Connect to optimize and accelerate innovations

Connect to optimize and accelerate innovations

February 11, 2022
Author: Mahamadou Lamarane BARRY, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Guinea Accelerator Lab

African French-speaking countries do not only share physical borders. Beyond their common cultural background and linguistic proximity, they also share development challenges, some of which are subject of learning cycles in the various UNDP francophone Accelerator Laboratories (Labs). Convergence points emerge among them to foster learning and innovation.

For three days, 13 French-speaking Labs related to the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa met from 18 to 20 January 2022 in Cotonou-Benin, to review their respective experiences, assess their successes and shortcomings, reflect on new and more promising commitment mechanisms, share generated knowledge and learning and, above all, get to know each other, beyond the virtual contact imposed by the Covid-19 health crisis. They came from Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Togo, Congo, DRC, Cameroon, Chad, Senegal and Burkina Faso and were welcomed by their counterparts from Benin.

These three days fundamentally helped to build better innovators and give meaning to the network’s logic. Three major learning links, comprising each complex and extensive challenges, can be identified.

Firstly, we have the inevitable challenge of digital and digitalization. Whether it is civil status (Togo), education (Guinea), the optimization of solutions mapping (Benin, Mauritania, Congo), the use of disruptive technologies such as Blockchain (Benin) or dronotic -technology of drones (Côte d'Ivoire and Mauritania), the opportunities offered by digital technology are enormous to deal with challenges faced in concerned countries such as institutional constraints, the problem of anchoring, the lack of visibility on the operational ecosystem, the difficulties of implementing collective intelligence, including issues of national appropriation.

Secondly, there are the challenges related to informality. While Guinea continues to characterize informality on geographic, social and economic aspects, to tackle the central issue of data on this phenomenon by experimenting crowdsourcing from a model of nationwide social engagement, Congo and the DRC are exploring possible opportunities in the informal sector in connection with niches such as waste management. Cameroon, Mali, Benin and in some ways Mauritania and Côte d'Ivoire are trying to understand informality from the perspective of the place of women, entrepreneurial innovation and the broad issue of youth employability as well as the financing of informal activities.

Finally, the practical challenges of implementing learning appear in the background. This calls for the consideration of all the determining parameters (national coverage, mobilization of actors, data, domestication of innovation methods) on the one hand, and the need to instil leadership bringing the national parties on crucial learnings such as the issue of floods in Senegal, employability in Cameroon as well as the stage of scaling up proven solutions, on the other hand.

At the frontiers of these common challenges, it is necessary to develop a value proposition between the Labs themselves and towards internal and external partners. This is an optimization approach to make sense of the acceleration dynamics suggested by the Labs' mandates. This leads to the identification of channels and mechanisms that optimize and accelerate learning on development challenges.

A new dynamic of connection

According to a popular adage, "a well-closed and compact fist has more impact than five well-erect fingers." Francophone Labs have understood the need of a global dynamic. All the knowledge generated, the particularities of known experiences, the evaluation of proven experiments, the lessons of the impacts produced are key optimization levers that can effectively serve learning throughout the francophone area.

The interactions helped the Labs to identify opportunities for bilateral connections on issues related to digitalization, youth employability, the informal sector, waste management, agriculture, etc.

The innovative approaches used in Côte d'Ivoire in the fight against deforestation echo the urgency of afforestation in Mauritania; organic social change through the engagement of social forces as an integral part of learning cycles through the enhancement of crowdsourcing, citizen science and system thinking in Guinea inexorably serves as learning in Cameroon on employability and Mauritania in its objective of extending learning to the entire territory. The Innovations platform in Benin is an inspiration and a time saver for Congo, Mauritania and Senegal. The experiment on waste valorisation into organic charcoal in Congo can facilitate design thinking work on the same topic in Guinea, Mali, Niger and the DRC.

This new dynamic of connecting Labs will, as it emerges from the workshop, require a clear formulation of a relevant value proposition. Which proposal will facilitate the scaling-up of initiatives within country offices by national partners and the appropriation of our processes by communities and grassroots public actors

In this sense, the implementation of the meeting’s recommendation points can be a crucial step for which the support of country office management teams is essential. As to echo this quote from Benjamin Franklin "Speak to me, I forget. Teach me, I remember. But involve me and I learn."

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