Insights on designing innovation for impact

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Last week I attended the IFC’s Latin America and Caribbean Innovation, Integration and Inclusion Workshop held in beautiful Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. As it is the World Bank’s Innovation Days this week I thought it would be interesting to share some of the insights on how to design innovation.

Featured at the workshop was guest speaker Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, President & CEO of Planetary Skin Institute (PSI). PSI is a global non-profit research and development organization born out of a public-private partnership between Cisco Systems and NASA that aims to improve the lives of millions around the world by developing information technology based risk and resource management tools that address the growing challenges of resource scarcity and the increasing impact and frequency of natural disasters. PSI has been very innovative since its inception and has created award winning tools such as ALERTS (Automated Land Change Evaluation, Reporting and Tracking System) which allows user to monitor for free any changes to land use (such as deforestation) anywhere in the world. 

Juan Carlos had the following five interesting insights from his experience building PSI on how to design innovation for impact in the developing world:

(1) Avoid only focusing innovations on the “inventions” – rather think about the impact the innovation can have or how the innovation can be used for impact. Impact not invention must be the driving force of idea design;

(2) Learn from how innovation occurs in natures complex ecosystems – we can learn a lot from how competition plays out in the natural world and apply those lessons to our ventures;

(3) Open up innovation flows in and out of the organization – not focusing on learning only from within the places you work rather to seek to expand and explore new ideas from a wide variety of sources;

(4) Partner with revolutionary social entrepreneurs through social networks to solve real problems on the ground;

(5) Leverage the power of cross sector and cross disciplinary collaboration even through it is very hard in practice.

I am curious to know reader’s thoughts on how we can push the World Bank Group and IFC to be more innovative in how we approach our work to achieve the maximum development impact while working with public and private sectors. Do Juan Carlo’s insights hold true from your experience? What other recommendations on designing innovations would you add?


Kusi Hornberger

Investment Policy Officer

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