It’s often been said that creativity is thinking up new things, while innovation is doing new things. In today’s world that is increasingly focused on new technologies and tech giants throwing around the word “innovative” for each new product they release, I think we’ve lost our basic understanding of the word.
Innovation doesn’t need to be a groundbreaking technology or an over-engineered solution. Often, it’s the simplest solution that solves the hardest of problems. Thanks, Occam’s Razor.
While innovation happens every day across the globe, I wanted to focus on innovative solutions across Southeast Asia. With a combined population of over 683 million people and similar challenges across sectors such as agriculture, finance, transportation, and food, SEA is unique in that solutions to problems developed in one country are frequently adopted in other neighboring countries.
Here are some standout examples of how people in Southeast Asia came up with innovative solutions after identifying a problem and solving it with available resources.
The main message is that innovation doesn’t mean creating the next best thing — sometimes it’s about identifying a problem and solving it with available resources
Vertical Farming — Singapore
As a land-scarce country with few natural resources, Singapore currently produces less than 10% of its food. In a city-state filled with skyscrapers, the solution was simple — build gardens on rooftops or hang them on the outside of buildings, known as vertical farming. Companies such as Sky Greens are at the forefront of this industry, stating that its vertical farming system yields five to ten times more produce per unit area compared to traditional farms in Singapore.
Growing Microalgae using Carbon Emissions (CO2) — Thailand
In a country also filled with tall buildings and empty roof spaces, EnerGaia, a Thai cleantech startup, decided to use the available space to grow microalgae using carbon emissions. Microalgae is both a promising source of bioenergy and a certain variety, known as spirulina, has high nutritional value.
It sounds crazy, but an article published in the Maejo International Journal of Energy and Environmental Communication says that supplementing microalgae with cooled CO2 actually makes it grow faster. This means the process can also further mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Solar Light Bottles — The Philippines
In smaller towns lacking sufficient electrical infrastructure, it seemed almost impossible to develop a simple and effective solution to provide sufficient light. That is, until social enterprise Liter of Light came along. The solar lighting project uses recycled plastic bottles filled with a water-and-bleach solution, stuck through a hole in the roof, to disperse sunlight into an otherwise dark indoor living space. At night, the bottle runs on a solar battery.
Liter of Light works with volunteers to teach locals how to produce and install the bottles. Over 145,000 households have benefitted from this innovative solution, with the potential for it to help the more than 125 million people across Southeast Asia who live off the energy grid or don’t have a reliable energy supply.
Hybrid microgrids — Myanmar
Myanmar has one of the lowest electrification rates in Asia — around 56% — based on the latest data. This is mainly because many people in Myanmar live in rural areas, meaning they don’t have access to the main grid. To solve this, Singapore-based Yoma Micro Power came up with an innovative idea to design and develop microgrids, which are decentralized power plants that generate electricity locally.
While 96% of the power is obtained via solar panels, each microgrid also has a diesel generator that serves as a backup when there is not enough sun. In addition to providing people with a source of power, microgrids also produce 22.5 tonnes fewer carbon emissions when producing the same amount of electricity as a diesel generator.
Yoma Micro Power has helped provide power to more than 25,000 people as of 2022.
Simple solutions to problems afflicting millions of people across Southeast Asia are being developed every day by people who simply want to solve a problem. Only when we recognize that innovative ideas don’t need to be sexy or complicated can we begin tackling issues using the resources available, rather than spending millions of dollars on developing a groundbreaking solution.
All opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not represent the views of KrASIA. Questions, concerns, or fun facts can be sent to [email protected].