One year of the Maldives Accelerator Lab

November 30, 2021

By: Head of Exploration – Fathimath Lahfa, Head of Solutions Mapping – Khady Hamid and Head of Experimentation – Hussain Rasheed   

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The Maldives Accelerator Lab was launched in March 2021.

During the first months we were mostly getting ourselves acquainted with the lay of the land – situating ourselves within the Country Office (CO), making sense of our newly assumed roles, and getting familiar with each other. As we close our first year as the Maldives Accelerator Lab, it is only fitting that we take a moment to pause and reflect on our investments, achievements, failings, and learnings.  

Where did we invest?  

Frontier challenge to strategic focus: Our frontier challenge is about “The exclusions in the labour market”. The parallel processes of proceeding with the design of our first experiment (focusing on the development of e-learning modules to develop soft skills in young people), preparing to conduct a deep listening exercise on Future of Work to establish Social Innovation Platforms, and our support to the UNDP Maldives Country Program Document (CPD) formulation process – made us realize that ensuring that everyone in the Maldives will have productive, meaningful full employment is and will remain as one of the most complex challenges that the country grapple with. Thus, early on we pinned Future of Work as our strategic focus and decided to continue exploring exclusions in the labour market in consecutive learning cycles, under this frame.

Exploring new partners and smaller bets: While we proceeded with our experimentation, we continued our explorations on strategic priorities with new partners in a new stream of work. We have been nurturing a partnership with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) of the Maldives to provide support on testing a policy focusing on inclusivity for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Civil Service. We are very proud of this initiative and we are hoping to develop into a full-fledged experiment in our next learning cycle. 

Supporting CPD formulation process: The Accelerator Lab has been supporting the CO on the CPD design and drafting process. We supported the design and the execution of the internal and external consultations for the CPD and played a major role in shaping the first draft of the document. 

Engagements with local innovators: We launched our first solutions safari in March. This marked the beginning of our engagements with local innovators. Since the closing of our initial call for solutions, we have had the opportunity to engage with innovators working on different solutions and understand a little bit more of their journey as innovators. 

Despite these bigger bets and our support to CO on different interventions, we are also intentional about our learning journey. We participated in various learning opportunities offered and made time for our weekly internal reflections. Sometimes we fell behind – but we never stopped making this a priority!  

What did we learn? 

While we have many things to celebrate, it has not been all roses and posies. The struggles and setbacks have been equally real. And so, have the lessons. We leave you with our three most profound lessons. 

Lesson 1: Sow many seeds 

As the Accelerator Lab we approach stakeholders with a development service offer that is unique and very different from what our stakeholders are used to seeing from development agencies. Rather than project-based funding we offer an opportunity to engage in a collaborative and iterative learning process that could help design and implement effective development. Given the novelty of this offer, it often takes time for stakeholders to understand the value of this offer.  We realized that it is important to sow many seeds at the same time – given that it is only some that will germinate and sprout. 

Lesson 2: The impossible is possible.... but with a bit more time  

As we underwent a procurement process and started engaging a consultant to design the e-learning modules for our first experiment, we realized that there is no way that we could even complete that bit within 100 days, let alone the entire cycle of sensing, exploring, mapping, testing, and growing in just 100 days. Making the impossible possible requires a little bit more time. The other big takeaway from this was that it is important to be a bit realistic in our own ambitions. There is merit in scaling down the scope of our experiments - a few smaller experiments are better than one large experiment.  

Lesson 3: It’s all a balancing act!  

Being asked to support various CO requests, it was difficult for us to sometimes maintain an appropriate balance of time dedicated to supporting CO wide processes and activities and more focused Accelerator Lab activities. The way that our work streams are set up yet – they seem unconnected and isolated from what the rest of the CO is doing. On the other hand, while supporting CO requests gave us an opportunity to impact and influence things at the CO level as well as an opportunity to build rapport with CO colleagues – it does take away from time and energy that we could dedicate to the learning cycle activities. At the end of the day – it is all a balancing act and we realized how important it is to have a common understanding as a Lab of what we take a lead on and what we remain as a bystander on.

Refined directions with new beginnings  

These reflections are also rather timely: we’ve just undergone the Bureau Appraisal process for our new Country Program Document.  

We collective sense a revamped eagerness to carve out more strategic pathways for integrating the Accelerator Lab’s work and its methodologies into the CO’s work, to ensure that WE, as a whole, can be more anticipatory, agile and effective in delivering development results. We are excited to enter our second year so to further refine our direction aiming at enhanced relevance and traction. We are hoping that this refinement journey will be one fueled by radical honesty, playfulness, and collaboration and at best – a journey that continues for…. ever (even if we as individuals move on).  

UNDP Maldives Acclab team on a field mission in Alifu Alifu Atoll meeting with the Women’s Development Committee of Thoddoo island.

AccLab Maldives team. From right, Hussain Rasheed, Khady Hamid and Fathimath Lahfa. All photos: Ashwa Faheem and AccLab Maldives/ UNDP Maldives