Innovation-Led Development for Poor Nations

Bryan Mezue is a second year consultant who recently co-authored a paper with Harvard Professor Clay Christensen on the role of innovation in macroeconomic development. He also co-founded and sits of the board of WAVE, a vocational education non-profit in Nigeria. Bryan blogs regularly on the Harvard Business Review about his passion: innovation-led development in emerging markets with a special focus on Africa.

Can innovation be the foundation of economic growth in developing nations?

When I left Bain to pursue my MBA, this question was top of mind. Born in Nigeria, issues of development and economic transformation had always been close to my heart. They had led me around the developing world with Bain – from wrestling labour-related issues at a South African miner to tackling growth strategy for an international bank in Brazil.

I used my time at business school to pursue the topic further. I teamed up with some classmates to launch WAVE, a vocational education non-profit based out of Lagos, Nigeria. We sought to address the massive problem of youth unemployment in West Africa with an innovative model that identifies, trains and places under-privileged youths in steady jobs. My Bain skill set helped us design a winning business plan, and WAVE got enough funding to get off the ground. Today, WAVE has placed six batches of under-employed youths into a range of hospitality and customer-facing jobs across Nigeria, in the process transforming their incomes. And we are ramping up to triple our impact in the next 12 months!

WAVE grads

Featured above: Recent WAVE graduates

But I got my real chance to dive into this question when the opportunity came up to spend a post-MBA fellowship year working with Professor Clay Christensen, whose work on disruptive innovation has become the authoritative guidebook for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. I’d taken Clay’s class in my second year of business school, while we were getting WAVE off the ground, and it helped me to begin to categorise and clarify the various concepts of innovation. It was therefore a privilege to be asked to stay back and collaborate with Clay, especially on the topic of how innovation drives growth.

The fellowship was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to blog on the HBR network and meet dozens of policy makers, business leaders and academic experts. The culmination of our work, recently published in Foreign Affairs, explores how different types of innovation can impact macroeconomic development in different ways. Our paper calls on policymakers and investors in emerging markets to focus on “market-creating” innovations, which are focused at eradicating non-consumption at scale. Kenya’s M-PESA is an example, as is India’s Narayana Health.

All in all it’s been an exciting journey, and I can’t wait to see where it leads next. I encourage you to find what question you care about too, and start chasing after it. Like I did, you’ll probably realise that you have the tools around you to start making progress right away. Very few jobs can prepare you as well as Bain. And make sure to check out both WAVE and my Foreign Affairs paper – and reach out with any questions or thoughts.

 

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