How can we unlock and scale innovation through partnerships to achieve the SDGs?

Business innovations in technologies, products, services and business and financing models will be essential tools for the successful delivery of almost every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), with the potential to transform the lives of the world’s poor through greater access to the essential drivers for human development including food, water, sanitation, healthcare, energy, education, and more.    

Examples of promising innovations exist in almost every sphere of development but relatively few end up achieving a meaningful level of impact at scale.  Instead many remain stuck at pilot stage because, amongst other things, they fail to attract the necessary finance, distribution networks and technical support to enable them to scale, sustainably.

While business plays a key role in leading innovation, whether by multinational corporations, national companies, small and medium firms or social enterprises, achieving and sustaining success at scale is also highly dependent on a supportive “innovation ecosystem” of partners including universities, foundations, development agencies, civil society organisations, incubators and accelerators, and governments.

As GSK and Save the Children launch their annual $1 million Healthcare Innovation Award, which supports innovations in healthcare that help to reduce child deaths in developing countries, this online discussion will explore the following questions:

  • What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play? 
  • What are some of the key drivers and barriers to innovations reaching scale sustainably and what are the essential enabling conditions required for success?
  • What principles and processes do partnerships between business and the development community need in place to help drive innovation? What are some good examples and what can we learn from them?

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Absolutely Kate, new ideas are one thing, if we can't get what is already working to scale we are going to miss the targets as we did with so many of the MDGs

Kate Wolfenden said:

I think what is really interesting about the innovation is that is an overused word, so knowing exactly what we mean by that is a challenge by itself.

Marcela and I deeply believe that many of the solutions to some of industries (and therefore the world) grandest challenges already exist today  they are just not scaling at the rate and the pace that they need to.

So I would challenge that the role innovation could play in achieving the SDGs is not just creating the innovations but providing the enabling conditions to accelerate / commercialise them.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's kick off with our first set of questions:

What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play?

Entirely agree, Carey - we can't be innovative if we just keep doing what we've always done. And unlocking SDG 17 on Partnerships is clearly the key to achieving this.

Carey Carpenter said:

Innovation is an essential ingredient for achieving the SDGs. The fact that deeply entrenched social issues have persisted beyond the MDG era is itself a sign that there is a need for new, fresh ideas that bring together the very best of the non-profit, for-profit, government, and social sectors. The more we can leverage skills and capabilities across sectors and find innovative ways to work together, the better equipped we will be to achieve the SDGs. 

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's kick off with our first set of questions:

What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play?


Lisa, at Living Goods we could not possibly agree more. That’s why partnerships are core to our founding vision. Living goods aims to reduce child mortality on a landscape scale. We can never do that alone. That’s why we’re proud to partner with three of the worlds largest NGOs to replicate our model: BRAC, PSI and importantly CARE – via the CARE-GSK Barclays partnership. 

Dr. Lisa Bonadonna said:

If we keep doing the same things then we will keep getting the same results.  Improving on current practices will undoubtedly lead to incremental improvements but transformational change needed to acheive the SDGs can't happen without innovation.SDG 17 in particular underscores the importance of partnership, recognising that no single individual, organisation or sector has the answer, and indeed taken collectively, one can see that the SDGs themselves are not discrete challenges but are in fact all interconnected.

I completely agree. The SDGs can not be looked at in isolation, and a cross-sectoral approach needs to be taken (building on the specific skills and expertise of those sectors). Innovation can be seen as thinking about development in a different way, and taking a more holistic approach.

Dr. Lisa Bonadonna said:

If we keep doing the same things then we will keep getting the same results.  Improving on current practices will undoubtedly lead to incremental improvements but transformational change needed to acheive the SDGs can't happen without innovation.SDG 17 in particular underscores the importance of partnership, recognising that no single individual, organisation or sector has the answer, and indeed taken collectively, one can see that the SDGs themselves are not discrete challenges but are in fact all interconnected.

IMHO, business first and foremost are drivers of economic development, something all the SDGs depend on. Investing more in low-income countries, employing more people on fair wages, investing profits back in the country are the top priority. Paying taxes so that investment in public services is the main way of redistributing wealth and sharing more fairly. To do this, business may have to think differently, about investing in products that are needed in these countries and a much longer return on investment.

Thanks Dan, totally agree. Especially like the franchise approach to scale to work towards the democratisation of scaling too.  You have some great work to do.


Dan Berelowitz said:

Absolutely Kate, new ideas are one thing, if we can't get what is already working to scale we are going to miss the targets as we did with so many of the MDGs

Kate Wolfenden said:

I think what is really interesting about the innovation is that is an overused word, so knowing exactly what we mean by that is a challenge by itself.

Marcela and I deeply believe that many of the solutions to some of industries (and therefore the world) grandest challenges already exist today  they are just not scaling at the rate and the pace that they need to.

So I would challenge that the role innovation could play in achieving the SDGs is not just creating the innovations but providing the enabling conditions to accelerate / commercialise them.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's kick off with our first set of questions:

What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play?

Very interesting results, and I think reflective of the growing role of the private sector.
 
