Stop competing and start collaborating

November 29, 2019

by Netsanet Mekuria, Head of Exploration at UNDP Ethiopia Accelerator Lab  

While reading online, I came across an article that caught my attention. The article is titled ‘Collaboration is what heroes do!’

The article talks about four inspiring leaders and their discussions around a movie. Initially, I was confused trying to figure out the relationship between what they were talking about, real-life problems and the article title itself. Later, I figured out that in that specific movie the heroes solve their problems by focusing on two areas: collaborating to win their opponents and addressing everyday challenges by locally generated solutions.

In the 21st century, our problems are becoming more and more complex, dynamic and emerging with high speed. But as agents of development we are taking our time, which we don't have, and it is creating a significant relevance gap. Before we find solutions and as we argue over possibly solutions, we discover that it has faded away and is longer relevant.

The truth is the situations on our hands are telling us we can't afford to compete, and we need to move away from traditional ways of doing things in addressing these issues.

Ethiopia sets-up accelerator lab

Realizing the need to do things in a new way, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is setting up 60 labs across the globe to   serve 78 countries. The labs are the means to build the world’s largest and fastest learning network to solve development challenges and UNDP Ethiopia will be home to one of the labs, and is currently taking shape.

I am thrilled to be part of this ground-breaking initiative in my country, and as the Explorer in the group, with a knack for discovery, testing hypotheses through thought-provoking questions, my role is to ispromote grass root solution to solve problems, create a learning space for ecosystem builders and local innovators, increase the creativity of the generation and enhance learning and collaboration. There are different innovative solutions that our communities are using for different problems and it’s the ecosystem builder’s role to map, experiment, scale them which will enable us to accelerate learning. Additional to personal growth, through re-imagining the opportunity that the lab can bring for the ecosystem I have decided to join the journey.

UNDP Ethiopia’s Accelerator Lab is established at a critical time where we need to look at the bigger picture of working towards a system change that explores and promotes grass root level innovative solutions.

In the process of setting up the Lab, UNDP Ethiopia team has used different tools to make sense of the current development landscape and strategized and identified three challenges, also reflecting major transitions, to focus on over the next five years; rapidly growing population, marked by a youth bulge, governance shortfall, and environmental degradation.

The accelerator lab will explore and work with different partners to identify local innovative solutions to address the identified three priority development challenges. It will provide a platform to experiment and test these solutions, taking them to scale and disseminating results.  The Lab will have a team of three with the roles of solutions mapping, exploration, and experimentation.

What excites me most with my new journey is to have a lab which is giving us an opportunity to experiment and devise solutions which come from the grassroots, spearheaded by heroes with a mindset of learning from them even if they don’t workout. Internally, the lab has recently shared its vision with all of UNDP staff, tested the sense making approach with UNDP unit, both programmed and operations, which has provided a springboard to our work aiming to work with them as first line clients with whom to develop a shared understanding as we launch our journey in identifying and addressing complex challenges in Ethiopia as the country enjoys a unique and historic reform moment. 


Creating Space for collaboration

The accelerator lab recognizes that the only way to advance innovation, coherence and speed is through collaboration and securing unusual partnerships. One diagnostic insight that UNDP Ethiopia echoed through a recent portfolio review is that UNDP Ethiopia continues to be a key and trusted partner for the government.  It is an advantage that the accelerator lab would seek to build on and strengthen, scale and grow on top of securing non-traditional collaborators like the private sector, foundations and the academia.

The accelerator lab is offering a safe space to explore unusual and fundamental ideas to inspire change, create new opportunities and make a bet to reach SDG agenda 2030. It will be the space for exploring, mapping grass root solutions and quick experimentations. So, join us in building the largest and fastest learning network to tackle 21st century development challenges in Ethiopia.

Contact Ethiopia Accelerator Lab team: