Help shape our coverage on global development innovations

Mohamed Sheikh Ibrahim, an officer working at the Hagadera Refugee Camp in northeastern Kenya, communicates through his megaphone, which often doesn't reach everyone. Innovation is sorely needed to effectively disseminate information and improve community network methods. Photo by: Internews Europe / CC BY-NC-ND

Innovation, the ever-evolving term, means different things to different people. Recently, I started a discussion on the Devex LinkedIn group about the meaning of innovation, and the responses ran the gamut.

A common theme emerged, though: Innovation is about taking risks, and it’s not just about the latest gadgets.

Fundamentally, innovation is a mindset. And this mindset is taking hold within the aid industry.

“Innovation…is not a buzzword. It’s an imperative for today's world,” Earl Martin Valencia told a crowd earlier this month at the first Devex Career Forum in Manila. Valencia is the founder and president of the IdeaSpace Foundation and a Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leader in Manila.

Just last week, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced plans to spend 140 million Australian dollars ($131 million) to pilot development innovations over four years. There’s also now a so-called innovation hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is designed to engage creative thinkers from around the world — in both public and private sectors — to look at new ways to deliver aid.

Australia also intends to join the United States and United Kingdom as a founding partner of the Global Development Innovation Ventures. GDIV follows the model of the Development Innovation Ventures spearheaded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

USAID has made great strides pushing innovation lately — just this April, the world’s leading bilateral aid agency merged several functions into what is now called the Global Development Lab, an entity focused on science, technology, innovation and partnership that is widely seen as an attempt by Administrator Rajiv Shah to cement his legacy as a reformer. The lab has a proposed budget of $146.3 million for fiscal year 2015.

“We need innovation to achieve our big goal: to eradicate absolute poverty in a sustainable fashion…For all of these, we always need to be innovative, to do things smarter and more efficiently,” Erik Solheim, chair of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee, said a few months ago when I spoke with him about the DAC Prize for Taking Development Innovation to Scale.

Innovation can indeed help to meet global development goals. But it’s by no means a panacea. This year’s Best Buys in Global Health campaign — a partnership between Devex, PSI and PATH — for instance, suggests that health experts, for one thing, view efforts to strengthen health systems as the soundest investment in global health today, more so than investing in innovation, although survey respondents want more money to be spent on that, too.

Here at Devex, we will continue to explore issues and trends surrounding innovation. We’ll highlight innovative products and services, sure, but we’ll also talk about innovative delivery mechanisms, business models, fundraising and hiring strategies. We’ll share the latest on upcoming awards and competitions, but also provide a space for innovative minds to share practical advice on how to realize and scale up innovative solutions to global development challenges.

To compile the most thought-provoking, cutting-edge and relevant information, we need your input.

If you’d like to contribute an idea, please email news@devex.com or tweet me @DevexElizaJV using #innov8aid. And join the conversation on LinkedIn.

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About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.