What’s the real innovation behind m4Lit?

At the World Bank’s Innovation Fair “Moving Beyond Conflict” event in Cape Town, Parvathi Menon, the CEO of Innovation Alchemy gave a short but very insightful presentation on innovation. A key question she asked was: What are the series of innovative ideas that together make an innovative proposition? People often stop at the first idea and think that’s the innovation. Don’t do that! The iPod was the platform not the key innovation. The killer “app” was being able to buy a song at a time for 99c and easily drop it onto a player.

Africa is book-poor but mobile phone-rich, so m4Lit’s idea to use phones as a way to get teens to read and write is an innovative one, right? No. Applying Parvathi’s points to m4Lit: for our readers the innovation isn’t reading and writing on mobile phones. It’s reading kick-ass stories, affordably, easily (they always have their cellphones with them, they don’t always have books or magazines with them), and being able to make comments and have the world see them in near real time (beats writing a snail mail letter to the author). These are the “layers” that make up the innovative proposition. The mobile phone simply enables all of this. Key to realising the innovative proposition is telling readers that the stories are there — so need to market effectively (and innovatively) — and quickly moderating readers’ contributions.

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