UNDP Maldives Accelerator Lab and the Innovation Journey

May 10, 2021

Maldives is much more than beaches and sunsets says Fernando Galindo in this blog.

Reflections on the Innovation Journey

By: Fernando Galindo - UNDP Maldives, Innovation lead

Listen to this blog here

What is the first image that pops up in your mind when you think about the Maldives? Let me guess: beautiful beaches, a great blue sea, stunning sunsets, wonderful life underwater, a paradise on earth. It is true, the country is a paradise on earth.

But the Maldives is much more than beaches and sunsets. It is a nation full of humble, hardworking and kind people committed to a more sustainable, equitable, and blue Maldives. An island nation aware of the importance of achieving the SDG agenda, reducing climate risks and fighting global warming.

This reflection goes through three moments: The ‘Frontier Dialogues’ Podcasts as a pandemic's dividend, the Maldives development challenges as a road map for change, and the UNDP Maldives Accelerator Lab (AccLab) and why it was set up.

One of the episodes of the Frontier Dialogues podcasts featuring the Maldives Accelerator Lab team.

Frontier Dialogues podcast (FD)

Let me talk about my experience in the Maldives. I got to the country in January of 2020, just weeks before the pandemic. I came with many expectations; it was my first time in the Maldives and the Asia Pacific region. After a couple of weeks everything changed quickly, and I found myself stuck in my house (Like everybody else, globally).

Pandemic ended up confirming we live and work in uncertain times.  On the work front, it hammered the importance of understanding systems complexities, nodes, connections, and trends. Just like zooming in and out into the big picture and providing comprehensive approaches, methods, and solutions to our national counterparts to achieve their national targets.

In doing so, an important question was raised. How do we keep strengthening ties with the national innovation ecosystem and boost grassroots solutions while we are stuck at home? Then, the idea of creating a podcast came up; to connect and be together, while being apart. The Frontier Dialogues podcast was born with a few goals. First, to showcase national solutions, giving voice to Maldivian people from different institutions and backgrounds, highlighting at the same time experiences of islands (decentralized grass roots movements, as opposed to capital centric views). Second, to explore the future of development in the Maldives, searching emerging development issues, and providing new analysis elements to policymakers and the public.

Hosting the podcast has been an exciting and rewarding experience. It has allowed me to talk to and hear from interesting and committed people, which otherwise would not have been possible. These dialogues have been a great way to get to know a little more about the Maldives, its development challenges, its people's kindness, and discover a society full of changemakers investing in their communities and the country. The Frontier Dialogues podcast is an example of ‘necessity as the mother of invention’ in times of uncertainty.

Gradually, the podcast has become a tool to connect people, institutions, learnings, and solutions in one place. If you like, you can find more info about the podcast here

Maldives development challenges and the AccLab's journey

We have framed Maldives’ development challenges in two big categories: climate risks and social exclusions. Everyone knows Maldives is the posterchild for climate change, one of the country's most affected by its impacts. So, the first one is linked to the global climate discourse - clean energy, water sanitation, and sustainable transport. The second one, related to tackling social exclusion, refers to situations where individuals or communities experience deprivation, lack of resources, or opportunities. These affect vulnerable populations as well (formal/informal workers adversely affected by the COVID-19 situation and risk falling further into poverty, youth, single-headed female households, persons with disabilities, migrant workers (undocumented/documented).

It is in this context that the AccLab becomes essential. Today's challenges demand better partnerships, community engagement, public and private commitment, new data sources, and systems thinking approaches. One of UNDP Maldives Accelerator Lab's primary goals is to make sense of our rapidly changing, complex, and uncertain national reality, to support the achievement of the Government’s Strategic Action Plan and the SDG agenda.

The Lab is a system change driver. In doing that, we follow three main concepts. First, Systems Thinking - understanding the system, its complexity, its nodes, and connections. Second, Future Thinking; understanding global trends and their impacts on the Maldivian context, identifying risks and opportunities, envisioning possible scenarios, upcoming challenges, and preparing institutions to face these forthcoming situations more effectively. Third, Design Thinking, testing, and prototyping experiments from a human-centered design approach. 

Launching the Maldives AccLab

On March 13, the UNDP Maldives Accelerator Lab was launched virtually. It brought together actors from the government, private sector, civil society, youth, and general public from the national innovation ecosystem. The launch saw extensive participation and interest from across the Maldives and the globe over Facebook.

The AccLab launch event shared more information about its First Learning Cycle, focusing on exclusions in the labor market (blogs here). Likewise, it launched the virtual Solutions Safari, which is an exercise to map local solutions and innovators across the country.

The Maldives Accelerator Lab aims to become the country's innovation hub for doing development differently and provide national partners with a set of services to better tackle complex sustainable development problems. Development challenges cannot be solved by a magic bullet. The AccLab is a space to bring national development ecosystem actors together to explore these challenges, including grassroots solutions, local and central government institutions and private sector. Together, we will identify and elevate the reach and impact of grassroots solutions, and co-design and test the next generation of public policies and development solutions for the Maldives.

From the virtual launch of the Maldives Accelerator Lab.