Our 2021 Communities of Practice

Introducing the Portulans Institute’s Senior Fellows 

Our Senior Fellows are renowned experts who partner with the Portulans Institute (PI) to lead a specific project of interest within one of our focus areas: technology competitiveness, innovation readiness, and people and global talent. They are individuals from around the world invited to join PI’s community on a rolling basis. Senior Fellows’ projects will produce novel contributions to an identified challenge and are sustained through collaborations with a Community of Practice formed by the Senior Fellow’s sector peers. Learn more about the PI team.

Portulans Institute’s New Communities of Practice

PI’s Communities of Practice (CoPs) bring together experts from both the public and private sectors involved in policy-making, research or the development of market solutions. Each CoP is led by a PI Senior Fellow. CoPs develop cross-community knowledge and dialogue on how people, technology, and innovation contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth. Each CoP independently sets its own strategy to achieve its agreed objectives. CoP outputs may include publications, roadmaps or sets of best practices, for example.

Introducing the Current PI CoPs

Innovations Contributing to the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

Leading Senior Fellow: Shane M. Kanady.

Goal: To develop a CoP of leading disability network representatives and businesses with an affinity for diversity and inclusion as core elements of innovative firms, with the goal of outlining a framework to address pressing needs for research and data insights. A clear identification of need and opportunity will establish a project focused on increasing business innovation and competitiveness by including persons with disabilities. Through this work, PI will gain recognition as a leading source of research that addresses critically important economic and social issues and their impact on competitiveness. PI will achieve this status through original contributions to the field of research, leveraging its extensive capabilities with global indices and benchmarking studies. It is envisioned that this PI CoP will also take a proactive approach to increase awareness of the enabling power of inclusion, translating research into recommendations for actions and measurable outcomes among stakeholder groups.

Deliverables: An initial framing blog post, three CoP virtual meetings over a one-year period, short conclusion briefing paper, and concept of operations for future work.

Relevancy: There is a common narrative of social inclusion found in PI’s existing focus areas and flagship outputs (Indexes). The health of national economies depends on thriving industries that must innovate to capture the desire and buying power of the consumer base. Innovation is not achievable, or sustainable, without a skilled workforce. The workforce must have access to resources to adapt to changing labor market conditions, which is achieved through a combination of public policies, programs, and industry investment. However, the results of these activities fall short of reaching their potential when entire segments of the population are excluded from participation as creators, contributors, and consumers.

The 2018 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTC) demonstrates that “paying attention to demographic diversity nurtures a sustainable and innovative future and helps organizations to retain and develop talent” which must include persons with disabilities.   Additionally, the revised model of the Network Readiness Index (NRI) stressed PI’s recognition of the need for an increased focus on traditionally underrepresented populations, with specific reference to persons with disabilities. Much can be learned about how advancements can be made in the areas of technology competitiveness, innovation readiness, and people and global talent development by understanding the experience of the most marginalized populations. The proposed CoP will serve the purpose of addressing such questions and needs.

Context: It is universally recognized that persons with disabilities are among the most marginalized populations in the world. Persons with disabilities comprise approximately 15% of the global population, or nearly 1 billion people. The prevalence of the population continues to grow because of age-acquired disabilities and the consequences of natural and man-made disasters, including violent conflict. Globally, this population experiences persistent structural violence and marginalization due to social-identity based barriers that result in stigma, discrimination, and systematic exclusion. Such marginalization also represents a significant set of ‘missed opportunities’ for the world economy as a whole, as valuable talent is often overlooked, or underestimated.

Connection to PI Focus Areas:

  • It is estimated that global economies sacrifice up to 7% of GDP annually due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities.
  • Persons with disabilities have an estimated $1.2 trillion in disposable income worldwide, but are often not considered in the design of products and services.
  • The unemployment rate of persons with disabilities is as high as 80% in some countries, and is often double the rate of their non-disabled peers in more advanced economies.
  • In many respects, the COVID crisis has increased the marginalization of people with disabilities.

Through PI’s leadership, and this CoP, focusing on policy solutions specifically tailored for persons with disabilities will lead to a greater understanding of the critical connections between global economic health, innovation, and competitiveness across industries, in addition to a deeper understanding of the social and economic inclusion of other marginalized groups. These efforts will lead to enhancements to the research, analysis, and applications found in the GII, GTCI, and NRI and provide the opportunity for a complementary project that informs progress on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Digital Disruption in Education

Leading Senior Fellow: Shefali Rai.

Goal: To establish a Community of Practise (CoP) for experts and stakeholders in the field of education. Through this CoP, Portulans Institute will encourage continuous dialogue on digital disruption and innovation in online education. One of the main goals will be to understand how to build a sustainable and inclusive model of online education in the post-COVID world.

Deliverables: Supporting a unique seminar series of ten interactive online dialogues that is being designed and conducted in collaboration with the Global Business School Network. Conduct research which will inform writeups on the 10 unique and interlinked topics related to online education. The brief version of this will be used in the Online Teachers’ Training Seminar. A more comprehensive version will take form of essays to be adapted into a book.

