Beijing Forum Promotes Inclusive Innovation for Sustainable Growth

June 21, 2012

What is “Inclusive Innovation”? Why is it important? International experts give answers and also share stories of “inclusive innovation” across Asia.

World Bank Group

  • "Inclusive Innovation" means innovation that addresses the needs of the poor, such as a $25 incubator, a $200 laptop, a $2,000 passenger car.
  • International experts shared cases of how inclusive innovations have not only increased productivity but reduced inequality in their countries.
  • To make innovations inclusive, government has a key role to play and global collaboration is also essential, they say.

What is inclusive innovation?

In China, scientists developed a multi-functional diagnosis table, which integrates diverse healthcare checks into one bed. And it only costs $5,000, significantly lower than other medical equipments with similar functions.  

In the Philippines, a contact center has been set up for farmers and fishermen to get professional advices in agriculture and fisheries technologies, marketing and sales, pest and disease management, etc., through phone calls, SMS, online live chat, online forum or email.

In Thailand, a lifelong education and development center is open for all, where the tuition fee is 400 hours of community service and planting 400 trees.

What do these cases have in common?

First, they are innovative, in one way or another. Second, they deliver high-quality services at a very low cost, aiming to include many previously excluded people in sharing the benefits.

In a word, they exemplify the very concept of “Inclusive Innovation”.

China has been keen on promoting innovation to sustain its growth. The Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 ranked China 29th out of 142 economies in its innovation index, which is the top ranking among BRICS. But this has, so far, much focused on innovations at the technological frontier.

China’s 12th Five-year Plan (2011-2015) marks a shift in focus from “pursuing economic growth” to “sharing the benefits of development with all people”.

In this context, the Ministry of Finance of China and the World Bank Group recently organized the Regional Inclusive Innovation Policy Forum in Beijing, to share international and China’s experiences in “inclusive innovation” and discuss how to incorporate the idea into the government’s innovation-led growth strategy.

“Innovation could be a key driver not only for increasing productivity and competitiveness, but for reducing inequality and poverty,” said Hamid Alavi, a senior private sector development specialist at the World Bank.

With the rapid growth of emerging economies, disparities have also increased in these countries. “Inclusive innovation is about utilizing innovation to serve the needs of people at the economic base of the pyramid,” said Kurt Larsen, a senior education specialist with the World Bank Institute (WBI), “giving them access to basic goods, services and livelihood opportunities.”

Cases of Inclusive Innovation across Asia

At the Forum, participants from different sectors shared cases of inclusive innovations that worked well in their countries:

Jia Jingdun, Director of China Rural Technology Development Center, Ministry of Science & Technology of China:

“In 2002, China launched a project to dispatch scientists to rural areas, to help farmers start small and innovative businesses. Till 2011, 170,000 of them have been dispatched and the businesses they helped build up attracted over $700 million of financing and benefited 50 million rural households.”

Shi Yinghua, Fellow at Research Institute for Fiscal Science, Ministry of Finance of China:

“The new government procurement policies of China are a good example of inclusive innovation- they mandate giving preference to suppliers which are committed to energy conservation and emission reduction and which are locally-owned, small-and-micro enterprises.”

Mahabir Pun, CEO, Nepal Wireless

“We’ve been using Wi-Fi technology to build long range wireless networks in rugged mountain villages of Nepal, which provide services such as e-education, e-health, communication, and e-commerce activities.”

Nitin Gachhayat, CEO, Drishtee, India

“We deliver 4C support for rural entrepreneurs, which means Capital support (loans), Capacity support (to develop their skills), Channel support (in procurement of raw materials and sales of finished goods) and Community engagement (to help them form partnerships with local communities).”

Anil Gupta, Exec Vice-Chair, National Innovation Foundation of India

“We developed http://www.techpedia.in as a platform for linking technology students with the real life problems in their society. The platform has already pooled more than 100,000 projects by 50,000 students from over 500 institutions.”

" Innovation could be a key driver not only for increasing productivity and competitiveness, but for reducing inequality and poverty. "

Hamid Alavi

Senior Private Sector Development Specialist at the World Bank.

A Key Role for Government

Participants from China, India, Nepal, Korea, Philippines and Thailand all agreed that to make innovations more inclusive, government has a key role to play.

“Government’s role is to create an enabling environment, by facilitating, supporting, incentivizing, financing, adopting, adaptation, marketing, commercializing and mass-production of innovation products to the society,” said Vinod K. Goel, Inclusive Innovation Policy Advisor at the World Bank.

“The government should also strengthen the coordination of fiscal, financial and industrial policies to promote inclusive innovation,” said Chen Changxue, Director of Economic and Trade Division, Ministry of Finance of China.

Besides government, “state-owned enterprises, private firms, individuals, grassroots innovators, universities and NGOs are also important players”, said Professor Carl Dahlman from Georgetown University.

“Collaboration between these agents is essential,” said Ramesh Mashelkar, President of Global Research Alliance, “a common platform to discuss collaborative frameworks, case studies, best practices and market space should be provided to improve the communication among them.”

In the area of inclusive innovation, there is no “North”; every country is “South”, said Gupta from India. “We are all learning and need to learn from each other and strengthen global partnerships in this area,” he said.

Next Steps

The Forum is part of the East Asia Pacific Region’s ongoing policy dialogue on innovation and inclusive growth.

“We are pushing forward this initiative not just in East Asia, but also in South Asia, Latin America and Africa,” said Pukar Malla, a senior innovation policy consultant at WBI. “This is in line with WBI’s work in recognizing and nurturing innovation in the development sphere.” 

Several programs are planned ahead. Next spring, high-level policy makers, eminent entrepreneurs and global leaders of foundations, NGOs and companies from Brazil, China, India, Kenya and South Africa will convene at Harvard University for an action-planning Global Inclusive Innovation Summit, co-organized by Harvard University, Omidyar Network, Growth Dialogue and the World Bank.