10 brilliant apps solving local problems worldwide

Apps are often developed to solve convenience problems – cheaper taxis or snack delivery services. We highlight the innovators across the world who are improving lives with apps that offer tangible solutions for a range of issues from cattle care to an online queing system for village water-collection so that girls can spend more time studying.

Safer Seas Service , UK

United by their love of riding waves and frustration with the appalling conditions of Britain’s coasts, Surfers Against Sewage was formed in 1990 by a community of surfers with the aim of improving the quality of water around the UK.

A key focus of their work has been addressing the impact of CSOs, the emergency discharge valves that release untreated sewage into open waterways such as rivers, lakes and seas, when sewage systems are close to overflowing.

Campaigners have argued that this untreated sewage is being regularly released even when it’s not necessary, which leads to waters becoming contaminated with human waste and rubbish, a danger to humans and wildlife alike.

The Safer Seas Service app alerts users to discharges via text, and with real time warnings from both water companies and the Environment Agency, spanning over 300 beaches across the UK, beach-goers can make informed, safer choices about where and when they use beaches or hit the waves.

Thurst, US

Dating apps. We’ve all used one, and whilst endless memes and think pieces have emerged about ridiculous chat up lines, sexual politics and the state of dating in the twenty first century, conversations about some of the more problematic aspects of dating have been given less attention.

For queer people, and queer people of colour in particular, dating online can be the painful rejection of not having their gender acknowledged, not finding anyone they can identify with or facing targeted online harassment that can lead to further online abuse or offline violence.

Activist Morgan Bromell, a queer woman of colour, is on a mission to change that. With her dating app Thurst, due to launch later this year, she hopes to create an app ‘where queer people of all genders date’.

More than just a dating app Bromell is driven by the idea of creating an online community where people marginalised because of their race, gender identification and sexual preferences can come together to feel supported and gain visibility in a world that erases them.

Alongside the ability to hook up, the app will make safety a priority and feature, resources and support tools – this is a tool about tackling prejudice, and finding love, or just some plain old fun.

@ Thurst

Modisar, Botswana

Modisar is an app making farmers lives in Botswana a little easier. Founded by computer system engineer Thuto Gaotingwe and farmer Tebogo Dichabeng, the app takes its name from the Tswana word meaning ‘livestock care taker’ or ‘herd boy’.

There are more cattle than people in Botswana, and the agricultural sector has huge potential. Yet, the industry faces issues such as drought, disease outbreaks and lack of access to information. These issues are even more pressing for the nation’s significant number of part-time farmers.

Modisar offers the solution of helping farmers keep on top of stock numbers, feeding schedules, vaccination dates and resources around good farming.

Outside of the practicalities of rearing livestock, the app also acts as a training centre to support farmers to grow professionally. Farmers can use Modisar to keep abreast of key industry developments and calendar events such a buying and slaughter days.

The young team, made up of content managers, an animal scientist and software experts hope to modernise the industry and encourage more youth to become farmers.

Paani Hai Javai, India

Meaning ‘water is life’, the Paani Hai Javai app was developed by a team of three 12- to 13-year-old schoolgirls from Dharavi, as part of the Dharavi Diary project, led by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan.

The project, using the MIT App Inventor, an open source tool to develop applications, came about after Ranjan decided to leave his life in San Francisco to live in Mumbai’s infamous Dharavi slum district with the desire to build skills, confidence and aspirations with the young people living in desolation.

The app was designed by football loving friends Fauzia Aslam Ansari, Sheetal Rathore and Sudha Chalwade. Addressing the fact that girls are the ones who have collect water for their families, and that the long queues can mean arguments, waiting for hours and either missing the chance to go to school or to do homework.

Paani works by creating an online queue which notifies registered neighbours when it is their turn to collect water. The girls chose to create an app that would be accessible to older generations and increase its chances of success in their local area. The trio are hoping to tweak the app so that locals can also be notified when the water supply becomes dirty, another huge problem in India.

Refunite, Denmark

Refunite’s story begins with Mansour, a young refugee from Afghanistan who fled to Pakistan with his family at the age of 12, only to be separated from them by a trafficker who had promised to take them all to Scandinavia.

The app founders, brothers Christopher and David Mikkelsen met Mansour five years later in Denmark, whilst working on a documentary.

In the process of trying to trace Mansour’s family, they realised humanitarian agencies didn’t share information, with hard copy systems leading to dead end paper trails for people desperate to see their loved ones.

They managed to track down one of Mansour’s brothers six years later through sheer luck and persistence.

In setting up Refunite, they’ve created a digital tracking system that reunites around 150 people with their families each month, with over 400,000 refugees worldwide registered.

The service works by asking people to register their details and the information of the person that they are searching for via SMS, a free call (Refunite have set up call centres around the world too), USSD or the Refunite website. Refugees can get in touch with each other via the platform and once they’ve established who they are looking for, they exchange details.

