By Marieke Goettsch, Mercedes Mateo Diaz,and Nicolas Canete
At the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), one of our main objectives is to improve the lives of people in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region by reducing inequality. It became obvious to us that the enormous complexity and interlinkages of global challenges called for a multidisciplinary approach and a need for new forms of collaboration between government, private sector, and academia.
In 2008, the IDB’s Division of Competitiveness, Technology and Innovation (CTI) developed the Innovation Lab (I-Lab), which falls under the umbrella of a growing set of initiatives around the globe that build on the concept of “social innovation.” Having received a lot of attention from policymakers, academics, practitioners, and the private sector, the definitions of this approach are manifold but in general terms allude to a “novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.” Social innovation is needed because conventional approaches have not solved a variety of social challenges.
The I-Lab methodology is different from those applied by most other organizations working to identify novel solutions to unmet social problems. The key differentiation concerns who identifies and prioritizes those unmet social problems and how this approach can contribute to innovation processes and science, technology, and innovation (STI) policy formulation that link the worlds of unattended needs to worlds of solutions and inform the development of innovative technologies.