After living in Silicon Valley for seven years, I was faced with a tough choice — to move back to Singapore where I am from, or to Mauritius, where my husband’s family lives?
I chose Mauritius. Beyond its postcard beaches, I saw the beginnings of an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem that reminded me of Singapore 15 years ago, and felt a timeliness to be able to contribute to the development of the country in exciting ways.
Here were some of my seed observations:
- In almost every business, government agency, or social sector, I always meet one or two “bright sparks”. These are incredibly talented individuals, despite all odds, who are purpose-driven, optimistic, who take risks, and are doing small things to slowly chip away at the status quo. We always have a choice – do we give our attention to what is not working, or do we focus on amplifying this “positive deviance” so that we change the norm? I have been holding this question — How might we support and amplify their efforts, and help them succeed? Because what we appreciate, appreciates.
- I say with much confidence, that Mauritians are naturally enterprising. With 125,000 SMEs, that is 1 SME for every 10 people! However, 48% of SMEs have a turnover of less than 2M Rs with little assets, and many embark on “me-too” ideas, which are skewed towards low-value sectors with severely constrained prospects of adding jobs or growing the economy. How might we channel this same entrepreneurial drive, towards creating high-impact businesses and high-value jobs?
- And then there are millennials. I absolutely love what millennials stand for, and are excited to see how organizations will evolve as millennials grow to become the majority of the workforce, and the predominant consumers in the economy. Hiring remains one of the biggest headaches for every Mauritius organization. What I know for sure, is that the organizations that are setup for digital natives, that offer meaningful and engaging work, and that provide opportunities for impact, are the ones that will succeed in attracting and retaining young talent. How might organizations reimagine their work culture and policies to better attract engage young talent?
- Finally, I observed that the business climate is shifting under our feet. The Mauritian economy is quickly opening up, which brings new types of competition, but even more new opportunities to connect to a global playing field. Businesses that are based on “policy-driven” opportunities will gradually find their competitive advantage eroding. How might we help organizations reflect on their purpose and leverage their assets, to create new value that is closely connected and responsive to dynamically changing customer needs and preferences?
Over the year, I tried a variety of small experiments to explore these questions. From mentoring entrepreneurs, to designing a 12-week innovation module at the African Leadership University, to being part of consultative governmental workshops on digital innovation and FinTech.
I also saw how it was possible to empower a small group of junior employees in just one year, to transform the culture within a traditional Mauritian SME towards greater ownership and customer-centricity. From a workshop in partnership MRC, I saw how real social innovation experiments could be catalyzed simply by bringing diverse stakeholders together through a process that builds trust, and giving them a shared innovation framework that facilitates a cross-pollination of ideas. These small wins showed me that change was possible.
And then I met incredibly talented and like-minded individuals. Together with my co-founders Natacha and Alam, we decided that it was time to launch a platform to organize our collective energy, and to scale our efforts to play a small part in transforming Mauritius to becoming a true knowledge economy.
We thought long and hard about our theory of change:
- To cultivate the innovation mindset: By broadening an understanding of innovation beyond “technology”. At its core, innovation is a mindset that can be applied to tackle unmet needs not only in business, but also in society, and in daily life! By providing innovation training that is fun and highly experiential, we can unlock creative confidence, build empathy, and the ability to ask better and more generative questions. Starting with organizations, we hope to identify and amplify enablers of innovation, and build this kind of innovation thinking internally.
- To bring best practice: We have met many organizations who have “innovation” as a core value on the wall, but few organizations actually know where and how to start so that it is lived. The good news is — there are proven innovation best practices like human-centered design and lean agile startup methodologies, that involve cross-disciplinary teams, and that can be easily applied in any organization. Innovation can now be done under a budget in sprints, these are very rapid cycles (think 3–5 days) to dramatically reduces time and risks in going to market.
- To build leverage in organizations: The biggest learning we took away from Silicon Valley, is a deep understanding of leverage — it is also the only way that small innovation hubs today (think Israel, Singapore, Silicon valley) are punching above their weight. We hope to demystify digital transformation, and go beyond business process optimization, to really harness the gift that technology presents in terms of data and network leverage, which is what enables a small group of people actually achieve exponential scale and impact.
- To catalyze an ecosystem: Finally, innovation cannot happen in isolation, and we cannot do this alone. We see it as our responsibility to connect the dots within Mauritius, and to connect Mauritius to other innovation hubs like Singapore and Silicon Valley to catalyze the flow of ideas, talent, technology, capital and markets. Two community projects we’re embarking on, is a series of Red Dot Calls — a monthly innovation call with global experts, and a Red Dot Network — a diaspora program for overseas Mauritians to contribute their talent and networks meaningfully to the country, especially where deep expertise cannot be found locally.
At its heart, the mission of Red Dot is bigger than any one of us. As a purpose-driven company, we see innovation as a platform for growth, as it fundamentally “grows the pie” for everyone. We see innovation as a way to create new products, services, and programs that are good for business and good for the world; and we see innovation as the platform to connect the dots between the change-makers within government, corporates and the social sector who are taking risks, and challenging the status quo, because innovation happens in between these spaces.
If this mission lights a fire in your heart, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us an email. Join our community and subscribe by leaving us your email, and get updates of our ongoing reflections and upcoming events, straight to your inbox!