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A New Paradigm for Innovation in the Development Ecosystem

July 6, 2016
During a recent talk at Devex World, I posed this question: “How do we learn from the world of business, the rapidly changing world of start-ups and the sharing economy to change the way we do development?”
Business is the engine of connectivity and innovation. Company structures are getting flatter to move faster and take advantage of opportunities, as economic and environmental pressures are driving us toward the sharing economy. There are new models emerging of how to share underutilized assets from spaces, to skills, equipment and learnings. Think Uber, AirBnB and in Indonesia Go-Jek. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are connecting masses of people in real time, creating unprecedented levels and speed of communication.
In contrast, the traditional development paradigm is largely separated by geography, sector based, logical, siloed, competitive and hierarchical. Assets, people, tools, innovations and learnings are rarely shared.
There is a massive and accelerating paradigm shift in the world today, and we in development need to quickly find new ways of working. Disruptive forces are driving the need for change. Technological innovation provides unprecedented opportunities to connect and scale, and the emergent collaborative economy built on distributed networks of connected individuals and communities is transforming how we produce, consume and finance things.
We need to look to the latest technologies and business models, and learn from them to develop models to scale development solutions.
Abt Associates is working in Asia Pacific across six countries on large programs, with the support of the Government of Australia. This provides an opportunity to test and build new models; to test ways of collaborating and sharing to create a connected ecosystem approach to development programs and linking to business and the start-up communities in Australia and beyond.
We are testing how to facilitate partnerships between business innovators, start-ups, funders, social entrepreneurs, and communities across Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Myanmar, Vietnam and Philippines, to link, learn, exchange ideas and develop and scale solutions to the problems of poverty and inequality.
This paradigm is tightly focused on our big end goal – improving the lives of poor people. It is based on data and evidence and building connections - inviting a diversity of thinking, experimenting with new models; achieving more with less; sharing assets, people and ideas to create an ecosystem that goes across boundaries and sectors.
I believe that donors, business, entrepreneurs and the development community need to embrace this new development paradigm — and  quickly. Let’s build a new engine of connectivity and innovation by collaborating and learning from business how they solve complex problems and scale solutions - and create a new development paradigm.  Connectivity, collaboration, sharing and harnessing data science and technology to rapidly provide data and evidence is needed in development now.