Strategies for supporting inclusive innovation: insights from South-East Asia

Innovation Southeast Asia

There is growing interest in developing more inclusive forms of innovation in many parts of the world. Various theories and frameworks have been developed to conceptualise what this might look like, including by Nesta. However, policymakers remain in need of inspiration and practical examples, as well as support in selecting and applying the approaches that will be most relevant for their own context.

Nesta and UNDP have partnered to explore what support for inclusive innovation looks like in a number case study countries in South-East Asia. This research found three distinct strategies being taken by different actors:

  • Technology should save us: Technology-driven solutions to social or economic challenges that are developed by innovative startups. These solutions often seek to address problems created by existing institutions or systems, or to fill needs that are not otherwise being met.
  • Innovation, everywhere: Typically government-led strategies which harness research and development to a project of national development where high-value activities are regionally distributed.
  • Innovation for the foundations: Typically (although not always) low-tech innovation that aims to improve the material well-being of poorer members of society, by strengthening their capabilities either as producers or consumers.

Policy recommendations:

  • Coordinate cross-government action on inclusive innovation. A key issue preventing the emergence of more inclusive innovation policies is that responsibilities for inclusion and innovation often sit in different parts of government. Cross-fertilisation of ideas and solutions between these areas could be a powerful stimulus for inclusive forms of innovation.
  • Tailor innovation support models to local needs. There is a strong drive - in South-East Asia and elsewhere - to create local Silicon Valley-styled ecosystems. However, copying what has worked elsewhere is unlikely to prove effective locally, if initiatives are not tailored to fit the local economic conditions, social values, and needs of a country’s government and its people.
  • More inclusive policymaking processes. There are limited efforts to involve those who stand to benefit from inclusive innovation policies and activities, in their design and governance. This risks creating a system where people are innovated for, but where they have little agency of their own to become producers as well as consumers of innovation. To deliver positive impact, the policymaking process needs to begin with giving a voice to those who are impacted, to understand their objectives and obstacles.
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