Inclusive Innovation: From Idea to Impact

By Nicolas Chevrollier, Senior Programme Manager, BoPInc, Inclusive Innovation and the Inclusive Business Accelerator programme

Inclusive Innovation: From Idea to Impact

In the next months, BoPInc experts will share insights on their inclusive innovation journey via blog posts on their experience of developing new products and services in BoP markets.

1. What is inclusive innovation?

Inclusive Innovation is the entrepreneurial development of something new with impact together with low-income groups. Inclusive innovations create impact whether incremental or game changing and go beyond the pure invention process. They balance financial and social return for the entrepreneur or corporate company developing and implementing it as the objective is to create positive economic and social impact for entrepreneurs, corporate companies and consumers.

In this mini-serie of 4 blog posts that will be published this month, we will set the scene of what inclusive innovation is, of what defines an inclusive innovator and what processes and tools should be in place to successfully develop inclusive innovations. We will refer to tangible inclusive innovations that BoPInc has helped to develop.

2. What to innovate on?

Inclusive innovations come in many forms:
● a new product (for example, a bigoas based milk cooling unit for small holder dairy farmer developed by SimGas)
● a new service (for example, high quality affordable care of Narayana Health in India)
● a product service system (for example, the Kibo motorcycle taxi in Kenya that provides training to drivers and an app to show driver proximity to passengers)
● a new business model (for example, Pay per use model of energy provider MKopa in Kenya)
● a new value chain actor (for example, JITA in Bangladesh distributing to rural places or Guts Agro Industry Plc in Ethiopia).

Inclusive innovation can sustain existing practices of a company, provide them with a competitive advantage, extend it by venturing in new markets or by developing new products. Beyond this, it can radically change how a company operates.

Where to innovate?

To strategize where to innovate, a number of key breakthrough areas of innovations can be identified that could significantly impact low-income populations, such as low cost farming systems for precision fertilization and irrigation, possible using the Internet of Things to measure soil, crop and weather conditions and apply the inputs accordingly. We were inspired by the 50 scientific and technological breakthroughs listed in this report.

While these could benefit different geographies in the world, the real innovation challenge lies in the contextualization of these technologies by matching them with the local demands, market mechanisms and institutional deployment factors.

Our inclusive innovation expert Gerwin Jansen will describe in the second blog of the series how this contextualization process is facilitated Bangladesh. For instance, how the business case for potato cold storage was developed to fit the specificities of the context of Bangladesh.

3. The inclusive innovator DNA

Implementing inclusive innovation at scale is challenging in multiple ways. From a market perspective, creating a demand is often as challenging as developing or contextualizing a technology. From a business ecosystem side, BoP markets offer an innovation environment that generally lacks relevant appropriate policies, infrastructure, human capital and access to finance.

For instance, off-grid refrigeration for farmers offers a good maturity from a technology, market and ecosystem perspective, whereas new fertilizer production methods, that are extremely capital intensive and have significant environmental footprints, require a revamp of an entire value chain, making the innovation much more challenging.

To cope with the challenges, a new breed of inclusive innovators is rising, featuring a number of intrinsic characteristics essential for innovation entrepreneurship at the BoP:

Purpose driven: Inclusive innovators are relentlessly looking to address major issues with new solutions. They look beyond the financial return to understand the long term impact of their actions;

Frugal: BoP markets are full of constraints. Inclusive innovators turn these tensions into fuel and develop low-cost and easy to access solutions that increase acceptance and affordability;

Empathic: Behavior of BoP consumers is often unknown and by looking through the lens of reciprocity (understanding motivation and drives of a counterpart), inclusive innovators identify the real job to be done by their innovation;

Agile: Inclusive innovators have the ability to rapidly change directions and adapt in order to cope with sub-optimal conditions, limited knowledge of customers and context, as well as rapid changes in the environment. Combined with empathy and visualization, design thinking is often employed by inclusive innovators; and

Collaborative: One cannot innovate alone at the BoP as the range of skills required can often not be found within one person or even within a single organization. Inclusive innovators master the art of partnering and collaboration, and often integrate contradictory views (working with NGOs for a corporate professional) into a winning innovation.

In blog 3 of this mini-series on inclusive innovation, I will paint a full picture of an inclusive innovator.

4. Getting inclusive innovation implemented

Inclusive innovation is not just a matter of inspiration or individual talent. It requires specific structures and processes that can be facilitated by tools, for instance to develop an innovation strategy, to develop (or contextualize) an innovation through rapid prototyping or to efficiently identify needs and demands of low-income groups.

Furthermore, companies, particularly corporations, are structuring inclusive innovation programmes to better harness the potential of impact internally. Philips for instance is doing impact corporate venturing via their newly Africa Innovation Hub in Nairobi through which they aim to develop innovations and bring them to the market.

In blog 4, inclusive innovation enthusiast Benjamin van der Hilst will give you a sneak peak in the Inclusive Innovation Toolkit that will become available early next year, and describe examples of inclusive innovation programmes currently implemented by BoPInc.

Join the inclusive innovation journey in the coming 2 months and stay tuned for the next blog post on October 15th in which innovation expert Gerwin Jansen talks about the need for inclusive innovation.

5. Mini-series

The inclusive innovation serie will include 3 additional blog posts published every 2 weeks on the following topics:

– Blog 2 What to innovate on? You will read how we were able to contextualize inclusive innovations around improved agriculture (cooling systems for instance) that radically changed how farmers operate in Bangladesh

– Blog 3 The inclusive innovator DNA: we will introduce to the best BoP innovators from our network and reveal how they succeeded in. Come meet K.C.Mishra from Ekutir in India!

– Blog 4 Getting inclusive innovation implemented: in practice, you can manage inclusive innovations towards success. Our prototyping cycle will be unravelled that allows you higher change of impact of your inclusive innovation.

Editor’s Note:

This article first appeared on Inclusive Business Accelerator and is reproduced with permission.

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