Tapping into UNDP’s “distributed capacity” for innovation:

Peer learning proves mutually beneficial for Sudan and Palestine

September 18, 2018

Through experimenting with different innovation methodologies we can actually minimize risks and costs. Photo: UNDP PAPP

“I went there to inspire, but instead they inspired me”

“It was a revelation for me,” reflected Anisha Thapa as she returned to Sudan from a mission to Gaza and the West Bank.

Anisha, Head of the Strategic Planning, Partnerships, and Communications Unit and the Innovation Focal Point for UNDP Sudan, travelled to Palestine to share advice based on innovation experiences in Sudan and to support “intrapreneurs” in UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP), under the auspices of the UNDP Innovation Facility’s Peer-to-Peer Exchange.

She shared Sudan’s extensive experience with data innovation. One project is using new data sources (community radio talk shows) and analytics to measure citizen satisfaction with government services, SDG 16.6.2 (a Tier III Indicator). Another is exploring the capacity and efficiency of big data sources  such as night time lights and mobile phone use to serve as proxies for measuring poverty levels. Both initiatives are being conducted in partnership with the Sudan Government and private entities from the telecom sector.

Anisha’s animated presentations on these initiatives left colleagues in Gaza and the West Bank feeling inspired. Chikako Kodama, UNDP/PAPP Team Leader and Advisor for Governance, remarked: “Anisha’s presentation explained that the processes of Sudan’s initiative were based on trial and error with an eye for managing risks. UNDP is not perceived as a risk-taking organization, but Anisha’s example showed us that we can take risks for the purpose of learning. And through experimenting with different innovation methodologies we can actually minimize risks and costs.”

Anisha’s presentations left colleagues in Gaza and the West Bank feeling inspired. Anisha Thapa/UNDP Sudan

Our Palestinian colleagues were not the only ones to benefit. Anisha returned to Sudan re-energized and full of new ideas. In particular, she was impressed by UNDP/PAPP’s collaboration with the Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence. This organization, established by presidential decree, was a perfect example of the kind of governmental partnership that Anisha would like to establish in Sudan. “In Sudan as UNDP we are advocating for that kind of setup, that is owned by the government and that is prioritized by the government,” Anisha remarked. She left Palestine excited to share this example with her government counterparts in Sudan. “Having visited this office, through the Peer-to-Peer Exchange, talking to that team, and learning how they were able to create this kind of institution within the governance system despite constraints in a complex setting like the West Bank was a lesson learnt for me.”

Chikako was equally excited to further develop some of the ideas inspired by Anisha. She stated: “It is a great opportunity because the Peer-to-Peer Exchange gave us the chance to learn from other Country Offices directly, I really hope that colleagues from UNDP and the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People will continue to engage with Peer-to-Peer Exchange so that hopefully we can share our experiences with other Country Offices in the future.”

This exchange occurred as part of the UNDP Innovation Facility’s Peer-to-Peer Exchange initiative in which Country Offices are invited to request support from innovation experts in other Country Offices to support them in strengthening their innovation agendas. Other Peer-to-Peer Exchange missions have taken place between Lesotho and Rwanda and between Benin and Togo with Lebanon-Lesotho coming up soon. Support has been in the form of advocating for innovation, identifying programme entry points for innovation, developing proposals, meeting with national partners, etc.

The overall goal? To build on the Innovation Facility’s efforts over the past four years to build a global community of social innovators who have developed entirely new skills, and to tap into these sought-after advisors to transfer their knowledge, to inspire other colleagues with new approaches, and to build lasting connections of support as colleagues venture into the unknown, take risk, sometimes fail, and always learn. Taking advantage of this pre-existing “distributed capacity” is a key part of UNDP’s new strategic plan; when we are able to leverage our own knowledge and experience on innovation for development, we are finding we are better able to infuse innovation into our programmes and projects, helping us achieve better results and realize the #NextGenUNDP vision.