Local Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems - D-Lab's approach in SSIR

October 5, 2018

Last month, MIT D-Lab Research Scientist, Elizabeth Hoffecker, joined PIA's Local Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecoystems working group and shared some of her latest research findings with the community. We were especially fortunate to have had a sneak preview into her recent article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review which outlined her full insights into culivating innovation ecoystems.


In the SSIR article, Elizabeth focuses on the importance of cultivating your innovation ecosystem. According to the article, supportive and collaborative environments “enable place-based innovation.” The article cites D-Lab research into the subject, naming the successes of innovation ecosystems ranging from “rural fishing and farming communities in Zambia and the Philippines, as well as mid-sized North American, South American, and African cities.”


The benefits of collaboration are numerous, as detailed in the article. With a common goal in mind, partners gain new resources, assets, and even a shared infrastructure, not to mention a much larger operating capacity based on their collective action.


The abaca-destroying virus in the Philippines is just one example of how collaboration across different sectors can foster growth. In this case, the crisis regarding abaca, a crop that is the main export of the area, brought together local farmers, university researchers, and government officials to solve the problem. The end result was not just a virus-free abaca crop, but also farmer-led working groups to help develop and teach how to use this new abaca crop. In addition, the situation led to the forming of relationships between these groups for the future. In fact, the event even resulted in “new sources of government funding for the abaca work.” In all, there was a mutual benefit from the situation, and Hoffecker explains that this is the potential of collaborative innovation ecosystems.


The article goes on to list strategies in order to form your own innovation ecosystem. The process consists of 5 important steps. The steps, as listed, are:


  1. Identify a “shared dream.”
  2. Start with the motivated champions.
  3. Build from small wins,”
  4. Create safe spaces for joint learning.
  5. Celebrate progress publicly.

MIT D-Lab has worked to internalize these steps and facilitate collaborative innovation in its own community-based approach to development. The Practical Impact Alliance (PIA) at D-Lab works with international organizations in its own innovation ecosystem, partnering in around the world from working groups, to the PIA Co-Design Summit, to the online “Introduction to Participatory Design for Development” course.


Read the full article by Elizabeth Hoffecker here.

To find out more about MIT D-Lab’s role in innovation ecosystems, visit our website.


-- Bryan Cleveland, MIT D-Lab