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The need for more inclusive innovation

The need for more inclusive innovation

Five approaches to make your innovation more inclusive

Because of the increasing wealth gap of the past 3 decades, there is more and more talk about inclusive growth and inclusive innovation, as a way to solve the problem. Those notions are widely understood in economic terms and from the point of view of policy makers, yet a translation of those notions from a management point of view, is still lagging. Just recently a new report was published by OECD and The innovation Policy Platform, on the policies for inclusive growth. The whitepaper outlines how Artificial intelligence, in medical equipment and research, can help alleviate suffering of broader and broader portions of population, by reversing the notion that healthcare should be more and more exclusive. By the same token AI might play a role in reducing the educational gap of many students whose learning abilities are outliers to an educational system built to serve the average of the population.

Besides the role of AI, digitalization is general is bringing the spotlight on inclusive innovation, because – when used properly – can promote more inclusive businesses, while at the same time, it might exclude from the economic activity larger and larger portions of the population. In other words, digitalization is neither good nor evil, is the way we use it that might be either. More specifically digitalization might make it easier for bottom of the pyramid consumers to access products and services , e.g., financial inclusiveness and the access to health insurances and banking to previously unreachable portions of the population. But at the same time, digitalization is also promoting task automation and new forms of labor, which require a more knowledge, skills and competences, which are currently exclusive. Hence the importance of the promoting awareness for the cause, while at the same time, developing a management toolkit for inclusive innovation.

As a member of the Inclusive Growth Forum – an NGO based in Geneva – I am donating some of my time to researching what we call the inclusive innovators toolkit – and looking for funds and writing applications for grants – for a compelling research program on the management standpoint of the Inclusive Innovation. And while a comprehensive toolkit is far from being ready, some key elements are emerging already:

  1. Inclusiveness begins with Purpose

The original notion of disruption proposed by Christiansen, stems from the dynamic that market leaders establish for themselves, once they set the rules of the market. They focus on increasing their bottom line through economies of scale, while focusing more and more on trading up consumers to more premium, niche propositions. Market share and value share become their mantra. Then they forget about their customers and consumers, and a disruptor rises, by changing the landscape of the market. This happens also when leaders lack a deeper sense of purpose: when they do they focus on the metrics of their success, which inevitably become the object of their work. Companies with a deeper sense of purpose, are better positioned to develop more inclusive innovation, because both their employees and partners and more inspired in their work. Because their talent understand the end-game, and the difference between the end-game and its measures. Because they do not rely exclusively on financial, economic and market related objectives. Just look at the incredible work that Paul Polman is doing at Unilever.

  1. Rid of Stereotypes in your talent pool

Not surprisingly, when stereotypes define the path of admission and growth of talent within an organization, inclusive innovation disappears from the radar screen. Look at craft beer. Craft beer has been an earthquake for the industry, yet it’s losing its battle for women consumers. In an industry which is dominated by white male brewer-preneurs, it did not take long to transform is a “sexist toy for boys”: Mouth Raper, Raging Bitch, Swedish Bikini Team, Chanky Gal are just examples of edgy craft beer names, alongside the increasing number of labels featuring naked feminine curves. Craft Beer is becoming exclusive, at the same time traditional larger beer manufacturers are finally promoting women in higher positions, and winning big in the race for female consumers, in a male dominated industry.

  1. Business Model innovation fosters inclusiveness

The route to financial inclusion is filled with infrastructure hurdles. Because of the way the traditional banking and payment system is built. Being more inclusive, often requires an out of the box approach, at the core of the business model. M-Pesa is a mobile phone based money transfer system, developed by Vodafone for their Kenian and South-African companies, in 2007. Because it is based on the mobile phone, it addresses the biggest hurdles for financial inclusion in Africa: affordability, physical access to a bank, the notion of family accounts, rather than personal one. M-pesa reached 80% household penetration in Kenya in only four years, and its success was based on adapting the financial system approach, to the already hi-penetration business model of mobile phone/ telecom.

  1. Create Inclusive Incubators and Accelerators

The rise of corporate venturing is solidified by the general acceptance that certain organizations might just kill all outliers projects, and therefore those projects should be seeded in a separate yet connected organization. The same it is true for social and inclusive innovation, which can be promoted through venturing programs. This also has the positive effect that entrepreneurs – e.g., from under-served regions – could be involved to ensure relevance of insights and solutions.

  1. Innovate through Inspiring leadership

Carol Dweck has developed the concept of Growth Mind-set, a notion whereby intelligence can be developed, as opposite to the traditional view that the mindset and the intelligence are fixed. While this is mostly useful in educational contexts, the Growth mind-set builds on several steps: first and foremost it fosters a desire to learning, which makes it easier to embrace challenges, persist during set-backs and view repeating efforts as a path to enlightenment. Moreover the Growth mind-set promotes learning from criticism and from other people successes. In a corporate context the notion of Growth mind-set can be identified in any innovation nurturing cultures: one of the most important keys of achieving such cultural trait is inspiring leadership. First and foremost, a leadership style that promotes peer-to-peer feedback, and a learning environment. But also a leadership style which inspire people to achieve what seems impossible, by focusing on the notion of effort (and not working hard, nor working long hours) and ability to learn from own mistakes and other colleague’s successes. In the context of inclusive growth, one inspiring leader, developing a growth min-set within his organization, is enough to create the right impact.


In conclusion

Developing inclusive innovation is becoming more urgent than merely innovating, but, while we all understand what it means, kick-starting an inclusive innovation effort might not be as intuitive. We have identified five areas where any entrepreneur and manager can find tools to promoting inclusive innovation within their firms. However much work needs to be done, to better establish an inclusive innovation toolbox.


And a little call to action: would your organization be interested in sponsoring our Inclusive Growth Forum research on the Inclusive Innovation Toolbox? Then please get in touch Now!

Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).