Ideas for Action: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

ideas4action@wharton.upenn.edu Blog, Global Initiatives, Partnerships, SDGs

Ideas for Action (I4A) was founded on the premise that today’s youth should have a voice in the future of development – that the marshaling of global resources to tackle global poverty and inequality should not be delegated only to senior industry professionals with decades of experience, but also to the next generation of development leaders. The I4A 2015 competition affirmed this premise both by demonstrating the level of interest youth have in contributing their ideas and time to these issues (the engagement figures on our website speak to this), and by proving that their ideas are value-adding: many of the proposals either brought new issues to light – issues worthy of but not yet the object of attention – or tackled existing issues in new, innovative ways. Indeed, you can read for yourself in the new book “Ideas for Action: Financing Sustainable Development” the proposals that made it to the top of the heap – the ones that out of hundreds of submissions were selected as the winners and heralded by World Bank and other industry leaders alike.

However, just by reading the winning submissions, you’ll miss out on the full spectrum of diverse perspectives and creative thinking that characterized I4A. In writing this paper, we wanted to highlight some of the most innovative proposals we reviewed. Though they did not win by the competition’s formal metrics, we believe they are inspiring in their own right.

Crowdsourcing for development. One proposal, entitled “Municipal Micro-Social Bonds: Crowdsourced Development Projects in Latin America” tapped into a number of today’s most exciting technology and development trends, combining them to create an innovative platform supporting ‘bottoms up’ sourcing of development ideas, and ‘tops down’ multipartite funding of them. The idea is to crowdsource ideas for development projects at the municipal level, and fund them through a public-private partnership scheme. By sourcing ideas for small-scale development projects from towns and small cities, the team’s platform effectively leverages crowdsourcing to empower local communities. By funding them through government-issued social bonds insured by third parties like the World Bank, they effectively include development and public sector partners in development and risk management. Finally, by including investors as the source of the actual capital, they are taking advantage of the new focus on social impact investing, while protecting investors from complete exposure to risk via the third party insurance mechanism. What most impressed us about this proposal was how they combined a number of innovative development mechanisms to create a cohesive platform that empowers local communities. While many teams’ proposals relied on one strong idea or instrument, this one leveraged many to present a creative proposal.

Game shows and development. Some submissions took “outside the box” thinking to an entirely new level, transcending the creative use of traditional development tools and creating new ones. The “Shark Tank Africa” proposal was one such example. The team recognized both the role of media in inspiring would-be entrepreneurs, and the need for this type of programming in parts of Africa where classic entrepreneurism is still in early stages. However, their recommendation does not stop at simply replicating the equivalent to Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den. They take it a step further by tailoring it to the specific needs of their intended audience. First, they recommend focusing on entrepreneurs’ backstories to illustrate the commitment and skills needed to be successful. Second, they recommend rotating industries each episode so that viewers can be exposed to a wide range of areas. Finally, they recommend the judges deliberately apply criteria to evaluating show participants’ ventures in a way that educates viewers on the key components of being an effective entrepreneur and running a successful business. The show itself would also serve as a potential windfall for contestants by allowing them to advertise crowdfunding campaigns on it regardless of the judges’ verdict of their idea. While this idea does not present a “traditional” development tactic, it is nonetheless an incredibly creative approach to a development problem.

Incubating domestic technology advancement. You might begin noticing a theme here: technology is central to many I4A proposals. One proposal suggests an exciting way to use Technology Incubation Centers (TICs) in Nigeria to jump start growth of SMEs (Small – Medium Enterprises). The authors recognize that, even though Nigeria is a focal point for oil and petroleum research, the nation is at the whim of international oil prices and lacks highly skilled labor. Many corporations doing business in the country conduct their research in-house, excluding university research environments. This lack of university involvement prevents Nigerians from participating in the country’s bustling oil industry and underutilizes Nigerians’ abilities. The proposal offers an innovative path to new, cutting-edge technology developed by Nigerians, for Nigerians. The TICs would be funded by public-private partnerships in which private investors would have patent rights to the pioneering technologies within their centers. These innovation hubs would allow for Nigerians to become less reliant on imported technologies, grow their own skillsets, and provide productive, diversified economic activity.

Gaming for development. The technology theme continues with another unique proposal focusing on using video games to promote educational and public policy goals. The idea is to influence policy outcomes by reaching people through mobile phone games. These games could achieve results by gamifying a variety of policy objectives, such as urban planning, health and fitness, science, and art education. After all, games are an easy, fun way to foster decision making skills, build perspectives on using public resources, and visualize trade-offs between policy action and non-action. In addition, the mobile gaming platform allows for citizenry to be educated on issues such as childhood nutrition and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, these games would be created by students searching for impactful course projects, adding to their skills set and involving them in their country’s development. This approach provides a robust opportunity for education through game development while maintaining low production costs. Creation and use of these development-minded games presents a fruitful, stimulating educational opportunity via their designand their application. We found this proposal especially interesting because of how it leveraged an existing trend – ‘gamification’ – and applied it to one part of the development policy sphere.

Hopefully the above snapshots highlight just how diverse and creative many of the 300+ submissions were, even if they could not all be individually celebrated at the World Bank’s spring and annual meetings. We believe that the results from the I4A 2015 competition indicate just the beginning of what will be a more heavy involvement from the next generation of development and business leaders in tackling issues of global poverty and inequality. We can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!