The impact of social innovation in developing countries

Our recently published mobile technologies report highlights the changing dynamics of local and social innovation. Whereas in the early days of the Internet, most innovations happened in the North, the situation has changed dramatically nowadays.

This article, published in a well-known MIT magazine, shows the incredible impact of social innovation on Kenya’s economy and development agendas. Of course, Kenya is not a stranger to such phenomena. It was there that Ushahidi and M-Pesa emerged in the recent past, thanks in large part to the so-called “mobile revolution.”

The article, however, emphasizes mobile health or m-health (not that I am a real friend of adding m or 2.0 to everything we do) and provides examples of the work of local entrepreneurs, many of them being women. In the end, we learn that a culture of innovation has flourished in the country.

Can this be replicated in other countries? The answer is yes, but it will also be ideal for studying Kenya, a nation on the verge of civil war five years ago, in more detail.

Social innovation confronts many of the development challenges head-on. These include, among others:

  • Sustainability of development interventions as locals assume and support initiatives
  • An effective response to local needs with local solutions
  • Local capacity development with multi-sectoral multiplier effects
  • Community ownership and integration with project development, not pushed from the outside by external actors
  • Political and cultural issues
  • Development of new livelihoods that create local jobs and enterprises
  • The potential of better integration with local governments and local authorities
  • Local e-participation, providing a voice to stakeholders and fostering improved interaction between local government and communities

Also, as discussed in the mobile technologies report, broader issues of replicability and scalability remain to be addressed.

What should the role of the UNDP be here? I think the organization should support such initiatives in a big way. The critical question is the modalities UNDP could deploy ground to balance dynamic local innovators with seemingly lethargic public institutions.

Ideas welcome.

Cheers, Raúl


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