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Digital Innovation

What are digital innovations?

Creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and a wealth of ideas are not the monopoly of the industrialised nations. They are global. Local stakeholders are more familiar with local problems and needs, and they can employ this knowledge with greater versatility. For that reason we consider local knowledge to be the key to developing successful new solutions and locally adapted offerings. Local innovations are also characteristic features of the successful introduction of products, systems or services to a market or company by a stakeholder who already has a local presence. Many of these local innovations already use digital media to make processes more efficient or more independent – e.g. drones, 3D printers or virtual reality. That is why we speak of local digital innovations.

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Digital innovation in the Corona Response

Local actors mostly know local problems better than externals. In our view, local knowledge is the key to developing successful new solutions and locally adapted offers. Today, the majority of these local innovations use digital means to make processes more efficient or more independent – e.g. Drones, 3D printers or virtual reality.

3D printing can be used in case of emergencies to face to the lack of essential medical devices and equipment such as respiratory support devices. Ventilators are not the only equipment in shortage, masks, and protective gear are also missing in many hospitals, putting medical professionals at great risk. While masks and protective gear are relatively easy to 3D print, in Spain, the first 3D printed emergency ventilator was developed and approved by medical experts in order to support hospitals and intensive care units. This emergency ventilator can be built with 3D printers and incorporating other parts that can be easily found on the market. Assembly and production can also be fast. Several other solutions have been tested in Europe and all over the world and could be implemented also in Africa.

Frage 1/9

Does your project relate to local challenges, for which western solutions have been increasingly applied in the past?

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Can the knowledge of the target groups be mobilised to solve a local problem?

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Do you work with target groups whose potential is still to be fully developed?

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Is there already an eco-system in which people are looking for solutions to local problems openly, without preconditions and in a self-organised manner?

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Is there a regular exchange of ideas between civil society, industry and research?

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Would it be possible in your area to get civil society, industry and research to develop their own solutions for a local problem?

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Are there any tasks which could be automated in your project?

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Is there unrestricted, open access to the Internet? Is international online communication guaranteed?

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Could the knowledge which is currently developed centrally in your area be supplemented by the inclusion of large groups (crowds)?


You answered Yes to all nine questions, you should consider promoting digital innovation within your project. Department 112 of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the sector programme Digitisation in GIZ will be happy to advise you (sv-digitalisierung@giz.de).


You have answered No to all the questions. The Smart Development components offer basic approaches for the correct implementation of digitisation as standard in development cooperation. Please feel free to find out about the other components. Department 112 of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the sector programme Digitisation for Sustainable Development will be happy to advise you.

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The start-up "BRCK", a company in Kenya supported by the BMZ initiative Make-IT: Hardly more than half of the world's population uses the Internet. 74.9 percent of Africans are still offline today (ITU Report 2016). To overcome these barriers, BRCK has developed a robust, easy-to-repair router that uses the widespread mobile phone network instead of the broadband network to provide households and public places with Internet access - even during a power outage. A solution that would not work easily in Europe. And a response to the broadband routers that were imported from Europe and did not work easily on the ground.
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© Sven Torfinn/laif

Usage potential for our key topics

Advantages of digital innovation funding for German development cooperation?

Local innovations enable a local innovation architecture, by means of which the goals of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development can be achieved more quickly, better and more cost-effectively. They are accorded increasing importance in modern development policy. Leapfrogging, or leaps in development, are also only possible if they are based on appropriate local solutions.

The BMZ promotes the conditions for local innovations in the digital sector. Development cooperation projects promote successful innovation systems, e.g. inside digital centres in which young, innovative people are given the opportunity to try out ideas in a protected space and supported by other innovators, and implement them inside a start-up. The necessary conditions for local innovations are improved in such digital eco-systems – access to knowledge, contact to approval authorities, legal advice and financial sponsorships. Appropriate innovations are of relevance for all the BMZ’s core and initiative themes (e.g. agriculture, digital economy or climate).

Development cooperation projects can also use individual local innovations to make projects more efficient. By using 3D printers, for example, production elements of value chains can be taken to the local level and are directly available there, e.g. when printing spares for hospital equipment.

The broad impact of already tried-and-tested solutions is to be increased by means of scalable innovations. In this way local creativity will be used to solve local problems.