Shoes that grow and other innovations

During a 2007 trip to Kenya, American entrepreneur Kenton Lee noticed a young girl wearing shoes so small that she had cut open the front of the shoes to let her toes stick out. That was the day he was inspired to create The Shoe That Grows — a shoe that grows five sizes and lasts for years.

Since then, Lee’s nonprofit, Because International, has distributed 180,000 pairs of shoes to children in more than 95 countries. The organization recently started producing shoes in Ethiopia and plans to open facilities in Haiti and Kenya.

Four shoes in different colors (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
These sandal-like shoes can be expanded as a child grows. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Today, Because International is among nine recipients of the 2018 Patents for Humanity Award, presented each year by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to recognize entrepreneurs whose inventions have a global humanitarian impact.

The winners will be honored during an official award ceremony on November 27 in Alexandria, Virginia. Meet a few of them:

Portable solar lights

Small child holding a portable solar light (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Portable solar lights like this one have been distributed to over 200,000 people worldwide, including many in refugee camps. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Lack of access to light during the night affects 2.6 billion people globally. Solight Design addressed this by developing a lightweight, rechargeable solar lamp. These lamps, designed by Columbia University architecture professor Alice Min Soo Chun, have been distributed for disaster relief in 25 countries, including Turkey, Haiti and Nepal.

Treating jaundice

Two women holding a medical device (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
This phototherapy device from Little Sparrows Technologies is a portable and low-cost way to treat jaundice. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Severe jaundice causes over 100,000 preventable deaths annually among infants in developing countries. The disease is treatable, but many lack access to the expensive technologies required. Dr. Donna Brezinski designed a portable, low-cost, battery-operated device called the Bili-Hut to treat affected newborns. She founded Little Sparrows Technologies in 2014 to provide Bili-Hut devices worldwide. The device has been used in several locations in Burundi.

From waste to fuel

Left: seated woman cooking at portable stove; right: woman holding portable toilet (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
The woman on the left is cooking using sanitary charcoal-like briquettes made from a treatment plant that processes human waste with solar thermal energy; the woman on the right holds a Sanivation portable toilet. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Sanivation is a social enterprise that works to address not one, but two major global issues: human waste disposal and sustainable fuel. Based in Kenya, Sanivation has developed facilities that treat human waste using solar thermal energy, turning the waste into fuel for cooking and heating. The bricks are more efficient and produce lower carbon emissions than charcoal. With three plants already established, Sanivation plans to build additional sites and serve 1 million people by 2022.

Increasing crop yields

Man in a rice field riding on a planting device (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Subsistence rice farming is often done standing long hours in water and mud, exposed to parasites. This device helps alleviate that. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Formed in 2007, the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Bridge to Cambodia (BB2C) provides subsistence farmers in Cambodia with tools to make rice planting more efficient. BB2C’s device, the Eli Rice Seeder, uses high-pressure air to shoot rice seeds under the soil, reducing planting time from 320 hours to just two. Use of the device in Cambodian farming communities increases crop yields and income and reduces exposure to parasites and physical ailments among women, who are the primary planters of rice fields.

Insuring proper disinfection

Man in protective garb spraying another man in protective garb with chemical (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
A health care worker in Guinea is sprayed with a bleach solution that turns color when a spray site is properly disinfected. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

In 2015, Kinnos Inc. was awarded a U.S. Agency for International Development grant to develop solutions to health issues in West Africa. The New York–based company created a blue powder called Highlight, used at Ebola treatment centers to ensure complete decontamination. The powder is added to bleach cleaning solutions and changes colors, allowing health care professionals to see spots they missed. Highlight has been used so far in Liberia, Guinea, Haiti, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This article was written by freelance writer Maeve Allsup.

What is a patent?

A patent grants exclusive property rights to an inventor for their idea, usually for a term of 20 years.

The U.S. has supported technological progress and protected entrepreneurs as far back as 1790 by granting them exclusive rights to their creations. Since then, the U.S. has issued over 10 million patents, covering inventions, artistic works and business methods.

Inventors from around the world come to the U.S. to try to get their innovations protected.