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How innovation in Vietnam is proving the potential of inclusivity

Industries looking to innovate should look to the example of Vietnam, where an inclusive approach to innovation is helping many of its amputee population to gain greater independence, says Dr Robyn Klingler-Vidra, Department of International Development.

There are appropriately 38 million amputees in developing countries who do not have access to prosthetic care. These people face significant challenges in their daily lives, including travel and finding work.

This is why the Vietnamese start-up, Vulcan Augmetics, builds affordable, functional and upgradable prosthetics. Using 3D printing, they create custom, modular sockets for unique tasks. So, an amputee affected by a landmine can work as a waiter, simply by plugging in the suitable socket, perhaps a tray instead of a hand, into the core arm for maximum efficiency. Once that person has finished for the day, they can unplug the tray and insert a prosthetic hand. This innovative design gives Vietnam’s amputee population much needed job opportunities.

This is an example of inclusive innovation. Silicon Valley has, up until now, been synonymous with innovation. However, these particular technology experts are not often looking to help the daily lives of disabled people in Vietnam, for example. Inclusive innovation is about designing innovation that improves the everyday lives in the local context – in this case, helping amputees in Vietnam get back to work, ensuring the Vietnamese economy continues to grow.

Dr Klingler-Vidra has been working with the innovation foundation, Nesta to develop strategies for supporting inclusive innovation, based on research in Southeast Asia. She argues that inclusive innovation is also about involving the intended user.

In the case of Vulcan Augmetics, having an amputee participate in the design is essential to ensuring the technology is appropriate and effective for the user.

“In the Vietnamese context, inclusive innovation is about bringing demographic groups that tend to be unrepresented, particularly in technological innovation, into innovation sectors.”

What is inclusive innovation?

The concept of inclusive innovation has roots in the ‘appropriate technologies’ movement which emerged in the 1970s, advocating the pursuit of context-relevant technologies in emerging economies.

According to Nesta, inclusive innovation “describes the pursuit of innovation that has social aims, and local context, at its heart. One can think of it as either – and both – a more inclusive approach to innovation, or a more innovative approach to driving social inclusion.”

In a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Dr Klingler-Vidra and colleagues urge policymakers in Southeast Asia to strive to evolve their approach to developing in purposely distinct ways from Silicon Valley. This includes aiming to innovate how innovation policy is developing. This means involving components of society, such as the most marginalised, in the developing, testing and roll out of new policy initiatives.

Strategies for supporting inclusive innovation in Southeast Asia

The Nesta strategy document gives policymakers the needed inspiration and examples of what inclusive innovation looks like in practice, as well as support in selecting and applying the approaches that will be most relevant for their own context.

One of these strategies is titled, ‘Technology should save us’ and involves the development of technology-based solutions to social or economic challenges. It is based on the assumption that technology has a key role to play in addressing these challenges.

Socially-oriented, technology-based start-ups like Vulcan Augmetics are at the heart of this approach to inclusive innovation. In terms of their methods and business models, many of these start-ups would not look out of place in a Silicon Valley incubator. The difference lies in their missions.

I think we can learn a lot from Southeast Asia – both in terms of the grassroots innovation that’s happening and from community-driven, social innovation. We can also learn from the design-led policy efforts that are taking place there now.– Dr Robyn Klingler-Vidra, Department of International Development

“Policymakers are really trying to have feedback loops and running small pilots to see what works – what doesn’t – and to use what’s popular in the economic field right now. Seeing what works best, they then expand the initiatives across the region or across the country.”

In this story

Robyn Klingler-Vidra

Robyn Klingler-Vidra

Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy


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