We live in an innovation obsessed world. Organisations across sectors have made innovating an explicit priority. Many are devising deliberate strategies to foster innovation. In 2012, BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, developed the Social Innovation Lab for this purpose. We step out from the researcher’s cubicle and explore innovations happening on the frontlines. As we try to determine what works and what doesn’t, and why and how, we often come across innovators who are doing extraordinary work; yet, they are relatively unknown. This map is an effort to put innovators across South Asia on a simple, open platform.
The idea that organisations can improve their work by interacting with their peers is at the heart of the Social Innovation Lab’s “Doing while learning” initiative. The project aims to encourage dialogue amongst South Asian innovators with the goal of creating a better understanding of how social innovations scale and to map the South Asian innovation ecosystem.
Our first task was figuring out who the existing innovators are. Some of them we could find by searching the web and others we found on trips through India and Bangladesh (we hope to visit Pakistan soon to increase our connections there). There are many innovative organisations, but it was difficult to find one comprehensive list. We’ve developed this map to ignite a global discussion regarding low-cost, high impact innovation, or what we like to call frugal innovation.
At our Frugal Innovation Forum, in late March, we asked organisations to share the names of their innovative South Asian colleagues. Their insights are the key input of this map. From BRAC’s 41 years of experience in this region, we know that social innovations are not new to South Asia. However many of them aren’t on the web, and that makes them invisible to the global North.
The international development sector is often perceived as less innovative. The reality is that a scarcity of resources has pushed the development sector of South Asia to a point where innovation is not a buzzword, it is essential.
We know that scaling innovations continues to challenge many innovators. However, partnerships can be a great way to increase an organisation’s impact. If you are looking for innovative partners, you should take a look at this map.
When we think about innovation, we tend to think of fancy gadgets, but many of these organisations based their model on a low-tech idea. The map includes Dnet, in Bangladesh, which trains and funds female entrepreneurs in rural areas. A young woman riding on her bicycle and carrying a laptop to provide internet-based services in the rural areas is no longer a shocking scene in Bangladesh. They are known as Infoladies, an interesting example of empowering women and village communities.
If you want to see a game-changing innovation, consider the example of Goonj. It has made clothing accessible to some of India’s poorest by creating a way for middle class Indians to donate their used clothing.
Increasingly, there is recognition of the importance of a facilitating ecosystem, or the “Silicon Valley effect”. Innovators need inspiration, support, and collaborators. That’s why Aavishkaar provides venture capital financing and management support to socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and commercially viable ventures in rural areas – those without access to established financial institutions. By covering the last mile, it is demonstrating the power of venture capital and its ability to transform rural innovations into viable microenterprises.
This map is just a starting point – we hope it is a platform for connecting and making the richness of the South Asian ecosystems for social innovation more apparent and accessible. If you are interested in learning more about South Asian innovators, check out the map and add innovative South Asian organisations that you know about. You can also post your comments and raise the “credibility” of each organisation. We encourage you to explore the many social innovations across South Asia!
Amanda Misiti is a Knowledge Management and Communications Officer for BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab.
Anjali Sarker is the Bangladesh focal point for Ashoka and a consultant to the BRAC Social Innovation Lab.