The increasing effects of climate change should be reshaping the way that we think about poverty alleviation and development. For many households, the shocks from a natural disaster can lead to increased economic and social vulnerabilities.
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.
The yearly Frugal Innovation Forum at BRAC brings together leading practitioners from the NGO, corporate and entrepreneurial sectors along with academics and policy makers. It has proven a great platform for debate and the sharing of best practice.
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?
In the changing landscape of development, long standing boundaries between non-profit and for profit models are merging while social enterprises are emerging. Even the most generous aid models are not enough to provide basic services to the 1.2 billion poor people living in middle income countries. In this context, the third Frugal Innovation Forum hosted by the BRAC Social Innovation Lab explored how we can serve millions in a sustainable manner. Under the theme ‘pushing the boundaries of development’, several speakers from the development sector, multinational corporations and social enterprises expressed that we need frugal innovations that can create more impact with less resources and institutions that can scale sustainably.
What comes to your mind when you think about innovation? Most of us relate innovation to places like Silicon Valley. However, there are incredible social innovations happening in the global South; starting from Sudanese villages to Afghan classrooms and in many other not-so-known places, where you least expect anything related to innovation.
The sprawling and growing skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city in Vietnam, is quite breath-taking. But do you notice anything else in the picture? Look across the river to the left and you will see a dark area, which is a slum. Welcome to the reality of middle-income countries- where a small percentage of the population enjoy the luxury that comes with economic growth but the rest are left behind. In this changing context, BRAC’s Frugal Innovation Forum 2015 poses the pressing question- Is the development sector up to date to tackle the emerging needs of the new bottom billion?
Last Thursday, the 2015 Gates letter identified mobile money as a transformative innovation for the next 15 years, driving faster improvement of the lives of people in poor countries than has ever been seen.
Nothing draws an audience faster than a good story. The best stories transport the listener to a new perspective, down a journey of twists and turns, moments of despair, and of course, triumph. What better way to start to untangle the complexities of scaling social impact in the context of South Asia than to focus on the stories of organisations that have made it there? Theories are great, but without deep grounding in experiences and practice, they often have little application.
We are excited to officially announce the winners of the innovation fund for mobile money challenge! These projects were selected from the 100 ideas that were submitted on the innovation fund challenge web site, reviewed by external advisors, and finally decided on by an internal judging panel. These projects will be implemented over the course of the next year by BRAC in Bangladesh—so stay tuned for many more updates!