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Looking for new ideas? Get yourself to the developing world

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Danish Siddiqu/Reuters/File

(Read caption) GE Healthcare employees test a digital X-ray machine that they designed and manufactured in Bangalore, India. Instead of bringing in products from the US and tweaking them for local markets, companies in the developing world are looking at local needs and challenges and designing appropriate products, such as a lightweight heart monitor that costs a fraction of US models.

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Could the next big breakthrough in medicine or technology come from the developing world?

We Americans may think of poorer nations as hotbeds of war and disease, a place to send our charity checks. But emerging economies are actually an invaluable breeding ground for innovations that could change lives in the United States.

In a process known as “reverse innovation,” multinational corporations are rolling out cheap, easy-to-use products in Africa, India, and China and then bringing them “home” to Western markets.

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Examples of reverse innovation range from the prosaic – low-cost Levi’s jeans that debuted in China and hit American stores last spring – to the revolutionary: a portable, seven-pound heart monitor developed by General Electric engineers in Bangalore, India.

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