Sao Paulo, Brazil — Solar Ear founder and CEO Howard Weinstein was selected as social entrepreneur of the year by World Technology Network (WTN) for Solar Ear’s solar-powered, battery rechargeable, inexpensive hearing aid solution designed for people in developing countries where there is limited access to batteries and affordable hearing aids.

Weinstein started Solar Ear when he saw the need for an affordable, user-friendly, and ecological hearing aid. Solar Ear designs and manufactures the first digital rechargeable hearing aid that uses rechargeable batteries and a solar charger. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 278 million suffer from hearing loss, of which 200 million live in developing countries.

In his acceptance speech, Weinstein spoke about the innovation of the hearing health industry, and at the same time, a lack of affordable hearing aid solutions for developing countries. Solar Ear’s hearing aids cost under $100, and it partners with Sonomax to design in-ear technology to custom fit earpieces to each patient in a single visit.

In addition to innovating new hearing aid technology, Weinstein was recognized for the company’s business model, which hires deaf workers throughout the world to invent, develop, and assemble Solar Ear products.

“The key to our success is that our workers are deaf,” explained Weinstein. “They are able to manufacture at a world-class level in part because they are deaf. People who are deaf and speak in sign language have better hand-eye coordination than hearing people. We need this special ability to micro-solder the tiny components for a hearing aid.”

Solar Ear capitalizes on its workforce on several continents, recently bringing Solar Ear workers from Botswana to Sao Paulo to teach a 6-month theoretical and practical electronics and micro-solder course. “Think about that journey, leaving rural Botswana and arriving 12 hours later in a city of 17 million people,” Weinstein said. “And for the Brazilian youths, this was the first time they had ever had a teacher who was also deaf.”

Next year, courses will bring together Israeli and Palestinian youths in Jerusalem, and Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir. Weinstein also has plans to work with Native Americans and Inuits to provide cross border leadership training for selling to the large North American population currently unable to afford a hearing aid, battery, and ear mold.

“In addition to creating jobs for under-represented members of society, our technologies make it possible for a child to receive a hearing aid solution at a much more affordable price point,” Weinstein said. “This means that a child can now get an education. There are very few schools for the deaf, and it is only through education that they can break the cycle of poverty.”

The World Technology Network is a curated, global membership community comprised of over 1,000 peer-selected innovative individuals and organizations in the science and technology world.

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