Pro Poor Innovation Systems
...putting public value into science and technology
We live in a rapidly changing world. Technological advances are increasing productivity and income, quality of life and life expectancy… in the developed world, that is. The truth is that technological development is focused on meeting the wants of rich consumers. Scant attention is paid to the vital needs of people in the developing world. (Grimshaw, D.J. id21 insights 68, September 2007)
The arrival of new technologies often results in a wider gap between the rich and the poor. Yet some innovations fail to be applied in developing countries where there is a real need. As E.F. Schumacher observed, ‘new technologies are developed only when people of power and wealth back the development’. The International Council for Science argues, as do many other people, that developing countries lack an infrastructure base for exploiting technology and suggests increased investment in universities. Low income countries are not only poor in terms of measures of human wellbeing but also in terms of indicators of technology. They spend a small proportion of GDP on research and development: less than 1 percent, compared to high income countries that spend around 2.5 percent. The number of scientists in low income countries is less than 50 per 100,000 people, compared to over 3,000 per 100,000 in high income countries.
Jonathan Porritt argues that to enable sustainable development people need to work with the market system and not against it. This means understanding market mechanisms, understanding innovation processes, and then working with key stakeholders to enable business models that will deliver on human need rather than on consumer want. With existing technologies this is a challenge because the business models, including the supply chain logistics, are already well stablished. In the case of new technologies there is a window of opportunity, before products are released into the market, to negotiate new business models.
A special edition of id21 insights (September 2007) was edited by David J. Grimshaw and contained several articles about the work of Practical Action. It was distributed to about 25,000 policy makers around the world. Read more >>>
Practical Action is taking the lead role in an ESRC funded project in collaboration with the Universities of Lancaster, Sussex, and Durham. The aim of the seminar series is to promote the development and adoption of appropriate science-led new technologies that directly improves the lives of poor people. The main impediment to this aim is that research and development spending is most quickly recouped by marketing to those people who can afford to pay high prices. Hence market demand rather than human need is the driver of science-led new technologies. More specifically the seminar series hopes to influence policy through the following objectives:
- To facilitate north-south stakeholder participation in the process of re-framing understandings about the role of science and technology in human development.
- To increase recognition of the role of technology in human development, with an emphasis on improving the choice people have about which technologies are developed and how they are diffused.