UNDP partners with the Mastercard Foundation on Young Africa Innovates (YAI) programme to spark inclusive innovation among diverse youth

August 14, 2023

Nana Yaa Manu Adjei (middle in spectacles) with her female workers displaying soaps produced for hotels. Nana Yaa is a young Ghanaian female innovator who produces organic soap from natural ingredients sourced from local plants. Nana Yaa has created jobs for over 30 women in her local community. The women support production and packaging of the organic soaps.

@UNDP Ghana


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Mastercard Foundation have partnered to establish and implement a Young Africa Innovates (YAI) programme in Ghana and Nigeria over the next two and a half years. This strategic partnership aims to foster inclusive innovation among diverse youth populations to address development challenges.

The $25.8 million partnership between the UNDP and the Mastercard Foundation signifies a shared commitment to creating sustainable, inclusive, and equitable opportunities for young people, particularly targeting those who do not usually benefit from traditional innovation initiatives (atypical actors), and marginalized young people including women, persons living in rural communities, and persons with disabilities.

This partnership is a key step to unlocking the untapped potential of every young person, particularly those often marginalized and overlooked. We aspire to tap the creative and transformative potential of diverse youth from across the country, encompassing those with disabilities, limited educational access, and residing in hard-to-reach areas. Our collective commitment envisions a world where no one is left behind, and where every young person's creativity, regardless of their background, plays a pivotal role in crafting innovative solutions for a brighter and more equitable tomorrow,” says Angela Lusigi, UNDP Resident Representative in Ghana.

Under the partnership, the UNDP will work with innovation and enterprise organizations including grassroots organizations, the private sector, and governments to support different actors including rural, low-literacy, inexperienced, and marginalized individuals. The programme will utilize a challenge fund model to stimulate innovation and scale up impact towards inclusive development.

The YAI programme aims to engage over 10,000 innovators across Ghana and Nigeria. These will be individuals actively working on innovative solutions and will facilitate the rapid validation, testing, and scaling of more than 500 unique solutions. With support from the YAI Programme, innovations will emerge, backed by evidence of impact. These innovations will serve as pathways to unlocking economic opportunities for young people at scale, providing them with the tools and resources to thrive in their respective fields.

“This programme aims to put young people, especially young women, at the centre of driving solutions that improve their well-being and resilience. Over the years, the Mastercard Foundation has supported innovation-focused initiatives, and the lessons learned have informed the Young Africa Innovates programme design. Our intent is to ensure that this Lean Innovation fund establishes a system that generates, identifies, and scales youth-led disruptive solutions toward economic transformation,” noted Rica Rwigamba, Country Director for the Mastercard Foundation in Ghana. 

Traditional challenge funds have limitations such as application restrictions, prolonged testing, limited scalability, and perpetuation of inequalities. To address these, the (YAI) programme will implement intentional support measures such as boot camps, learning circles, capacity development, and a focus on new and atypical actors.

The programme will initiate calls for innovative solutions in both participating countries, with coordination by the UNDP Accelerator Labs in Ghana and Nigeria. Calls for applications will employ different strategies including solution scouts and innovation hubs in rural and marginalized communities to create awareness and provide support for interested applicants to apply. Government partners, grassroots organizations and voluntary organizations will support the programme implementation in the respective countries. These include the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (NEIP) and Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations in Ghana and the iDICE Federal Government Programme and Bezi.Build in Nigeria.


For media enquiry, please contact:

Ms. Praise Nutakor, Head of Communications and Partnerships, UNDP Ghana 

Email: praise.nutakor@undp.org; Tel: +233-501323566