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People Fixing the World


tories about clever or big new ideas to solve global problems – and probing if these solutions actually work. A podcast from the BBC World Hacks team.

tories about clever or big new ideas to solve global problems – and probing if these solutions actually work. A podcast from the BBC World Hacks team.
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tories about clever or big new ideas to solve global problems – and probing if these solutions actually work. A podcast from the BBC World Hacks team.




How to Build a City for an Ageing Population

More than a quarter of Japan’s population is over 65 and the country has the highest rate of centenarians in the world. It’s a ticking demographic time bomb as the cost of caring for the elderly rises. But can the solution to this growing problem be found in Kashiwa City near Tokyo? A project there has been looking at how to redesign towns and cities to adapt to their residents as they reach old age. World Hacks asks whether the answers they have found could help ageing populations across...


The Country That Can Jail You For Using Plastic Bags

Just over a year ago, Kenya introduced the world’s most draconian rules on single-use plastic bags. People can be fined up to $40,000 or even thrown in jail for producing, selling or using them. World Hacks travels to Nairobi to find out what impact the ban has had, and asks why Kenya has taken such a seemingly progressive stance on plastic. We also speak to experts in the UK to find out why many governments prefer to ‘nudge’ their citizens into cutting back on plastic bags, instead of...


Time to Update the Stranger Danger Message?

Child abduction by strangers is extremely rare, but the danger looms large in the minds of many parents. One reason is that for the past 50 years or so, governments have created public information campaigns around the message of “Stranger Danger”. In the UK, the US, Canada and many other countries too, these videos were played in the media and in schools. The videos portrayed in stark terms the risk of talking to adults you did not know who appeared to be friendly. But a new generation of...


Tech That Tricks the Brain

Our brains are the control centre of the human body. They allow us to think, to learn and to dream - but if you know how the brain works, it can also be fooled. Two start-up companies are making a business from these brain hacks, using wearable technology to trick the brain to improve people’s lives. The first is a wristband that uses a fake heartbeat to trick users’ brains into feeling calmer in stressful situations. The Doppel device also allows users to increase the rate of the fake...


‘Rental sisters’ for Japan’s Reclusive Young Men

In Japan, to become a 'hikikomori' means to withdraw from the world and social life. Many of those who suffer from the condition shut themselves in their bedrooms for years on end, refusing to work, study or interact with anyone around them. More than half a million people are thought to be hikikomori, most of them young men. One organisation, New Start, has come up with an unusual solution: rental sisters. The sisters-for-hire visit regularly, helping to coax the hikikomori out of their...


Fighting the ‘Water Mafia’ with Pipes in the Sky

In Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, access to water is a minefield. The marketplace is dominated by water cartels, or mafias - water is often syphoned off from the mains supply and pumped in through dirty hosepipes. But Kennedy Odede is trying to change that. Dubbed the ‘president of the poor’, he set up a scheme to pump water up from a borehole deep underground, and deliver it through a new network of pipes with a difference. To avoid contamination, and keep them safe...


Mending Our Disposable Culture

Volunteers around the world regularly get together to fix other people’s broken stuff free of charge. Reporter Nick Holland visits an event called a Repair Café in the Netherlands and links up with a team running a similar workshop in India. He asks what difference this 'make do and mend’ movement can make to our disposable culture Photo Caption: Repairing a radio with a soldering iron Photo Credit: BBC


Smart Stimulation for People with Dementia

Anyone who cares for someone with dementia knows the struggle to keep them stimulated and engaged as the condition progresses. This week World Hacks looks at three clever ideas that attempt to help. First up, a designer in the Netherlands has created a device that projects simple interactive games on to any table. Using lights, colours and sounds, the Tovertafel, or ‘Magic Table’, allows users to push rustling leaves, pop bubbles and catch virtual fish. We visit a dementia club in north...


Running and Singing to Improve Maths and English

This week we go back to school, with two simple ideas that involve changing the day-to-day lives of pupils to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. The Daily Mile is an idea developed in a Scottish school by an enterprising teacher, which is now being adopted worldwide. It gets pupils to run a mile at a surprise moment during the school day, to break up their learning and burn some calories. Meanwhile, in Bradford, in the north of England, a previously failing school has found...


