Scaling through Sharing: How Digital Divide Data Spreads Innovation
In early 2012, Impact Entrepreneurs delivered a program to train social entrepreneurs from around the world how to apply Digital Divide Data‘s innovative model in their own countries. We recently released a detailed white paper about our approach and findings, which you can download for free. Read on for a brief introduction to the paper.
While social innovations are widely recognized as desirable, the allure of new and exciting solutions over proven methodologies can be dangerously seductive. In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Daniel Ben-Horin noted, “…the problem is not the pace of innovation. The problem is the pace of propagation.” Innovations past need not be discarded in favor of innovations present, and innovation is not synonymous with impact.
With that approach in mind, in 2012 the Rockefeller Foundation awarded a grant to social enterprise Digital Divide Data (DDD) to share their award-winning model with entrepreneurs from around the world. DDD provides business process outsourcing services such as data entry, document digitization, and database support to a global clientele. Their offices in Cambodia, Laos, and Kenya employ staff with disabilities or from impoverished communities and offer them scholarships to pursue college educations. Impact Entrepreneurs was selected to deliver an eight-week training to help entrepreneurs from Africa and South Asia learn from, adapt and implement this innovative model.
In early 2012, Impact Entrepreneurs worked with a team of MBA students from Portland State University to deliver the training onsite at DDD headquarters in Phnom Penh. Participants from organizations with the capacity to launch new or expanded “impact sourcing” programs based on the DDD model flew in from Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Pakistan. During the training, they studied not only DDD’s history and approach, but also topics such as marketing, finance, continuous improvement, social innovation and leadership.
Building on the training they received, participants were able to develop and implement a number of successful new programs in 2012:
- In northern Pakistan, one project received funding to provide employment to 2500 women, special needs individuals, and internally displaced persons.
- In Nairobi, Kenya, another program hired 412 college students, providing work experience, additional income, and soft skills training.
- Also in Nairobi, a business incubator adapted DDD’s model to train 20 entrepreneurs, who in turn hired 54 young employees from disadvantaged populations.
The training program was only a small-scale test of an open source model of scaling successful innovations, but it showed great promise. The pressure to identify and fund innovative, new solutions means that existing, proven solutions can sometimes be underresourced despite immense promise. Around the world, organizations like Digital Divide Data have developed and refined scalable, impactful models for creating positive change. We don’t need to reinvent these approaches; we just need to share them.