Recently I was part of a roundtable on "inclusive innovation,” which focuses on business opportunity at the base of the economic pyramid. The roundtable was convened by Harvard University’s South Asia Initiative, the World Bank Institute, Omidyar Network and Growth Dialogue. According to Shahid Yusuf, Chief Economist of Growth Dialogue (and formerly World Bank), inclusive innovation is an interactive process with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms - not all of them small - sensing an opportunity, gathering market intelligence, canvassing and testing ideas, creatively drawing upon and customizing technological knowledge and learning from pilot efforts. All with the focus on users drawn mainly from lower income households.
I saw an amazing example of inclusive innovation in Delhi on the occasion of GBSN’s annual conference. A local organization, Aspiring Minds developed a spoken English evaluation tool. The 15-minute automated tool rates job seekers on pronunciation, fluency, intonation, listening, language anticipation and spoken English understanding. It can be used by anyone equipped with a mobile phone or VOIP. Job seekers who attain good ratings can use their scores with potential employers. Aspriring Minds is also working on broader tests that measure and predict on-the-job performance. This kind of scalable inclusive innovation in human resources could revolutionize the way that young people find and qualify for jobs in a competitive market.
Business schools have a key role to play promoting inclusive innovation. Not only can they foster work between academic departments to spawn technological advances that have applications in the developing world, but they can give social entrepreneurs the tools they need to achieve financial sustainability and scale, a sine qua non for impact.
I was inspired by the ideas that I heard about inclusive innovation and look forward to further conversations in the management education community about how we can help feed this important process. It is only with good management and a solid plan for scaling that a great idea can make a real impact millions of lives.
Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO and founder of the Global Business School Network.