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Innovation

"Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it"

Marta Milkowska's picture

(c) Marta Milkowska“Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it,” renowned Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said to an overflowing room at the World Bank Group’s Headquarters in Washington, DC this summer. “Set up a social business.”

“The poor are like Bonsai trees,” the founder of Grameen Bank explained, “When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a six-inch-deep flower pot, you get a perfect replica of the tallest tree, but it is only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil-base you provided was inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds. Only society never gave them a base to grow on."

Sustainable Development Goals and Open Data

Joel Gurin's picture
Sustainable Development Goals. Source: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

The United Nations (UN) has developed a set of action-oriented goals to achieve global sustainable development by 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed by an Open Working Group of 30 member states over a two-year process. They are designed to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

To help meet the goals, UN member states can draw on Open Data from governments that is, data that is freely available online for anyone to use and republish for any purpose. This kind of data is essential both to help achieve the SDGs and to measure progress in meeting them.
 
Achieving the SDGs
Open Data can help achieve the SDGs by providing critical information on natural resources, government operations, public services, and population demographics. These insights can inform national priorities and help determine the most effective paths for action on national issues. Open Data is a key resource for:
  • Fostering economic growth and job creation. Open Data can help launch new businesses, optimizing existing companies’ operations, and improve the climate for foreign investment. It can also make the job market more efficient and serve as a resource in training for critical technological job skills.

Why is the World Bank on Medium?

Elizabeth Howton's picture
A woman in a market in Guatemala City, Guatemala. © Maria Fleischmann/World Bank


The World Bank is working toward two incredibly ambitious goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and ensuring shared prosperity for the bottom 40% of the population in each developing country. To achieve these goals will take not only the World Bank Group, the United Nations and all the national and multilateral development agencies, it will take all of us.

5 ways to close the global innovation divide

Anabel Gonzalez's picture
Participants gather at a hackathon in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Flickr user Erik (HASH) Hersman)


High income economies are dominating global innovation. Led by Switzerland, the top 10% are outpacing the rest in innovation as measured by the 2014 Global Innovation Index. This rich-poor innovation divide is striking with a handful of high income countries, mostly in Europe accounting for most of the top 10%. The bottom quintile consists of predominantly low income economies with more than half from Sub Saharan Africa.

 Global Innovation Index Report, 2014
Source: Global Innovation Index Report, 2014


The top innovating economies rate strongly on the quality of their institutions including a stable political environment and an effective regulatory and business environment. They benefit from and continue to invest heavily in human capital, research and development and infrastructure. They score highly on business and market sophistication – good management is fundamental for private sector innovation. They have also established most if not all of the elements of a successful innovation ecosystem. These countries consequently dominate in knowledge outputs including on most measures of knowledge creation, impact and diffusion as well as in technology and creative outputs.

It is difficult to imagine that poor countries or emerging markets without innovation will be able to catch up and become high-income economies in the 21st Century, an era already characterized by previously unimaginable technological progress and, importantly, international diffusion. Populations in these countries are in dire need of innovative solutions to deliver clean water and energy, health and education services, better housing, sanitation and transportation and increased food production while battling the adverse impacts of climate change. These economies need to create jobs for millions of unemployed youth leveraging the benefits of an increasingly digital global economy.

What can be done to bridge this yawning innovation and competitiveness gap?

Can a picture from space help to measure poverty in a Guatemalan village?

Andrea Coppola's picture

Also available in: Español

John Grunsfeld, former NASA Chief Scientist and veteran of five Space Shuttle flights, had several chances to look down at Earth, and noticed how poverty can be recognized from far away. Unlike richer countries, typically lined in green, poorer countries with less access to water are a shocking brown color. During the night, wealthier countries light up the sky whereas nations with less widespread electricity look dim.
 
Dr. Grunsfeld’s observation might have important implications. Pictures from satellites could become a tool to help identifying where poverty is, by zooming in to the tiniest villages and allowing a constant monitoring that cannot be achieved with traditional surveys.

Technology in Nepal’s classrooms: Using impact evaluation as a learning device

Quentin Wodon's picture


Impact evaluations are key to how we think about development. Pilot programs suggesting statistically significant impacts are hailed as breakthroughs and as candidates for scaling up. Programs without such clear impact tend to be looked down upon and may be terminated. This may not be warranted.  A primary function of impact evaluations should be to improve existing programs, especially in fields where evidence of positive impacts remains scarce. The experience of OLE Nepal, which is part of the OLE network and aims to improve learning and teaching through technology, is instructive in this regard.

More oil from old wells: Innovating for Kazakhstan’s future

Yeraly Beksultan's picture
Although innovation has been a hot topic in Kazakhstan for over a decade now, it’s not always easy getting brilliant ideas “from the laboratory to the market.”
 
