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Innovation

Learning Where You Least Expect It

Aleem Walji's picture

I was recently re-reading the December 2009 Issue of the Harvard Business Review. The issue featured a Spotlight on Innovation and I was struck by a credo used by Ken Bowen, the founding scientist of CPS Technologies (maker of an innovative ceramic composite). It reads

“The Insights required to solve many of our most challenging problems come from outside our industry and scientific field. We must aggressively and proudly incorporate into our work findings and advances which were not invented here.”

As counter-intuitive as it may seem for a chemist to learn from a poet or an economist to learn from a biologist, there’s also something incredibly simple about this insight. If it were obvious, people would have seen it already.  And yet what is most elegant is often what is most simple (but not necessarily obvious). It’s why lateral thinking is so powerful and why children, precisely because they are playful, see connections between things, that just don’t occur to us wiser folks.

It’s in the spirit of non-obvious connections, continuous learning, and seeking insight from wherever it can be found that I approach the development space. Who would have thought that the introduction of the mobile phone would do more for increasing access to financial services, reducing travel times, and arguably lifting people out of poverty than perhaps any technology in the previous three decades? What’s the role of the mobile phone going forward, beyond voice, as a platform to link people to new knowledge, increase social accountability, and reduce the impact of man-made and natural disasters? It may require a little imagination to think of how a simple phone could help answer those questions but we’re seeing examples all over the world of each. From Ushahidi to M-Pesa to Datadyne, we might look beyond the usual suspects and think of groups like MobileActive as a source of game-changers in the development space.  

Do you have a big idea that can help address Conflict and Fragility? Submit your idea now...

Boris Weber's picture

Innovation Fair - Moving Beyond Conflict

Call for Proposals - Feb. 15 – March 2 NOW EXTENDED March 7 - Now Accepting Proposals

Soliciting Innovative Approaches and Research to be presented during the Conflict and Fragility Week in Cape Town, South Africa, April 12-15, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention. Many times, people living and working under the most difficult and challenging conditions, with minimal tools and capacity, have come up with creative and even innovative solutions to the enormous challenges they face. Organizations and researchers around the world have been equally creative working with communities living in situations of fragility and conflict to find solutions to ensure delivery of basic services, improve governance and create jobs.

Innovation Fair: Moving beyond Conflict

This Innovation Fair, organized by the World Bank Group, is seeking to identify such high-impact approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected states in order to share and, if possible, scale them up. The Fair will convene international experts on conflict and fragility, development researchers and practitioners, software developers, donors and private sector to exchange experience, establish new collaboration, and forge longer-term partnerships.

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

Tom Grubisich's picture

Countries are rated how effective they are in human development, governance, and doing business.  What if they were rated by their capacity to achieve success in all key areas of their national mission?

Ratings would measure progress in such mission "how-to's" as knowledge sharing, stakeholder participation (especially at the local level), and program results vs. objectives.

The U.N. Development Programme has singled out what it calls major successes in capacity development in 19 nations that included the Least Developed Countries of Laos, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.  But there's no comprehensive capacity rating of all 49 LDCs, much less all 145 countries classified as developing.  Even the UNDP ratings of 19 countries are based only on selected initiatives in those countries.

Mapping capacity -- horizontally across countries all the way from the national to local levels -- would, no question, be a major undertaking.  But if public, private, and nonprofit development actors collaborated, especially by mobilizing advances in networking technology, the job would not seem to be insurmountable.  Perhaps it could begin with the LDCs and go forward from there.

Multi-layered, continually updated capacity maps could be an important new tool especially for the poorest countries and their development donors in closing stubborn gaps toward achievement of 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  The maps could also be a big help to all developing countries and donors in responding to locally diverse impacts of climate change.  And that's just for starters.

Social Entrepreneur -- With an Emphasis on 'Entrepreneur'

Tom Grubisich's picture

We're hearing more and more about the "social entrepreneur" as the development community looks for new ways to achieve better results, especially with many developing countries struggling to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals and at the same time cope with destructive climate change.

Ashoka, itself a pioneer in social entrepreneurship, has a pretty good definition:

"Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change."

But maybe the definition should also emphasize a special breed of social entrepreneurs -- those who tackle major social issues by launching projects that seek to be profitable.

When Fast Company magazine in 2008 honored 45 nonprofit social entrepreneurs "who are changing the world," it also tipped its hat to 10 for-profit companies with social missions.

Trying to change the world with a project funded by development donors can be maddeningly frustrating.  Even with a successful pilot, a nonprofit company is likely to encounter repeated funding snags and gaps in its quest for sustainability and replication.

Joel Selanikio was a Marketplace 2003 winner with the innovative idea to collect health-care data with hand-held computers.   DataDyne, the company that pediatrician Selanikio and his partner, technologist Rose Donna, co-founded, is a not-for-profit limited liability corporation (LLC).  Its personal digital assistant -- EpiSurveyor -- was an immediate success in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.  But Selanikio had to keep making the rounds of donors for each step of his growth.  He was the model of the "ambitious and persistent" social entrepreneur -- but: "I got tired wearing out the knees of my trousers" making successive proposals to development donors, he said in an interview.

