Toys aren’t just for kids. Scientists and social entrepreneurs know that their simplicity holds the power to solve real world problems where the lack of money and infrastructure are issues.

Stanford University bioengineers recently developed a cost effective blood centrifuge, that doesn’t require electricity and can separate blood in 90 seconds at 125 000 RPM, which was inspired by a common homemade children’s toy.

The scientist featured here, Manu Prakash, was also responsible for the development of the Foldscope – an origami-inspired microscope that you can carry around in your pocket.

Years ago, at the Design Indaba conference, we came across the Playpump design concept. It uses the energy of children playing on a traditional merry-go-round to pump clean borehole water into a storage tank for community usage.

And a few years ago – a local advertising agency won a couple of awards for their Hope Soap idea, which encased a toy inside a transparent bar of soap – encouraging children to frequently wash their hands to eventually get to the prise inside.

Simple ideas solving complex problems – that’s the power of channelling the joys of toys in a design approach.