Our Perspectives

Innovation brings new approaches and integration


 Egyptian youth explore gamification at UNDP Egypt innovation lab. (Photo: UNDP Egypt)

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice.

A few years ago, UNDP Egypt began an exciting innovation for development (I4D) journey experimenting with new and creative approaches for development solutions. This approach has become more focused and deliberate with the implementation of UNDP’s Strategic Plan.

In undertaking this journey, we are mindful that what we do on innovation must contribute to development results. Innovation just for the sake of it is simply not enough. Innovation is about doing development better, using new approaches to design and achieve lasting results. It is essential if our organization is to keep pace with and lead response to fast changing, dynamic and complex development challenges.

We are putting people at the heart of our work, by engaging citizens, policy makers and entrepreneurs. Through design thinking, co-creation, crowdsourcing, story-telling, gamification, open data, and other non-traditional approaches and tools, we can help our national partners to address their development priorities more effectively.

In early 2013, our office adopted a portfolio-based approach to our work, breaking down silos and providing more opportunities for joint programmes.  Our I4D team works with all portfolios to embed innovative approaches into our programmes. For instance, with FabLab we are applying design thinking in developing prototypes to adapt public spaces and services for use by people with disabilities. Our partner, the National Council for Disabilities, has shown an interest in adopting some of these tools.

Participation in UNDP’s global initiative “SHIFT – Week of Innovation Action” enabled us to share our experiences on I4D and learn from others. We are now applying what was learned to our programmes:

  • the art of telling stories to communicate our results better and to reach a wider audience in a more engaging way
  • games to identify solutions to local development problems and co-developing mobile applications (such as one that will help address sexual harassment by linking citizens and law enforcement bodies)

Social innovation camps can provide an important space for citizens, especially young people, to share their perspectives on critical development issues. We recently applied this approach in the preparation of our National Human Development Report on Social Justice, and will be doing so on the issue of violence against women to help citizens better report and act on cases.

Recognizing the importance of having space for our I4D work, we have set up a social innovation lab.
We are building a vibrant network of partnerships: other UNDP offices, leading innovation labs (SparkLab and MindLab), the Egyptian Government (Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center), research centers (Baseera), civil society organizations ( Misr El Kheir Foundation), and international innovation outfits (Emerson Engagement Game Lab, Edgeryders, Waag Society).  We’ve co-hosted design thinking events with local innovation hubs like IceCairo and FabLab Egypt.

Our innovation journey has only begun. While we have much to learn and do, we are already beginning to see the benefits of this approach: higher quality development programmes, greater coherence between our activities, and importantly, a more spirited, energetic and better integrated office.


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