Thursday, November 20, 2008

Innovation in the development sector

Last week I attended the conference organised by Strohalm on this topic. It was a little weird, because it was a mix of talking about innovation in the development sector (which was the reason for me to attend the conference) and talking about Stro's innovative social trade system (which was the reason for most participants to attend the conference).

The first two sessions were really interesting: Henk Molenaar from Wotro was speaking and noticed that the development agenda is getting wider, which call for more knowledge intensive processes. Innovation is increasingly seen as a recombination of knowledge, and through trial and error, as opposed to a narrow view of innovation happening through lineair research and development processes. Innovation has to be seen in context, and therefore should be demand-driven (not sure if I agree there). The conclusion is that processes of endigenous innovation should be stimulated by using trial and error. However there is a tension between such an approach and projects planned with logical frameworks aiming at succes. Innovation may come from new, surprising actors. All this means to create room for innovation, actors like the ministry should let go of managing and steering tightly. (I'm not sure that we should blame the logframe, but rather acknowledge that we have banned risk taking).

The second session was a panel with 3 people from the private sector (men) and 3 people from the development sector (women). They talked about questions like: 'how to create room for innovation?' and 'what are important lessons about innovation?' The private sector innovator said that you need to search for audacity and passion for something new- dare to let go and reduce procedures. Search for what moves people and try to bring that to the surface. The Rabobank said that innovation is often local, change and innovate yourself, don't innovate others. For development organisations this means that the drive to help partners is larger than the drive to please donor bureaucracies. From the examples it was clear that there are currently a lot of private sector- development organisations collaborations, like the collaboration between HIVOS and KPN around HIV/AIDS awareness creation. I'd like to quote Gert van Maanen who said: 'put the people with the ideas more central than the bosses with the budgets'. and 'innovation happens through the spark between people', ING talked about innovation departments: 99% is about incremental change, and 1% about out-of-the-box change (the EUREKA innovation).

If you want to know more about Stro's proposed innovation in the economy, play their social trade game.

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