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#InDevelopment: Catalysing innovation for positive impact in Tanzania

In March 2016, the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) curated a series of events in Tanzania to kick-off another year of intensive innovation ecosystem building. Following a successful week, HDIF’s Team Leader David B. McGinty (@davidBmcginty) explores the importance of collaboration and local leadership in driving innovations.

InDevelopment April contributor: David McGinty is Team Leader of the Human Development Innovation Fund

Tanzanians are making change happen with an ever-increasing inventiveness. Our partners are using new Information and Communication Technologies to improve health service delivery at Totohealth, scaling market-based solutions to extend the reach of life-saving products for safe water at SHIPO, and improving education outcomes through edutainment cartoons at Ubongo Kids. However, what is also clear is that the development of a vibrant innovation environment requires collaboration and local leadership. Innovation Week demonstrated how Tanzanians themselves are driving innovation for human development.

There is little doubt that innovation can make a difference in addressing urgent development challenges. Our experience at HDIF confirms the perspective of the OECD’s “Innovation for Development” report from 2012: the increased innovation capacity of people and institutions in developing countries can help accelerate human development processes and growth. Palladium’s HDIF, funded by UK aid, supports the diffusion of such innovations in Tanzania by inspiring youth to stand up and take risks, catalyzing great ideas through funding and mentoring, and transforming the use of evidence for policy-making and market adoption. HDIF’s vision is that, together, Tanzanians can continually design, test, and scale innovations that help accelerate human development.

By most measures, Tanzania is a low-innovation environment, sitting within a low-innovation region, and without a globally significant innovation hub. The challenges are not insignificant, but they are mostly known and can be overcome! When HDIF launched in September 2013 Tanzania’s Global Innovation Index rating was 123 out of 142 countries. Tanzania has since risen to 117 out of 143 countries in 2015. Tanzania’s relative political stability (institutions) and innovation linkages (e.g. collaborations and cluster development in certain discrete industries) enhance its GII score; however, this moderate strength is weakened by Tanzania’s human capital and research, lack of market sophistication, and low level of knowledge, technology and creative outputs.

In collaboration with COSTECH (the Tanzanian government’s Commission for Science and Technology), HDIF is working hard to help build the innovation ecosystem by creating a network effect – linking the best and brightest Tanzanian researchers, technology experts, entrepreneurs, creatives, development professionals, and policy makers.

Innovation Week 2016 press conference, held on 7 March 2016, Dar es Salaam.

One of our key activities to stimulate a year of ecosystem-building was Innovation Week, held between the 13th and 19th of March 2016. Innovation Week is an annual series of curated, locally-led, interactive events engaging researchers, development professionals, entrepreneurs, techies, and design professionals – all with the purpose of inspiring the next generation of innovators in Tanzania.

Critical to innovation ecosystem building and Innovation Week’s positive impact are collaboration and local leadership.

Innovation takes a village of support to nurture and grow. Whether we talk about ‘quad-alignment’, ‘the triple helix’, ‘collaborative governance’ or ‘cross sector collaboration’, development and innovation professionals know that regardless of jargon, shared resources, risk, and rewards are required to get good ideas into the world.

According to an OECD report, innovation in developing and low income countries is typically most effective when it consists of (a) incremental innovations building on foreign innovations and technologies, (b) innovations in strategic partnerships between local and global research partners, or (c) marginal innovations focused on human welfare. That’s why we encourage the introduction of new innovations into Tanzania as well as the diffusion of innovations developed in Tanzania. We also support the diffusion of innovations through our work in ecosystem building and evidence-based policy and practice. No matter the source of the innovation, successful diffusion depends on collaboration.

Facilitated by Catherinerose Barretto, local and global leaders in the start up space for Tanzania discuss breaking barriers and growth in new enterprises (17 March 2016)

All HDIF grantees require collaboration to scale their innovations; the pattern is clear. PharmAccess works with APHFTA, CSSC, and PRINMAT to evaluate and monitor quality in private and faith-based health facilities and midwifery clinics. Shule Direct partners with Eneza Education and mobile network operators to extend the online content of Shule Direct through a mobile platform that can reach more learners at a lower cost. To diffuse one innovation, Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) partners with In2Care to commercialize electrostatically charged netting that is applied to homes and effectively kills life-threatening mosquitos.

HDIF grantee Tayeeb Noorbi, Co-founder of Totohealth Tanzania, hones his pitch as part of Startup Sauna—hosted by BUNI Innovation Hub and TanzICT (17 March 2016).

During Innovation Week, we worked to develop more early stage collaborations in critical network gaps; particularly the link between Tanzanian researchers and designers. During one event, researchers were partnered with designers from Nafasi Art Space. Their task was to apply human centered design principles to improve the potential marketability of solutions informed by local research at IHI. After a week of collaboration, the “Innovation & Design Exhibition” showcased alternative designs and market concepts for commercially viable footwear products related to the effective use of insecticides. Tanzanian recording artist Vanessa Mdee entertained the audience, along with a lineup of traditional and next generation creatives, which drew attention and a new audience to the discussion of innovation in Tanzania. This is the type of exciting and life-changing collaboration that helps fuel the momentum of an innovation ecosystem.

Researchers and designers present their initial concepts during a design workshop held at Nafasi Art Space on 4 March 2016.

The sustainability of any human development is predicated on effective local leadership. HDIF does not control Innovation Week: we curate the week by setting a theme with local partners, creating energy, and promoting events through various media. All events are hosted by organizations or people in Tanzania who are individually investing in innovation for human development – e.g., NjeVenture, KINU Co-creation & Innovation Center, Buni Innovation Hub, Tanzania Renewable Energy Incubator, and Deloitte Tanzania.

Additionally, COSTECH (along with its parent, the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training (MESTVT)) plays a critical role in the innovation ecosystem. COSTECH is a major coordinator and funder of research in Tanzania and the public sector’s major player in translating research across development sectors into policy and practice.

During Innovation Week COSTECH plays a special role in convening, hosting, and adding value to cross-sector stakeholder collaborations. In fact, nearly half of the Innovation Week events were hosted in their facilities with Director General Dr. Hassan Mshinda, serving as a constant advocate of innovation, HDIF, and Innovation Week.

Team “#BuniDivaz” completes part of a series of design challenges (15 March 2016)

Tanzania is at a special moment in its history. Over thirty years of hard work has gone into liberalizing Tanzania’s economy. And, while the innovation ecosystem is in its very early stages, I am encouraged by the passion of secondary students in groups like Young Scientist Tanzania, young social entrepreneurs, and the local networks being built. Innovation is happening - bubbling up from local researchers, enterprises, and individuals, as well being adapted to the Tanzanian context through cross-border collaborations. Small, local groups of Changemakers – like NjeVentures, Kili Hub, Buni, and KINU – are regularly rising, asking tough questions, and taking responsibility for driving positive impact. And, big, local institutions like COSTECH, IHI, and The Nelson Mandela African Institute for Science & Technology are actively working to be relevant for the next generation. We absolutely believe that, together, Tanzanians are on a path towards accelerating human development by supporting and diffusing social innovations.

Tulu Ngajino from Young Scientist Tanzania taking us through an innovative irrigation system at Innovation Week 2016

Want to find out more about the Human Development Innovation Fund? Please visit, follow HDIF on Facebook or Twitter, or get in touch with David on Twitter or LinkedIn.


InDevelopment is Palladium’s blog series exploring emerging, cutting-edge and profound themes in global development. You’ll hear from our global experts and guests every two weeks. For more from Palladium’s International Development work follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and at #InDevelopment.