Innovation the solution to human challenges

Whether in India or Iowa, social shifts create human challenges — in demographics, infrastructure, education, economic growth, and health care. As intractable as these challenges may seem, technology, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit will find solutions, according to Ajay Menon, dean of the Colorado State University College of Business and the state’s first chief innovation officer.

“Rapid growth breeds similar problems wherever it occurs, with traffic and roads; clean water, clean air, clean streets; urban decay, poverty and crime; access to education and health care,” Menon told an audience of about 200 at the President’s Community Lecture in the University Center for the Arts Wednesday night. “These just happen to be issues that researchers at CSU are working on today; the University has a place and a role to play in addressing them. And business plays a powerful role in bringing innovation from the lab into the world, where it can make a difference.”

Powerful enabler

He called technology “a powerful enabler,” and outlined some of the opportunities presented by growing global connectivity.

“Connections to the Internet are growing five times faster than adoption of electricity or telephony when they were introduced — there are already 6.5 billion smart devices connected around the world,” Menon said. “Ninety-nine percent of all households worldwide will have Internet access by 2018. Imagine what that can mean to medicine, to education. When I am 65, I might not want to teach at CSU every day, but technology can transport me to places in the world where my knowledge is needed to solve human problems.”

Education is key for Menon, who has been dean of the College of Business since 2002. He talked about growing up in India and the powerful influence of his Jesuit education “that allowed me to think in English, to dream in English. They also taught us to think of our place on Earth and consider those around us.”

Making a difference

Some of the greatest population growth in the next 30 to 40 years will occur in countries with the least economic growth. Menon said the prospect of young people coming of age without education, access to health care or economic opportunities “is a toxic mix that is becoming our problem, even if those countries, like Yemen or Pakistan, are half a world away.”

College of Business initiatives undertaken during his tenure — the Global Leadership Council, the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA, and emphasizing business ethics — focus on making a difference in such places, however small, through private enterprise. Changes can be more profound when corporations work in conjunction with civil society and government, Menon added.

At CSU and as Chief Innovation Officer, Menon’s career has been marked by “a relentless focus on cooperation, collaboration, and partnership,” CSU President Tony Frank said. His contributions to the college have transformed it into the top-ranked business school in Colorado and “one of the crown jewels of CSU.”

President’s Community Lectures

The President’s Community Lecture Series presents outstanding Colorado State faculty in talks that are free and open to the Fort Collins community. Previous lecturers have included University Distinguished Professors Dr. Stephen Withrow and Diana Wall, and professors Lori Peek and Bryan Willson. Next month’s lecture will feature Temple Grandin, professor of Animal Sciences and renowned autism advocate.