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Breaking down the fear of the “innovation monster”

Updated: Oct 10, 2023


It is not one or the other. Both are required and one must not run ahead of the other. How do we embrace the mindset that innovation and innovative thinking MUST be part of our DNA, be unafraid of it, and start taking the necessary actions and discipline to practice innovation, make it an organisational habit and over time, establish and sustain a culture of innovation?

When the sector is at its nascent stages, there are many obvious needs to be met and service gaps to be filled. Organisations experience exponential grow and support and resources are shared amongst the few players in the “pie”. As a sector matures, most of the basic needs of service users are met and more by the proliferation of service providers wanting to do their share of good in the marketplace. This may cause some of us to ask, “have we stagnated”?

The COVID-19 situation continues to be a force demanding our attention and pushing us to change, to pivot. For many of us, needs on the ground have evolved, new needs have emerged. We have had to very quickly innovate our services, their delivery, and our operations so that we stay relevant. Our supporters and funders themselves have been adversely affected. More so, how do we remain or become distinctly relevant in the sea of good causes for much needed resources?

Have we become so bogged down with operations that we fear what looking at Innovation will further demand of us?

To which of the following statements will you nod ‘yes’ to?

  • Innovation is a necessity, not an option

  • Innovation needs to run in parallel with day-to-day operations

  • There’s a common understanding of what Innovation means in my organisation

  • We have culture of innovation in our organisation withan established framework to innovate repeatedly, on demand.


Why is innovation sometimes such a scary and potentially detestable word? Is innovation a “sacred space” reserved only for “the anointed few”?

Is there a definition, guidelines, frameworks or processes with which to approach and breakdown the mammoth task of Innovation in our organisation? What is Innovation? Creativity and Innovation – what is the difference? What are the expected behaviours? Where do we start and what are the steps? Who is the go-to owner? How do we measure success?

How is innovation made part of the life of the organisation? Another big word here – CULTURE.

From our worldwide experience, we have distilled the following ‘Requirements for Success’ that any organisation embarking on such a journey must seriously consider and take to heart:

1. Visible ownership at both the Board & Management levels e.g. getting themselves trained, demonstrating calculated risk-taking

2. Structures both formal (a steering committee, cross-functional & departmental work groups, innovation as a feature on Board and departmental meeting agendas and reports) as well as informal/ bottom-up (encouraging “skip level” and “cross-boundary” surfacing of innovative ideas and concepts)

3. Structured Training- In the early stages of rollout, the catalyst and push will have to come from those in leadership positions as well as appointed “people on the ground” to ensure that there is a critical mass of people involved. You have to create an “innovation movement!” These “innovation yeasts” should receive tiered and structured training according to their expected level of competency.

4. Continued Applications and Measurement – Like the old adage ‘learn one, practice one, train one’, the framework and process of innovation must be learnable and ultimately allow you repeatedly apply and train new people. Is this model able to facilitate quick modular application for use flexibly and nimble response as internal and external circumstances change?

Desired outcomes need to be clearly spelled out, measurements established and tracked.

5. Recognition & Rewards- early wins must be made visible and celebrated. But as with any culture change, it is in the sustenance of practices and results that communicate management and organisational will and seriousness behind the journey.

6. Periodic Reviews & Refinements – these must be woven into the fabric of an organisation’s formal structures and terms of reference


We leave you with some sparks to hopefully start the fire of innovation.

  • What new “future implicit needs” will we see in our clients, our sub-sectors, our collaborators and partners, and in the geographies in which we serve?

  • What new skills and capabilities have we acquired during this time which we may leverage into the future?

  • What unexpected successes have we had that may pose as opportunities and ideas for the journey ahead? What can we learn from our unexpected failures?

  • Where are the weak links, missing links and bottlenecks in our processes?

  • How have technologies converged that may perhaps help us in our service delivery?

  • How may changes in perception alter our advocacy efforts?

For many of those whom we serve, this tunnel of the pandemic may seem endless and they feel rock bottom. Some of us may be struggling with the same emotions.

Let us lean on each other in this period of desert and remember that this too shall pass. Take the first step to pivot in the new normal and be distinctly relevant to our purpose, mission and vision!

Join us for our next workshop on Strategic Innovation if this speaks to your need. Register here. More details in the image below.

The materials provided herein are for Non-profit organisations’ internal use and reference only. Training using materials from this article is expressly forbidden except by facilitators certified by DPI Asia pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Licensee Agreement (License) between DPI Asia and the entity.

No part of this article and its contents may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, for any purpose without the expressed written permission of DPI Asia.


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