How to slay a dragon

Continuing a rich Arab tradition of hakawatys - telling stories and making change.

February 7, 2019


“Once upon a time, there was a legion of noble innovators in the Arab states. They faced many challenges, such as how to provide services for everyone across their lands, how to prevent conflict, and how to use new and emerging tools and technologies not to isolate, but to bring everyone together.

Every day, these innovators saddled up their horses and journeyed forth to slay these ‘dragons’. They explored new paths, they experimented with new strategies, and made new alliances. Along the way, they met people from all walks of life and from the farthest reaches of their lands, and discovered many new and unexpected ways of defeating these monsters.

Our innovators lamented the fact that the stories of their adventures were not being shared. Not because they wanted glory, but because they very much wanted those who followed after them to learn from their hard-fought battles and not to make the same mistakes they had made. They ruminated: When we began our journeys, how did we know which way to go? How did we find the courage to blaze new trails? From those who came before us, of course. So, they thought; "should we draw a map covering all the paths we have discovered? Should we have the town crier share our journeys?" No, they thought; "we should tell our own stories". And so it was decreed.”

Tapping a rich tradition

The Arab states have a rich tradition of storytelling as a form of communication, for sharing knowledge, and instilling culture. There is a strong history of  storytellers, or ’hakawatys’ recounting tales of legends, kings, warriors, and heroes from noble families. The UNDP Innovation team is giving this a modern twist with a new podcast, the Colour of Innovation.

It tells the stories of contemporary innovation champions in their quest for approaching development differently. Through a six-episode series, you will hear about these modern-day champions and the ‘dragons’ they are facing, the paths they are taking, and the tools they are using. You will hear from, for example, Khaled in Yemen, telling us how he designed a filter that's making clean water accessible and affordable. You will hear from Leila in Lebanon who is using a popular messaging platform to better understand and respond to tensions between communities.

By returning to the tradition of storytelling, UNDP aims to document the journeys of innovators, outlining their detours, derailments and dead ends, along with their lessons, insights and successes.

Leading the way

With openness and sharing, we aim to take innovation from a buzzword to a tangible and accessible strategy for others to pursue. We hope that these stories will encourage others to follow a similar path or inspire them to create their own paths, sparked by experiences of innovators all across our region.

Just because we have new technologies doesn’t mean we have to eliminate traditional methods. The podcast presents an example of how innovation can be understood from different angles and how we can experiment with format and delivery to appeal to the new heroes and leaders who will win the battles of the future. 


Colour of Innovation will be available in English and Arabic on all major podcasting platforms. Subscribe on iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

This link will take you to UNDP’s "Colour of Innovation" YouTube page, where you will find short videos of colleagues, partners and some unusual suspects talking about what the colour of innovation is, or could be! Create your own video and send these to your networks or to us at and we'll make sure to include it on our page. 

We thank UNDP offices in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen for contributions from colleagues and partners,and for your continuing dedication to doing development differently and telling stories about it! We also thank our partner, Sowt Podcasting, a new podcasting platform for the Arab world, for producing the series.