Large NGOs face the challenge that innovation can be expensive and slow; it’s hard to be agile because of legacy processes and because it’s hard to include outsiders.
One example of how to overcome the “must-be-invented-here syndrome” is to find more agile outside partners and co-develop solutions. This has been demonstrated by Ford Motor Company, which empowered its product-development employees to tinker with innovation tools and software at TechShop Detroit, an independent research lab. The collaboration has succeeded in reducing Ford’s R&D costs, motivating its employees, and increasing the number of patents it has filed.
Barclay’s Bank, meanwhile, has begun partnering with financial technology startups to develop customer solutions by mining data the bank is unable or unwilling to exploit on its own. The bank even has accelerators in four countries that house and then absorb innovations from the startups as they mature.
Among NGOs, perhaps the most impressive example I’ve encountered is Bangladesh’s BRAC, which does frugal innovation at scale in areas such as primary health and primary education. It also sponsors an annual Frugal Innovation Forum.
Jugaad also informs some of the most creative multinational initiatives in financial inclusion, drawing in people outside the formal economy. M-PESA, a well-known mobile payment service for typically migrant people not served by a bank, is a good example. With M-PESA, for example, a woman in a rural village can use her basic cellphone to not only speak to her son in Nairobi, but also receive money from him. She could text the request, accept the electronic money on her cellphone, and cash it at a local shop. Today, more than 25 million people use M-PESA in Kenya alone, and many others in countries such as Afghanistan have joined the program.
Meanwhile, researchers at UC Berkeley have created CellScope, which turns cellphone cameras into otoscopes and dermascopes—devices that let parents monitor their children’s symptoms at home and send the list of symptoms to consultants who are located remotely.
As we attempt to solve important questions at scale, this kind of frugal, flexible, inclusive innovation is just what the world needs. Organizations don’t need to actually be big to think big in ways that improve lives everywhere.
Read the full article about innovation by Jaideep Prabhuat at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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