Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Mission 1 - Learn - My secret code for social innovation

I love Ethan Zuckerman’s list of 7 tips for innovation success but was most struck by the first one:

1. Innovation (often) comes from constraint (If you’ve got very few resources, you’re forced to be very creative in using and reusing them.)

Earlier today I was having a discussion with a group of UK university students about the concept of developmental entrepreneurship - that is where developing nations utilise the power of innovation and enterprise to drive growth and development. We looked at the example of Malabon City (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malabon_City) which is a large slum dwelling in Metro Manila, the Philippines. Perversely Malabon City is sometimes referred to as the Local Venice, a name not derived from it's wonderful renaissance architecture or singing gondoliers but from the fact that twice daily much of the area is flooded by the ocean tide which brings with it most of the City's waste and raw sewage.

Most of the families who live in Malabon City live on less than US$2 per day (average 6-8 people/family). Amazingly a vast proportion of the residents earn money by making and selling craft-type products (and some food) from waste materials which they scavenge. Literally anything, paper, tin cans, plastic parcel strapping, rags, is "processed" and turned into fantastic, often beautiful products which are then sold on the streets for a pittance. . This is innovation alright! These people are clearly enterprising but this is entrepreneurship born out of necessity - innovation through constraint as Zuckerman puts it. If they didn't make and sell these products they would starve - simple! Even the small amounts of money made this way provide food for the table and also pay for some of the children to go to school.

This is not the end of the story though because with a little outside intervention the craft makers of Malabon are now learning to make more money from their micro-enterprises. I'll post more about this soon.....

Views: 52

Comment by Ronald Kasendwa on February 9, 2010 at 8:22pm

That is a very nice secret of social innovation to consider. I think it is really the basis of all what we can term as factors that can cause change by innovativeness. I do have a lot to ask about this wh*** bit of Malabon City though it seems I better wait for you to complete your blog post!

Do you have any idea of when you are likely to complete it? Can you give me a resource where I can read more about this - if there exists any?
Comment by Simon Brookes on February 10, 2010 at 8:55am
Thanks for the comment Ronald. I'm hoping to complete the story in the next few days but please feel free to ash questions at any stage.

Comment by Ronald Kasendwa on February 12, 2010 at 6:39am

Its very fine with me now. I have googled Malabon City and I think I now have the answers to my questions. You know when I was reading through your post, it all seemed like you were describing Uganda - may be with an exception of the floods. So I got so curious to know more about that place.

I think am almost close to perfect to say that almost all developing countries are going through the same conditions and revolutions. Not so?

Your post is really an eye-opener and an exciting exposing one of what great and innovative ideas can come from scarcity. I really can't wait to read the final edition!
Comment by Chelsea Howe on February 20, 2010 at 3:37pm
Simon - I read this when you first posted it and again now and I still find it promising how people can repurpose "waste" or "trash" and turn it into something beautiful. I know there are some artists who make a living off doing similar things, but to actually have an economy that can exist off the trash-to-treasure idea is very, very cool.
Comment by Marc Skaf on March 5, 2010 at 3:46am
Excellent post, I really like this. I have an E-marketing class and we learnt about a lot of this kind of stuff. Mobile phones are emerging in Africa and they often use empy cans to increase their reception. Resourceful indeed. Do you think our lack of "constraints" hinders us in developed countries? Or are our constraints just less of a urgency?

Also I would like you to read my blog on my Lean 1 post on Innovation if you have time, I would love to hear what you have to say.
Comment by Simon Brookes on March 5, 2010 at 9:57am
Hi Marc thanks for the comments. The old saying goes necessity is the mother of invention and when that necessity is to try to stay alive the invention (innovation) we see as a result is often mind boggling.
Comment by Alessandra Giabbani on March 9, 2010 at 1:06am
+Local insight
Comment by Deborah Cazden on March 10, 2010 at 10:07am
It is amazing what can be done when needed. There are so many resources now on the net how to make and reuse common items. I just posted a video today about how to turn a paperclip into an emergency safety pin for example. I saw another agent post how to make a form of plastic from milk and vinegar, and yet another agent post how to make a simple flower out of a cigarette.
Comment by Karen L. on March 19, 2010 at 12:06pm
Thank you for sharing the lessons you've given to your students.
Comment by Christian Brumm on March 24, 2010 at 12:08pm
Thanks for sharing! +Local insight


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