Writing from the World Bank Innovation Fair, in Cape Town, South Africa. We are on Day 2 and just finished a Panel discussion on ‘Scaling Innovations‘. A favorite topic of course!

A quick background on this event: The World Bank Development Marketplace has been taking ideas to action for the last 10 years. The Development Marketplace is holding the first of a new generation event – the Innovation Fair on Moving Beyond Conflict and Fragility. The event is tied to the 2011 World Development Report and draws on a pool of innovative solutions collated through an online competition that invited applications, got users to vote and shotlist social impact ideas.

This Innovation Radar registered 2000 users, produced 223 project applications from 40 countries. 50,000 users viewed and engaged with the ideas online – and a final 30 social impact ideas were shortlisted and invited to Cape Town for the Fair. These ideas can be reviewed by clicking here.

You will note that these ideas have come from regions such as Sierra Leone, DR of Congo, Kenya, Burundi, SA, other African countries – and also from Columbia, Srilanka, a few from India. In some of these countries, the existence of conflict and the fragility of the communities is a very real scenario. And most of the ideas directly focused on how technology and innovation can be applied to empower, equip, build economic opportunity in such a context.

Egbe Osifo-Dawodu from the World Bank Institute wrote a great piece on why the subject of moving beyond conflict and fragility is relevant – and why this forms the basis of the innovation fair.

The ideas were collated and presented around 2 broad themes:

  1. Improving Service Delivery and Governance through the use of Communication Tools
  2. Innovative Research and Practical Approaches to Conflict and Violence Prevention

The application of Communication Technology forms a thread across many of the ideas – and while several of the ideas are in initial prototypes, a few have also created a fair amount of impact in more advanced pilot stages.

A few core themes have run through the discussions over the last two days:

  • The role of the government in conflict areas to support innovation
  • How do you scale beyond the initial pilots
  • How do you sustain some of the ideas and get community really involved in owning and taking them forward..
  • Role of institutions like the World Bank in supporting the social innovators…etc

Some of the discussions and quick excerpts of all the different presentations are accessible at the following link http://innovationfair.ning.com/

My comments on the Panel discussion on Scaling Social Innovations were really around the core thought that it is possible to ‘Design for Scale’ – rather than ‘hope that the idea will eventually scale’… Given the nature of early stage innovations being discussed, shared 3 key thoughts around scaling…

  • The notion of Innovation: Its not about the initial breakthrough idea – but about a series of ideas, which when layered together create significant impact. This usually involves innovations around the product, service model, revenue model, operation models etc, all combined together. Examples such as the evolution of pre-paid services on mobile phones that created a layer of a service and revenue model over the base mobile technology to make mobility accessible to millions of people. Without this extra layer of innovation – mobile phones would be limited to very few people. So the notion of innovation asks: What is that set of ideas that makes your core proposition strong and relevant?

  • The role of the innovator: If the above is true then scale is built into the notion of Innovating, especially since the innovator needs to build a cohesive set of ideas that make a proposition work. This means that its important to start finding ways to succeed in creating the impact, incorporating many more simple solutions as the idea slowly takes shape… and find ways to have many people adopt your idea, thus creating a natural pull for your idea. The innovator has a role to play in building the core idea from the simple workability of the idea, through acceptability and adoption – and finally to a model that demonstrates the scalability of the model and its impact. Which stage is the implementation of your idea in right now?
  • The role of the Ecosystem: And here come organizations like the World Bank, Ashoka Foundation etc – who have the capacity to facilitate collaborations, provide initial funding, exposure, learning for the innovator and his/ her team, help evaluate and provide a global platform for sharing, cross learning and fostering partnerships – that can give the social innovator speed. The most core resource is of course the funds. But its critical for Social Innovators to treat the funds as Working Capital – and not funding. Thus designing the models for sustainability very early on in the life cycle.

We talked through examples in India such as ITC eChoupal, SMSOne, Akshaya Patra that have approached scale in a structured manner.

A great example of a sustainable social impact model in a conflict environment presented itself right here at the Innovation fair!! The Social Media team anchoring the event – RLabs or Reconstructed Living Labs – is a beautiful idea that identifies disadvantaged youth, builds capability in them to use and apply technology and social media – and then finds a market for these skills and create economic opportunities. Was great to see them in action at the fair.

Guest Post by: Parvathi Menon

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