Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Incremental Innovation and Poverty

By Koratmember at

The Guardian recently posted an article asking why the poor were still economically and politically marginalized. Some of their analysis really resonated with the Pro-Poor Innovation Mapping project. In particular, they explained that poverty could not be fixed with a magic bullet, rather it was a problem requiring incremental solutions to a variety of challenges,

“There is no one thing that can end poverty. And certainly no one thing that is within the capacity of you, or us, or any particular person or institution. The fight against poverty is not a crusade, with a well-identified and specific enemy, be it unbridled capitalism, rogue governments, over-regulation, hunger or malaria. All of these probably have something to do with the persistence of poverty. But none are easy to fix and, more importantly, even if they were fixed, poverty would still be with us.

Fighting poverty is to fight, with patience and deliberateness, the many problems that make the lives of poor people difficult: bad schools, dirty water, infectious diseases, the vagaries of weather and other natural disasters, poor sanitation, lack of skills, petty corruption, potholes, etc. The list goes on.” 

Cataloguing innovations has been incredibly inspiring, as it has given me the opportunity to learn about different projects addressing the challenges that collectively constitute poverty. Often interventions and inventions already exist to solve a problem, though they require small changes to fit a particular community’s lived context. And this is exactly what innovation is in the context of development – it’s tweaking what we’ve got so that it meets people’s needs. Sometimes innovating can even cause communities or individuals to realize that they need to reinvent a product, process, or idea. But one characteristic of innovation is almost always static – it is usually created to address a specifically defined challenge.

This is why one innovation alone is not transformative. But together, they can incrementally improve the lives of people trapped in poverty.


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