The Center for Innovation and Development in Society



The Center will realize its mission through five key strategies: i) build upon a network of like-minded ASU engineers, innovators, development scholars, and social scientists-- including students-- to work on pressing development challenges; ii) leverage the experiential learning of existing and emerging global networks of academic institutions, think-tanks, NGOs and individuals engaged in innovative ideas and practices for development; iii) establish incubators to pursue research on and development of transformative innovations informed by plurality of voices/actors/stakeholders; iv) provide an intellectual space that brings together different stakeholders engaged in building pathways for grassroots innovation, their achievements and contributions to development; and v) foster conceptual and cognitive space for inclusive development through an innovative educational program to build a critical mass of diversely positioned scholars (including students) and practitioners to address pressing global development challenges.

Network of ASU Scholars: ASU accepts fundamental responsibility for the well-being of the community it serves. Accordingly, faculty and students at ASU are deeply engaged with problems of global development, particularly in marginalized communities. Research in this area has taught us the importance of grassroots innovation and its potential contribution through enhanced productivity, sustainability, poverty reduction and promoting social-entrepreneurship. When properly structured, networks that connect university scholars, local innovators, entrepreneurs, and communities can be a powerful catalyst for development. Committed to addressing the unmet needs of society, CIDS’ faculty and programs-- such as student-led Humanitarian Engineering program, a collaboration with ASU’s Polytechnic Engineering School - can ignite discussion on multiple development pathways with a focus on integration of technology with natural and social capital.

Leverage the Learning of Global Partners: The relationship between formal science and other types of knowledge and ways of knowing has always been strained partly due to the perception of alternative epistemologies as not adequately scientific. This lack of respect for other ways of knowing is unlikely to be alleviated unless the value of such perspectives is explicitly recognized for its unique and sustained contribution to development. Articulated through SFIS’ growing network, CIDS will engage with grassroots innovators to develop their ideas further and build strength from within. Our intellectual capital includes a well-established network of colleagues and institutions throughout the world (e.g. China, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Morocco, Nepal, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA). Currently, the Center is working on several initiatives including green growth, biochar for food security, green charcoal to address energy poverty, solar powered lift irrigation, participatory plant breeding, and capacity building for climate adaptation in smallholder farming communities. As SFIS grows its faculty, the scope of our network of global partners will also expand.

Applied Research and Incubators: Through research, CIDS strives to bring its network of colleagues into the mainstream of the world of knowledge. CIDS brings a unique perspective – a grassroots perspective – through which to view the issues of development and human well-being. Research on grassroots innovations are of particular interest to CIDS as they are directly linked to action and immediate usefulness – supporting CIDS’ core value of inclusion and decentralized research structure. Development communities need more than big ideas in science and technology. Through its research on grassroots innovation, CIS seeks to understand the effect of development policies and practices on the wellbeing of poor and marginalized communities. For example, in high-risk environments (flood drought, hills, deserts etc), necessity drives grassroots innovations in areas of immediate need. These innovations can have a tremendous impact not only in terms of serving unmet needs of society, but also in terms of sustained impacts through enhanced productivity, sustainability, poverty reduction and entrepreneurship. CIDS aspires to connect excellence in formal and informal sciences, set up incubators, and promote a culture of respect, recognition and reward for grassroots innovators and innovations. The lack of incubators, labs and other technology institutions dedicated to adding value to local innovations make the tasks of grassroots innovators even more difficult, but also more critical.

Intellectual space: The project of global development, criticized for its inability to overcome societal and regional inequities, can become more inclusive and sustainable when it fosters a culture of reflection, self-renewal and self-criticism. Our intellectual links at the global level will be manifest in the form of collaborative research projects and publications, exchange visits for extended periods of time by faculty; and exchange of fellows and students. The Center aims to deliver innovative and forward-looking research through interdisciplinary thinking and novel approaches to tackle the issues of global development challenges. The Center will play a lead role in coordinating faculty, student and community-led initiatives on reimagining innovative global development perspectives and practices. Through workshops, lectures, and speaker series the Center will cultivate a new approach to knowledge creation, one that gives greater recognition to inclusion and grassroots innovations. In doing so we hope to engaging with classic theories of development, pushing beyond them, providing alternative visions of the future, and developing theories from multiple perspectives (not just theorizing from the global north and then applying those theories to places where they don’t match up)?

Innovative education program: There has been a proliferation of international conventions and agreements linked to science and technology for development, especially following the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Grassroots innovations, often known to draw on vibrant forms of knowledge, technology, and experimentation at the local level, remain at the margin, however. The lack of social networking among the grassroots innovators has prevented them from collaborative learning and taking advantages of existing R&D mechanism. Likewise, formal scientific institutions have failed to capture the strength of grassroots innovation thereby weakening the relationship between them. The incentives for grassroots innovators therefore, remain limited. The outcomes is the continuous belief that solutions to development problem would always come from outside rather than evolving from within. . The relationship between formal and informal sciences has been strained because of lack of respect for local knowledge that has sustained civilizations for millennia but has been subsumed in the drive towards modernity. This mutual respect, though essential, is unlikely to happen unless grassroots innovations are analyzed, debated, discussed, disseminated and valued for their unique contribution to development. In part to address this intellectual lacuna, SFIS’ newly established graduate certificate, Global Development and Innovation, the planned Ph.D. program in Innovation in Global Development, and the well-established MS program on Global Technology and Development will form the foundation of our intellectual platform for creating a new generation of scholars empowered by the vision that the future is for everyone and that pathways to sustainable development can only be recognized through inclusive and polycentric innovations.