The MAMPU Program initiated an Innovation Fund in October, 2014 to encourage civil society organizations to experiment with creative solutions for improving poor women’s access to local governance, essential services, and livelihoods. The Innovation Fund not only provided support to CSOs in terms of grants, but also technical support that oriented partners to a problem solving approach that was user-centred, reflective and prototyping led. The six partners include a diverse group of CSOs working toward women’s empowerment through varying focusses. The Consortium of Global Concern and Kopel (CGCK), Yayasan Walang Perempuan, Institute for Education, Development, Social, Religious, and Cultural Studies (INFEST), for example, are working to improve women’s role in policy making, Yayasan Satu Karsa Karya (YSKK) and Kopernik are working to enhance women’s livelihoods, and On Track Media Indonesia (OTMI) is using digital media for raising reproductive health awareness.
The Innovation Fund was one of MAMPU’s earlier experiments with Innovation, and since its commencement MAMPU has been working on integrating innovation opportunities in other areas of the program. Having run for almost a year, the Innovation Fund has given rise to a host of new ideas and activities among the six innovation partners, and the MAMPU team as well. In order to assimilate the many achievements, challenges, and lessons learnt through this experiment, VIN is moderating the #InnovMAMPU talks, a series of blog posts around the MAMPU Innovation Fund, hosted on Design Public. To open this series, we had a conversation with the MAMPU Innovation team, Maesy Angelina and Dyana Savina Hutadjulu to discuss the journey of Innovation in MAMPU – from the Innovation Fund and onward*.
VIN: The innovation fund workshop in many ways set the wheels in motion for a much larger activity, could you think back to the innovation fund workshop and share your early impressions of what you thought this process would turn out to be?
MAMPU: When we started in October, it was a new experience for both partners and MAMPU as a program. There were assumptions that innovation is an end product or an outcome instead of a process or a way of working. Our innovation approach focuses on putting ourselves in the place of users and think about things we can do right now to improve their lives, whilst working on changing policies. The dialogue that comes out from this kind of analysis opens up opportunities for policy solutions to emerge, which is new and is valuable for us.
VIN: As of today how would you describe the Innovation Fund to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
MAMPU: MAMPU initiated an Innovation Fund with the aim to improve poor women’s livelihoods and access to public services, which we hope empower them to make lives better for their families and people around them. The Fund supports civil society partners in experimenting with creative solutions and we chose to partner with CSOs that actually are in touch with and understand the realities of poor women they are working with. The year-long program is designed to be flexible, encouraging partners to tweak and test their prototypes according to the needs of the people they are working with, in the hope to come up with solutions that are responsive to the local challenges, stakeholders, and systems.
The Innovation Fund chose design thinking as a methodology, which includes techniques like user research and iterative prototyping. From our perspective, user research is about understanding the actual behavior of users instead of what they should be doing. Accordingly, solutions that are generated based on user research should respond to the realities of users, instead of what we perceive to be valuable for them. It is also an iterative process, which is done repeatedly in the life cycle of an intervention. This approach is fairly new to us and our partners, but an exciting one to implement.
VIN: Could you reflect on some of the challenges you think came with this experiment for both MAMPU and Innovation fund partners?
MAMPU: In the beginning, our partners struggled with deviating from the conservative ‘ logframe’ way of working, so it was challenging for them. Some partners were totally fixated on the success of the prototypes, so they were scared of the possibility of failure – ‘ What if the prototypes didn’t work? ’. Experimentation is not something that is familiar to the group of CSOs we have engaged with, which is understandable given the existing funding structures that are not supportive toward failure.
For MAMPU to successfully run the Innovation fund, we really need to learn about new and interesting things happening outside of our space. Collaborations happen very well when people from different backgrounds come together to address a common problem. We quickly found that good collaboration emerge from a space of shared values and willingness to try instead of technical expertise. It’s been exciting to see new collaborations emerging from the Fund.