Kazakh scientists navigate this winding, unpredictable road for years and generally come to the realization that great scientific research is not enough in itself. Too often, they face a lack of support when it comes to applying the results of their scientific research in a useful, practical way.
 
Fortunately, a team of Kazakh scientists at the Private Entity Institute of Polymer Materials and Technology in Almaty has had a somewhat more positive experience. This team has been working on a truly innovative project: developing a solution to improving the recovery of oil from old oil wells in Kazakhstan.
 
But why, you might ask?

Yunus to youth: Create your own future

Robert Hawkins's picture


“What are you waiting for?  Get out there and create your future”.  This conveys the spirit of Mohammed Yunus’ lecture last week at the World Bank. His messages on social business and entrepreneurship raised a number of questions as to how we think about education, skills, employment and the future prospects of youth in the world.

For success and sustainability, seek broad social ‘well-being’; Good governance promotes a ‘virtuous cycle’ of growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Beyond the cold calculus of GDP and TFP and FDI, development is about promoting strong societies as well as propelling powerful economies. But how can we measure societies’ progress toward success? Some may try to calculate “Gross National Happiness” as a yardstick, and some may envision “getting to Denmark” as the ideal end-of-history destiny of development – but are there patterns that reveal how societies can flourish?

Two recent Washington seminars suggest that – by pursuing innovation and inclusion, and by focusing on broad-scale social “well-being” – policymakers can define realistic paths toward development success.

The methodologies used by Harvard economist Philippe Aghion at an International Monetary Fund forum and by former World Bank strategist Enrique Rueda-Sabater at a Center for Global Development discussion may have been different, but their conclusions were in harmony: Societies thrive – in a sustainable way – when inclusion and innovation help expand the circle of opportunity, and when strong governance standards lead to sound civic decision-making.

Taken together, the two seminars’ insights should help inform policymakers’ debate about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be approved in September at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

Aghion, at an IMF seminar (sponsored by its Low-Income Countries Strategy Unit) on June 30, approached the topic of “Making Growth Inclusive” by imagining “how to enhance productivity growth while promoting social mobility.” Presenting data from a recent paper on “Innovation and Top-Income Inequality,” which he recently co-authored with an all-star team of economists, Aghion outlined the way that income and wealth inequality have drastically soared in developed countries since the mid-1970s – analyzing trends that by now are sadly familiar to the squeezed middle class, as calculated in the esteemed work of Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

Building on that data, Aghion took the inequality-and-inclusion logic several steps further. He lamented the way that “skill-biased technological change” has (in the absence of policy safeguards) provoked societies to stratify along the lines of wealth, income, education and connections. Yet “creative destruction” is inevitable in “a Schumpeterian world,” reasoned Aghion: A significant factor expanding the wealth gap is the same process of continuous economic renewal that helps economies advance. “There is a big [economic] premium to being a superstar innovator,” he asserted, noting that “you can become rich by innovating” – and thus “innovation is a big part of top-1-percent income inequality.”



Philippe Aghion

“Creative destruction is good for social mobility” and broader inclusion, in the long run, because it causes a steady procession of “new innovators to replace old incumbents.” The effect of each wave of innovation is fleeting, especially in a hyperspeed economy: “You get temporary ‘rents’ when you innovate. You don’t get them forever,” because the relentless Schumpeterian process will eventually cause yesterday’s innovators to become, in turn, tomorrow’s has-beens.

The darker danger of entrenched inequality occurs, said Aghion, when incumbent interests use their political power to lobby for the protection of their advantages – whether by pleading for tax-code favors, seeking government-imposed barriers to the entry of new competitors, or purchasing influence with pliant politicians through campaign donations. (In an aside on U.S. politics, Aghion pointed to his paper’s data linking a state’s representation on the congressional Appropriations Committees with its amount of federal favors – a shrewd quantification of the pork-barrel compulsions of Capitol Hill.)

Because innovation promotes social mobility and thus greater inclusiveness, Aghion contended that “innovation is a good guy; lobbying is a bad guy.” So “if you’re for inclusive growth, then you will be against lobbying and [the creation of] entry barriers.”

Focusing simply on present-day inequality is less informative than focusing on social mobility, he asserted. There’s nothing wrong with an economy that bestows ample financial rewards upon genuine innovators who create new products and processes. There is, however, something deeply wrong – and economically growth-inhibiting – with governments that allow no-longer-innovative incumbents to use their political connections to suppress potential competitors.

