LeafyLife has so far solely relied on the funding it received as a prize from the competition. However, to move forward, it will have to acquire investors, which is another challenge.

“It’s always higher risk for a western investor to invest in emerging markets,” says Dutta. “If you’re a startup in an emerging market, often investors want you to come and base yourself in London, or in Silicon Valley or somewhere, before they give you money. It’s a very human tendency to want something that is important for you close to you.”

As a way to make it easier to find investors for global projects, UpLink co-designs its competitions with expert organisations as well as venture funds.

The second Ocean Solutions challenge, for example, was co-designed with the Nature Conservancy and with Aqua-Spark, a venture fund eager to invest in entrepreneurs working on sustainable aquaculture solutions.

While there is still a long way to go to make these programmes truly accessible all over the world, the invested effort is already paying off in the case of LeafyLife.

Although the company’s technology is still in the development stage, it has been distributed to some households already. In low-income countries, indoor pollution from using cheap fuels such as charcoal and kerosene accounts for 6 per cent of premature deaths every year.

“By substituting charcoal and kerosene, we are in a major way, impacting the health of residents of this region,” Kizito says. 

Some of the world’s biggest problems waiting to be solved are in countries where entrepreneurs don’t have access to the same type of resources as, say, their counterparts in Silicon Valley.

Yet the people facing those problems day to day may be the best source for solutions.

With programmes like UpLink and the Climate Launchpad, innovative ideas from anywhere could have a better chance of turning into solutions — and helping people everywhere.

This story was published with permission from Ensia.com. Read the full story.