"What is innovation if not inclusive?" This should always be the pivotal question when innovating, according to Wilneida Negrón, a strategic tech advisor from the Ford Foundation. The foundation is a philanthropic social justice company that aims to "disrupt inequality in all forms" and to do this it must be on the cutting edge of innovation at all times.
As such, Negrón believes that there are two key factors when it comes to ensuring the sustainability of innovation and that stakeholders, as well as others directly impacted by innovation, should be taken into consideration.
"Too often I see exciting innovations being developed, tested and launched, but within six months fall apart as a result of not looking critically about the resources, labor, business process adaptations and long-term strategic vision needed to make the innovation sustainable," Negrón explains.
The two chief factors crucial to successful innovation, she argues, are inclusivity and sustainability.
To invite innovation companies need to ensure and foster an inclusive work environment, an open forum, where thoughts are shared without the fear of being minimized or criticized. It is important to adopt a "workplace culture where middle and top-level management is encouraged and supported," Negrón says. Furthermore, this sort of environment allows the opportunity to plan for short- and long-term goals, "and companies that are able to foster these two things will be in the best position to innovate".
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Negrón outlines the Ford Foundation's mission as one that aims to "reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement". Some of Negrón's work at the New York-headquartered foundation includes promoting social justice in vulnerable communities on a global scale, as well as researching the impact of technology and data on political participation in emerging democracies. In addition to her role at the foundation, Negrón is an adjunct associate professor of political science at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she teaches courses on the subjects such as human rights and international organizations.
"We are all facing some of the most complex and deeply-rooted socio-economic and political problems of our time," says Negrón. Therefore, looking into the future, in terms of inviting innovation within the Ford Foundation, she says that the increasing interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral and social-technicalities are viewed as a focal point – combining social science and technical skills – to address systemic inequalities.
For the Ford Foundation "bottom-up consensus-building" is vital – taking into consideration the variety of stakeholders they work with. With respect to this model, Negrón states that "not only must you be careful to suggest ideas or solutions which could be disruptive and harmful to the field", but you must also be aware that "there's not always alignment or agreement on which problems are most in need of innovation or potential solutions, among stakeholders working on similar or overlapping issues".
"Therefore, innovation in these times is both about (a) supporting resiliency and adaptability in the fields we support and (b) fostering the connective tissue and network-building across groups and individuals from different disciplines, issues and sectors to be working in greater unison toward common goals. It is a monumental task, but one we are deeply committed to every day we come to work," Negrón concludes.
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