Solar Powered Hearing Aids Change the World

Amy Sample Ward
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howard weinsteinAshoka-Lemelson Fellow Howard Weinstein is on a mission.  “250 million people in the world need a hearing aid, yet only 6 million are sold each year, mainly to people who can afford $1,000 - $15,000 US.  This is a huge shortfall, and Howard is trying to do something about it.  His organization, Solar Ear, is making desperately needed hearing aid technology affordable to the world’s poor.

howard weinsteinAshoka-Lemelson Fellow Howard Weinstein is on a mission.  "250 million people in the world need a hearing aid, yet only 6 million are sold each year, mainly to people who can afford $1,000 - $15,000 US.  This is a huge shortfall, and Howard is trying to do something about it.  His organization, Solar Ear, is making desperately needed hearing aid technology affordable to the world's poor.

"We've managed to get our hearing aids down to a price of $100 US per unit, and are selling them in 30 countries around the world," Howard remarks.  "Another problem we've overcome is the burdensome price of hearing aid batteries.  The zinc batteries generally used cost around $1.50 US and last about a week."  Howard recounts how, "too often, well meaning charitable organizations give out hundreds of thousands of hearing aids, but only 1 battery each.  One week later the hearing aid sits in the child's drawer, never used again."  The solution that Solar Ear has come up with is deceptively simple charge the batteries with solar energy.  "Our batteries also cost $1.50, but last 2-3 years," he states, "leading to a savings of around $75 a year for our customers."

Solar Ear is the quintessential social enterprise, using its production process as a means of providing training and employment to young, deaf people in Botswana and Brazil.  The organzation also submits its products to the discipline of the market by selling its technologies at a profit.  These profits in turn fuel product development social programs.  The motivation is always about expanding access to hearing aid technology.  "We are also helping and will continue to help NGO's opening other affordable hearing programs," Howard articulates in a recent  conversation on Changemakers.  "We will give the technology, sources of supply, business plans, ideas for sourcing of money, anything and everything... for free."  You can learn more about Solar Ear through this video interview of Howard Weinstein.

About the Ashoka-Lemelson Fellowships

ashoka techAshoka and the Lemelson Foundation believe that invention and social entrepreneurship can align in powerful ways to improve the world and enable people to be changemakers and problem-solvers. Visit our cohort of Ashoka-Lemelson Fellows, top-tier changemakers involved in the creation of technological innovation, markets, and enabling environments for the dissemination of socially driven technologies, as well as the cultivation of the next generation of inventors around the world. Check us out. Consider signing up for our newsletter, checking out our blog, and nominating yourself or a friend who meets our selection criteria.