How 'Civic Hacking' Answered Haiti Disaster

Tom Grubisich's picture

From the tragedy and wreckage of the Haitian earthquake come amazing lessons about how information technology and social media can bring help and hope to people trapped in catastrophic circumstances.

A good place to see how this is happening is the Social Entrepreneurship website.  Crisis camps of "civic hacking" throughout the U.S. and abroad are quickly producing base-layer maps that connect Haiti's thousands of orphans with potential adoption families, mobilizing speakers of Creole (photo), and delivering myriad other tech-driven emergency assistance with few layers of action-delaying bureaucracy.

The camps were set up by Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of tech professionals.  The first CrisisCamp was actually held well before the Haiti earthquake -- in July 2009, at the World Bank.  Participants (scroll down to "Attendee List") included a rich cross section of representatives -- public, private, nonprofit -- from the sometimes rivalrous world of development aid.  "Us" and "them" suddenly became "we."

Civic hacking's Haiti successs stories are producing a flexible template for how emergency assistance can be delivered in other disasters, including those where climate change is at least a secondary cause, like storms and flooding.  Civic hacking's lessons will surely be extended to development aid in general, especially in countries with weak capacity.  Information technology can deepen and broaden capacity, and fast, as the proliferation of cellphones in Sub-Sahran Africa, South Asia, and other developing regions has been proving for years.

Knowledge in the era of decentralization

Aleem Walji's picture

Working in the innovation space actually means thinking a lot about how we source and organize knowledge. That's definitely an area that is changing fast. Here's how I am thinking about what this means for the World Bank.

We're moving away from a world in which knowledge is centralized and resides primarily in any one organization, even an organization as complex as the World Bank or even a university. Web 2.0, particularly interactive platforms such as blogs and other social media tools, now makes it possible for a wide range of actors to co-create, critique, and share knowledge in a variety of ways. What that means for institutions that aim to be knowledge centers is that they will have to source knowledge from wherever it lies (infrequently in one place), interact with it (critique it, interpret it, build upon it), and connect increasing numbers of people to it.

Why Climate Adaptation Has to Begin at Home

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 finalists focused on community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change because the struggle against intensifying drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels in developing countries often must begin not in national ministries but at home.  Why that's so is summed up cogently in this slide show from CARE, the global  organization that focuses on helping the poorest individuals and households  The slide show was presented at the pre-Copenhagen U.N. climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, but it's as relevant today as it was then.  Maybe more so.

'Some Current Approaches to Climate Adaptation May Bypass Local Institutions'

Tom Grubisich's picture

Carbon dioxide -- the chief cause of manmade global warming -- doesn't park itself only in the atmosphere over major emitting countries.  So, obviously, the response to climate change requires global action.  But drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels demand climate adaptation tailored to circumstances that will vary by region and even locality.  For example, farmers in one part of southern Zambia may have to respond with a hybrid maize seed that differs significantly from what needs to be planted in another part of that climate-besieged food bowl.  The issue in southern Zambia is not just more intense drought, but how it can, and does, vary in intensity even within one region.  Dry weather may be so severe in one area that farmers there may have to give up maize cultivation and plant an entirely different crop.

Such fine-tuned local adaptation can't come primarily out of ministries of the national governments of developing countries trying to cope with the mounting adverse impacts of climate change on people and resources.  It requires local institutions to meet the capacity gap.  But national governments aren't collaborating that closely with civil society at the community level.

This from the new book Social Dimensions of Climate Change (World Bank, 2010):

"It is unfortunate that some current approaches to adaptation planning and financing may bypass local institutions.  The current push to formulate national adaptation plans of action [NAPAs] seems to have missed the opportunity to propose adaptation projects for community- and local-level public, private, or civic institutions."

Apply Now for Tech Awards

Tom Grubisich's picture

The Tech Awards, a signature program of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to address humanity’s most urgent challenges.

In partnership with Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, 15 Laureates are selected annually and $50,000 is awarded to one Laureate in each category: Environment, Economic Development, Education, Equality, and Health.

Individuals as well as nonprofit and commercial organizations are eligible. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are accepted and encouraged.

Deadline for nominations is March 31. Deadline for final applications is May 5.

This year’s Laureates will be honored during a week of activities in Silicon Valley leading up to The Tech Awards Tenth Annual Gala on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010.

DM2009 Finalists Build Strong Presence on Blog

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 finalists have been major participants in this blog.  Since the site re-launched on Oct. 27, 2009, 33 finalists from 25 countries have contributed 12 articles, been interviewed 14 times, quoted 18 times, and commented twice.  Here's a breakdown of finalist contributions by country.  The linked names will take you to the finalists' projects, and the linked titles to the finalists' contributions.

 

Bangladesh

 

Belize

 

Ecuador

 

El Salvador

 

Ghana

 

India

 

Indonesia

 

Kenya

 

Laos

 

Maldives

 

Mali

 

Mexico

 

Mozambique

 

Nepal

 

Nicaragua

 

Nigeria

 

Peru

 

Philippines

 

Russia

 

Samoa

 

Serbia

 

Tanzania

 

Vanuatu

 

Venezuela

 

Vietnam

 

All finalists also contributed videos to the DM Channel on YouTube (featured on the upper-right-hand side of this page), and some participated in video interviews that are also included in the Channel.

 

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