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06.22 2020

Meeting Halfway — The Role of Governments in Scaling Innovation

Few people doubt that innovations from outside the public sector can help governments address myriad social problems. What is much less clear is the pathway for ensuring that promising innovations are sustained at scale. As Africa Regional Advisor for Health Innovation at WHO, Dr. Moredreck Chibi is helping light the innovation path for the 47 member states in the Africa region.

Dr. Chibi shared his views during a dialogue led by Catalyst 2030, a global movement of social change innovators working to accelerate achievement of the SDGs. Catalyst 2030 will present propositions to the UN Taskforce and governments for a potential UN Resolution next month.

This conversation has been edited.

Q. Dr. Chibi, what do you think is the best way for government to stimulate collaboration on innovations with social entrepreneurs?
First, governments need to help create a coordination mechanism that supports the innovation supply and demand nexus. There’s so much energy in bringing new ideas into the system, or innovation supply. But there’s a disconnect in terms of demand. We need senior government leaders to consolidate efforts and guide social innovations into the system. They should highlight strategic areas where social entrepreneurs can accelerate delivery and access to services.

When government leaders own the agenda, they will create demand for those solutions in a country. Alternatively, if the government and its partners do not create that demand for the pipeline emerging, then there’s always a cliff. You can generate many ideas, but nothing will happen in terms of adoption and scale.

Q. Can you provide an example of where this leadership has made a difference?
In Niger the Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, Mr Ibrahima Guimba Saidou working with Niger’s National Agency for the Information Society (ANSI) is transforming how innovation can support the country’s development goals. Niger is transitioning to e-Government, setting up an SDG Lab, and has launched a Smart Villages initiative to connect remote areas of the country to the benefits of the Internet, information, and digital services in areas such as agriculture, health, and education.

Q. You’ve also talked about some of the operational enablers to innovation; what expectations do you have for government in this area?
Government leaders must also support the ingredients of successful innovation in terms of friendly policies, information sharing, incentives, and more. Particularly if external funding is involved, it is critical for countries to come to the table prepared not only to receive money but to offer capacity. Capacity speaks to sustainability more than anything else. In this way, we will catalyze appropriate innovation to find its way to serve the people who need to be served.

Q. How could a UN resolution on this topic be helpful for governments?
We need a landing space and capacity to sustain the impact of innovation including their multiplier effect. In as much as you need bottom up support for innovation, you need to work from the top down in order to meet half way. The longer you place something on the global agenda, it will evolve to be the new normal. Advocacy is very important, we need to hear the same thing over and over to take action and align key actors.

Q. We’ve talked mostly about government, but can you speak about the role that the community should play in shaping an innovation agenda?
You don’t need to innovate around a challenge, you need a human centred approach and to empathise in in order to understand the community innovation needs or the experience that a community in going through. What ever is done without me, for me, is against me. If the community doesn’t shape the innovation agenda, you are misfiring. You need to include them in the innovation process and as end users in defining their pain points and designing an innovation. They should be part and parcel of the whole value chain of the innovation development process.

Q. WHO is a health organization — why is it so important to think about innovation in a cross-sectoral way?
Health has a development agenda. It’s an entry point for all development aspects that will catalyze the achievement of SDGs. We need to make a deliberate attempt to promote development, to map all the key value actors and make sure that we are aligned. We can win together if we work collaboratively.

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VillageReach and its partner Spring Impact are working to center government voices in a Learning Network that supports the scale up of solutions in the public sector. We believe that if the journey to government adoption is well understood by all, power can be more evenly distributed among key stakeholders and result in more sustainable health solutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

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