Accelerator Lab in Mexico: a collective reflection two years after keeping on asking to learn

1 de Noviembre de 2021

In 2019, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) globally began the launch of 60 Accelerator Labs in country offices, including Mexico, and which today have grown to  91 Labs serving 115 countries. 

At that time, it initiated an innovative recruitment process to integrate the teams in the country offices that would be in charge of identifying the development challenges to be  addressed by the Labs. Once this process was completed, the personnel of the new Labs were immersed in a process that would allow them to embark not only on a journey through acceleration methodologies, but also to define their own learning path.  

In August 2021, the UNDP Mexico Accelerator Lab completed 2 years of work, during which time we have built a portfolio of work around  four frontier challenges:

The four frontier challenges on which the UNDP Mexico Accelerator Lab is working.

Some of the learning questions that have guided our work to address these challenges are:

  • What do the consultations mean for the people who participate in it (link)? 
  • What role do social ties and social capital play in the emergence and development of grassroots initiatives that emerged in the context of COVID-19 in Mexico City (link)? 
  • What digital data can help us understand what makes a public space safer for women (link)? 
  • How does the government learn to improve its programs and how can  we  accelerate this process by focusing on people (link)?

We have also worked to bring a variety of methods and communities of practice to the different teams in UNDP Mexico: from talks and workshops with experts in transition design and systems mapping; discussions on civic technology and overcoming fear to share failures; to study groups on collective intelligence and Alternate Reality Simulation exercises to prepare for high uncertainty scenarios. 

To mark the occasion of the second anniversary, we wanted to take a moment to pause along the way and share some reflections on what the Accelerator Lab space has meant to each of us, what we want for the future, what we have learned and what we are grateful for. 

It is from this place of personal reflection that we want to reflect the diversity that strengthens this space and, through the sum of its parts, offer a collective reflection of the road we have traveled and the road that remains to be achieved. In a sense, these reflection notes are our way of renewing what motivates our work.


The entire UNDP Mexico Accelerator Lab team at an internal retreat. December 2020.

Our chosen environment: exploration and constant adaptation

By Gabriela Ríos Landa, Head of Exploration 

As I reflect on these two years in the Accelerator Lab there are two ideas that stand out in my mind: staying in a state of continuous exploration and adapting to the environment.

For the first one, I take up the work of Alison Gopnik, an academic at the University of California at Berkeley who argues that when we are children, our minds are designed to explore, learn, change; whereas in adulthood people focus on exploiting or harnessing that knowledge, finding resources, planning and making things happen.  The key, she says, is not to lose our ability to explore once we reach efficiency-dominated adulthood. The Accelerator Lab is that space within UNDP to enable ongoing exploration, to discover and question, to unlearn and relearn. 

The second idea that sticks out in my mind has to do with a passage I read a few months ago in Robin Wall Kimmerer's Gathering Moss: "Mossess succeed by inhabiting places that trees cannot, hard, impermeable substrates such as rocks and cliff faces and bark of trees." She adds, "but with elegant adaptation, mosses don’t suffer from this restriction; rather, they are the undisputed masters of their chosen environment." Arguably, the environment that has been chosen for the Accelerator Labs network is one that touches networks of people creating grassroots solutions, of public servants at multiple levels of government, of people working in large international, local and/or corporate organizations. It is an environment characterized by the urgency of finding solutions to emerging challenges in contexts of permanent uncertainty and that requires creativity and adaptation to move forward, like mosses.

With these two ideas and now entering our third year, I am grateful for the lessons learned and the collaborations forged, and I look ahead. I wish that we are those mosses that adapt to proliferate in places of conditions that might be inhospitable to others; that we remain in a permanent state of exploration with just the right measure of efficiency, and that the Accelerator Lab remains an expansive space for deep listening.

What does it mean that the world is changing so fast? 

By Jorge Munguía, Head of Solutions Mapping 

When we hear about peace missions and the work of United Nations agencies, funds and programs, such as UNDP, it is inspiring to know that there are organizations and structures whose mandate is the pursuit of collective well-being in harmony with the planet. This sense of possibility still fills me up with excitement more than 800 days after I started in this position. However, there also continues to be a sense that our place on the planet, which we are still trying to learn to live with, is at risk and that the way forward is not entirely clear. 

When I started, I was confident that connecting people from all sectors who had a different piece of the puzzle was an important part of meeting the challenges; and I have discovered much more than the sum of its parts, as well as ways to enhance the capabilities of these encounters, for which I am extremely grateful.

A greater focus on local contexts and the diversity of innovative methodologies and technologies, as promoted by the Labs, enriches the work in progress. However, local narratives also bring us closer to the systemic dimensions of a challenge and keep us alert to its future evolution. 

Just as development challenges are becoming more complex and uncertain, the way we do development is also evolving. Behind every project, there is a group of people learning and adopting new ways to collaborate, listen attentively, have creative conversations, support and inspire, guided by common goals.

Innovative technologies are not a free or secondary element to incorporate; here too, there is much to learn in order to improve our capacity for action.

It is an enormous fortune that the Accelerator Labs and UNDP seek to increase people's ability to think and collaborate better, and, if you ask me, this interest exists because in every corner there are examples that guide and transform us.

Accelerator Lab presentation activities with the UNDP Mexico team. August 2019.

A space for learning in the eye of the hurricane

By Luis F. Cervantes, Head of Experimentation

Development challenges are sometimes like the eye of a hurricane, as the problems can be so pressing, complex and constantly evolving that the solutions must be of equal magnitude, as well as thematically interconnected.

