Innovation for development: the way to go

18 November 2017 | 08:36

Innovation for development: the way to go

 


“If you are not willing to fail, you won’t innovate”.

 

 

This is how Roshan Paul, Co-founder and Ceo of Amani Institute, addressed the crowd at the Open Days Dell’Innovazione, a two-day gathering of influential experts in innovation for development and start-uppers, held in Milan early this month.

 

The receipt is simple, as Mr Paul continued: believe that fantastical can happen, think of the change of possibilities. This magic combination, as he concluded, leads to inclusive development and social empowerment.

 

 

This enthusiasm is not new. In the past two decades, innovation has been pivotal in economic development, both private and public, both at the macro level and at the micro level, that of daily habits.

 

 

Organizations such as the OECD and the World Bank have stressed the mantra that the build-up of innovation capacities plays a central role in the growth dynamics of successful developing countries. Meanwhile, UNACTD assists many governments of developing and transition economies towards their increased participation in an economy with a more and more emphasis on informational activities and information industry.

 

 

Innovation for development is not all about boosting economic growth. Important efforts have been made to think of inclusive and innovative projects that directly serve the welfare of lower-income, excluded groups and the most vulnerable people.

 

It is now widespread the belief that information and communication technologies offer increased potential for advancing progress towards economic and social development objectives. Simply stated: the growth of Internet networks, the worldwide spread of mobile telephony and communication systems are opportunities to have an impact on a variety of policy areas.

 

 

Certainly, the 20 young Italian innovators, whose projects were showcased during the event in Milan, are the tangible proof that something is moving in an otherwise sleeping Italy. From SmartAid to The StoryBehindaLine, Set4Food and GlobalHealthTelemedicine, projects spanned from fundraising and migration policy to public health, agriculture, nutrition and environment.

 

 

Increasing attention towards innovation with a social impact is particularly significant in Italy. Italy is not at all at the forefront of innovation for development.

 

On the development side, international development and systemic international relations are too detached from one another, said Emilio Ciarlo (Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo).

 

On the innovation side, institutional support is still lacking. The funding of the Government amounts to €50 million and the incentives are weak. The legislative framework is also outdated. It does not reflect the evolution of financing strategies for improved social outcomes that combine the private and the public sector. Process are extremely long and convoluted, added Marco Zappalotto (Nesta Foundation Italy).

 

Experts and social entrepreneurs sang a refrain to it: capacity building, capacity building, and capacity building. And this capacity building process must occur at all levels.

 

 

Unleashing the potential of innovation for social development requires more than a collection of good ideas, interesting inventions and scalable projects. Just to echo the latest ASVIS Report, a “systemic” approach to the development of economic, social and environmental policies can significantly improve the country’s overall performance’.

 

 

The construction of proper institutional, policy and legal frameworks is the first step to foster an inclusive use of technology for the delivery of important social goods. This action must also generate the necessary skills in business, civil society and across government pundits.

 

 

A selective and competent start-up ecosystem is a prerequisite to translate good ideas into economically sustainable projects, project that have true impact on communities in the developing world. And this has to come together with strategies that incentivize the strengthening of networks among the affected population, innovators, institutions and philanthropic organizations, as Sergio Urbani (Cariplo Foundation) stressed.

 

With such an hype on innovation for the development, the risk is that wanna-be-innovative projects multiplicate here and there, leading to policy fragmentation and a huge dispersion of funds.

 

We, development pundits, all prefer quality over quantity.

 

 

But for truly efficient and innovative projects to be successful, a cultural shift of policy-makers and innovators must be accelerated in favour of a systemic approach to development initiatives with a strong innovative component. As stressed at the Open Days, open innovation and data sharing can favour this cooperative spirit and create conditions to have a true change of possibilities.  

 

 

 

Corrado Fumagalli graduated from the Londond School of Economics and the University of Milan with master's degrees in Political Theory and Philosophy respectively. He is currently a Phd candidate in Political Studies at the University of Milan and an affiliated member of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. He has focused on issues related to multiculturalism, minority rights, gender equality and social inclusion.

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