Can Open Innovation be an answer to development challenges?

Open Innovation: Inequalities in developing countries, new technologies, blended competencies and implications for the future

This session will be based on the debate around technology, its potential as well as threats in fighting inequalities, from classic technology transfer to Open Innovation approaches, incorporating human centred and inclusive design. It will concentrate on the impact of innovation policies and use of technologies in the developing world. Innovations and technology must be put at the service of social impact to align policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Can Open Innovation be an enabling process to create shared values, jobs and social impact? How is it possible to sustain a disruptive and inclusive space, linking the public and private sectors, universities, civil society organisations, designers and entrepreneurs, eager to play a role in sustainable development? 

Key points

  • Open innovation can help address development challenges, if it is adapted to local cultures and languages, and is both scalable and replicable.
  • Access to the internet and digital content can boost education.
  • Easier to use tools are needed to get internet-illiterate people online.
  • Affordability, lack of local adaptation and high learning curves are barriers to innovation.
  • Public entities like universities need to partner with the private sector to scale up innovation.


Open innovation – which promotes an information-sharing mindset instead of proprietary research or technology – can speed up development when it is adapted to local cultures and languages. But it must be scalable and replicable.

The task of finding solutions to development challenges begins with listening to the needs of affected stakeholders. For this, entities must create a psychologically safe space for people to express themselves and leaders must be open to emotional communication.

Translating tools into local languages is also important. This is especially true in Africa where knowledge is usually passed on with stories.

Research shows that education improves when people have access to the Internet and digital content, noted a speaker from the largest public wifi company in sub-Saharan Africa. But four billion people in the world cannot afford to connect to the internet and many of them are in Africa. Africa is the largest smart phone market in world, yet 80% of its citizens cannot afford to join it. Open innovation can facilitate a much-needed technology transfer.

Financing is critical. In addition to building up infrastructure like satellites, it is critical for getting more people online, as affordability is a major barrier to access. A case in point is an African wifi provider that is able to recruit 500,000 new Internet users every month by offering free service.

Africa also needs easier digital tools to help people who are Internet illiterate. For example, 74% of young people online in Kenya are using betting apps because the developers made them easy to use. More useful tools should follow suit.

While technology advances create new jobs, they also put some people out of work. That’s especially true if they cannot adjust to advances, such as artificial intelligence. The International Labor Organization (ILO) set up a commission to prepare for such challenges with a human-centred agenda. Entities must help people change jobs, protect them financially and regulate data used. Public-private partnerships can help.

Sharing successful examples is helpful to being able to replicate them. For instance, a speaker shared a platform that lists 100 projects for others to learn from them. Micro projects like these can lead to macro changes.

When innovation works for development, it involves information gathering, training, technology transfer and in-country adoption. Open innovation can be leveraged to create job opportunities in all countries while helping businesses fulfil their social responsibilities.


Open innovation can be a guiding light for the future of development.

Organised by


Francesca Folda
Global Communication Director
Amani Institute
Mark Kamau
Director of User Experience
Cristina Toscano
Fondazione Cariplo
Tinna Nielsen
Emilio Ciarlo
Italian Agency for Development Cooperation