SPARK Lab – Re-thinking Sustainable Development and Fostering Innovation for the SDGs


  • The UNDP SDG Innovation Lab (SPARK Lab) in Chengdu is the first UNDP-led Innovation Lab for the SDGs in China, in collaboration with the China International Center for Technical and Economic Exchanges (CICETE) under the Ministry of Commerce and Hi-Tech Industrial Development District Government of Chengdu City.
  • Building on China’s tech innovation and development expertise across UNDP’s global Accelerator Lab innovation network in 120 countries, the lab is designed to harness science, technology and innovative finance to take on the fast-evolving development challenges of the 21st century. 
  • The lab carries out a variety of activities, including conducting research and capacity-building workshops, setting up a SDG-mindful young entrepreneurs’ network, and hosting high-level forum for innovation thought-leadership. The areas of focus range from establishing net-zero pathway for hi-tech zones to building an inclusive and resilient city to respond to complex uncertainties.



  • After three decades of development, China’s 169 national Hi-Tech industrial zones have become the backbone of the country’s scientific innovation and industrial progress, (1)making them perfect testbed to expand on UNDP’s growing focus on innovation for sustainable development, tapping into its global innovation network.
  • In July 2020, China's State Council unveiled a major guideline on the quality development of national Hi-Tech industrial zones to further open up and strengthen international collaboration. (2) In January 2021, the Ministry of Science and Technology issued a directive requiring national Hi-Tech zones to act as “green development pioneers” by incubating innovation-driven green technologies and decarbonizing existing industries.


Major Achievements

  • Hosted Re:Think Conference, an annual flagship innovation event bringing together top experts from academia, central and local governments, the private sector, and development practitioners to discuss pressing development challenges and innovative solutions. The annual event attracted on average several hundred audience on-site and over 1 million views online.
  • Established a young entrepreneurs’ network advancing the SDGs with technology (“INSPIRO Network”) from over 15 countries and hosted several workshops discussing critical issues including technology-empowered inclusive education, low-carbon innovation, and women entrepreneurship.
  • Conducted research on Chengdu Hi-Tech zone’s net-zero pathways and hosted capacity-building workshops for local government officials.
  • Created an exhibition located in the China-Europe Centre (CCEC) showcasing UNDP’s innovation work and promoting awareness of the SDGs.


Project Outcomes

  • Positioned UNDP as a thought-leader striving for paradigm shift in development thinking and approaches in pursuit of localising SDGs at the local level in China
  • Placed innovation for SDGs in the centre of local government’s development strategies and pathways
  • Enhanced local public and private sector's capacity for sustainable development to facilitate low-carbon and just transition, striving for “innovation for all”.
  • Strengthened international collaboration and knowledge sharing via multi-stakeholder engagement with governments, private sector, academia and Civil Society.
  • Forged a SDG mindful innovation community in Chengdu featuring research and academic institutions, the private sector and entrepreneurs, community-based organisations for social innovation, among others.
  • Pioneered a new partnership modality between UNDP and local government for localization of the SDGs.
  • By setting up the lab, created an experimental space for pioneering fit-for-future research work and on-the-ground pilots of localising SDGs


GESI Component

  • Project ensures women’s participation at all aspects, such as staffing of the lab, beneficiaries of programme activities, participants in research work, empowering local innovation community, etc.  
  • Project ensures that activities are gender sensitive and gender focus, for example designing the ”Women in Tech” sub-session at Re:Think conference, and “Women Entrepreneurs’ Workshop” as part of the INSPIRO Network, whilst away from all-male panel in any of the project events.