Last weekend I had the opportunity to support an Acumen Fellow and friend named Suraj at an event he helped to organize called Tedx–Kibera, a syndication of the popular TED conference, except that this event took place in a small church in the center of one of the largest slums in the world, with an audience comprised of individuals for the area. I thought the event was a great success, and a perfect manifestation of my previous post on meaningfully engaging communities, and working directly with our target consumer. Most of us in the social entrepreneurship space spend much of our time in an office and out in the field with entrepreneurs, folks who already have the opportunity and choice to build successful enterprises and give back, but what I’ve learned from this event is that there is immense potential that we as a community need to learn to tap into directly at the BoP.
One of the poignant moments in the event for me was around a discussion on innovation. The first speaker’s opinion was that innovation is looking at something that already exists for a specific purpose and stretching your mind to come up with a host of other things it can be used for. For example, an empty plastic coke bottle, can be…? A flower pot! A musical instrument! An ant farm! The final speaker picked up this thread, and asked the audience to look out the window of the venue, across the vast expanse of crowded roofs of the ramshackle slum shacks, and conduct the same exercise — to look at the space, the materials, and to consider how to harness the inhabitants and their individual and collective potential to help them innovate and enhance their communities and others. In order to succeed in our endeavors, we need to consistently push ourselves to not settle for what we already know, but to probe the depths of what the possibilities are, and look for innovations where we would least expect to find them.