Reducing poverty is one of the greatest challenges the world is facing right now. Worldwide over 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty. In Europe in 2018, 21.7% of Europe’s population were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. This is manifested in unemployment, income inequality, lack of access to social services, homelessness, to name just a few. Poverty is complicated and requires a comprehensive solution.
But from the standpoint of technology, can it really do good? Can it solve or at least work towards reducing poverty or the conditions associated with it? Let’s take a look at five European startups who are out there tackling the effects of poverty.
Simprints, a Cambridge-based non-profit technology startup founded in 2013, builds biometric fingerprint technology for governments, non-profit organizations and charitable institutions for people in the developing world who lack proof of legal identity. Simprints partners with technology providers, frontline implementers and grant-makers for a strategic alliance designed to deliver impact. Current partners include BRAC (Maternal, Newborn and Child Health monitoring in Dhaka slums), Cohesu (tracking students to eliminate jigger infestations in Kenya), EPRI (MNCH monitoring in Nigeria) and Impact Network (attendance tracking in Zambian schools). Other partners include Arm and Johns Hopkins University’s Global Health Initiative. Supporters include Arm Holdings, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, USAID, Global Innovation Fund, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and the Autodesk Foundation.
Beam is a platform that crowdfunds training for homeless people and supports them into stable work. Founded in 2017 in London, Beam is currently focused on serving the homeless of London. Each person on Beam is referred by an established local charity and/or the local council. Once they are signed-up, Beam assigns an employee as a dedicated support specialist who supports them all the way into their new career. Support specialists first conduct basic security checks to make sure the referred person is mentally and physically ready to enter full-time employment. They then help each person develop a tailored career plan. The public can then choose to fund an individual person or everyone equally. Monthly supporters get personalized emails and updates on the progress of the person/s they are supporting. Institutional funders include the Mayor of London and some of the world’s top tech entrepreneurs, plus its partners include leading national charities like Shelter and St Mungo’s.
Unhoused is a London-based social impact startup founded in 2019 with a unique way of helping the homeless. Unhoused launched an online shopping platform and brand of clothing called “Streetwear”, selling men and women’s wear clothing, sanitary and dental kits and even haircuts. For every purchase of an item online, a similar item is given to someone homeless. Unhoused distributes via charities like the Salvation Army, Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT) and Sewa UK, tracking each donation to an individual for greater transparency. The clothes Unhoused manufacture are sustainable and self-cleaning thanks to FreshTech technology. This the nanotechnology is applied to the clothing fibres which protect the infiltration of liquid, dirt and sweat. In the future, Unhoused aims to develop ground-breaking technology solutions to help the homeless crisis in the UK and internationally, including an innovative model for donating fresh supplies.
Wagestream tackles the cycle of payday loans. A high-interest payday loan comes from a negative pay cycle, and the vicious cycle of covering deficit. Wagestream, a London-based startup founded in 2018, intends to address this “poverty premium” by destroying payday loans through its app that allows employees to stream part of its income. By giving staff access to wages as they are earned, Wagestream claims to reduce workplace stress and give greater financial flexibility, resulting in increased engagement and performance and higher employee retention. In May 2019, Wagestream closed Series A round of €46.8 million in the form of equity and debt, with Balderton and Northzone leading on the equity side, and savings bank Shawbrook investing on the debt side to finance employee draw-downs. Other investors in the round include QED, Rowntree Foundation, the London Co-investment Fund (LCIF) and Village Global, a social venture firm backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, among others.
Bob understands that one major cause of poverty is unemployment. In France, the startup Bob by the non-profit social enterprise Bayes Impact, aims to address “chomage” or unemployment. Founded in 2016, Bob is an online, open-source and free platform that uses artificial intelligence to provide data-driven, personalized advice to unemployed individuals in France to help them improve their chances. Via Bob, Bayes Impact has made a partnership with Pôle emploi, France’s unemployment agency. In December 2019, Bob had provided advice to more than 200,000 jobseekers. Bob has been financed by donations from foundations of corporations like JP Morgan Chase and Google. Bob also received funding from French public partners like Pole emploi and BPI.