Innovation: Found in Translation
Faizal Karmali

Faizal Karmali Former Associate Dir, Network Eng & Bellagio Program

Rehana Nathoo

Rehana Nathoo Former Program Associate, Foundation Initiatives

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November 13, 2014

Innovation: Found in Translation

Faizal Karmali

Faizal Karmali Former Associate Dir, Network Eng & Bellagio Program

Rehana Nathoo

Rehana Nathoo Former Program Associate, Foundation Initiatives

Tags for this post
November 13, 2014
Capital Bikeshare Washington - Denis Bocquet
Photo credit: Denis Bocquet

Throughout history, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, startups, and others have boldly pushed the leading edge of innovation. And while many of their ideas were driven by shareholders and revenues, they often hold immense potential to improve the lives of poor or vulnerable people around the world. Whether it’s a market innovation called microfinance that’s traveled from Bangladesh to Bahrain, or a California-based search engine enabling farmers across time zones to better understand market prices, innovations like these benefit from translation into new markets, for new people, and even applied to new problems.

Translation of innovation, particularly in the context of poor and vulnerable people, requires thoughtful consideration and the tolerance for early risk without the promise of financial reward. Because philanthropy can often “take the risks others cannot and will not”, The Rockefeller Foundation celebrates opportunities to translate proven innovations from one setting to address complex challenges in others.

Since the inception of the Foundation’s Impact Investing initiative in 2007, we’ve invested nearly $50 million to build the necessary architecture and infrastructure for the field. Much of our work actively engaged in sourcing new innovations that would apply financial tools and expertise to scale social impact in a much more sustainable way. Recently, we partnered with +SocialGood to surface new and exciting ideas in the translation of shared economy business models to new contexts.

Over the course of two Twitter Chats and a Google Hangout, we engaged with entrepreneurs, investors, technology developers, and active sharing economy contributors, consumers, and innovators to discuss their experiences and observations within this space. During our conversation, we honed in on how we can adapt common platforms in North America to developing economies—geographies where resources are constrained and private ownership of goods are more difficult. The opportunities for well-regulated and equitable sharing are exciting, especially if we can integrate lessons learned to-date.

Among the challenges and opportunities surfaced, here are some critical themes that emerged:

1. The sharing economy is not new

Collaborative models have existed for some time, and we can use those natural organizing experiences to shape new solutions.

2. There is broad potential to apply these models to the base of the pyramid We have the ability to improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable, but have to think through the specific challenges faced by vulnerable communities.

3. Trust, sustainability, and thoughtful governance are keys to success

Without sustainability of the model, customer base, and clearly defined regulatory environments, platforms are susceptible to high amounts of risk.

4. Be mindful of unintended consequences Some platforms are predisposed to certain side effects, whether that means circumventing formal selling marketplaces, eliminating certain classes from participating in systems due to constrained resources and opportunities, or restricting individual rights. New platforms will have to think critically about these risks and embed strong solutions into their design.

We’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, so please share any reactions, thoughts, or insights you might have in the comments below. Or see the full Storified conversation here.

How do we make the sharing economy work for the poor or vulnerable?

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