A Green Space Revolution in Paris

How do you create green spaces in the middle of a city, where there’s no space to create large-scale parks or gardens? Paris has come up with a clever solution – they allow anyone to apply for a permit to start a garden anywhere at all. A rich assortment of small projects has sprung up, ranging from plant pots around lamp posts, to rejuvenated church squares, to walls covered with ivy. It’s a piecemeal approach to making the city greener, but it’s one that seems to be working. This week on...


Scanning Homeless People To Make a Donation

Have you ever wanted to donate to a homeless person, but found yourself without any cash, or concerned about how they may spend the money? A potential solution is being proposed in Oxford, England, through a scheme issuing homeless people with barcodes which can be worn around the neck or printed on a sign. Members of the public can scan these barcodes on their smartphones and read the homeless person’s story, before deciding whether or not to donate. Any money pledged goes into a special...


Rewarding Green Travel in Bologna

In the northern Italian town of Bologna, a new public transport system is rewarding citizens for taking sustainable modes of transport. Each time locals walk or use the bus, train, car pooling or car sharing, they receive ‘mobility points’, which can be cashed in at cafes, cinemas, bars, bookshops and a number of other locations across the city. We explore the social and environmental benefits of taking Bologna’s residents out of their cars and onto the streets, moving about the city in a...


Cool Ways of Keeping Things Cool

A vast and expensive system with the sole purpose of keeping things cool exists across the developed world. This “cold chain” includes fridges in kitchens, refrigerated lorries and cold store warehouses for supermarket produce and medicines. It costs billions to run and has a big environmental cost. But in poorer countries, this cold chain is just in its infancy. People are dying as health clinics lack the fridges to keep vaccines safe. New cold chain technology is needed and two inventors...


Reviving Italy’s ‘Ghost Towns’

Across the Italian countryside, villages are becoming deserted as people migrate to towns and cities. A sustainable tourism model known as the ‘Albergo Diffuso’ is attempting to reverse this trend. Tourist services, restaurants and hotels are spread around the village to encourage visitors to eat and stay with different families, boosting the local economy. We travel to the town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the Abruzzo region to meet the local business owners, restaurateurs and hoteliers...


Why Millions Listen to This Girl

A nine-year-old child announcer has been recruited on the London Underground. The idea is that her voice will surprise passengers, so they listen to her safety message. It’s an example of nudge theory in action, the art of subtly persuading large numbers of people to change their behaviour, by adjusting their environment. People Fixing the World also visits a university campus, which is nudging its students with a subtle price change, encouraging them to use fewer disposable coffee cups....


Training India’s Fake Doctors

It’s thought that more than half the people claiming to be doctors in India have no medical qualifications. They are known as “quacks”, operating illegally, but often ignored by the authorities because of a shortage of qualified doctors. They regularly misdiagnose diseases and prescribe the wrong drugs, and some even perform surgeries in makeshift clinics. One prominent, qualified, doctor has started a controversial scheme, offering a quick crash course in medicine to thousands of his...


Stopping Wildfires in Their Tracks

Wildfires can have a devastating impact, destroying land, homes and lives. Scientists say that as the planet gets warmer, they are only going to start more often. World Hacks looks at three projects in Spain and North America that are trying to prevent forest fire destruction, by making the landscape itself more fire-resistant. Presenter: Harriet Noble Reporters: Ammar Ebrahim and Richard Kenny Photo Credit: Getty Images


Generating Power from the Roads

As scientists and companies work on cleaning up cars, there’s also a team developing new technology along a road in rural Georgia in the United States, with the aim of making a truly sustainable highway. The Ray, an 18-mile stretch of road near the Alabama border, is a “living laboratory” where eco-friendly projects are being tested. It’s got pollination gardens, a tyre-monitoring system to help reduce fuel consumption and solar panels embedded in a section of the road. A large solar...


Recycling to Turn Trash into Cash

Rubbish littering the streets is a problem all around the world but collecting it can also be a vital source of income. Two projects, thousands of miles apart, are trying to clean up the streets and make life better for rubbish collectors at the same time. In Nigeria, a start-up called Wecyclers is helping people profit from their waste, with the help of bicycles, tricycles and an incentives system. In Brazil, a phone app called Cataki is helping connect litter pickers and people with...


The Bricks Helping to Rebuild Gaza

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely-populated tracts of land in the world. In addition to the ongoing violence there, it has an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent, and problems with access not only to clean water and electricity, but also basic construction supplies. The United Nations has described the situation there as “a constant humanitarian emergency”. Despite these challenges, a young Gazan engineer has developed a new and innovative way of making bricks, which she hopes...