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‘Tech for good’ had a very good year in 2022. Here are 6 companies that led the way

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Many entrepreneurs and innovators around the world are working tirelessly to make the world a better place. Image: Unsplash/ThisisEngineering RAEng

Gabi Thesing
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Tech entrepreneurs and innovators are using AI and drones to improve lives and tackle climate catastrophes.
  • Other cutting-edge developments include deploying DNA sequencing in environmental monitoring, and bioelectrochemical treatment of wastewater.
  • Here are 6 companies that are using tech to make the world a better place.

The cost of living crisis, runaway inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, weak economic growth, democracy under attack, increasing lack of trust in technology, climate emergency – 2022 could easily end up being remembered as the year of the polycrisis.

And yet, away from the headlines, many entrepreneurs and innovators are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

From using cutting-edge technology to help Ukrainian refugee children, to protecting biodiversity in the face of mass extinction, combatting wildfires, cleaning up water and fighting waste, a whole host of companies, including Top Innovators from the World Economic Forum’s open innovation platform, UpLink, used tech for good in 2022.

Here are 6 of them:

1. Helping traumatized refugee children

A group of girls looking at a technological device.
Helping Hand last year launched a Ukrainian version of its app which helps teenagers exposed to war deal with a range of issues, including suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression. Image: Attensi.

Helping Hand, the winner of the UpLink Youth Mental Health Challenge 2022, is a joint venture between Norwegian digital learning software company Attensi and clinical psychologist Dr Solfrid Raknes.

They developed the Helping Hand gamified simulation training to help teenagers – including those in warzones – deal with a range of issues, including suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression.

It has already helped 2,000 Syrian teenagers in camps in Central Beqaa, Lebanon. They all said the game made them feel better and helped them make sense of their world. The company responded to the crisis in Ukraine by launching a Ukrainian version of the app.

“Over 5 million children have been affected already by the Ukraine conflict, which escalated quickly and turned their world upside down,” Dr Raknes said. “This technology is designed to help them process what they have experienced, give them courage and rebuild their lives.”

2. Using DNA sequencing to protect biodiversity

“Nature has a measurement problem,” Naturemetrics founder Kat Bruce says, meaning that by the time we notice a species has gone extinct, it’s too late.

The UK company uses DNA sequencing to identify thousands of species at once, helping companies in the energy, infrastructure, extractives, fisheries and agriculture sectors to comply with environmental monitoring.

This has traditionally involved binoculars, cameras, microscopes and waterproof notebooks, and relied on human observers to record individual animals and identify species one at a time.

Naturemetrics identifies the DNA traces left by any species in water, soil or air. The information gleaned from filtering out the DNA in one litre of river water, for example, would normally take about 10 years of conventional surveying, it says. The company raised £12 million ($15 million) in venture capital funding last year.

3. Using AI to help fight Brazil’s wildfires

A person running through field which is on fire.
There were 3,358 wildfires on just one day in the Amazon in August 2022. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

More than half of Brazil’s CO2 emissions are caused by wildfires. Last year, on one day in August alone, 3,358 fires were detected in the Brazilian Amazon. This was the highest number of fires recorded for any 24-hour period since 2007, according to Greenpeace.

Umgraumeio, meanwhile, is on a mission to stop the spread of wildfires. It uses a portfolio of technology – including artificial intelligence (AI) – to prevent, detect and fight wildfires. Satellite and AI algorithms identify potential risk spots or smoke within seconds, and then send alerts.

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How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?

The company says it has achieved 85% reduction of burned areas for bioenergy company BP Bunge, a 100% reduction in environmental fines for Ester Agroindustrial, and a 70% reduction in monitoring towers infrastructure for Brazilian sugar company Petribu.

4. Using drones to plant 1 billion trees in Canada

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We're fast losing one of our best mechanisms for combating global warming. The Earth had 6 trillion trees pre-human civilization, and we are now down to 3 trillion, with a net loss of 20 billion trees or so each year, according to Flash Forest.

Tree planting is still largely done by hand and shovel, making it laborious, slow and not scalable, the Canadian reforestation company explains. One of the major challenges of growing trees in the age of climate change is accessing post-burn landscapes that are too dangerous for human planters.

Flash Forest uses drones to reforest areas impacted by wildfires. Rather than just scattering bare tree seeds and hoping they will germinate, the company has developed seeds that are encapsulated in a special blend of nutrients and treatments developed to assist germination.

The drones can also embed the seedpods directly beneath the soil. Flash Forest aims to plant 1 billion trees over the next five years.

5. Dreaming of a trash-free world

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Indian entrepreneur Nivedha RM dreams of a day when her daughter will ask her “Mama, what is trash?”

Nivedha was invited to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in 2022 to pitch her solution to India’s accelerating waste problem – most of the country’s trash is still sent to landfill or incinerated.

Her company TrashCon has developed a sorting system that segregates wet from dry materials and can process up to 200 tonnes of waste per day.

The wet waste left over is converted into compost, biogas or fuel. TrashCon has also developed a machine that can transform plastic waste into plywood-like sheets that can be turned into sustainable furniture and building materials.

TrashCon is building a recycling plant in Bangalore that will be able to process 500 tonnes of metals, plastics, glass and fibre every day. It already has 16 automatic sorting plants spread across six Indian states.

The company aims to recycle 25 million tonnes of waste per year by 2025.

6. Cleaning up wastewater

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US company Aquacycl’s BioElectrochemical Treatment Technology (BETT) uses naturally existing bacteria to treat wastewater and generate direct electricity for industrial companies, including food and beverage and hydrocarbon processing. The wastewater these producers normally generate can create toxicity events at downstream treatment sites and strain existing infrastructure.

BETT’s unique selling point as a commercial treatment technology is that it requires no dilution. But it also offers fast treatment times, a small footprint and low energy consumption, the company says.

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Forum InstitutionalEmerging TechnologiesNature and Biodiversity
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