Image courtesy of kiwanja.net
Cross-posted from the Global Health Ideas blog:
Late last week I read news from three different sectors, all about “South-North” innovation transfer, a topic we’ve discussed here before, particularly in the context of mHealth. Earlier this year Fast Company reported on the concept of trickle-up innovation, citing the examples of yogurt microplants in Bangladesh (Group Danone, Grameen Bank) and Mosoko, touted as Craigslist for the next billion in Kenya (Nokia). In addition to these cases of MNCs from the global North testing out concepts in the South, Fast Company presented examples of corporations from the South, including ICICI (banking, India), Natura (cosmetics, Brazil), and Goodbaby (infant products, China).
Here are the three articles from this past week:
- HEALTH SERVICES: To Fix Health Care, Some Study Developing World, Wall Street Journal, 2 Jul 2009. The University of Alabama-Birmingham AIDS clinic turned to Zambia for a model of increasing the number of patients who showed up for treatment. Based on early successes, they are continuing under the project name “Zambama”.
- FINANCIAL SERVICES: DOCOMO to Launch Mobile Remittance Service, NTT DOCOMO press release, 2 Jul 2009. Later this month Japan’s DOCOMO will enable individual subscribers to use their mobile phone to remit money to other subscribers. Such a branchless banking/financial remittance service is certainly prompted by Safaricom’s M-PESA service from Kenya.
- CLEAN TECH: Worldchanging Interview: Shawn Frayne, 2 Jul 2009. The interview is about wind technology, but touches on broader issues related to South-North innovation flow. Frayne thinks that “the constraints of the developing world can provide the necessary inspiration to make significant technological leaps that can benefit the Global South and Global North simultaneously”.
There are various other examples from the last several years suggesting a growing trend in countries from the North learning from the South. Here are examples just around financial services for the poor:
- Opportunity NYC was the first conditional cash transfer (CCT) program in the U.S., based on the Oportunidades program developed in Mexico.
- Less than one month ago international development micro-lender Kiva launched a pilot program in the U.S.
- Grameen Bank supports microcredit in places like Norway
Add to that the various management principles we’ve learned from the Aravind Eye Care System and Mumbai’s dabbawallas. Extending the argument presented by Fast Company, these examples show that South-North innovation transfer doesn’t have to be focused on corporations.
While it’s enticing to think about mining untapped innovation potential in the South for the benefit of the North, the real potential is much broader. Innovation can (and does) flow in all directions, not just South-North, but also North-South, South-South, and within countries. The challenge is to learn from different ways of approaching the same problem. Or even similar problems: see how Kaiser-Permanente visited a flight school to reduce medication errors and how the NHS worked with Formula 1 team to improve ICU procedures.
Given this potential, the big, open question is this… How do we increase global sharing of ideas and models to spur innovation?