Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Appropriate Technologies for International Development — A new initiative at the University of Ottawa

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The University of Ottawa has established a partnership in international development studies together with the University of Ouagadougou II in Burkina Faso. This photo shows “un projet de laboratoire de fabrication numérique qui a pour but la création d’un plateau d’expressions. Il se veut de rassembler les passionnés de la création numérique afin de stimuler l’esprit de créativité et de partage de connaissances.” (photo credit: ouagalab)

In the context of its Destination 2020 internationalization strategy, the University of Ottawa is pleased to lead an audacious inter-faculty initiative to explore a promising international development cooperation program (2017–2020) in “Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Appropriate Technologies” or E,I &AT.

Entrepreneurship as a means of promoting endogenous economic growth, employment and income creation and social inclusion is emerging as a potential international development cooperation policy that government departments including Global Affairs Canada and international lending agencies such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are defining as a priority. Job creation resulting from effective entrepreneurship-based development policies can also yield important secondary effects in vulnerable economies such as societal optimism (particularly for youth) and political stability. A key difference with models of promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in developing countries is the role of the semi-formal and informal economy in social and economic development. The proposed initiative in E,I & AT at the University of Ottawa is designed to take into account the crucial role of specific ecosystems in developing countries.

Emerging Innovation Paradigms

Entrepreneurship promotion as a cooperation policy for international development is not new. However, when coupled with emerging innovation paradigms such as open and free innovation (von Hippel) and indigenous innovation practices such as jugaad (Prabhu)and frugal (Bhatti), it becomes a potent force for development. It is vitally important to understand that these indigenous innovation “practices” reflect local cultural norms, locally-sourced (contextual) knowledge and the reality of scarce resources (electricity, materials, etc) on the ground. Models of innovation-based entrepreneurship in developed nations (e.g., access to R&D, startup incubators, seed capital, government-backed innovation intermediaries, regulation of intellectual property, etc) are, for the most part, not fully compatible when attempting to re-create such frameworks for entrepreneurship-driven international development programs in emerging economies.

Appropriate Technologies

Another critical element of our E, I & AT framework is the notion of “appropriate technologies” (open source, local, DIY) coupled with growing access to online open educational resources (OERs). “Appropriate technologies” in this vein refers to the ensemble of hyper-local know-how and creativity, resident tacit knowledge, access to local materials, techniques and processes to improvise novel solutions for matching local needs and problems. The adoption of appropriate technologies embodies a DIY (Do-it-Yourself/Ourselves) spirit which itself reflects the aforementioned innovation paradigms (jugaad, frugal) adopted in the informal economic sector.

Combining the hyper-local DIY spirit, a community ethos of resourcefulness and cooperation in the face of economic adversity with access to online codified knowledge and open educational resources can prove to be a powerful driver of grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship and reverse technology approaches. In addition, foreign enterprises, large and small, tend to adopt new business development models to try to reach and include the bottom of the social pyramid globally. Such models explore so-called bottom-up demand and reverse technology approaches.

The incredible story of a 14 year-old Malawi boy named William Kamkwamba exemplifies the DIY spirit as the teenager built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap (i.e., “appropriate technologies”)

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William Kamkwamba — a wonderful example of the relentless ingenuity of youth and “appropriate technology”

The new E, I & AT program aims to contribute to the global adoption of open source technologies (hardware and software), low-cost digital fabrication tools such as 3D printers, open designs, the rise of the global maker movement, online communities of practice and e-commerce platforms and especially improvements in terrestrial connectivity represents a perfect-storm environment for our new University of Ottawa initiative for more and better international development cooperation.

“While it is very early to assess the impact, it is already clear that these makers offer a platform for a new economic system that taps into the brainpower of Africans to seed shared prosperity” — Ndubuisi Ekekwe (Africa’s Maker Movement Offers Opportunity for Growth, Harvard Business Review, May 29, 2015)


The emergence of locally-based and globally networked makerspaces to harness and empower the creative and innovative energy of communities in both developing and developed economies may indeed accelerate the pace of local entrepreneurship. In the author’s opinion, community (and university-based) makerspaces and Fab Labs represent an inclusive and more appropriate model for promoting grassroots entrepreneurship and innovation in developing countries rather than startup incubators and accelerators as seen in developed economies. Makerspaces/Fab Labs integrated with local entrepreneurship ecosystems serve to educate, promote collaboration, problem-solving and ignite creativity — important precursors to innovative and entrepreneurial behaviours.

Roadmap Ahead

It is in the interplay of these three elements (entrepreneurship, innovation and appropriate technologies) whereby an inter-faculty initiative based at the University of Ottawa has the potential to make important strides for international development programs that embrace innovation and entrepreneurship as a core tenet.

The current University of Ottawa partners initially involved in this endeavour include:

The E, I & AT program will develop both applied research and training activities. Therefore, it will also include a strong participation of students from across disciplines (engineering, law, social sciences, business, etc) to assist and, in some cases, lead the delivery of the E,I & AT projects. Advanced students will contribute on campus at all levels (bachelor, master, PhD, postdoc) through the development of mass research challenges and training programs together with students and faculty in partner universities from developing countries. For instance, it is envisaged that funding for student-led activities under the E,I & AT initiatives could be obtained via a philanthropic donation made by Desjardins to support social innovation and cooperative entrepreneurship.

