Reverse Innovation and the Poor

Innovation Farm

Innovation Redefined

The elimination of poverty is one of the most complex endeavours to undertake.  In the decades since the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1864 as the first international development agency, none have yet innovated a solution largely because they have focused on the wrong goals and wrong systems for eliminating poverty. 

Innovation starts with people and vulnerable people are both capable of innovating and willing to work at it, not just individually but also with others. Collaboration between vulnerable people and development agencies will be crucial to our success at finding innovative solutions to poverty.

People Driven

Poverty elimination requires people driven and not government driven solutions.

I have always advocated to my colleagues at the Inter-American Development Bank that poor people know more than anyone else, the solutions to their vulnerability; a process called reverse innovation. Poverty elimination requires people driven and not government driven solutions. Perhaps the single most important factor in the limited impact of so many development projects supported by government and development agencies is the lack of influence allowed poor people in the conception, design, mobilization and implementation of the solutions.  We in the development community need to begin to look for the vulnerable groups of people that we can collaborate with and reach consensus solutions.

Diversity Will Help Drive Innovation in Development

Poor people can be considered the most innovative to be able to survive daily vulnerabilities and with little resources.

Innovation which is essentially ideas, comes from anywhere and anyone. Part of the solution to eliminating poverty is that magic happens at intersections, when the mindsets and ideas of vulnerable people from different circumstances and life experiences collide with the development thinking. People who experience poverty and vulnerability are the most innovative since they are able to survive daily vulnerabilities on very little resources. Poor think differently and come up with different solutions that can make life better for vulnerable people. 

Just having a diverse group of vulnerable people working together on development projects promotes innovative thinking.  Poverty elimination now requires that  vulnerable people be allowed to influence, conceptualize, design and implement the sustainable solutions to their vulnerabilities.

New Approaches With The Poor

What has been missing from the development approach has been the views of poor people who live with vulnerabilities and have the legitimate right to speak up for themselves and on behalf of their communities, and to negotiate and participate in the development process.  Perhaps the time has come for the role of development practitioners to be redefined away from being talkers, implementers and solution generators to being listeners, facilitators and funders of community generated solutions. 
This approach is innovative but could prove a difficult challenge for development professionals as poor people will question many of our conclusions, the accuracy of our “knowledge” and the relevancy of our proposals.  Poor people will raise questions we find uncomfortable, including who has the legitimacy to speak about the needs and priorities of poor people.
The only way to build a future where poverty is rolled back is to invest our time and effort in building a development driven relationship with poor people and their communities. 
Learn more about reverse innovation by viewing these videos.

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