On 1 January 2013, three massive fires tore through Khayelitsha, South Africa’s largest township, destroying homes and displacing over 5000 people. From the smoke and ashes of this devastation, Lumkani was born. A tech startup and social enterprise, Lumkani aims to reduce the loss of life and property caused by fires in slums in South Africa and around the world. With their networked heat-sensing detector, the company has the potential to positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in informal housing. They provide a new paradigm for companies in our contemporary world, showing the power of design, technology and innovation to drive social change.
Lumkani co-founder David Gluckman believes that young people are harnessing this power by looking for new ways of doing things. This is reflected in their product, a fire detector which senses heat rather than smoke. This reduces the possibility for false alarms, as smoke is a common by-product of cooking, lighting and heating in informal settlements. In addition, the detector is a ‘smart’ device in that it forms part of a network: each device connects to and alerts other devices within a 60 metre radius. If the first alert is not met with quick response, the device is programmed to send text messages to community members with the location of the fire. In an environment where fires spread incredibly rapidly, this technology allows for a community-wide response to fire situations. Furthermore, the visual design of this product incorporates practicality into a clean and modern aesthetic. The company makes use of simple well-designed graphics to help communicate their message.
The need for such a product is astoundingly prominent. Between 2000 and 2010, shack fires destroyed 70 000 shacks and displaced 240 000 people. Such fires have grave implications, not just for individuals, but also for communities and the country as a whole. Not working towards preventing them means perpetuating cycles of poverty: because of structural proximity, the poorest communities are most susceptible. As the victim of a shack fire, what little you might have is taken away from you, exacerbating the already enormous wealth and welfare gap. Lumkani provides hope for combatting this: so far they have sold and distributed devices to 1100 households in South Africa.
Lumkani has been recognised by Chivas Regal and are now one of sixteen start ups hoping to gain access to a share of $1 million to fund their vision.
Vote for them in Chivas Regal’s The Venture competition here.
Contribute to the venture here.