Potential Program and Project Partners

First Initial Projects (2017)

HAITI: Inter-American Development Bank: Creation of an innovation and entrepreneurship training hub at the State University of Northern Haiti. (formerly IADB Project Number HA-L1127) — 2016; Status: Negotiations ongoing with IADB for pluri-annual project delivery. Possible option of additional Canada-Swiss development cooperation on this project.

MOROCCO: Joint applied research cooperation together with the Université Hassan II and Université Internationale (Agadir) in the field of E, I, & AT (new energies and cooperative credit for agriculture) and for the creation of an educational bootcamp in open source hardware with a focus on agri-food applications of IoT (2016–17); Status: First mission in Morocco in December 2017.

BURKINA FASO: Pilot exploration of cooperation between University of Ottawa and Swiss University of Applied Sciences/2IE Regional School of Engineering — Ouagadougou, in the valorization of a 2016–17 applied research project dealing with the introduction of solar energy for drying processes of bio mango fruit (Burkina Faso has specialized in international exports of dried bio mangos).

University of Ottawa: Student Challenges in E, I & AT: organization of an open competition in 2017 for University of Ottawa students to propose research ideas and prototypes to meet specified challenges in the area of entrepreneurship, innovation and appropriate technologies. The model for these student competitions are the “Prosthetic Hand Challenge” (2014–15) and the “Pulse Oximeter Challenge for Gaza” (2016) both sponsored and supervised by the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace at the Faculty of Engineering; Status: Preliminary assessment.

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3D printed hand made by University of Ottawa mechanical engineering student Kristina Djukic based on open source prosthetic design courtesy of Enabling the Future
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University of Ottawa Faculty of Engineering Prosthetic Hand Challenge: Impacting a boy’s life

Next Steps

This new program initiative in E, I , & AT should be presented and potentially endorsed by the President and Vice-Chancellor’s Office to establish its inter-faculty legitimacy, obtain seed funding for its operational costs, and negotiate and finalize a first series of external partnerships (see above).

The Entrepreneurship Hub at the University of Ottawa should be approved by the President and Vice-Chancellor’s Office as the managing unit of the new program in E , I & AT;

The program should be governed by a scientific committee composed of the initial group of professors (from different faculties) identified and presented in this road map document; and

Some research funding could be explored at each faculty level and perhaps also to create a kind of inter-faculty research and training centre in E, I & AT to be located in the future STEM Complex under construction on the University of Ottawa campus.

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iLab Haiti 2013 Project (photo credit: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/3d-printing-recovers-ilabhaiti-19205/)

Project Haiti: Based on experience and results of the 2013 program delivered by iLab Haiti (3D printing of umbilical cord clamps for a local hospital in Port-au-Prince) and more recently, the 2015 project headed by Field Ready, the uOttawa project team will conduct an assessment of local ecosystem partners that could assume stewardship of E, I and AT projects at the Limonade campus. Preferably, such a partner or a group of local partners would be viewed by locals as a credible resource that offers skills development (life, job, technical) and other social/community support services. The uOttawa team will also contact project personnel associated with iLab Haiti and Field Ready to learn from their experiences and insights that will assist in ensuring a long-term sustainability of the IADB-supported project.

In tandem with a planned site visit in March 2017 in conjunction with IADB sponsored event “Haïti Entreprendre”, the University of Ottawa Entrepreneurship Hub will work with other project team members to identify a small team of students with deep experience and knowledge of makerspace/FabLab design, tooling and equipment, program development and training. It is proposed that the student team be augmented by a graduate student from the School of International Development and Global Studies and the broader E,I & AT team to assist in the development of a detailed implementation plan for training and capacity building at the campus Limonade Makerspace/FabLab/entrepreneurship centre. This proposed student team will be invited to apply for funding support for this component of the overall IADB project through the Desjardins Social Innovation Fund at the University of Ottawa.

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Haiti Entreprendre on Facebook

Jan to Mar 2017

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The Embassy of Canada in Haiti was represented at the event by three experts: Emma Williams, Director of Notman House in Montreal; Luc Lalande, Executive Director of theEntrepreneurship Hub of the University of Ottawa uOttawa and Thibaud Marechal of Real Ventures Montreal

The Entrepreneurship Hub Executive Director and other University of Ottawa team members are expected to attend the re-scheduled event “Haïti Entreprendre” in March 2017 to meet with key local partners previously identified by the IADB. This visit will help determine the feasibility of establishing a makerspace/Fab Lab at the Campus Henry Christophe de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti à Limonade. This second site visit will also be critical in meeting with key local ecosystem partners identified in the first site visit in Nov-Dec 2016.

Research Topics

As mentioned earlier in this roadmap training and capacity-building models for promoting local entrepreneurship and innovation must take into account the critical role of the informal economy in developing countries. This topic represents a fertile area for research in entrepreneurship, innovation in the context of international development as evidenced by the upcoming publication of “The Informal Economy in Developing Nations — Hidden Engine of Innovation?” (Cambridge University Press). We are very pleased to note that a member of the unofficial project team, Professor Jeremy De Beer, is a contributor to this publication.

It is our belief that the proposed Haiti project with the IADB will provide our faculty and graduate students a unique opportunity to conduct vital research in this domain. Our hope is that future research in this emerging field will yield valuable insights and inform local economic development practitioners, international development strategies and programs and government policy making in the realm of global aid and economic empowerment.

Written by

Aletheia Guild

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