Embrace failure and inclusiveness in innovation, experts say

Inclusive innovations are important for developing countries Copyright: Flickr/EIFL

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[KUALA LUMPUR] Innovation is the key driver in economic development, and the solution to poverty-related challenges, from food security to rapid urbanisation, a conference in Malaysia has heard.

The International Symposium on Accelerating Innovation in Developing Countries, which took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week (3–7 November), brought together experts from across the international development sector.   

David Frigstad, chairman of research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, cited the Silicon Valley, in the United States, as being a hotbed of innovation, with a starkly different professional culture to many parts of Asia.

"Failure has to be celebrated," Frigstad said. "People in Silicon Valley who keep failing and put ‘serial entrepreneur’ on their résumé can still get funding from companies. The mindset there is that if you keep trying, eventually you are going to win."

However, Hamid Alavi, a senior private sector development specialist at the World Bank, commented that failure in Silicon Valley does not come at as high a price as it does in developing countries.

Alavi said that to embrace failure, a country has to spend more time and money — luxuries that developing countries have in short supply. He emphasised that developing countries lack resources and can face barriers to introducing, implementing and monitoring innovation. When resources are scarce, you need immediate results, he said.

Yoslan Nur, a programme specialist at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), said: "To remain competitive in the globalised economy, the sensible way for us to move forward is to call upon the multitude of expertise to work collaboratively around the world".

Such global collaborations are essential to promoting inclusive innovation — innovations that target the needs of marginalised communities.

While encouraging innovation within marginalised populations, Ronald Mendoza, executive director of the Asian Institute of Management, warned about the "over-romanticisation" of the impact of these innovations.

He said people get so immersed in "encouraging inclusive innovations" that they fall into the trap of welcoming all such innovations, and thus forget to see the big picture.

Mendoza also flagged up that, often, these inclusive innovations arise from necessity and are only useful to a small group of people. "They might change the lives of a few families," Mendoza said. But in the end, they are not likely to be commercialised or make a huge impact on the country as a whole.  

However, he added that at the other end of the spectrum, a country’s formal innovation policies are not likely to be inclusive, and thus are not helpful in bridging the gap between marginalised groups and the rest of the population.

Formal innovation policies should not be made at the expense of inclusive innovations, said Mendoza, stressing that inclusive and non-inclusive innovation should both be encouraged.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia desk.