PCI has been innovating in the field of development for the last 50+ years.


PCI has been innovating in the field of development for the last 50+ years. In the late 60s and early 70s, PCI helped popularize the walk-a-thon – at that time a unique mechanism to engage communities across the country to raise awareness and money for its charitable work through the Walk for Mankind. In the 1980’s it tripled immunization rates in Indonesia through the unconventional practice of engaging grade school children as immunization advocates within their own families. More recently, in India PCI played a central role in helping to eradicate polio; in Bolivia it reduced llama mortality by 60% and tripled annual income of poor llama producers, in Ethiopia, PCI helped eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in communities where the practice was pervasive and entrenched, and in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, PCI is using satellite information and a mobile app to help pastoralists find pasture for their herds despite the challenges of climate change. All were accomplished through the use of new ideas, or adapted ones applied in untested contexts, and yielded dramatic results…in effect, innovation.

woman walking with pack horses

Despite these and other organizational accomplishments, we determined that the status quo within PCI was not sufficient to meet the global challenges ahead of us. We realized we have to be better at nurturing and accelerating innovation as too many good ideas do not surface or are effectively diffused; too many staff feel constrained by job descriptions or time limitations; and too often policies and procedures hinder the creative process or sap the time that could be dedicated to innovation. In order to reach our goal we have to work better, faster and more efficiently.

Starting in 2013, PCI initiated PCInnovAtion (capital A for Adaptability), seeking to become one of the first international development organizations to embed innovation from top to bottom in order to fundamentally change our internal dynamics and meet these global challenges. It is one of a handful of selected priorities within our strategic plan aimed at achieving the goal of transforming the lives of 20 million people in the poorest communities and least developed nations in the world.

PCInnovAtion, as an approach, sought to continuously unleash the creativity of our people, and foster it towards concrete and remarkable outcomes for our beneficiaries, our staff, our donors and the world. It was designed to help solve some of the greatest development challenges, increase our operational efficiencies, and improve the capacity of our people and the productivity of our environment.

afriscout app

As part of the embedment process, PCI calibrated its management systems to facilitate innovation. It generated, monitored and pushed innovations globally through training, support and an on-line mechanism that tracked, analyzed and moved innovation ideas through a process of development and assessment. We began embracing and celebrating both success and failure as essential consequences of our commitment to find breakthroughs that will change the world and all confirmed innovations had to meet the same threshold definition designed for both flexibility and rigor.

PCI is one of the few international development organizations that has established a global 15% time policy for all staff – similar to that of Google, 3M and other innovation leaders. The policy stipulates that any employee can use up to 15% of their time for innovation. It not only gives license to innovate, it sends a clear message to all staff about the importance that PCI places on innovation. And, in addition to creating a culture of rigorous and vetted innovation over the past several years, PCI has focused more recently on key global breakthrough innovations.

With the generous support of the Hapke Family Foundation, PCI completed two design sprints for recipients of the Halvorsen Global Breakthrough Innovation Award. The first sprint supported the Malawi awardees refine and test modified gasifiers (efficient cookstoves that burn wood while simultaneously creating charcoal) coupled with improved survival of bamboo seedlings for fuel wood. This is potentially a huge breakthrough in terms of addressing deforestation, improving household health, improving the well-being of women & girls, and can provide significant livelihood opportunities for local communities. The second sprint was conducted with our India team awardees. The sprint challenge was to design a gamified app and test whether or not such a concept could improve the capacity, comfort and motivation for target users (young couples separated through migration) to engage in sensitive discussions around family planning with the objective of creating a tool that can actually help reduce the high rates of fertility among young couples.

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