Another challenge from our end is to keep up with our partners’ experimentation. In order to be a good support for partners to experiment, we need to understand their work at a granular level and improve our understanding on social innovation methodologies so we become a better discussion partner. This is a new dynamic in funding-grantee relationships, in which both are learning and implementing something new, but an exciting one to have. We also have to be more flexible with our grants mechanism, for which our grants team and our donor (the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – DFAT) have been very supportive. We are also currently facing the challenge of extrapolating learnings from the Innovation Fund and integrating that to other elements in the MAMPU program, to avoid innovation being seen as a silo.
VIN: During the innovation workshop, the idea of each partner organization working as Innovation Labs emerged. Could you talk a bit about how innovation practice has been taken on by partners?
MAMPU: The idea of labs is an interesting discussion. The term was first introduced in October 2014, but it wasn’t until a year later that partners started to use this word to represent their experimentation. Partners do embody all the principles of an innovation lab, they test ideas, fail, adapt, and they try again, but they don’t call themselves labs. Perhaps it is because ‘labs’ carry a connotation of a sanitized environment, which is quite different to the field work that our partners do.
All six partners said that the lab way of working is new to them. In the beginning every partner admitted that they are uncomfortable with this notion to fail early, as they are used to a sequential programming logic with very little room for trial and error. It took some time for them to have a stronger grasp on how prototyping works and some partners are more comfortable with this methodology than others. In our perspective, this new approach was more challenging for partner organizations that are a bit more established, have been around longer, and are more set in their approach to problem solving.
VIN: MAMPU has created an environment where partners are able to test new ideas that they have never done before, take risks, fail early, and adapt the intervention through their implementation cycles. This is quite a rare opportunity for grantees. What has this experience meant for you as donors?
MAMPU: We haven’t seen a lot of opportunities for CSOs to experiment with design thinking and we are grateful for the support of DFAT as our donor for taking the leap to test this out with MAMPU. We’re learning so much along the way. We learn that a good Innovation Fund doesn’t require much money, but it does demand a lot of time and intensive work. We learn that more insights could be gained from practical examples from the innovation community and how they speak to our context, compared to guidelines and good practice cases. We also learn that innovation means different things to different people, so it’s crucial to always be clear about methodology.
VIN: What is next for Innovation within MAMPU? In what ways has the Innovation Fund initiative influenced how MAMPU is viewing, and conceiving Innovation?
MAMPU: We still have two months left with the Innovation Fund partners, after which we will continue to support 2-3 partners. We are looking at ways to use the user research and prototyping experience to address the main questions we’re facing, such as whether we could test different models for childcare that are responsive to the needs of poor women in rural areas. International evidence shows that childcare is instrumental to women’s ability to access jobs and improve their livelihoods, but available models are developed for the urban, middle class context. We’d like to do user research and test some prototypes on childcare models that could have a positive impact for poor women, but this idea is still in very early stages.
As our conversation came to a close, MAMPU turned the tables to ask us about our #innovmampu experience
MAMPU: What are you reflections in terms of introducing social innovation to this set of sector in a different context? How different is it from the regular practice of social innovation and what do you think our challenges will be while going forward?
VIN: The first Innovation Fund workshop in October 2014 was definitely an introduction to a vibrant, established and progressive set of change makers in Indonesia. Though it’s always challenging when you are trying to introduce something new to someone who has been doing things differently, it has been interesting to observe the ways in which they have embraced the new approach. We think there is something to be said around cross-sectoral innovation, and how it enables the same people to do great work across different sectors. As innovation practitioners there are certain values, methodologies, attitudes, and approaches that we possess that are applicable across sectors, and it’s these underlying principles that formed the base of much of our work. Given we were engaging six organizations, with different expertise and different projects at hand, it became essential for us to approach this in a democratic way, and introduce a common way of working.
Another point to note is the opportunity to work in this space of flexibility was great, because as innovation practitioners it hasn’t always been easy to secure those spaces. We think this can be attributed entirely to MAMPU – the way in which MAMPU is managing the interest of all the stakeholders, which makes this program possible, and that has been very refreshing and great to be a part of. The challenge for MAMPU going forward is very similar to one faced by other innovation practitioners – how can we work smarter, better and quicker, with the right people, to achieve the right things.
*This interview transcript has been lightly edited for language, and certain sections have been cut out to maintain the length of this post.