Accelerator Lab: An innovative way to change things in Mauritania

27 août 2021


© UNDP Mauritania - The Accelerator Lab comes in with an experimental design to help transform brilliant ideas into reality.


Having good ideas is fun. There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get when inspiration strikes, and you suddenly notice that everything in your mind has fallen perfectly into place. If only it happened more often – right? But ideas alone are not enough to make a change, sometimes there lies a farfetched reality between ideas and implementation. It’s easy to imagine that having a good idea is all it takes to succeed. You sit down with your pen and paper, brainstorm a little, have a eureka moment and – hey presto – you’re an overnight success!

Unfortunately, things tend not to work out as we often imagine. Ideas are delicate things, often just as delicate as they are daring. We can’t just throw an idea into the world undefended, in other words, without testing for proof of concept and protection – and expect it to fend for itself. We need to be sure that we give it a good shot at being taken seriously.

Well, that’s where the Accelerator Lab comes in with an experimental design to help transform brilliant ideas into reality. Combining insightful anecdotes from collective intelligence and design thinking sessions with practicality and lay bare the thinking styles that underpin creative leaps. In fact, what collective intelligence process helps to do is to look at the problem in a new way, instead of just adopting old ways of doing things.

Ideas proliferate when diverse and brilliant minds come together to reshape the normal frames of reference and encourage innovation.

UNDP Accelerator Lab Mauritania recently set out to work on three challenges: (1) informality in the agricultural sector, (2) access to healthcare and (3) waste management. We first explored possible weak signals, then mapped out solutions related to these challenges… Interesting solutions are to be tested. But we cannot just sit behind our desks and decide how to go about these experimentations.

We decided to bring together diverse, stimulated minds, to discover new ways of dealing with Informality in the agricultural sector, Access to Healthcare and Waste Management in a collective intelligence process. Government officials, experts, entrepreneurs, civil society representatives, and future users were brought together to think and plan collectively.

The mapping process led us to discover a local innovator (RiMCompost) working on transforming waste from palm trees to compost. This innovator uses locally available materials to increase soil fertility, knowing that only 5% of Mauritania’s total land surface is arable. Agronomists, governments officials, agricultural specialists, gardeners, and farmers were brought together to discuss and exchange ideas on composting in Mauritania. At the end of the discussion, it was suggested to first test the compost in a chemical laboratory to see the different nutritional components and conduct an experimentation – one farm with this compost and another farm with imported compost–. This will help us to make valuable comparison to see what exactly works. If the experiment is successful, the product will be certified through the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Handicrafts and Tourism and a scaling- up plan will be developed. 

The Accelerator Lab’s quest to digitalize the HealthCare System in Mauritania led us to bring together medical practitioners, doctors, nurses, health officials, government officials, future users, and developers, to discuss collectively how to improve access to health care through digitalization. The discussion led to a proposal to develop and experiment with a medical appointment booking app that aims to help patients book appointments with doctors and reduce waiting time and long lines in hospitals. The Accelerator Lab will be working with DoctoRiM through our local partner HADINA RIMTIC to test and scale this solution.

In Mauritania, many informal small-scale producers face difficulties to have access to market and sell their products. On the other hand, wholesale buyers also face difficulties to access small scale producers from different regions in the country. During the collective intelligence sessions, Accelerator Lab-Mauritania brought together, small scale producers, developers, wholesale buyers, experts, and government officials to discuss collectively the possibility of developing an innovative digital platform, that will integrate and bundle the products of small-scale producers into large quantity for market. This solution will address the challenges faced by small crops and livestock entrepreneurs in the areas of farm input supply, financing, market access, and decision support tools.

These sessions helped to pay attention to future users. The experimentations will be, inspired by creative and dedicated customers, who took part in the collective intelligence sessions, striving to create the best new products that meet the needs of everyone.

The insights gleaned from these sessions represent a key factor in the fresh attention brought to these issues to inform our experimentation journey. Well-designed sessions were used to reshape the normal frames of reference and encourage innovation.

Innovative ideas are always in need of experimentation and protection...

The biggest problem facing innovation in Mauritania is that it has become slow and bloated, no longer able to respond quickly to market threats and opportunities. This leads to losing the will and the ability to try new things and stop experimenting. To fix this, the Accelerator Lab is currently promoting innovative breakthrough experimental ideas among young Mauritanian entrepreneurs and experts, through collective intelligence sessions.

The main purpose of these Collective Intelligence sessions is not to generate hundreds of new ideas. What is more valuable is fostering a spirit of experimentation that is desperately needed. And it’s working.

Leverage experimentation and data to overcome biases…

You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. You can disrupt your everyday ways of thinking, see past the blind spots, and having great ideas, will feel like second nature.

Biases in the ways of seeing development can stop people from identifying problems, generating solutions, and putting great ideas into practice effectively. Objective data and experiments are needed to form hypotheses and reality-test our assumptions. It’s better to realize that things are wrong when the data and experimentation results doesn’t add up at an early stage, as opposed to months or years down the line!

What are the lessons learnt? To experiment, map as many ideas and hypotheses as possible and consider them all, having consulted and engaged with stakeholders, experts, and the evidence, and be ready to discard any ideas that do not stack up. Building on the famous quote from the late Steve Jobs, co-founder, and former CEO of Apple, ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ but also, stay interconnected and stay intrepid!