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Unlocking Resilience Through Autonomous Innovation

The world is facing a growing number of natural, technological, economic, social and political shocks and stresses. These evolve and come together in varied configurations to cause damage that can undermine development outcomes.

Yet the countries, places and people that are most vulnerable to the impacts of these shocks and stresses often lack the resources needed for structured processes of innovation to deliver scientifically robust solutions for reducing risk and enhancing resilience. This is where approaches to innovation that are inclusive, bottom-up and frugal or draw on the philosophy of jugaad (a Hindi term for frugal and simple solutions) are highly relevant. Private sector actors such as 3M, Huawei and the Tata group already employ principles from concepts such as jugaad to innovate and improve business practice, yet these novel ideas are rarely employed by development actors engaged in building resilience.

This paper draws on these alternative approaches to innovation to present the concept of Autonomous Innovation as an important approach/process for enhancing resilience to range of shocks and stresses, including climate change. Autonomous innovations have five key characteristics: they are inductive (bottom-up); indigenous and suited to local cultural norms; inexpensive and frugal; developed through subjective processes that rely on the innovator’s intuition; and entail a high degree of iteration through trial and error. This is in contrast with innovations arising from more structured, expert-led and resource-intensive research and development processes and standardised business procedures. A wide range of examples demonstrate