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  • Khandker Ahamed

Inclusive Innovation: a concept for economic mobility and equality for all


The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities and inequities in the world’s innovation economy. Often innovation is widely appreciated as an important driver of economic growth and is considered a contributor to the increasing economy, however, it also increases social inequalities. The results of such negativity are seen in developing countries and minority communities where innovation’s contributions to inequalities are considered an issue of social and economic barring. In response, the concept of inclusive innovation has been developed to provide frameworks and acting guidelines to measure and reduce inequality for everyone. In simple terms, inclusive innovation is developing new goods and services for and/or by those who have been excluded from the development mainstream — particularly the individuals living with the lowest incomes and are part of minority groups.


Inclusive Innovation is about bringing people to the center of the design process to address pressing challenges. Inclusive Innovation is about creating opportunities for all people to participate in the innovation economy, as well as a fair distribution of the benefits and harm produced by the innovation. Inclusive Innovation involves all citizens in decision-making about the priorities, directions, and regulations of innovation.


As a country, Canada plays a huge role in developing the concept of Inclusive Innovation. In Canada, “Researchers from BII+E and the Innovation Policy Lab, with assistance from graduate students at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, are designing a framework to understand and monitor the various dimensions of inclusive innovation to help the marginalized people in its country”


Below are 5 approaches that can promote inclusive innovation

  1. Purpose-driven: Inclusive innovation is about addressing major issues with new solutions. It’s about looking beyond the financial return to understand the long term impact

  2. Opportunities for all people: to participate in the innovation economy as workers (in good jobs with decent wages and security), entrepreneurs (if they choose), and consumers (with sufficient resources to lead good lives);

  3. Empathetic: Inclusive Innovation is about bringing people to the center of the design process to address pressing challenges.

  4. Agile and Design Thinking: Inclusive Innovation is the ability to rapidly change directions and adapt in order to cope with sub-optimal conditions, limited knowledge of customers, and context, as well as rapid changes in the environment. Combined with empathy and visualization, design thinking is often employed by inclusive innovation.

  5. Collaborative, “nothing about us without us”: One cannot innovate alone at the BoP as the range of skills required can often not be found within one person or even within a single organization. It’s about mastering the art of partnering and collaboration and unique views. It’s about addressing the needs or wants or problems of the excluded group by including them in the innovation process.


Rewards of Inclusive Innovation

Inclusive innovation can sustain the existing practices of a company by providing the company with a competitive advantage, extend its reach into new markets, or help develop new products. Beyond this, it can change how a company operates and help strategize where to innovate; a number of key breakthrough areas of innovations can be identified that could significantly impact low-income populations. As an example, The Employment Technology Fund (ETF), Funded by the Walmart, Rockefeller, Joyce, and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, recently invested in the SkillSmart platform. ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions to help workers overcome barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills.


Inclusive innovation can support innovation in key growth industries. Industries such as clean technology, digital transformation, and agri-food — with inclusive innovation countries can improve access to financing, encourage investments, support the demonstration of new technologies and build the capacity and advantage of growth opportunities and create good, well-paying jobs. One of the great example of this happening in the ASEAN countries: “UNDP partnered with NESTA, building on their comprehensive framework of inclusive innovation, to produce case studies from across ASEAN countries particularly Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Viet Nam; researching the ways in which different innovation models are being applied in this region to address key development and sustainability challenges.”


Inclusive innovation can help bridge the talent gap and help build a more diverse and inclusive culture. The critical need for ‘Inclusive Innovation’ is the use of technology to train and empower workers at the bottom and middle of the economic spectrum This becoming increasingly apparent around the world. Providing opportunities for all can help with better distribution of benefits and improve success at companies. Gender and ethnic diversity can improve the company’s performance by ensuring that there is a better mix of ideas, perspectives, and networks on which an organization can draw. Organizations like the nonprofit Year Up combine rigorous classroom training and paid internships to help connect disadvantaged youth with good jobs.


Inclusive innovation can help everyone be part of the future of work through education. To ensure that youth around the world are well prepared for the way digital technologies will impact future jobs all across the labor market, we need to build our education system around inclusive innovation. For example, we need to support organizations delivering digital skills training to youth from kindergarten to grade 12. A great example is Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary computing skills to pursue 21st-century opportunities


Inclusive innovation is not just a concept but structures and processes that can be facilitated by tools, for instance, to develop an innovation strategy, to develop innovation through rapid prototyping, or to efficiently identify needs and demands of low-income and marginalized groups. Embracing inclusive innovation is a necessity in every aspect of our workforce.

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