Learning smarter; a global hunt for solutions to 'frontier challenges'

January 24, 2019


The Sustainable Development Goals would be an uphill climb at the best of times. Layer these ambitious goals onto the rapidly-shifting terrain of climate migration, the movement of data across national borders, and hyper realistic, deep fake digital forgery campaigns and it feels more like running uphill on a moving dragon!

Rising inequality, declining trust in public institutions, more frequent and intense climate-related events, demographic and technological changes, and a host of other factors will continue to impede or reverse development progress unless collective action adapts and improves.

Frontier challenges come from the exponential growth of technology. They often cross borders and can’t be solved by traditional approaches, so they’ll only become more dynamic, intertwined, and unpredictable.

This means we don’t just need new solutions, we need to be constantly thinking of their knock-on effects. We need the humility to see and support people’s own innovations, along with the ambition to connect that knowledge to complex problems. In the crowded landscape of small scale solutions, we also need a way to make sense of it all and see what’s missing. We need to create a big picture.

Building a global network

That’s why we are re-imagining development for the 21st century by building the world’s largest and fastest learning network. The Accelerator Lab network will comprise 60 labs based in nearly one-third of the world’s countries. We are trying to dramatically speed up our ability to learn which development ideas work and how to apply them more widely.

As a way to discover new solutions in the public sector, labs are not new. A global network is.

These labs aren’t only about adopting new ideas or technology. Wherever a social or environmental challenge exists, wherever public services don’t meet people’s needs, there are those who have succeeded despite the odds. The Accelerator Labs will find and connect problem solvers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, using both local networks and data from novel sources such as satellite imagery or social media.  We’re on a solutions hunt! We want people such as the entrepreneurs who created floating farms in flood-prone Bangladesh, or innovators such as Dana Lewis, who created open source tools to manage Type 1 diabetes. We’ll be working with academics and businesses who have great ideas. And there’s much more to come.

Learning faster and smarter

We’re setting out to build the world’s largest and fastest learning network for development challenges. The network will build on UNDP’s innovation portfolio and the partnerships we have with labs around the world.

Each lab will contribute to and benefit from the experiences of others through peer-to-peer learning, and a focus on analyzing data to find solutions. They’ll use collective intelligence in designing experiments to face and overcome frontier challenges.  We’re serious about learning, and are looking for your ideas on how to use the reach of UNDP to find them.

UNDP is making a big, global commitment to re-imagining how we work. We know we can’t do this alone. We’re calling for all types of partners to join us.