By collating data from different agencies around the world, the app’s algorithms cross-reference the details supplied including names, clans, neighbourhoods and even teachers’ names.

Previously, the Red Cross opened 700 cases per year to reconnect people. They now open 700 per day. Refunite is part of the solution.

@ Refunite

FoodCloud, Ireland

According to statistics from the UN, worldwide, we’re wasting an awful lot of food. If just a quarter of the world’s current wasted food was saved, then 870 million people worldwide could be fed.

In short, it’s a very good thing that Food Cloud App founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien love food and hate waste enough to be doing something about it.

FoodCloud is a social enterprise based in Ireland which connects businesses that have surplus food with the charities in their local community that need it through their tech platform.

A business uploads details of the food they have available and this is sent as a text message to a local charity who can pick it up. In 2012 they organised their first exchange, between a farmers market and a local care home for teens.

Four years later, after working collaboratively with grassroots groups and local businesses, they have 350 stores signed up including Tesco and Aldi. This has enabled 750 charities across Ireland and the UK to receive the equivalent of 2.2 million meals.

With the rise of food poverty and charities facing funding cuts, it’s a brilliant model that tackles multiple pressing social issues at once.

Maya Apa, Bangladesh

Maya is designed to offer free health advice to Bangladeshi women. It was launched by maya.com.bd, a start-up and the first comprehensive website in Bangladesh dedicated to women’s health and well-being.

In Bangladesh accessing healthcare for women can be difficult for a number of reasons – education, fear of stigma, location and the pressures they face from long working hours. Nevertheless women’s health is a critical issue, particularly because of poor maternal mortality rates, so the app provides a welcome solution.

The fact that it’s based on technology means that a new generation of women won’t have to deal with the same isolation around health and wellbeing.

Russell was raised in Bangladesh but moved to London for university and spent years working in the financial sector before taking maternity leave. Her own pregnancy and her mother’s successful battle with cancer led to her confronting just how difficult it was to find accessible health and support for women, so Russell partnered with the UK’s National Health Service with the idea of localising content for women in Bangladesh via the website, maya.com.bd, named after her mother.

The site quickly became a communal space where women would anonymously seek out information about health, the law and social issues from Maya’s team of local doctors, students and lawyers.

The site was so successful that they launched the app as a fully-fledged service with a team of experts across different fields.

Ludwig, Brazil

Cultural and social exclusion is a harsh reality for deaf people around the world, which is why the brilliant developers at Ludwig decided to step in and create an app with accompanying software to allow deaf people to enjoy music.

The app is named after Ludwig van Beethoven, the world famous composer, who himself created music whilst steadily losing his hearing, before becoming deaf altogether. Ludwig works as software connected to a bracelet that converts sounds into a series of colours and vibrations, which literally allows the wearer to ‘feel’ the music.

The importance of touch is key, as over time people with hearing impairment develop increased sensibility, making this an ideal way to experience sound. Users can also see what sound ‘looks’ like with a visual board that uses colour and imagery, a beautiful means of allowing the universal language of music to become a more universally inclusive space.

@ Ludwig

Democracy OS, Argentina

The way that politics plays out online is fascinating. Endless polls, endless opinions, ranty statuses and little that actually changes in the real world.

Cue Democracy OS, an app and a political party. Launched by a collective of activists, entrepreneurs and academics in Argentina, the platform is focused on closing the increasing gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. They’re interested in how ordinary citizens engage with politics and in ensuring that people can engage with politics outside of election season.

When a new piece of legislation is brought to the Argentian Congress, DemocracyOS is used to explain it in plain language.

For every bill coming into parliament, the website offers key information and the opportunity to vote and feedback on laws. Why? Pia Mancini, one of the founders of the platform, said in her Ted Talk, "We are 21st century citizens doing our best to interact with 19th century designed institutions that are based on an information technology of the 15th century.

It’s time we start asking: What is democracy for the internet era?"

Vula, South Africa

Vula is an eye clinic, in app form.

At least it was until healthcare professionals saw its success in ophthalmology and asked for the app to be made available to support their fields too.

Vula is now also available for cardiology, orthopaedics and burns. The app works by giving health workers – particularly those in remote rural areas – a tool that helps to get patients quick and efficient specialist care.

Because it’s mobile, people can get the information and treatment they need quickly.

After working at the Vula Emehlo Eye Clinic in rural Swaziland, Vula’s founder, Dr. William Mapham witnessed the difficulties faced by rural health workers.

Healthcare provision in rural South Africa has its challenges. There shortage of staff and resources that can be accessed quickly. The quality of life in some areas and the time it takes some patients to finally seek health means that people can be really ill by the time they are finally seen.

Related project

Levamos a experiência de ouvir música aos deficientes auditivos/ We bring music to the deaf community