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SIX in Conversation- Learning from Nairobi part 1

Author: Jordan Junge
Published Date: 8 April 2015

As we prepare for our event What makes a city a ‘hub’ for innovation? in Nairobi at the end of May, we’ve been lucky enough to have conversations with some of the top thinkers and doers in Kenya. These conversations have challenged our assumptions and prompted new questions- all helping to co-create and shape the agenda for the event and our work.

Some interesting themes that we’ve discussed this week include:

  • Inclusion- Too many times, innovation has excluded different voices and sectors. We spoke with Douglas Cochrane, Co -founder of Balloon Kenya- who support young entrepreneurs around Kenya and believe that equipping young people with the skills to succeed is a genuine way to create social change. Douglas told us that too often the urban voice dominated the conversations in Kenya and we needed to try to bridge this rural/urban divide and ensure that hidden voices are heard. We’re keen at this event to discuss how can we ensure that all parts of society can be involved in designing and developing new solutions, rather than just being the ’subjects’ or recipients of social innovation.
  • Sustainability- not just of the ecosystem but also sustaining and scaling individuals and organisations. Hivos, a Dutch development organisation, are partnering with us for the Africa series are interested in not only supporting individuals and ideas to thrive- but also building long-lasting and sustainable ecosystems that can further aid this support.
  • Linking the micro to the macro- too often we focus on a global scale and forget about the value of the local innovator who knows their community the best and can enact real change at a smaller level. The discussion shouldn’t exclude either one, but rather focus on the ties between the micro and the macro and how individuals can better link to the system. We’re keen to explore this linkage and we’re working with the Amani Institute who support local innovators and are particularly interested in the role of creative leaders in the ecosystem and what we can do to support these connections.
  • New roles and the changing landscape- we spoke with Kim Scriven,Director of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund- who spoke about the changing landscape of service delivery- particularly social enterprises who are stepping in to fill a gap and deliver public services to communities in new and innovative ways.
  • The future – several of the people we spoke to were interested in how to plan for the future. We spoke to Sharad Sapra, Director of the Unicef Innovation Centre in Nairobi on his thoughts on the innovation ecosystem in Kenya and Africa- particularly the role of digital social innovation and the importance of involving citizens in these developments to ensure that innovation is actually for those who need it the most. We also disused the role of new innovation tools, like Labs, in bringing things to life. James Whitehead, Global Innovation Adviser atOxfam was interested in the institutions of the future – how can and should INGOs change to be better prepared for the challenges around the corner.

All of these conversations have highlighted the interesting and exciting people and ideas that are coming out of Nairobi – but also, the need to understand how all of these components fit together, and how innovation should be best supported.

This is what the event at the end of May will explore- the different components and conditions that are needed to create an ecosystem that allows people and ideas to thrive. We will also explore how social innovation can be more inclusive- and bring in more hidden voices into the conversation and process of innovation.

We’re interested in having as many conversations as possible- to ensure that we’re capturing the right momentum and hearing the hidden voices and unusual suspects. If you think of anyone else that we should be speaking to (it could be you!), please get in touch with