The IMF panel’s respondents amplified Aghion’s analysis. World Bank economist Daniel Lederman noted that it would be wise to use “the lexicon of ‘inequality of opportunity’,” because some degree of wealth inequality is inevitable (and perhaps even desirable) when individuals’ talent and effort are rewarded with rising incomes. IMF economist Benedict Clements – deploring the “great degree of disparity in ‘equality of opportunity’ ” that now prevails in advanced economies, including the United States – noted that there need be “no conflict between equity and efficiency if you design your policies right.”

Getting policies right – by upholding strong standards of governance – was also one of the underlying themes at a July 21 seminar at the Center for Global Development led by Rueda-Sabater, who is now a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group and a visiting fellow among CGD’s strong lineup of scholars. Rueda-Sabater is well remembered at the World Bank for leading a research team’s detailed “scenario planninganalyses that, in 2009, discerned the contours of three possible scenarios for the world in the year 2020.

Presenting a recent BCG report, “Why Well-Being Should Drive Growth Strategies,” Rueda-Sabater outlined an imaginative BCG diagnostic tool: the “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA), which measures the relative well-being of 149 countries by gauging their success in converting wealth into well-being – that is to say, in effectively translating their potential into tangible progress.


 

Innovative educational technology programs in low- and middle-income countries

Michael Trucano's picture
so many ideas ... are any 'out-of-the-box'?
so many ideas ...
are any 'out-of-the-box'?

Much is made of the need for 'innovation' in education. Bullet points containing words like 'disruption' and 'transformation' increasingly characterize presentations at big education gatherings -- especially in North America, and especially where educational entrepreneurs and 'Silicon Valley-types' are to be found. The popular press is replete with (sometimes breathless) articles about the 'revolutionary' potential of some new technology to impact teaching and learning in ways that are often quite exciting. Indeed: There can be little doubt that the increased diffusion of low(er) cost, (more) powerful, connected IT devices across and within communities offers exciting possibilities and potential to do things differently -- potentially in a good way.

For many people, the use of technology in education constitutes a de facto 'innovation'. Whether or not this belief is actually accurate, or useful, is a legitimate question for discussion. That said, there is no denying that many of the educational innovations celebrated (or at least touted) today are enabled by the use of such technologies in some way.

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Around the world, there few more conservative and traditional sectors than those related to public education. In many ways this is totally understandable, and appropriate. Investments in education represent investments in the future -- of our children, of our future citizens and workers and leaders and community members. We don't want to gamble with or experiment with the way we educate our children and try out too many new things, or so goes one line of thinking. The potential downside, or failure, carries with it consequences that are just too great.

And yet: We know that, for millions children around the world, the education they are getting today isn't actually all that great. Some frightening stats from just one page of the latest Global Monitoring Report [pdf], drawing on recent research from RTI:

  • In Nicaragua in 2011, around 60% of second-graders could not identify numbers correctly and more than 90% were unable to answer a subtraction question.
  • In Malawi, 94% of second-graders could not respond correctly to a single question about a story they read in Chichewa, the national language.
  • In Iraq, 25% of third-graders were unable to tell the sound of a letter in Arabic.

And if you think that the situations in certain education systems are bad: Around the world, many children and adolescents -- 124 million, according to the latest figures from UNESCO -- are out of school and not getting any formal education at all.

In many cases then -- too many -- education systems aren't actually working all that well. In others -- like the global 'high performers' that are regularly held up as 'best practice' examples for other countries to emulate (Finland, Shanghai, Korea, Singapore) -- there is the danger that what worked well in the past (or what appears to be working well now) might not work so well in the future. The future is changing -- shouldn't we change the way we prepare for it? The riskiest course of action might well be one where people and institutions don't take risks.

Where business as usual is decidedly not working today,
or where it is feared that business as usual may not work tomorrow ...
what are some examples of business unusual from which
we might draw inspiration -- as well as practical insight?

Many good examples of this sort are regularly cited from experiences in highly developed, industrialized economies of North America, Europe and East Asia. No doubt much can be, and will be, profitably learned from what is happening such places. That said, the challenges facing education systems and families around the world are particularly acute where the needs are greatest: in many low- and middle-income countries, and especially within remote communities and traditionally disadvantaged populations.

Examples of 'innovation in education' from such places might just be more relevant to policymakers in Phnom Penh or Quito than are ones which originate in, say Palo Alto or Cambridge. (And, it is perhaps worth noting, that, if you believe that innovation often arises 'at the edges', where constraints compel people to be inventive in their approaches to solving problems in ways that folks in more resource-rich environments may never consider, it may just be that policymakers in Paris and Canberra may learn something to learn from what's happening in 'developing countries' as well.)

What examples do we have of innovative uses of educational technologies in such places?

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