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Why Learning from Emerging Markets Is Crucial for Social Innovation

Many of our most pressing social challenges are global in nature. With several recent innovations (mobile money, crisis mapping, conditional cash transfers, frugal innovation models) all originating in emerging markets, this is where you can see the future. “As the world’s largest democracy, few if any countries are more important than India when it comes to the practice of social innovation”, notes the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The future of work is boundaryless, and innovation hubs like Bengaluru, India or Sao Paulo, Brazil are where true mindsets for global citizenship are being developed.

In the last five years Amani Institute has worked with over 250 professionals – both from the social impact as well as private sector – from over 45 countries who chose to immerse themselves for 4 months in cities like Nairobi, Sao Paulo or Bengaluru as part of their 9-month Social Innovation Management training. Here are three things they have learned about the value of not just traveling but actually living, learning and working in emerging markets:

You Can’t Think Yourself out of Mental Models

Given that our challenges are global, you need to be able to see more than just your own perspective to develop effective solutions. Emerging markets challenge your mental models, not only intellectually but also viscerally – you breathe, feel, hear, move and finally understand new perspectives. The difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ becomes apparent and provides a new ability to think beyond your horizons as a changemaker in your own country.

Constraints Fuel Creativity

The socio-political contexts of emerging markets are often seen as a major barrier to social innovation and change. Finance? Banks should take care of that. Housing? Education? Government should take care of that. However, these structural and functional constraints can fuel incredible innovations. While they may not directly apply to the context in your home country, they can teach you how to use constraints for creativity and think your way out of your box. From a distance, it can be easier to see the blind-spots and opportunities in your own environment.

Forget Networks – Connection Matters

Diverse and experience-rich networks are a key element for finding better solutions as a changemaker – both in terms of ideas as well as resources. As an entrepreneur or intrapreneur, some of the most valuable assets you can bring to the table are professional and social contacts. However, networks are only as good as the connection that ties you to it – living in a city (instead of just coming for a business trip or touristic travel) that attracts international experts and important stakeholders in the global social impact sector allows you to build the connections that build the foundation for a network that responds when you call.

One of the main reasons we love the work Amani Institute does is that it allows changemakers to experience countries such as Brazil, India or Kenya not from a perspective of ‘giving back’ or ‘fixing other people’s problems’ but as incredibly rich places of learning. Developing an openness to seeing more than one perspective, more the one story, is the key to making a difference through social innovation. If you are considering taking yourself out of your comfort zone and to your next level professionally, check out the Postgraduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management or get in touch with Amani Institute.

Social Change Central
Social Change Central

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