Confident Innovation for All Nations

6 Radical Ideas to Scale Youth Confidence and Innovation Everywhere

Summary

Scaling confidence and creating innovation ecosystems are key to fighting poverty and creating economic growth and yet many countries retard these goals through their education, telecommunication, import and immigration policies.

  1. Cheap Mobile Internet and Phones — so everyone can watch and contribute to the best ideas in the world.
  2. Low Import Duties for Tinkerers and Startups — so they can quickly build new products leveraging the world’s best hardware (as well as software).
  3. Compete for International Talent — so the world’s best and brightest come work in your neighborhood.

Babajob’s Story

India is a country of great promise, hope and yet inequity. When I moved to Bangalore from Seattle with Microsoft Research in 2004, I was struck by that inequity viscerally — unlike the States, India does not separate its rich from its poor. They work side-by-side and live next to each other, with slums adjacent to flats whose price per square foot often exceed Manhattan’s.

1. Progress arises from building on top of the best ideas of others

Babajob — like virtually every idea — was not a new idea, but a new combination of other ideas. Even in 2006, Craigslist in the US had been running a classified job website since 1990s. LinkedIn had shown how to build a social graph on the web. Callback ring-tones — those songs you hear when you call another in India — had 100+ million paying Indian consumers that navigated automated voice menus to choose their favorite song. At Babajob, we just put them together in a new way to help aspiring workers find jobs.

2. Cheap Mobile Phones and Internet

Most fundamentally, most of the world does not have immediate, cheap and ready access to the largest repository of ideas and innovations humanity has ever known — the Internet. Importantly, if you can’t read journals, watch the latest videos, conduct video calls with global colleagues and know the news, how in the world are you supposed to compete and build new world class ideas?

Source: Prices on respective Telecom monthly data plan websites, taken 18 Jun 2018. Data link
  • Direct subsidy of mobile bills (assuming govt wants to support telco profits), ala US Universal Access Fund
  • Invite disruptors — India’s Jio arose in some ways as part of a brotherly feud inside one of India’s most well-connected billionaire families but that rivalry has ultimately resulted in the lowest data rates in the world with all other carriers forced to match their pricing.
  • Shame — it’s time for public shaming of telcos — and their enabling government regulators — that charge data rates that are orders of magnitude above global competitors.

3. Low Import Duties for Tinkerers and Startups

Software is eating the world and that world is going open source. The question is why. Software and information — unlike physical products — can be re-used and re-consumed instantly, anywhere and usually with little cost (assuming cheap data costs as discussed above). In my home city of Bangalore, a programmer has instant, usually free access to the very latest software innovations. Using sites like npm, she can immediately incorporate millions of reviewed, high-quality bits of free software packages into her own project, add a few changes and get paid to solve a customer’s problem.

4. Compete for International Talent

The world’s best talent has always had options regarding where to live. Again, history is full of rich, open cities and countries that made immigration easy and attracted the world’s best and brightest. The UAE and historically the US are example countries whose national identities were created as great places for foreigners to come and build better lives. Specifically in Emerging Market countries, immigration is often tremendously difficult, especially for foreigners who want to try to solve a local problem but may not have family or business ties to the country. There are often provisions that make getting a visa easier for directors or investors of a private company, but foreign employees often spend weeks every year waiting at government offices and exiting and re-entering the country to satisfy visa requirements.

Scaling Confidence

But if we are to tackle poverty in additional to enhancing innovation, we need to scale confidence. Confidence is among the most important factors for success and yet, we do not think of it as an attribute and skill to be cultivated in our school systems.

5. Support Youth Clubs and Affinity Groups

Germany has a very different and old tradition that appears to scale confidence. In Germany, most towns — even small ones — have a variety of affinity clubs such as mountain climbing clubs, book clubs, chess clubs, riding clubs, etc. At a young age, children are encouraged to find one or two clubs they really like. They enter as novices and are taught by the older kids, but with each passing year, the best (and oldest) kids in the club graduate out to university. With time, the younger ones improve their skills and end up mentoring the new, younger kids. Over the years, everyone learns they can indeed learn a new skill, teach it to others and become the best at something they really like in their community.

6. Share the Success Stories of Disparate Communities back to those Communities

Finally, confidence and belief that a new path in one’s life is even possible is often limited by our social networks. As Anirudh Krishna discusses in the Broken Ladder, youth who exit poverty often have a mentor intervention sometime in their formative years that pushes them to study, connects them to financial aid or exemplifies a novel professional direction. In particular, people tend to only dream as big as the people they know. For example, if everyone in my family and village works in farming, then it’s incredibly likely that I too will choose to work in farming, but if there is one person from my community who becomes a teacher or works in an international call center, then suddenly the scope of what I can realistically hope to become significantly broadens; I believe a dream is possible for someone like me because someone like me achieved it.

DigitalGreen video-recording farmers.

Conclusion

The modern, mobile connected world is incredibly exciting with numerous opportunities for every nation to create innovation and help everyone, especially the poorest among us. I’m tremendously passionate about ways we can all help achieve this vision. If you’re interested in talking, look me up at sean@blagsvedt.com or blagsvedt.com.

Head, Int’l Growth at MarcoPolo.me. Founder of http://babajob.com. Dad. Believer in Tech for Good.