Despite our global connectivity, the world is not “flat.” That’s according to Fiona Murray, Associate Dean of Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Co-Director of MIT’s Innovation Initiative, who spoke at Volta’s inaugural Innovate Atlantic conference last year.

Murray – referencing Thomas L. Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” – explained that even though we are connected, innovation and entrepreneurship seem to thrive in interdependent, hyper-connected hotspots known as innovation ecosystems.

But innovation isn’t happening everywhere, and as a result, its benefits are unevenly distributed. As the innovation ecosystem in Atlantic Canada continues to develop and grow, we must shift our innovation agendas from economic output-centric to economic opportunity-focused in order to ensure everyone benefits from the positive change innovation brings.

When harnessed effectively, innovation is transformational for regions; it can uplift outdated industries into new eras, improve our quality of life, and create new opportunities for individuals to succeed. However, traditional views on innovation that measure success solely through economic output, do not paint a holistic picture of the impact innovation can have, and even worse, risk driving a deeper socio-economic divide between people.

Fixating on innovation-driven economic output – or the money generated by new products, services or processes – creates an environment where those who are in close proximity to opportunities are the ones who succeed, even though talented people exist everywhere.

As an evaluation tool, money is easier to quantify than, for example, improvements to quality of life, so it’s understandable why we have gravitated towards an economic output mindset. However, this approach doesn’t take into account the more qualitative social impact that inclusive innovation creates.

Inclusive innovation, or the use of technology to create economic opportunity for moderate and low income earners, helps level the playing field so that even those not actively involved in an innovation ecosystem can participate in and benefit from the opportunities innovation creates.

The solution to reversing the growing wealth disparity driven by innovation, is using an approach that focuses on creating economic opportunity through inclusive innovation. This approach prioritizes our community’s most vulnerable, using collective action and open innovation to help create a better life and planet for all.

Our understanding of innovation is evolving, and we are now just beginning to leverage inclusive innovation on a large scale. Shifting from an output mindset to one that focuses on opportunity takes effort, but we are seeing progress. Over the past several years, we’ve seen everyone from government bodies to universities looking to inclusive innovation as a way to meet social impact mandates.

In 2017, the Government of Canada established the Social Innovation and Social Finance Co-Creation Steering Group. This year, the Steering Group released a report that included 12 recommendations in an effort to leverage social innovation to address Canada’s greatest social and environmental challenges.

We are also seeing post-secondary institutions, such as Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, lead social innovation education initiatives through workshops, entrepreneurship courses and volunteer-based student groups like Enactus.

These are positive signs that we’re moving in the right direction, but inclusive innovation takes continuous collaboration and consistent action. As innovators, it is our role to bring others along with us on the journey to creating a more innovative region.

During her keynote, Murray provided an important reminder to all leaders in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem, noting, “In this innovation economy, wealth distribution is incredibly uneven and basically unfair,” she said. “… One of the challenges for the community, for the governments, and for all the actors in the ecosystem, is to figure out how to deal with this inequality.”

Join us at Innovate Atlantic to help set the agenda for inclusive innovation in the region and other top innovation priorities on September 26, 2019. Learn more and secure your ticket at www.innovateATL.ca.

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