serving the world’s
will require us to
“do new things
in new ways”:
the essence of
requires further innovations, so diffusion and innovation are bound together in a process we should call “
innofusion.” What is needed are incremental
alterations to the way the technology is
configured, packaged, marketed, sold,
used, supported, serviced, and so forth.
And those alterations are context-spe-cific; attuned to the specific needs and
expectations of each community. This
is not mass production, it is mass customization. And it is rarely innovation
of the core technology; more often innovation of the social processes that
are essential to IT diffusion and use.
Some of these innofusion innovations
make their way upstream in the value
chain, and represent a small example of
our final model: reverse innovation. Reverse innovation represents the mirror
image of traditional concepts of innovation. Those traditional concepts see a
flow of objects and ideas from the producer to the consumer; from the rich
global North to the poor global South.
Reverse innovation sees the opposite.
In 2012, development informatics
researchers were amused to see British bank advertisements extolling
the benefits of new services—such as
PingIt—which would allow cellphone-to-cellphone transfer of money. In the
U.K., we are used to measuring our
technological lag to the U.S.: the time it
takes for innovations to make it across
the Atlantic. Now it seems the Mediterranean is the new crossing point: Kenyans, for example, have had mobile
money transfer services since 2007.
Thanks to the new innovation models,
Africa is five years ahead of Europe,
and the idea of m-money has flowed
from poor countries to rich countries.
More prosaically, Cisco’s ASR901
routers were developed for the needs
of service providers in emerging Asian
markets, but then backflowed to U.S.
and European clients. Their low-cost
and energy-efficient designs arose
from developing-country realities, but
offered a competitive advantage also in
more mature markets.
at the same time—will require us to
“do new things in new ways”: the essence of innovation. More than that,
it will require us to do innovation in
new ways if we are to develop the new
hardware and applications to achieve
For that to happen, we need a new
mind-set. One that sees the world’s
poor not in terms of the remote, helpless images often used by development
charities, but through more positive
and active images that understand
them at least as IT consumers and perhaps, further, as agents in their own
For IT multinationals, universities, and innovators in North America
and Europe, this change in mind-set
may be particularly difficult given
legacy attitudes toward the “Third
World.” There are already signs that
IT firms in China and India are more
adept at working with innovation
intermediaries and at frugal innovation. Absent more change in the global
North, it may be these mid-income
nations that capture the next technological frontier that the bottom of the
between experiences, people,
and technology, showcasing
emerging innovations and industry
leaders from around the world
across important applications of
design thinking and the broadening
field of interaction design.
Our readers represent a growing
community of practice that
is of increasing and vital
1. Best, m. and Kumar, R. Sustainability failures of
rural telecentres. Information Technologies and
International Development 4 (2008), 31–45.
2. gSmA. African mobile Observatory, gSmA, London,
3. Heeks, R. Information systems and developing
countries: Failure, success and improvisation. The
Information Society 18 (2002), 101–112.
4. Severin, E. et al. Evaluation of the “Una Laptop Por
Niño” Program in Peru. IAdB, Washington, d.C., 2011.
Innovation is a term so overused it can
start to lose its meaning. But serving
the world’s emerging markets—and
perhaps lifting millions out of poverty
Richard heeks ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the
director of the Centre for development Informatics at the
University of manchester, U.K.; http://www.cdi.manchester.
Copyright held by author.