Unlearning and its Role in Grassroots Innovation: Examples from Latin America

On November 17th, we conducted the first Leadership Labs event. 

In this session, participants –

  • Learned how to lead technological innovation at the grassroots level
  • Reflected on and shared instances of unlearning and blindspots from their own experience, and how these are key to effective innovation
  • Gained new tools to help problem-solve and innovate
  • Immersed themselves in a session that shared multi-sensorial content and examples on the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ of grassroots innovation

What did we (Un)learn?

Key takeaways:

  • Innovation is about applying creativity in a loop. It’s the process of taking creative idea to an innovative solution. We must demystify the idea that innovation is a ‘one-time process’, and instead see it as an ongoing process of multiple steps, guided by values, narratives and learning. 
  • Every site and opportunity is a ‘place’ for innovation – Innovation does not need a lab, engineers or Silicon Valley to happen, our own communities and organisations are sites for innovation too!  
  • Innovation is not something that can be taught, but rather it is a process that ‘comes and goes’. To do this well, we must move away from traditional team structures, where there are clear cut hierarchies and levels of power with a strong ‘team leader’. Instead, we must make use of ‘agile’ team structures, which are more horizontal and count with a skilled facilitator that can help ask questions and move forward the innovation process.
  • For innovation to be relevant, we must lean into our the life experiences of those experiencing the problem and trust their knowledge to pave the way to a solution. This can significantly influence the innovation process, and is strengthened by diverse voices and experiences.
  • Innovation needs an ecosystem to exist. Such as a cultural and institutional context, a market, physical infrastructure, funding and legal regulations, which together influence how and when we can innovate. These broader factors should be considered when thinking to create or adapt innovations into new contexts.
  • There are many different, equally important, roles in an innovation process, including connectors, advocates, donors, conveners, facilitators and trainers among many more. We don’t all need to be innovators or take on the pressure to ‘do it all’, and instead we should try to build networks and partnerships to connect to different people/spaces with something to offer. 
  • Narratives matter and how we present and talk about innovation says a lot about what it is and who gets to innovate. We can all innovate or contribute to an innovation process, and we must tell better stories about how this can happen! 

What I found inspiring is the fact that innovation does not have to be complicated or sophisticated to be useful – it’s all about the impact

Wyclife, a participant at the event

Wednesday 17 November, 1pm GMT / 7am Costa Rica / 8am EST / 6.30pm IST

Event Speaker

Ta Corrales

This online event was led by Ta Corrales, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer from Costa Rica, and the CPO & Co-founder of Smith Assembly, an award-winning social enterprise. She is passionate about designing a more just world through more equitable products and businesses. 

As an MIT D-Lab Innovation Practice Affiliate, she has experience leading and facilitating inclusive technology and participatory design processes in 12+ countries. 

She’s patented and published scientific work on material chemistry and is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers San Jose Hub.