Seed, scale, structure: new innovation in IOs report
Seed, Scale, Structure - Innovation in International Organizations
It is easy to implement new organizational structures on paper, but transforming processes and cultures to make innovation really work is a different challenge.
The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and the University of Geneva’s i2i Hub held on Thursday, June 20, the launch of the new report “SEED, SCALE, STRUCTURE: How International Organizations Shape Innovation” written by Prof Tina C. Ambos and Katherine Tatarinov, of the Geneva School of Economics and Management of the University of Geneva.
"Innovation is not static, it’s dynamic, it’s a journey. And it is going to be crucial for achieving the SDGs."
Prof Tina C. Ambos
The discussion with representatives of different UN bodies provided insights on a mix of established and growing innovation structures, and highlighted organizational innovation journeys, as well as the emerging roles innovators can play, which is crucial to fostering transformation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of Conference Management, UN Office at Geneva, emphasized that innovation has always existed within the UN. The most challenging part today is to empower people with the methodology and tools they need to innovate in an environment that is often restrained by how budgets are structured.
"There is no best way to organize innovation."
Organizations are embracing different approaches to “organizing innovation” in order to be more agile, flexible and forward-looking, explained Katherine Tatarinov. Experimenting is, then, core to innovation. But experimentation needs space as explained Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of the Office of Innovations at UNAIDS. He urged organizations and people working for them to enable innovation with a lot of humanity, as experimentation sometimes comes with failure. But even when it fails, this is a step towards improvement.
"If you wait for someone to take a decision, trust me you will still be waiting. Take the decision (…) and assume that you may end up going in another direction the next month: we need to tread with humility when talking about innovation."
The discussion has been followed by a time for open questions from the audience, which fostered insightful views on how to get past the culture of caution, malaise, cynicism or indifference that often prevails in IOs. Much interestingly, Christopher Earney, Head of Innovation Service at UNHCR, made the point that innovation is not just about technologies: it’s about doing things better. Enabling innovation is, therefore, also about convincing people that things can be done in a better way and that this will not be overwhelming them.
As for the final world, Prof Tina C. Ambos invited everyone to leave no one behind, especially when talking about innovation.
Tina C. Ambos is Professor of International Management and the Director of the Institute of Management at the Geneva School of Economics and Management (GSEM) of the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She is also the Academic Director of the International Organizations MBA (www.iomba.ch). Her research and teaching interests include global strategic management and innovation in the context of multinational corporations, technology start-ups as well as international organizations. Her work is regularly published in the top academic as well as practitioner journals. Tina collaborates with several international organizations and shares her research insights in executive trainings and as a speaker.
Katherine Tatarinov is Research/Teaching Assistant and PhD candidate at the Geneva School of Economics and Management (GSEM) of the University of Geneva. A former IT consultant and freelance writer, Katherine’s research interests are digital transformation, social innovation, and entrepreneurship. She has published many Teaching Cases focusing on Information Systems Management and Digital Transformation.