When Mr Toshihiro Nakamura was sent by the United Nations Development Programme in 2007 to Sierra Leone, one of the world's poorest countries, he soon felt at odds with the nature of his mission there.
As a UN worker, he lived in a large house, employed domestic helpers, and was driven to and from work. He had no true sense of the poverty around him.
He had been impressed by water-purifying straws developed by a Swiss firm. They came equipped with a highly efficient filter and cost less than US$10 (S$13) each.
Mr Nakamura later founded Kopernik, a non-profit organisation that solves problems related to poverty in developing countries by making useful technology - such as solar-powered battery chargers - available to rural areas. It seeks donations to cover the cost of purchasing and of transporting products and staff.
In four years, it has helped around 200,000 people, providing affordable, useful and innovative products to countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Kenya.
"Under conventional aid programmes, innovative technology and local needs often don't meet and they cost a lot," said Mr Nakamura, 39. "Aid hardly reaches the remote villages that need it."
HITOKI NAKAGAWA/ASAHI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)