Kopernik: the third-world online technology superstore


Kopernik connects NGOs with providers of technologies developed specifically for developing nations - like these adjustable eyeglasses - and then allows donors to contribute directly to projects.

One of the key factors in running a successful charity is helping the donors feel as connected as possible to the communities they're assisting, and see the difference they can help create. It's part of the feel-good cycle and evidence that the money is going to good use - which is why this is such a fascinating idea: The Kopernik is a next-gen online charity initiative that lets you choose exactly which projects and technologies you wish to put your money towards, then shows you the results in video form as projects are completed. It's also quite an amazing repository of emerging survival and sustainable living technology - from self-adjustable eyeglasses to clean drinking water devices and much more.

The Kopernik's mission statement is to "connect breakthrough technologies with the people who need them the most" - but that's only telling part of the story. The Kopernik website effectively aims to link technology producers with potential distribution organizations, and finance the buying of the actual technology through donations.

So, let's say you're an non-governmental organization (NGO) that wants to distribute super-cheap eyeglasses that can be adjusted to suit any prescription - like the ones we wrote about early in 2009. The Kopernik would allow you to sign up and register a project - let's say, delivering 4,000 pairs of self-adjustable glasses to needy folk in Sri Lanka.

The donated funds can only cover the purchase of the items you're delivering - your organization has to foot the bill to get them where they're needed, and all travel and personnel costs. Furthermore, you're not allowed to give the technology away - rather, you have to look at it as a kickstart for a potentially sustainable business that can sell the technology at locally appropriate prices.

As a donor, you're able to look through a list of dozens of such projects and put your money directly into the ones that interest you the most, whether it's delivering water-purifying Life Straws, solar-rechargeable digital hearing aids or getting solar study lanterns to students in Nigeria.

It's an interesting model and a very direct approach to philanthropy. We wish Kopernik all the best in developing a successful portal.