The speed of innovation is changing the definition of “possible” every day, and even though some people think that the start-up culture is overhyped, I believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel of Bangladesh’s start-up ecosystem.
Remember when Segway launched in 2002? It was predicted to revolutionise transportation and hit the $1 billion sales mark faster than any company in history. But by 2010 it had sold less than 30,000 units and was termed as one of the 10 biggest tech failures of the decade.
The child with his nose in a book might not be the only one learning. This was one of the bold messages from the Frugal Innovation Forum 2017. The forum’s innovators and speakers called attention to children’s right to education and play.
The Frugal Innovation Forum is a platform for leaders from the global south to connect and explore solutions to the world’s toughest challenges. Development practitioners, social entrepreneurs, activists, policy-makers and academics collaborate for three days to work towards impact at scale.
For several years now, we have seen Dhaka repeatedly ranked as one of the least livable cities in the world. One major factor is our transport system. A city of 20 million people, no metro system and an inadequate number of buses create a traffic nightmare. Those who depend on buses suffer the most: drivers pack people into buses, drive aggressively and stop haphazardly, sometimes in the middle of the street. It is almost impossible for women to get a ride during rush hours.
If there were a simple recipe for social innovation, anyone could easily transform an idea into an impactful solution reaching millions. Unfortunately things are a lot messier on the ground. Many ‘amazing’ innovations that promise to save millions of lives fail to scale and quietly disappear.
It has been a few days since Dr Mahabub Hossain has left us. As more and more people are remembering him, it is clear what a profound impact he had on those he crossed paths with. As a leader, Dr Mahabub’s contribution was immense in BRAC as well.
Recently I visited Manikganj in rural Bangladesh to see BRAC’s work in water and sanitation. A shopkeeper at a local market said that he knew handwashing was important, but soap was expensive. “What’s more expensive,” I asked, “soap or the medicines for treating diarrhea and fever?” “Medicine,” he said. He knew the answer - but that didn’t change his actions.
We use our smartphones for numerous quotidian purposes: taking photos, accessing social media, browsing the web, and of course, making phone calls. But BRAC has been employing these devices for an entirely different purpose, and it is extremely innovative.
Imagine a world where there is no access to financial services. You cannot save, which means you cannot set aside money for the future. You cannot access a loan, which means you are shut off from a limitless number of opportunities, including investing in an enterprise, purchasing a home or land, or maintaining household expenses when cash is tight. You don’t have insurance or any kind of buffer against shocks, such as medical emergencies in the family, a sudden loss of a job, or natural disasters. Would you be able to manage?