Context: Over the past decades, online education has been seen as a means to develop skills, improve employability through course certifications and to provide equitable opportunities in learning. Recognizing this some universities began to incorporate online courses into their curriculum and even offer distance education degrees. But it has been the success of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) platforms like Coursera, Udemy etc that has made online education seem more credible. This pushed more top universities towards blended education slowly but steadily. However, COVID-19 has pivoted education towards a 100% online format in a matter of few weeks. In the past year, teachers and learners in K-12 through higher education, have had to cope with this disruption while trying to ensure an optimal quality of education. Educators and experts in their home countries, have tried to arrive at the best practises in online education, succeeding and failing, with numerous takeaways. This CoP will bring together educators and experts from all over the world to share challenges and solutions experienced in the online teaching format. The same will be broadcasted through a series of dialogues under the Online Teachers’ Training seminar.

Relevancy: Online education can offer great opportunities for innovation in the field and yet it is being weighed down due to the inherent challenges in education. Educators and faculty have been designing courses with the assumption that certain prerequisites to succeed in class will be met. For example, access to laptops and internet connectivity is at the core of learning/teaching online. But for students who may come from weaker socio-economic backgrounds, this prerequisite has been seen as a demand, highlighting the lack of equity in education. It may have been easy to meet such demands in the traditional format of teaching/learning through computer clusters on campus. Now, failure to meet these prerequisites/ demands in the online format may not only reduce the probability of success but may even result in higher rate of drop out. It is critical to understand what components of the in-person class can be retained, needs to change or is redundant in the online environment. Importantly, in the constantly evolving landscape, one indicator of success in online education will be how agile educators and faculty are in adapting to changes. Finally, innovation in online education will be required if educational institutes have to remain relevant and the revenue model based on the traditional format of teaching has to survive this digital disruption.

Connection to PI Focus Areas:

  • This project relates to innovation readiness and people and global talent.

Decolonized Innovation and the (New) Future(s) of Work

Leading Senior Fellow: Niousha Roshani

Goal: To establish a global cross-sectoral knowledge network that crowdsources the under-utilized innovation generated by young Black people in the Global South who are at the fore of digital transformation and challenge our current understanding of the many futures of work. A decolonized and decentralized approach to innovation that goes beyond efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion would position PI as the leading institution to address critical needs for research, business policies and practices that harness the impact, opportunities and unattainable knowledge generated by young Black leaders in a Covid-19 economy.


  • A videocast with digital innovators and entrepreneurs of African descent in Africa and Latin America
  • One briefing paper
  • One blog post on the changing nature of the informal sector and gig economy led by young people in the new Covid era

Relevancy: While there is a global agreement on the correlation between innovation and growth, the Westernized imaginary of innovation imposed into countries of the Global South has undermined locally produced solutions and knowledge and furthered the neo-colonial models widening the inequality and power gap between the North and the South.

To harness the full potential of innovation to advance growth and minimize harm, we must adopt a fresh approach—one that questions the current understandings and assumptions around innovation and digital transformation. Booming new technologies created in these regions by local talent have helped address many challenges. Young Black people from the Global South have designed new spaces for their ideas to flourish, even and especially during the pandemic. They have contested and claimed digital spaces, created and developed digital economies and led important scientific and health innovations in response to the spread of COVID-19. In the making, they have deconstructed and reshaped our current assumptions of the futures of work and pointed the way to a bottom-up solution to these inherent problems: one that can address the above issues in a more organic, locally responsive way.

Unless we disrupt our current logic of business as usual and reconceptualize the assumptions around innovation, we will continue to use a fraction of our global capacity by under-investing into the types of knowledge produced by young Black people in the Global South and bear the high costs of exclusion.

Context: Despite the usual tropes of ‘doom and gloom’ seem to accompany the way that many countries of the Global South—particularly those in Africa and Latin America— are discussed when it comes to COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on Black communities; young Black people have and continue to innovate with new technologies and ventures to address the challenges of their communities, societies and regions. COVID-19 has put these initiatives into high gear as young people move beyond the incongruent and often misplaced mitigation efforts in their countries to offer innovative, creative solutions to hindering the spread of the disease and strengthening economic resilience to its long-term impacts.

Rather than centering the debate on the need for innovation developed in rich countries to be comprehensively adapted to new settings in countries of the Global South in a top-down approach, there is a growing need for a shift in our understanding of this concept by including the types of knowledge and interests of young Black people in Africa and Latin America. Redefining what innovation is, and what it should do, would allow to examine the insights, possibilities and impact beyond Western imaginaries on the new futures of work and create new decentralized spaces for progress and inclusivity.

Connection to PI Focus Areas: Incorporating the different types of knowledge produced by young Black people of the Global South into the existing expertise of PI found in the GII and NRI would enrich the research and applications of possible intervention and prevention of risks and harms of a Western conceptualization of innovation,  allow for the potential in Africa and Latin America to boost a diversity of innovations and inspire and suggest new alternatives for designing public and business policies, strategies and practices to dismantle barriers to economic security.