fodder
  35. Portable toolkit of extension workers and veterinarians
  36. Spatial on-farm pest repellent
  37. New seed varieties tolerant to drought and heat
  38. Wearable cameras
  39. Low-cost aerial vehicles for imagery
  40. DNA-based rape kit
  41. Wireless broadband technologies
  42. IoT for low-income populations
  43. Sustainable aquaculture systems
  44. Affordable homes resilient to extreme climate events
  45. Retrofit filter for vehicle exhaust
  46. Distributed sensors for environmental toxins
  47. Low-cost PV minigrid installation
  48. New generation of low-cost, energy efficient appliances
  49. New bulk storage technologies
  50. Mini-grid management solutions
  51. Low-cost family transport

12 thoughts on “50+ Global Issues Makers Can Solve

  1. cecil says:

    maker’s financial independence from top down funding system

  2. Simplythefactsmam says:

    Half of the world is deforesting their land for firewood to cook on and there is not a single suggestion to make cooking and fires more efficient. Smoke in kitchens is crippling and killing people daily.

    The primary problem which isn’t addressed here is convincing enough people that we have too many people for the environment. In places where women are better educated and everyone has more opportunity the population growth slows. It is disappointing to see an article saying ‘Well, in so and so a year when we have 10 billion people we can feed them insects or whatever’, while obviously if the population keeps going up anyway that’s not much more than a signpost on the way to a huge disaster.

    1. Michelle Hlubinka says:

      Hi Simply, I agree that they could have put more focus on this challenge, but perhaps it is addressed in #50?

      “Access to electricity is fundamental to every aspect of human development. More than 1 billion people, concentrated mostly in rural Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, lack electricity. The problem is expected to worsen in sub-Saharan Africa as population growth outpaces the increase in electrification. Even as
      efforts to improve electrification continue, it is important to recognize that it is not electricity itself that changes lives, but rather, what people are able to do with electricity. Recent years have seen an increase in proliferation of ‘pre-electrification’ appliances like solar-powered lights and mobile phone chargers. While this has some benefits, low income households need a number of other appliances such as refrigerators, televisions (or other ICT devices), fans, and tools for improving workplace productivity to improve their overall quality of life. In that context, there are 2 major problems: appliances currently on the market are too expensive for low income populations, and even if they were affordable, the electricity they consume costs much more than the ‘energy budget’ of these users…..” [the report goes on….]

      I also feel like I have heard that there have been solutions developed for exactly the problem you describe, and that there were unforeseen consequences and/or hurdles (of course!) to the alternate fuel cooking stove that was developed. I’m sure you could probably tell us more about that, since you seem knowledgeable in this area.

  3. Dawelda says:

    @Simplythefactsmam One of our members at Staten Island Makerspace (www.makerspace.nyc), Lorin Symington from GoSol (www.GoSol.org) just built a solar cooker that addresses the need for non-wood burning, no fossil fuel, low-tech cooking. Check them out! It is a great project and are excited to be a part of it. Last week in 20 degree weather we were getting 600 degree temps on a fry pan, while making grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate!

    1. Michelle Hlubinka says:

      Love it! (And it’s way bigger than I imagined it’d be!)

      1. Lorin Symington says:

        The bigger the more powerful! Once the core technique is mastered, the concentrators can scale up or down depending on the use-case. GoSol.org is crowdfunding to freely publish construction guides to empower people around the world to build their own access to solar thermal energy! We’d love to collaborate with Makezine.com to get the word out. I’m @Lorington on twitter if you want to get in touch!

    2. Lorin Symington says:

      Hi guys! Yeah, we got some great heat out of that solar cooker didn’t we? http://www.GoSol.org is now running their #FreeTheSun crowdfunding campaign! It’s a great campaign and one of our goals is to create an online platform for collaborative solar concentrator development. Makers and Hackers from around the world can interact and problem solve and see their designs/mods implemented around the world, making an impact on climate change and energy poverty! Check out the campaign video @ http://www.gosol.org/FreeTheSun and spread the word!

  4. Dick van der Wateren says:

    Reblogged this on Maker+Klas and commented:
    Ik schreef het al eerder, Makeronderwijs is niet alleen leuk en interessant, het kan ook leiden tot oplossingen van wereldwijde problemen. De generatue die nu opgroeit zal alle creativiteit en vernuft nodig hebben om het hoofd te bieden aan klimaatverandering, zeespiegelstijging, honger, watertekort en vermindering van de biodiversiteit. Dit stuk op de blog van Makezine noemt een aantal problemen, waarvoor Makers een oplossing kunnen vinden.

  5. Mark Ptak says:

    textbooks (:)) how bout the work at http://www.learningequality.org ?

  6. Rustom says:

    #23 (off grid refridgerator <$1000 for vaccine): Sundanzer has been making those for years. Pretty sure many of the other items on this wishlist already exist as well.

  7. Andrew Durham says:

    Elephant in the room: these are challenges given the corporate control of the world. So, for example, we can’t just say revoke the Coca-Cola corporate charter for destroying water supplies around the world. We have to solve these problems _despite_ corporate control.


    Vinay Gupta already did
    #6 (Cheap ID/State in a Box, http://guptaoption.com/cheapid/)
    #8 (http://hexayurt.com)

    Nader Khalili already solved
    #44 (superadobe http://calearth.org)

    #47 Several companies handle this
    #48 see hexayurt infrastructure pack
    #50 the grid is the problem (see http://stacktivism.com)

  8. ... says:

    these are not problems these are solutions. When you start with a solution in mind and not a problem you could be closing your thoughts to better/cheaper/simple solutions or worst … you could be solving the wrong problem …

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

View more articles by Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).