Don't sit on your ideas: Find the space to innovate

Audience at the Behind the Buzzword: Development Jobs in Innovation listen to Earl Martin Valencia, co-founder and president of IdeaSpace Foundation. Photo by: Wilson Q. Tan / Devex

Ever wanted to be that genius who invented the sanitation facility Bill Gates has been seeking in his “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” or the entrepreneur who was able to introduce a business model that allows for women across Afghanistan to participate in microfinance projects?

The space for creative minds in the aid industry is growing; an increasing number of organizations are seeking individuals with an innovative spirit — someone who has a knack for spotting opportunities in an already saturated market or finding new uses for an old scheme or concept.

As RTI's Andrew Baird said at the first Devex Career Forum in Manila, he found more than 400 entries of jobs and projects at the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities website last week when he typed in "innovation" in the search bar.

But finding a space in this market can be tough. For one, companies offering such positions aren’t just looking for someone who has produced a groundbreaking invention, but also a person who was able to scale up the product or business, and make an impact on people's lives in the process.

As Markus Dietrich, director and co-founder of Asian Social Enterprise Incubator, said at last week's “Behind the Buzzword: Development Jobs in Innovation” session in Manila: "the proof is in the pudding."

So what can you do if you haven't yet accumulated these accomplishments to highlight in your CV?

You can start your own innovation enterprise, suggested Earl Martin Valencia, president and co-founder of Philippine tech incubator IdeaSpace Foundation.

But if that is too high of a risk for you — and Valencia said some may not be courageous enough to take that gamble, although an affinity for risk seems to be an important quality for innovators — you can try getting involved with a side project in the company you're currently employed to have the opportunity to showcase your ingenuity.

"All major or big companies are always thinking: what's the next big program, how to create more jobs, how to create more impact, how to create more revenue," noted Valencia, who is also a Devex Manila 40 under 40 awardee.

No space for that in your company? Try volunteering on a project or in a sector you are most interested in pursuing. Even if it’s on weekends, it won't feel so much like work. And when that innovation-related job opportunity arrives, prior volunteering work can give you an edge.

There's some form of innovation waiting to be found in almost all fields. So always look in areas where your strength lies, Dietrich suggested. If you're a lawyer, take a look at regulatory frameworks and see whether you can find a way to ensure more effective implementation, for example.

The key is to make sure you open a space for yourself to innovate, or find that space amid your everyday job responsibilities, Baird suggested.

As Valencia noted: "The worst thing to do is talk about it but never do it."

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.