Kimberly Davies

Getting Innovations to Market: Crazy ideas and actionable insights from Grameen Foundation’s Dar es Salaam Workshop

A human-centered design (HCD) methodology is gaining more traction as a way to ensure products that are developed actually solve real problems for their target users. But while this approach has led to a number of great products in recent years, many of them get stuck in the implementation phase, only to collect dust on a shelf.

That’s why, on November 5th, forty international development practitioners including representatives from Africa, Asia and Latin America convened in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to discuss why creating innovative products for the poor isn’t enough. We engaged in some much-needed discussion about creative ways to ensure that new products actually get to market and reach the end users the products are designed to help.

Challenges and opportunities

CGAP, ThinkPlace, Grameen Foundation and the Citi Foundation created a workshop to focus on analyzing the shortcomings of product launches and their inability to gain market traction.

The team of forty brainstormed numerous challenges, which included:

  1. A lack of sufficient resources, including both staff capacity and monetary resources
  2. The tension between creating stability and change
  3. Internal processes that get in the way
  4. Complex partnerships with many moving parts
  5. User illiteracy and discomfort with technology

But while there are significant challenges to getting these products to market, the environment is also ripe for opportunity. The team identified some broad tactics that may help overcome these challenges:

  1. Merging commercial and social needs
  2. Increasing awareness among banks, governments and educational organizations
  3. Identifying new markets to reduce costs and risks
  4. Effectively utilizing big data


Our brainstorming sessions also led to some more unorthodox (some might say crazy) ideas to help get innovations out to market. We developed ideas around six themes: creating new architectures, working iteratively, having more effective partnerships, creating new models, focusing on innovation leadership, and getting fresh perspectives.

Some highlights include:

  • Creating a partnership “dating service” – allowing partners to easily find each other online, and to test a partnership out before getting serious
  • Buying innovation – acquiring innovations developed externally instead of developing them in house
  • Starting with the business model – innovating at the business model level before tackling the product level so that sustainability remains a priority and innovations go beyond pilot
  • Letting it go – thinking outside the box and being unattached to current models. The goal: to avoid the fear of risk and “killing your cash cow”
  • Questioning the unquestionable – looking for models that seem unchangeable, and asking how they could be done differently
  • Keeping it simple – avoiding overly complex products
  • Creating an industry-wide insight hub – getting organizations to contribute to a single online knowledge resource
  • Empowering your people – supporting reasonable risk-taking in your organization, without fear of failure
  • Having executives get out in the field – ensuring that executives occasionally talk with clients and don’t get out of touch
  • A global innovation council – setting up an innovation council with key stakeholders from different subject matters

Actionable Insights

Here are four final takeaways you could consider applying today to your own work:

1. Have a prototyping mindset

Leaders = organizational culture = change = innovation. This mindset can take away the need to be “right,” and put the focus on progress.

2. Observe yourself as a leader

Apply the human-centered observation process to yourself, not just clients, to better understand your effect on the organization.

3. Design systems, not just products

A product lives in a larger ecosystem, affected by IT constraints, business needs, requirements of numerous stakeholders, societal norms, laws and more. Don’t just design products, or they won’t fit in the environment.

4. Don’t wait for the killer idea

Test concepts early, iterate, fail, iterate – and eventually you’ll get it right. Don’t become attached to initial ideas, but see how ideas develop over time.

Highlights from the full event can be found here (PDF).

Grameen Foundation would like to build upon these discussions with additional ideas about barriers to getting innovations to market, and solutions both at an organization and industry level. Please add your thoughts in the comments, or contact Kimberly at

We’ll have more to come throughout 2014 on this topic, culminating in a “Designing for Adoption and Scale” event on May 7-8 in Mumbai.

Note: This blog was made possible by Citi Foundation’s support of Grameen Foundation’s Influencing Financial Product Innovation and Design Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to influence financial service providers in order to drive adoption of a rapid, client-centered product design, thereby expanding the range and appropriateness of financial products offered to poor households.

Kimberly Davies is a program officer on Grameen Foundation’s Financial Services team.

financial inclusion