Our hopes and dreams for Global Prosperity at the Christensen Institute: Will you join us?


Jan 10, 2017

How we got here

I spent the first 16 years of my life in Nigeria before moving to the United States for college. As such, I was exposed to such debilitating poverty that seeing women and children walk miles to fetch a bucket of water was normal, and hearing that people lost loved ones due to preventable illness like malaria and typhoid did not faze me. I had become accustomed to a reality where education and healthcare were both luxuries reserved for the rich. And as far as I knew, the only way to solve the global poverty problem was by spending significant sums of money. Then, I read a book that made me begin to question these assumptions.

In 2008 I read William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. In the book, the NYU Professor explains that rich countries have spent more than $4 trillion dollars trying to solve the global poverty problem, yet many countries still remain poor. In fact, every year, the group of countries that make up the OECD—essentially the richest countries in the world —spend approximately $145 billion on official development assistance for poorer countries. And while some progress has been made, it is hard to argue that the progress is commensurate with the amount of resources spent annually over the past several decades. Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.

For instance, within the global development community, there is an incessant focus on eradicating poverty. Absence of poverty, however, is not the same as the creation of prosperity. Perhaps this is why many communities may see a reduction in poverty, yet never reach they point where they are able to thrive. In contrast, when we focus on  creating prosperity, as opposed to how to eradicate poverty, we come up with entirely different solutions. In many ways, that is what the Global Prosperity division is about.

Global Prosperity at the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation

The newly launched research area will develop and apply innovation theories to issues of global development in order to improve our collective understanding of how to create prosperity in poor countries.

In our work, we will tackle questions such as, how can innovators create and foster disruptive innovations in poor countries; how can innovation theories help combat and obviate corruption; what are the best ways to develop viable business models in a region with little to no infrastructure; how can organizations thrive in regions without proper functioning institutions; and what is the role of government in fostering disruptive innovations?

Our work will be extensive and we hope to partner with three major stakeholders: investors and innovators seeking to understand the best ways to create disruptive business models in poor countries, development practitioners who are committed to using the principles and theories of innovation to solve some of their most difficult challenges, and policy makers or government officials who are concerned about how to best create policies that will foster economic prosperity in their regions.

Where will we go from here?

In the coming months, we will be developing content that will introduce you to many of the theories developed by Professor Clayton Christensen, his colleagues at Harvard Business School and the Clayton Christensen Center, and several other management thinkers. We will write articles and blog posts; we will create easy to understand fact sheets; and we will develop podcasts on issues like corruption, infrastructure, regulation, and how innovation can engender economic prosperity even in unlikely circumstances.

If you are interested in receiving periodic updates from us, please join our mailing list here.

We recognize the seriousness and importance of this work. If it took you five minutes to read this, in that time at least four people died from malaria, at least seven died from diarrhea, and 30 died from hunger and malnutrition. But, as important as it is to find solutions to these issues, we must aim our sights even higher. To that end, our work will shed light on how the millions living in poverty can not only escape poverty, but also create prosperity. We hope you join us in this effort.

For more, see:

The global extreme poverty rate has reduced to less than 10 percent…so what?

Efosa Ojomo is a research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Efosa’s work focuses on using disruptive innovation theory to fundamentally change the discourse in the global development community, thus enabling nations to engender their own path to long-term growth and prosperity.

  • Frank Williams

    Mr. Ojomo, be bold in this important work! Global extreme poverty is now less than 10% of humanity, as of 2015. If the 27 year trend line continues (138,000 people per day exiting extreme poverty, 120,000 more people per day getting clean water and 90,000 more people per day receiving adequate nutrition), extreme poverty will be 8% of humanity by end of 2017, and 6% of humanity at the end of 2019. These figures are about five years ahead of World Bank Group’s projections just a few years ago.

    “Extreme poverty alleviation” is now a false narrative. Absent WWIII, or a global financial massive disruption on a scale never experienced – both possibilities – extreme poverty is already eliminated structurally. So, the primary issue now is what value do multi-laterals and iNGOs contribute as the extraordinary transfer of knowledge – all kinds of knowledge, at the price of free – accelerates, making knowledge available to every person on the planet. Humanity is now essentially fully fed on a daily basis and crisis hunger is addressed in a matter of weeks or hours; almost all humans now have access to some healthcare (health spending is by far the biggest spend by humanity and life expectancy is increasing five hours per day for all of humanity); educational access is in hyper acceleration, particularly for girls and young women all around the world; and domestic taxation architecture continues to mature with resulting safety net build outs. Most of these accelerating developments are the “fault” of the extraordinary acceleration of access to affordable technology – thanks Silicon Valley. Buea, Cameroon has 50+ 21st Century start up technology companies competing in the world market (one of these companies has a $1,000,000,000+ valuation in its fifth year of operation). See http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36054263; http://www.cameroonweb.com/CameroonHomePage/NewsArchive/The-untold-story-of-Buea-Catholic-University-319905

    • Efosa Ojomo

      Hi Frank. Thank you very much for your comments. Please continue to spread the word about what we are doing.

