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Today we are excited to have Laura Savage as the guest blogger for our How I Innovate series.  Laura works in Dhaka, Bangladesh as Education Specialist.  Her remarks on how she innovates follow.  

I work in different countries that receive aid to support the development of their education systems, towards the goal of achieving a quality education for all. But what constitutes quality, how to reach those who do not enroll or stay in school, and what ‘education’ means are just some of the questions that I am always asking. There are also big questions about the role, purpose and impacts of foreign aid; about international relations; and how global trends frame what we do. There are smaller but no less important questions about appropriate strategies to meet local education; to make sure aid is spent efficiently; and to understand how domestic politics shape our daily tasks. For me, asking questions is the basis of innovation.

I am constantly looking for innovation, to the point of frustration with those structures that confine not only our practice but our thinking.  Innovation is not easy. To have that bright spark, you need to know so much about the issues. what works well, what doesn’t and why. On top of that you need to understand the power dynamics and politics that shape the issues. All the theory in the world can collapse if you don’t appreciate the context in which you apply it. Even then with all that knowledge and insight, you can’t innovate unless you are open-minded, creative and willing to take a risk or two.

What I’ve learned is that innovation also requires teamwork. Whether it’s bouncing ideas off each other or bringing people on the journey with you to make it happen, innovation is not a solitary task. Ideas germinate and explode when the right people interact at the right time, and when enough people come on board to make it happen. This is easier said than done. It’s all too easy to fall into the daily grind. In recent years there has been a wave of awareness within the international aid industry that we – as aid practitioners – need to be better at reflecting upon what we are doing and digging deeper to use our collective knowledge to work out how we can do it better. I agree with this – so much so that I developed my PhD thesis on the idea. Facilitating this process of reflection and understanding between government officials and development partners is a big part of what I do.

How do I try to innovate? I keep a notebook with me at all times, even on my bedside table. I find scribbling ideas down with pen on paper allows immediacy, fluidity and creativity. Write down your idea and let your hand continue to write about it for five minutes. See what happens, and then tell someone about it.

Good advice!  Thank you Laura.  

As we are preparing our students to tackle the type of issues Laura works on, how can we help them develop the tools of reflection, collaboration, and questioning?