Creative, new ideas—innovation—are vital for both emerging and developing economies, and in fact vital for the globalized system of today. And yet there is still uncertainty in the international development space about what innovation is and how it should be done.
Hear today about some of the creative ways that World Vision is addressing the challenges of poverty!
Mpiwan Leitanya used to spend a lot of her time taking her small children to the health care center in Northern Kenya to be treated for dehydration due to frequent diarrhea, which was caused by foodborne disease. The majority of people in Mpiwan’s community have been pastoralists for generations, with dairy products making up a large part of their nutrition. Unfortunately, limitations of milk processing and preservation led to her children drinking less nutritious milk at best, and unhygienic milk at worst, which caused them to be ill.
“I used to consume unhygienically milked, handled, and unboiled milk from my camels and goats and gave the same to my children,” said Mpiwan. “But I can now use my valuable time attending to my shop instead of going to dispensary to seek treatment for my children due to diarrhea.”
What changed for Mpiwan? Our Innovation Fund provided her community with simple yet innovative quality milk testing kits, as well as handling and processing equipment that can be used in rural settings (such as solar powered chillers). Because of these, the availability of nutrient-rich dairy products has greatly improved by extending milk shelf life and ensuring its quality. Mpiwan can now rest assured that she is giving her children safe and very nutritious dairy products.
World Vision has been working for over 65 years with the world’s most marginalized people because, as people of faith, we want our hearts to be broken by the things that break the heart of God. In the context of a large organization such as World Vision, we strive to be innovative because of the mission we’re drawn to. We recognize that development challenges are complex and need dynamic, sustainable, and scalable solutions—they need innovation.
Innovation is critically important to social and economic inclusiveness and mirrors World Vision’s mission as a global relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities to overcome poverty and injustice. We recently launched our second Innovation Fund to test new solutions for enabling children and families to fully realize their potential. Our past pilot projects, like the one Mpiwan participated in, have generated valuable lessons and encouraging results. We hope this fund will stimulate inclusive innovations from within the communities where we work, using a global footprint to help expand our innovation outcomes.
Innovation should serve the welfare of the poor and excluded, and should be scalable, allowing as many people as possible to benefit and contribute. We often think of innovation as being product based, but research [New models of inclusive innovation for development—Heeks et al, 2013] suggests that some of the most successful inclusive innovations come from adaptations to business models—like offering rural farmers such as Mrindwa in Tanzania group insurance, rather than individual, to protect against farming-related losses.
Another example is the changed systems that allow greater access for marginalized groups, like the Rural Amber Alert in Uganda. Because these rural communities have access to an innovative child protection system, many children’s lives in 3-year-old Sharon’s community were saved from sacrifice by witch doctors.
This is harder to undertake because it requires a functioning innovation ecosystem where the public and private sectors have at least the same innovation goal, albeit for different motives—expanded business opportunities, corporate social responsibility, foreign policy goals, etc. Critical to inclusive innovation is both an understanding of who needs to be included and where on the innovation continuum each functions.
On the ladder of inclusive innovation [ibid] World Vision works to involve excluded groups in the development of our innovative solutions. We believe that grassroots innovation is vital to the empowerment of lower income groups who ultimately understand their challenges better than any agency or market can. But the environment is not perfect. Yet.
We’re beginning to recognize the role that agencies such as World Vision play in the innovation ecosystem and how to collaborate to promote innovation in the development space. Agility, or the capacity to fail fast and fail forward, is challenging to organizations like ours, but without it—without an investment in inclusive innovation—there will still be a culture of exclusion, which inhibits the elimination of extreme poverty.
Because of this, World Vision is dedicated to finding innovative solutions to poverty and injustice, and we’re not afraid to fail a few times while we try, learning from our failures as we go. We work with mothers like Mpiwan, farmers like Mrindwa, and communities like Sharon’s to design innovative solutions to make success more likely—more dynamic, sustainable, and scalable.
As the end of extreme poverty comes within sight, we need creative new solutions to address poverty in some of the world’s hardest places. Join us in addressing these challenges! Support our Innovation Fund.
Nicky Benn is an Innovation Fund working group member for World Vision. Additional reporting by Phineas Gikunda, World Vision Kenya.