It has been about a week since I started my contract position as the Heritage Book Coordinator at the University of Toronto Press, and I have already attended my first UTP book launch. The book, Innovating for the Global South, is part of the Munk Series on Global Affairs, and is edited by Dilip Soman, Joseph Wong, and Janice Gross Stein, all of whom teach at the University of Toronto. It was therefore quite fitting for the launch to be held on campus and at the Munk School.
Poverty, despite the vast amount of wealth in the world today, has not lessened and millions of people still live on a lot less than what is actually required for an average person to live a healthy and viable life. This book tackles this increasingly chronic problem, offering fresh and, obviously, innovative solutions for reducing poverty in the developing world. Now, this book is not another title about going to the developing world with our hip technology with the sole intention of improving the lives of people living there. What this book focuses on that other titles have failed to in the past is the end user and making sure that innovation is not just beneficial but inclusive. The purpose of the book is to highlight the need to truly hear the voices of those actually living in the slums, to know not just what they need but how they will in the end use that which is provided.
Another interesting facet to this book is the broad range of specialists. Contributors to the book come from three different subject areas that rarely, if ever, work together. These are political science, engineering, and medicine. The ingeniousness behind this choice is that with the collaboration of all of these people from different fields, you are given a whole new spectrum when looking at a certain problem in the developing world. Joseph Wong brought this up during the panel discussion when he said how while in the field in India everyone in his group, from the engineer to the medical practitioner, saw something different even when looking at the same thing. The engineer was looking at the technology and mathematical combinations, the medical practitioner was looking at the health effects, and the political scientist (i.e. Joseph Wong) was looking at the governing body and policy making. And it is this whole idea of bringing different considerations into the mix of innovation that is the premise behind this book.
While the topic isn’t my area of expertise, the panel of the book’s editors certainly knew what they were talking about, and they provided riveting discussion on what to expect from the book. They also weren’t just spouting theories for the fun of it. The references they made and the examples they gave were all from real life experiences during trips they had made to the global south. One particular example I found interesting was on the Indian housewife and the cook stove and the introduction of a cleaner model. This new cook stove, however, did not catch on because these women did not see it as part of doing their job. In their opinion, if there health was not at risk, if their walls and lungs were not lined with black soot then they weren’t doing their sacrificial part so their husbands and children could come home and eat a full meal. Now, in Canada we may think this rationalization is ludicrous, but this example raises a great point that the book Innovating for the Global South is trying to make: in order for innovation to work and have a positive impact on these people’s lives then they have to be a part of the process.
It is all about “innovating scaleable solution…not about inventing some new gizmo,” says Dilip Soman and Joseph Wong. I think they are on to something. Read the book and see what you think!
To conclude, my first UTP book launch was a great success, and I was happy to see such an engaged crowd with great questions that generated even further discussion. Also, the free food and wine wasn’t a bad way to end the evening’s panel talk either!
If you’re a manager, practitioner, or a student/scholar of development, business, and policy, you will definitely want to check this book out. Others simply interested in the state of the global south and what is being done may also find this book of interest.