I recently came across a speech given by Ms. Sandra Pianalto, the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in which she claimed that one of the keys to the revitalization of Cleveland’s economy is innovation. For those of you unfamiliar with the economic woes of Cleveland, it has had the distinction of being ranked the poorest, big city in America, a status no city wants to claim as its own.
What struck me the most as I read over her speech, and it is something that we at Haiti Innovation have learned over the past year, is that there is an enormous difference between recommending innovation as the cure to a problem and having that request realized. One of our reasons for starting Haiti Innovation is that we wanted to encourage new and original approaches to solving the development issues facing Haiti. We didn’t have anything specific in mind, but we wanted to create (or provide) the incentive for organizations to take risks and try new approaches and programs.
Now, I don’t want anyone to misconstrue this as a critique on any of our partnering organizations. The work that they are doing is vital to the survival of thousands of Haitians, and Haiti Innovation is proud to call them our partners. What concerns me is that there are not the proper incentives in place to encourage development organizations to take chances and experiment with new solutions. Non-profits are unique in that their ultimate goal should be to put themselves out of business. I look forward to the day when there is not a single development organization working in Haiti. So, how do we get there?
I agree with Ms. Pianalto in that innovation is one of the keys to success. However, there must be the appropriate incentives in place to encourage and reward innovation. This is where the dialogue needs to begin, and I would like to pose this question to all of our supporters and readers; how can we encourage new ideas in the field of development?
For those of you that are satisfied with the type and kind of innovations in the development community, and feel that solving the problems facing countries like Haiti simply requires more money, I will end with the following question. Is a pharmaceutical company more likely to invest in a drug which cures male baldness or HIV? Answer that and you can begin to see the role incentives play in encouraging innovation