Jolene Dawson said:

The SDG’s need to be delivered through partnerships to achieve scale and systemic impact. The MDG’s were a concentrated group of objectives that could be delivered in isolation. The SDG’s however, require business, governments and development agents to work together to achieve them, and impact delivered on one focussed SDG will have knock-on effects across several other SDG’s. For example, work cannot be done on improving SDG 3 - good health and well-being, without also influencing SDG 1 - no poverty, SDG 2 - zero hunger, 6 - clean water and sanitation, SDG 8 - decent work and economic growth, SDG 12 – responsible consumption and production and others.

For me, the most critical SDG is SDG17 - Partnerships for the Goals – as this is the core enabler of ecosystem strengthening. When focussing on how business can leverage innovation to deliver the SDG’s the Accenture UNGC CEO study 2016 highlights that

-          90% of business feel a personal responsibility to ensure their business has a clear purpose and roles in society,

-          87% believe that the SDG’s provide an opportunity to rethink approaches,

-          78%  already see opportunities to contribute to the SDG’s through their business, and

49% of the CEO’s believe that business is the most important actor in  delivering the SDG’s – a clear shift from previous thinking where general sentiment was governments must drive the MDG’s.

Business: Large corporates, although many are appointing Chief Innovation Officers, find it challenging to structure innovation into business. Medium and small enterprise are more agile and better at a harnessing innovation.

Business’ role in delivering innovation and helping achieve the SDG’s lies in collaborating with SMME’s, governments and the development sector, in partnerships, to bring innovation to the areas that need in and scale these at pace. To do this, business needs to:

-          Align their business vision, mission and goals with the SDG’s relevant to their industry and business

-          Allocate investment to drive no only short-term profits, but long-term sustainability of their business and indeed the communities and environments in which they operate

-          Lobby government to put in place regulations that allow SMME’s to flourish and cross-sector partnerships to be successful

-          work with the development sector, not only by providing funding, but also by building capacity and leveraging their assets and capabilities to make programmes successful

-          Set up innovation hubs that incorporate accelerators, incubators, mentorship programmes and invest, either by building or buying from SMME’s to identify and scale market-changing innovations



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's kick off with our first set of questions:

What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play?

Great contributions! Let's move onto our second set of questions:

What are some of the key drivers and barriers to innovations reaching scale sustainably and what are the essential enabling conditions required for success?

Drivers of Innovation Scaling:

-          Shifts in demand: India and china will make up 30% of the world population and Africa making up another 15%. Right now, about half the world live in cities, by 2050, this number increases to 2/3 – we need to find more efficient ways of living in cities and managing the inputs and outputs of these centres. Ideas like circular economies, driving “waste” from one process as and “input” into another, extracting value at every stage

-          Dual demographic bulge and rising inequality: Today, 12% of the population is over 60 years old. This grows to 20% by 2050. In Europe, the median age will be 46, while in least developed countries, this number is only 26 – the disparity in age, also impedes the LDC’s ability to accumulate wealth as – further innovations in mobile money and economic inclusion become key here in leapfrogging traditional development trajectories

-          The rise of the informed consumer: 72% of consumers feel that businesses are failing to meet transparency expectations. 83% of executives feel that transparency of products is affecting behaviours. Innovations like digital supply chain monitoring and reporting could go some way to alleviating this – the applications are massive for the medical cold- and supply chains transparency, especially with last mile distribution challenges in remote rural settings.

-          Expectations for digital responsibility: 44% of consumers are wary about information they share online. 9 in10 internet users would avoid businesses that do not protect privacy. Right now, we all live in the context where multiple entities hold our personal data and we trust that the organisation to protect it. Right now, these entities can monetise our personal information. With the advent of Blockchain technologies, the right of individuals to own, control and monetise your own identity is fast-becoming a reality. The expectation is that any entity must be able protect data and privacy of its user. Failing to protect your beneficiates or customers is almost instantly ‘fatal’ to businesses

Natural resource complexity: 2.5 billion consumers will join the middle class by 2030 – to meet the needs of this at current consumption rates, 3 planets will be needed to meet demand. Unprecedented innovation is needed in driving efficiency, reducing waste and maximise value extraction at every opportunity. This especially true for cities and meeting the needs in a sustainable way, while addressing inequality of access – to education, to medical support, to services, to information and everything else. It is my opinion that the drive for circular economy is only an efficiency innovation – we need to find that market-changing innovation to address this driver of innovation

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Great contributions! Let's move onto our second set of questions:

What are some of the key drivers and barriers to innovations reaching scale sustainably and what are the essential enabling conditions required for success?

Agree, Carey! Innovation is key, but so is cross-sector collaboration - much like you are doing with Care, Barclays and GSK....

More partnerships need to be delivered like this across the developing world to systemically address the SDG's goals

Carey Carpenter said:

Innovation is an essential ingredient for achieving the SDGs. The fact that deeply entrenched social issues have persisted beyond the MDG era is itself a sign that there is a need for new, fresh ideas that bring together the very best of the non-profit, for-profit, government, and social sectors. The more we can leverage skills and capabilities across sectors and find innovative ways to work together, the better equipped we will be to achieve the SDGs. 

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's kick off with our first set of questions:

What role will innovation play in achieving the SDGs? How can the SDGs help build and strengthen the ecosystem for innovation?  What roles can different sectors best play?

What’s really cool is that some of the most powerful innovations that reach scale in society are the product of collaboration between the public, private, and social sectors. For example some of the most important innovations in pharmaceuticals started with investments from the National Institutes of Health. It took innovative NGOs working in Asia and South America incubate and innovate the micro finance movement. 

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