Since 2012, Toyota’s Mothers of Invention program has awarded nearly $1 million to 19 women who offer real, tangible solutions that change individual lives across the globe. This year’s recipients continue to innovate, break through, and scale up — from turning phones into portable science labs to generating energy with every footstep to bringing clean water to communities by simply listening first.
Sarah Evans, Well Aware
Clean water matters the most to women and girls says Sarah Evans, founder and CEO of Well Aware, an Austin-based non-profit that funds and implements clean water solutions for impoverished communities in East Africa. Women and girls spend hours upon hours a day collecting clean water, and are subjected to all kinds of obstacles along the way. “They know better than we do what they need,” Evans said at the eighth annual Women in the World Summit. “It’s not an unsolvable problem.”
Rather than going into communities and implementing solutions from the top-down, Evans distinguishes her process from many other NGOs by spending a lot of time simply listening to the communities she is there to help. And it’s working. In the last 7 years Well Aware has completed 34 water systems, served more than 120,000 people, and fixed 60 percent of broken wells in Kenya. And through creative fundraising campaigns like Shower Strike, it is expanding to Uganda and Tanzania.
Hahna Alexander, SolePower
“Someone running with a Fitbit has more information about their movements than people working in dangerous situations,” said Hahna Alexander, CEO and co-founder of SolePower, at the eighth annual Women in the World summit. Alexander began with a simple idea while still a student at Carnegie Mellon University — she wanted to provide shoes with lights for students as they walked home. From that point, she encountered another question, “What do you do when you need mobile electricity?”
An excellent student with three NASA internships under her belt, she set off to create SolePower, which would allow a person to generate power with every step. The United States Army took note of the idea and partnered with Alexander to create boots for soldiers, who carry 20 pounds of weight a day just in battery packs.
While she continues to work on honing this technology for boots here on Earth, the sci-fi lover also has her sights set on space. She’d like to create an energy-harvesting robot to fly a kite in Mars, which could help make the planet habitable. “I would love to retire to Mars.”
Komal Dadlani, Lab4U
Uber runs a car service without owning cars, Airbnb runs a hotel service without owning hotels, why can’t scientists practice science without owning a lab? “We are democratizing science by transforming smart phones and tablets into science labs,” said Komal Dadlani, CEO and Co-Founder of LAB4U.
Dadlani, a biochemist who grew up in Chile, was planning to go into cancer research after her mother was diagnosed, but she switched paths when she realized the world needs more scientists to solve big problems. She soon came up with the idea of turning smartphones into science instruments so that teachers and students everywhere can experiment. “You can’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book,” she said at the eighth annual Women in the World Summit.
Since then, she has seen improvement in test results of students who work with LAB4U everywhere from Chile to the United States. “The future Einstein or the future Marie Curie can be anywhere.”
Additional reporting by Pieter Colpaert.