My lightbulb moment

Innovators and inventors share the moment their idea flashed in their minds


"A friend suggested that I put my mathematics lessons on YouTube and I thought, 'YouTube - that's for cats playing pianos, not for serious mathematics'.

But once I got over the idea that it wasn't my idea, I gave it a try. I started getting comments like, 'First time I smiled doing a derivative'. One year and a thousand instructional videos later, I found a new passion dominating my free time. I realised that this was an opportunity to offer a free world-class education to anyone anywhere."

- Mr Salman Kahn, who founded Khan Academy, which pushes out thousands of online videos on a wide range of educational topics, reaching more than six million users a month.


"When I first visited the Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan, what I saw were women and children with nothing to do and looking hopeless, and I wondered what I could do to help them change their lives.

I asked myself, 'What changed my life; what can I do for them?' and I answered, 'Education changed my life'.

That is when I decided that my life work would be to bring quality education to women and children: education that would change their minds and help them to transform their lives."

- Ms Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which organises educational learning centres that bring health care and education to women in Afghanistan and Pakistan.



"After our first trip to Africa, my husband Scott and I realised the amount of luggage we were allowed to bring on our safari was a small amount compared to our airline luggage allowance.

We started regularly bringing supplies for community schools and orphanages during our visits to Africa and asked our travel agent why more people weren't doing the same. The agent answered, 'Because people don't think about it'.

I decided I would give people a way to think about it."

- Ms Rebecca Rothney, founder of Pack for a Purpose, a website that helps travellers to use spare space in their suitcase to bring supplies for needy people at their destination. It has helped to deliver over 9,400kg of supplies to communities in more than 45 countries.


"I was in a bar in Cape Town in 2001 with my friend and colleague Harald Schmeid. We had been attending a very good international conference on homelessness which had been inspiring.

But there were no homeless people attending, so we were talking about how they could get involved but there were many barriers, including language.

Then, 'Aha!' we said, 'there is an international language called football.'"

- Mr Mel Young, founder of Homeless World Cup, which organises football tournaments for homeless people representing more than 70 nations.


"I was in Manhattan five blocks from the Twin Towers on my way to the top observation floor when the first plane hit.

My 'Aha' moment is when I witnessed the disappearance of the Twin Towers in New York on Sept 11, 2001. I discovered it was religious-motivated violence.

When I came back to Uganda from that trip, I decided to form an interfaith co-op."

- Mr J.J. Keki, founder and director of Ugandan interfaith coffee cooperative Mirembe Kawomera, a collective of coffee growers such as Jews, Muslims and Christians.


"I took a trek to Nepal in 1998 as a break from my hectic life as a Microsoft marketing executive. On day two, I met a headmaster who gave me a tour of his school.

They had 450 students, but a completely empty library. Having always been a lover of books, I asked, 'How can you have so many eager young students, but no books?'

The headmaster explained, 'In Nepal, we are too poor to afford education. But until we have education, we will always remain poor'.

It was on that day I vowed to help."

- Mr John Wood, founder of Room to Read, which works with local communities to set up libraries and establish children's literature in local languages.


"While I was in high school, I travelled to Ghana as a volunteer, and came face to face with many talented students and adults who lacked the resources that could allow their abilities to flourish.

Years later, while talking to a call-centre worker in an Indian slum, I was reminded of the brain power I'd seen in Ghana, and had a thought: Why can't outsourcing be used to help people pull themselves out of poverty and gain useful work experience?"

- Ms Leila Janah, founder of Samasource, which helps unemployed women and youth in poor countries find IT work. Its sister organisation SamaHope raises funds to pay for treatment such as cleft-palate repair, burn repair, fistula surgery and safe birth procedures.


"Doctors are rare in Africa and Asia. The nurse is the key to improving health care in resource-poor situations - by targeting diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, thousands of lives can be saved at minimum cost.

I train nurses to go out into the field to help people to help themselves; and for each nurse I train at the school I know that thousands of lives can be improved and saved."

- Dame Claire Bertschinger, course director for the Diploma in Tropical Nursing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She was the inspiration for Bob Geldof to organise the Band Aid charity and Live Aid.


"When I was 15 living in India and saw how there were 700 million people who were homeless or slum-dwellers - which was 35 times the population of Australia - I thought that if we were going to end extreme poverty, a charitable solution was not sufficient.

We need to change the systems that keep the poor poor."

- Mr Hugh Evans, co-founder of Global Poverty Project, an education and advocacy group working to end extreme poverty through education, communications, advocacy, campaigning and the media.