Can You Innovate in Third World Countries?

 

I’ve always given this question a lot of thoughts but since I’ve started this course I have been looking more and more into this issue. Depending on where the people replying this question are, answers will differ. If you were to ask Africans (central) who have never left the continent, 80% would say it’s a clear “NO”. There is not a chance we can innovate, 15% are the ones who in my opinion think that there are ways to innovate but not in their lifetimes and say it will take at least five generations to start to see some changes. The remaining 5% (including myself) are the ones who have been lucky enough to experience other worlds and know for a fact that it is indeed possible to innovate in third world countries.

From a personal standpoint, when most people think about innovation, they envision developed-countries and why not?  In developed-countries, they have cutting edge technologies, developed infrastructure, they have opportunities to be funded (by Venture Capitalists, Business Angels, Governments) etc. In developing countries on the other hand, people lack those benefits and face severe challenges ranging from political instability, well underdeveloped infrastructure, to not enough trained individuals. Companies have to unfortunately innovate on extremely tight budgets as they do not have the means to spend on R&D.

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For a long time, I used to think that there is simply no innovation without technology. What “Design Thinking” is teaching me is that there is always a way to innovate, perhaps not always through technology but around it. Very few businesses in Central Africa use a customer-centric approach, some would say this is because they do not have the technology to allow them to understand the buying behaviour. I would say this is because “we simply have not understood how important is offering a great experience to the customer from the awareness stage, through the purchasing stage and finally to the post-purchasing stage. How challenging is it going to be to implement or at least try to make companies understand the importance of customer centricity, my bet – VERY CHALLENGING! Then again there are many other factors to consider, one of the most important ones is culture. People are very set in their ways and very reluctant to change, they believe that if something has worked in the past then there is no reason as to why it will not in the future.

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There people who are helping the continent with innovative solutions such as the “portable water pumps” to help small farmers in sub-Sahara grow crops at affordable price $35-$95. Others such as the “CardioPad” a touchscreen medical tablet that diagnose heart disease in rural areas with limited access to medical care.

 

Do you think the main challenge is to have the right technology or to find our way around it?

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