10 ways to accelerate grassroots innovation and build a more inclusive future

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kenneth Kwok, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Global Citizen Capital


  • Innovation can develop a much larger role in the post-COVID world to inspire transformation to a more inclusive and sustainable economy and society.
  • Accelerating grassroots innovation requires a coherent and holistic hand-holding ecosystem to be built around it for sustenance.
  • 10 principles for accelerating grassroots innovation include crowdsourcing global innovative ideas, fostering grassroots community, mobilising academia and youth.

If there is one thing clear from the past year, it is that consensus building and collective action is required to convert the ideas and innovations of knowledge-rich but economically poor individuals and communities, into viable means of raising income, addressing social needs and conserving the environment. Unless we build on the resources in which poor people are rich, the development process will not be dignified, and a mutually respectful and learning culture will not be reinforced in society and lead to an inclusive future for all.

At the same time, our community has to realize that, even with access to the best pool of resources and networks, accelerating grassroots innovation is not a guaranteed smooth-sailing journey. The simple answer is: it is tough. A more objective answer is: it requires a coherent and holistic hand-holding ecosystem to be built around it for sustenance.

10 principles

From the perspective of Global Citizen Capital through its multi-faceted engagement with the UpLink community, here are 10 principles which will help accelerate grassroots innovation and create an inclusive future for all.

1. Crowdsource global innovative ideas to deliver on the SDGs

The importance of sustainable solutions came to the forefront in 2020 as communities across the world faced the twin threats of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, this urgency continues to grow. Innovation and sustainability are inextricably linked at the grassroots level, and we can only be sustainable by generating measurable long-term social and environmental development benefits applicable to local communities.

2. Encourage local governments to become an active stakeholder

Around the world, local governments are increasingly tasked with regulating environmental concerns that do not conventionally lie within their purview. In local government policymaking, affected residents are the grassroots. Citizen participation in local government is an effective method to educate citizens about governmental activities and remove barriers to advancing the SDGs.

3. Foster a grassroots community to share research, know-how and talent

A basic principle of grassroots innovations is to not depend on external systems and incentives for solving local problems. Whether innovation is induced through an autopoiesis, heteropoiesis or contractual co-operative model, the UpLink community of innovators have individually and collectively built up tremendous track-records to co-create.

4. Provide technological mentorship towards advancing a circular economy

Innovators may not necessarily be entrepreneurs, and they may not be interested nor have the resources or the required skills. In this case, the technology can be licenced or transferred to interested entrepreneurs that could commercialise it, or the entrepreneurs can provide mentorship to facilitate development towards a sustainable circular economic framework.

5. Correct systemic racism, injustice and oppression

Dialogue in relation to systemic inequalities means growth for grassroots innovation, as the wider community sees the scalability of innovation towards everyday matters. The more we talk to one another, the more we are able to break down our internal conscious and unconscious biases, recognize intersectionalities, and promote social cohesion.

6. Measure the impact made on marginalised youth at an interdisciplinary level

The large number of children growing up in marginalised conditions is concerning, especially given the negative developmental outcomes that persist into adulthood. Poverty has been found as a risk factor to negatively affect academic achievement and health outcomes in children. Interdisciplinary interventions can be an effective way to promote health and academic achievement, and increase innovations in effective ways to give disadvantaged children equal chances early in their lives.

7. Localise the context of solutions to support disadvantaged communities

When demand is scattered, small and fluctuating, there is limited potential for the commercialisation of specific innovations. At the same time, the social impact of these innovations could help address the needs of disadvantaged communities, in particular in the local setting. To support the social diffusion of grassroots innovations, we must first generate awareness on how the innovations can help people overcome their constraints, and improve their productivity and income.

8. Build a digital culture through the lens of accessibility, diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion not only define our internal culture, but also shape how we approach our mission to help every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. The majority of people in the world are touched by accessibility issues, whether personally or through a family member or friend. When societies and organizations are inclusive in their approach to accessibility, we can all innovate towards designing products and services that can be seamlessly used by everyone.

9. Mobilise academia and youth to keep driving the momentum forward

Linkages between grassroots innovators, academia and youth civil society are essential for innovations to be identified, validated, recognized, developed and diffused. Youth approach problems unencumbered by experience, and as such they can often find ingenious solutions to problems that bedevil adults. One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there has not been a time in recent history where youth are more fired up about making a positive impact.

10. Become a global thought leader in inter-generational innovation

Ongoing thought leadership is considered to be one of the most powerful methodologies for achieving sustainable leadership in an industry and generating new innovation at a grassroots level. Tapping into an established pool of mature, experienced talent as well as a growing ecosystem of young, bright minds provides a holistic development blueprint. In engaging with age-diversified populations and creating opportunities for innovation that are adapted to their needs, we all contribute to an essential paradigm shift – one which our society needs and that both mature and young people deserve.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

Social innovators address the world’s most serious challenges ranging from inequality to girls’ education and disaster relief that affect all of us, but in particular vulnerable and excluded groups. To achieve maximum impact and start to address root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and in some cases a better understanding of global affairs and access to decision makers.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 400 late-stage social innovators. By providing an unparalleled global platform, the Foundation’s goal is to highlight and expand proven and impactful models of social innovation. It helps strengthen and grow the field by showcasing best-in-class examples, models for replication and cutting-edge research on social innovation.

Meet the World-changers: Social Innovators of the Year 2020. Our global network of experts, partner institutions, and World Economic Forum constituents and business members are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators. Get in touch to become a member or partner of the World Economic Forum.

Fostering more inclusive innovation

As we now know, innovation can develop a much larger role in the post-COVID world to inspire transformation to a more inclusive and sustainable economy and society. With mounting pressure for social justice and cohesion in an increasingly unequal world, we are urged to explore how to foster more inclusive innovation. In this context, grassroots experiences take on added significance in facilitating timely and relevant ideas, analysis and recommendations, and collectively delivering on the UN SDGs.

As the newly elected engagement champion of the UpLink community, we are driven with a clear intention to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration amongst the UpLink Innovators and their stakeholders, and beyond.

To find out more and register for UpLink Innovation Day, click here.

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