Mercy Corps Perspective: Why large international dev orgs should be in the business of innovation

Value Chains

Mercy Corps Perspective: Why large international dev orgs should be in the business of innovation

Without true progress in local governance and local economic development, it's hard to sustain incremental gains in education, health, or social welfare. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps.

The challenges that face the billions of people who live on less than a dollar a day seem intractable. Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer talks with Yale School of Management and argues that the true job of international NGOs is to innovate. By thinking creatively about the world's toughest problems and creating smart partnerships with the private sector, substantial gains can be made and sustained. 

“If you’re going to leverage impact,” Keny-Guyer says, “you’d better find ways to plug into that marketplace. Because that’s where the real resources are.”

An excerpt from the interview:

Q: Why does Mercy Corps focus so heavily on innovation?

No matter how big your organization is, you're never going to solve the problems of the world by yourself. That really struck me in Afghanistan. At the peak, our programs had a staff of 1,000 and a $40 million annual budget there but, in the greater economy, it wasn't a blip. Yes, we helped an impressive number of small-hold farmers in rural Afghanistan, but it's not clear, even at that scale, if it's going to really move the needle, because so many things have to line up in terms of government policy, security, and bigger-picture economic issues.

Local NGOs can provide essential services. For an international organization, our niche ought to be bringing broad innovation through partnerships, approaches, strategies, or systemic ways of doing things. There are no silver bullets. If there were, we'd be employing them. But, if you can consistently create a culture that brings in new ideas, that has the potential to provide some of the solutions that have evaded the relief and development community for a long time. That's why we focus on innovation.

Read the full interview on Yale Insights.

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