Thinkers/Thinkers 50: Know what ‘Jugaad’ or frugal innovation has done for the world!
Scaling up the use of information and communications technology (ICT), together with improved access to educational innovations, trained teachers and village education workers, and better measurement of learning outcomes, would enable low- and middle-income countries to create high-quality education systems within the next 15 years. In the meantime, students in impoverished rural schools that currently lack books, electricity, and trained teachers would be connected online – via solar panels and wireless broadband – to quality educational materials, free online courses, and other schools, thereby closing a resource gap that, until recently, seemed insurmountable.
The world even has the organizational leadership to make this possible. The Global Partnership for Education is a worldwide coalition of governments and NGOs that has been working for more than a decade with the world’s poorest countries to help them scale up quality education.
Perhaps surprisingly for an international NGO, WaterAid supports this view too. Timeyin Uwejamomere, urban technical support manager at WaterAid, argues that “to achieve universal access we have to move from the ‘charity approach’ … of giving people things, towards enabling people to invest for themselves. So investing in social enterprises specifically helps to ensure sustainability of services, because they know how to keep the books, how to maintain facilities and how to communicate with customers.”
The interest for big business, of course, is not entirely altruistic. Areas with poor water access mean low demand for Unilever’s products. Bottom-of-the-pyramid markets represent $5tn of untapped spending power and a massive growth opportunity. Even Oxfam now talks in these terms. “We used to set up ‘in kind’ provision, whereby we provide aid assistance”, says Lamb. “Whereas now we are pushing more towards a ‘cash in markets’ approach – rather than moving commodities from Europe into Africa, say, we are working on developing local markets.”
What is the business case for women’s empowerment ?
The business case for women’s empowerment is clear. Women touch every aspect of corporate affairs as consumers, employees, business partners, and citizens. For international businesses with global reach, investing in women delivers returns in the form of reduced risk and reputation, stable supply chains, financial performance, and innovation. Women’s empowerment cannot be considered a “niche” issue to be addressed by sustainability teams or executive leadership alone.
International business is already taking steps to advance women’s empowerment as these two examples below show.
ANN INC. has built on its strategic commitment to women and reinforced its women’s empowerment initiatives throughout its supply chain through its 100,000 Women Commitment. The company has signed on to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, expanded participation in BSR’s HERproject to deliver programs on health and financial inclusion, and mainstreamed gender into the company’s supplier code of conduct. By 2018, ANN INC. will provide education and training to 100,000 women in its supply chain. In addition, the company has revised its supplier code of conduct to ensure that the company and its suppliers share a vision to support women. The steps ANN INC. has taken to include suppliers and supplier practices in the program represent a holistic and integrated approach across the company.
New approach to youth
This potential of young Africans inspired a group of French SMEs and SMIs. With support from the Nord-Pas de Calais Regional Council as part of its Decentralized Economic Cooperation policy, they have set up the “Senegal-West Africa Cluster” in which job creation and business start-ups by young people is the top priority.
The French companies must devote 50% of their time to technical or higher education missions, skills transfers or mentoring for young entrepreneurs. The latter are also tasked with representing the French companies in their absence and as actors in watching out for market opportunities. As for African companies, they build exchanges with stable partners, while finding people with the necessary skills at local level because they have also been trained to meet professional requirements that are too often ignored.
This tripartite relationship holds a whole host of strengths:
Complementarity: it is by combining their expertise that French and African countries can reach new markets;
Employability: as the learners benefit from the teaching of business leaders, their vocational integration is more effective or their start-up project is strengthened;
Sustainability: the involvement of companies in the learning system helps to build their local base and contributes to creating a permanent pool of skills.
The results obtained by the “Senegal-West Africa Cluster” in terms of business start-ups and job creation demonstrate that economic development also – and especially – involves giving greater consideration to issues related to young people’s skills. In addition to raising the awareness of some 350 students and learners, 50 business start-up projects have been supported by about thirty companies in just a few months.
“Not locking oneself within a traditionally effective Cartesianism, but simply in a slow or rigid world, leaving the sequence of elements in order to better adapt to them instead of exhausting oneself in a vain attempt to control them, having a culture of resilience, which fuels an optimism that rises to any challenge… all these cultural components illustrate the behavior of these young African entrepreneurs and predispose them to be better equipped to face a world that has gone from being complicated to complex.
Last Saturday I attended Cambridge’s very own International Development Conference – a student-run conference that brought us leading figures from the field of International Development to discuss some of the key issues that work in development is currently facing. The Union was the perfect setting for a range of speeches, lectures and debates on the dangers of ‘voluntourism’ and the importance of SDG 2015 (basically the upcoming review of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, something that I suspect will massively shape the direction of aid funding and CSR) …the 9am start on the morning after the end-of-term Christmas party was not quite so perfect, but it was worth dragging myself out of bed for.
The opening Keynote was given by Ann Cotton, OBE, founder of CamFed International and an all-round badass. I’ll admit, I didn’t agree with everything she said and unfortunately her focus on the process of up-scaling the project meant that we didn’t get to hear quite as much about CamFed’s work on a micro-level, which I’m sure would have been incredibly interesting. The network of alumni that they set up sounded particularly effective, and I think that it’s a format that would be worth keeping in mind for any project.
Another big highlight was Shannon Houde’s presentation on pathways into International Development. It was good to hear how important languages are in any field of development, and seeing the various different branches of ID that one could go into clearly outlined was incredibly useful (i.e. NGOs, Multilateral, Public and Private). It was scary to hear that 100-300 people apply for every job position in development though!!
The debate ended up being slightly futile – it got very hard to remember who was on what “team” (technical term…) as everybody ended up pretty much arguing the same. I think most people agreed that volunteers are very useful, but proper training and an effective infrastructure are absolutely invaluable.
All in all, I learnt a lot and I’m very glad I went. It was well organised and not too expensive; I look forward to going again next year.