The UNDP office in Mexico is involved in daily exchanges on these issues, ranging from the fight against poverty, the promotion of gender equality, the fight against climate change, to everything that allows us to achieve social and economic development that is inclusive, sustainable and leaves no one behind. In its corridors—and these days, in its virtual rooms—we talk to experts on any number of topics related to the 2030 Agenda who are also committed to helping the country in the transformation that involves laying the foundations for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Just having the opportunity to be here, in the place where all this is happening, helping teams to innovate through experimentation, to prepare themselves to ram their projects into the complex reality they seek to impact, is something I am very grateful for. 

My role allows me to abstract from the problems that projects face on a daily basis to focus on the big picture and propose new ways of doing things, as well as incorporate an evidence-based public policy approach and experimentation. 

I am proud to be part of an organization whose objectives allow it to address complex challenges, where it is not enough to repeat formulas that have worked elsewhere, but to be one step ahead of the challenge and in a constant learning process, creating new solutions and refining prescribed knowledge. Above all, I am very grateful to the organization for the trust it places in me to be part of this muscle that comes to question everything, in order to lay the foundations of all its projects.

The Mexico Accelerator Lab team at the first bootcamp organized by the UNDP global network of Accelerator Labs with teams from Azerbaijan, Fiji, Laos, Turkey and Serbia. Kigali, Rwanda, July 2019.


Collectivity, the "behind-the-scenes" that drives the Lab

By Verónica Quinzá, Project Administrator


Behind every learning process carried out by the Accelerator Lab there is a great collective effort in which each and every member of the Lab contributes in the different stages of the experimentation process.

As Project Administrator, once the team has come up with a possible solution that can add to the work of one of the four boundary challenges, it is my responsibility to trigger the operational and budgetary actions that will ensure that the experimentation is carried out effectively. It is at this stage of the process that I act as a bridge of communication and action between the Accelerator Lab and the different operational areas of UNDP.

The work that is carried out, together with colleagues in the operational area of UNDP, is the "behind the scenes" in which each task and each process helps to meet our learning objectives: a collective and coordinated effort from different areas of UNDP in Mexico.

It is precisely this notion of collectivity that drives our work and during this year and a half that I have been part of the Accelerator Lab, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to support the work that Gaby, Jorge, Luis and Alicia do; working together to accelerate learning and address the challenges of sustainable development, incorporating different methodologies, such as strengthening social cohesion and the use of collective intelligence.

The Mexico team learning and applying the methods of the Accelerator Labs at the bootcamp. Kigali, Rwanda, July 2019.

Innovation, a unique opportunity to change reality

By Alicia López, National Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

In August 2019 I received the tremendous opportunity to "jump on the bandwagon" of innovation and embark on a journey to Kigali, Rwanda to attend the first bootcamp for the first group of UNDP Accelerator Lab teams. What we experienced on our trip from Mexico to the training site was just a taste of what a great adventure these two years as part of this global initiative have been.

I met Jorge, Luis and Gaby at the Mexico City airport. The trip had its challenges: we missed the first connection, spent a night in Detroit, USA, while the luggage was on its way. Afterwards, half a day in Amsterdam where we even took a quick trip to the city's Museum of Modern Art.

Finally, and with only minutes of delay, we arrived with luggage at the Convention Center in Kigali. We spent five fabulous days soaking in the Lab's methodologies and protocols, meeting colleagues from all over the world and filling ourselves with energy and ideas to boot.

Two years after meeting this great team, which Vero joined as Project Administrator and without whose work we could not achieve our goals, I have learned more about the development sector, and about myself as a professional and team leader, than in the previous 15 years of my professional career. 

The Accelerator Lab has taught me the importance of being open to taking new directions, listening to other voices and disciplines, embracing uncertainty, and finding new answers when the original plan collides with realities on the ground.

In a deeper sense, it has led me to rethink my beliefs, to challenge my ways of working and understanding the world. Above all, it has helped me to constantly reinvent myself and to keep my energy always high to continue contributing to build a fairer, more inclusive society, where we can all dream and turn those dreams into reality.

Thanks to Lorenzo and Sandra for giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity, and to all the people within UNDP who support and encourage us every day. Special thanks to all the people and institutions that have trusted us to find new ways to promote sustainable development. 

We would like to thank all the people who have supported us throughout these two years.

To all the UNDP team in Mexico and the Accelerator Labs network team.

To our allies, Aldrich Lab, Calibre Films, the C5, Centro de Investigación Económica y Presupuestaria A.C., the Center for Digital Development of the University of Manchester, Codeando México, Cohesión Comunitaria e Innovación Social AC, Coordinación General de Asesores y Asuntos Internacionales de la Jefatura de la CDMX, Corredor Interoceánico del Istmo de Tehuantepec, Diagonal Studio, Festival Ceremonia, GIZ Data Lab / GIZ Mexico, Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, Instituto de la Juventud de la CDMX, Instituto Mexicano de Economía del Comportamiento, Investigación Multidisciplinaria Aplicada Laboratorio Social (IMALAB), Laboratorio de Tecnología Cívica de la UNAM, MACIA Estudio, the Museo Universitario del Chopo, PILARES, PIT Policy Lab, Secretaría de Cultura, Secretaría de Gestión Integral de Riesgos y Protección Civil de la CDMX, Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, Secretaría de las Mujeres de la CDMX, SocialTIC, Timelapse México, TOM Makers México, Umbrella, Universidad del Caribe.

To our donors, the German Cooperation, the Qatar Fund for Development and UNDP's Core Partners.

To the people of the communities with whom we have collaborated. 

If you would like to contact the Accelerator Lab, write to