      • Frank Williams

        Will do. If you have not done so, I urge you to spend time in the Silicon Valley, choosing your SV “moments”, such as SOCAP2017. Cheers. Frank

    • Andrew Ermon

      Hi Frank. I do not believe the author is saying that extreme/absolute poverty alleviation is a false narrative. What he’s saying is that the focus needs to change from eliminating extreme poverty to CREATING income prosperity through disruptive innovation, which will naturally eliminate extreme poverty. It’s this slight, but important, shift in the mission focus of global aid that the author believes is the solution to breaking the poverty income ceiling that billions of people live under.

      Secondly, I’m not intending to attack your motives, but you speak of 6% humanity somewhat dismissively. That’s still an astounding 450,000,000 people. The author sends home this point about remembering the realities by laying out some chilling statistics, that “at least four people died from malaria, at least seven died from diarrhea, and 30 died from hunger and malnutrition…” by the time we finished reading the blog post.

      Lastly, Cameroon is a very different country from a lot of Africa (and the rest of the world!), and the infrastructure needed to implement technology that has worked there is pretty much non existent in places like Malawi or Chad. For example, 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and most of these people are in rural areas that lack access to a lot more resources than just electricity. (http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/energyaccessdatabase/) Silicon valley is not the sole solution to the problem. In fact, technology has been found to be the guilty party in causing income disparity and inequality to INCREASE (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531726/technology-and-inequality/).

      But I like your passion and hope you keep striving to make a positive impact, wherever you are and in whatever you do!

      • Frank Williams

        Andrew, thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. I agree with your focus on the shift in emphasis. I have a long career in the iNGO space, and “we” are resisting (or coming along begrudgingly) in the shift to new 21st Century empowerment models, economic or otherwise. The UN Sec General issued an imperative in May 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit that iNGOs will transition to Digital Aid (“we” have resisted for 10 years, despite the overwhelming evidence of digital aid effectiveness and enhanced dignity outcomes.) I have great solidarity for the 450MM and have lived among them. I have to say, even if the most impoverished places on the planet, the lives of the ultra poor are changing – for the better – dramatically. The “how many people are dying from X” will get MUCH more sophisticated in the next five years. EVERY death is a tragedy but most of deaths are from pre mature births (see the footnotes at the back of World Health/UNDP reports). Gates puts the figure of hunger/preventable health deaths at about 6000 per day (not 29,000, or 19,000). The surge of access to knowledge is a double-edged sword, but it is happening nonetheless. WEF’s Internet for All, US State Dept’s Global Connect + 65 other Internet to the Last Mile initiatives (soon to be 120+ initiatives) will deliver affordable (essentially free) Internet access to the entire planet with a +/-$5 smart phone at the latest by about 2020. My plea is that the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons, Jana’s of the world engage much more intentionally with sociologists and anthropologists to honor local cultures in meaningful ways as this access arms race plays out.

        • Andrew Ermon

          Agreed! Cultural and anthropological awareness and sensitivity is crucial. Your take on the digital/tech side of international aid is interesting, because I am definitely not as well versed in what’s going on in that space except for how tech impacts agriculture.

          I think part of the reason people like to throw around morbid statistics is because it has a great effect on getting peoples’ attention. There will always be a need to “sell”, whether it be for-profit or non-profit.

          Thanks for the civil response and for not taking my comments as a personal attack.

          • Frank Williams

            Sir, a discussion of one gentleman with another gentleman. ✔️

  • R.M.Manivannan

    Dear Efosa…Great initiative. We are willing to support from asia dedicating our state of the art research centre. Please write to me on [email protected]

    • Efosa Ojomo

      Thank you very much for the message. I will be sure to email you. Cheers.

  • Moss Muriuki

    Excellent undertaking, Efosa. How can disruptive technologies harness the capabilities at both local and international levels to deliver prosperity where development aid dollars have changed precious little for generations? That’s the hairy, trillion-dollar question, particularly in Africa today. Be courageous and go flat out to find an “Innovator’s Solution” to this weighty dilemma. You can count on our support and, where possible, participation. Let the show begin.

    • Efosa Ojomo

      Thank you very much for the comment. We appreciate your support and are looking forward to the future. Cheers.