Staying true to our roots: Leveraging the existing solutions against COVID-19

June 28, 2020

With the narrative that “UNDP Accelerator Labs are not Innovation Labs” and our core principle of  scaling “existing grassroot innovations”, the Lab in Nepal has walked the talk especially at the time of COVID-19, by mapping, exploring and experimenting solutions to help the country combat the pandemic.

It’s been three months since the nation-wide lockdown in Nepal, and since then, delivering on our principles while ensuring that we do not re-invent the wheel has had its own challenges. While exploring the emerging trends due to the pandemic, the pattern was particularly strong on migration in flows, loss of jobs, health risks to frontline workers, effects on tourism and environment. But, as it is said, every crisis is an opportunity, this pandemic has served us with an opportunity to further build on Lab’s core competencies, and  promote, contextualize and scale existing interventions and solutions to buffer the impact of COVID-19 on health, protecting people, and socio-economic recovery.

In a span of 90 days, we have closely analyzed the needs and demands of the local governments to collaborate and help ease the situation. After a series of dialogues with potential partners, we were able to initiate four different interventions which are expected to support health sector, socio-economic recovery and crisis response and resilience. Let’s take a virtual tour of these solutions!

Photo: Smartpalika

1. Making the local governments smarter during the pandemic through Smart Palika Mobile App:
Smart Palika (Smart Municipality) is a digital dashboard custom built for local government, where  data is collected through a mobile application from the general public. The main objective of the technology is to support the local government in taking data-driven decisions related to migration. As per report, 300,000 Nepali migrants are expected to return home and a significant number of migrants are expected to enter the country through India-Nepal borders. With technical support from the Lab, the Smart Palika app has added a new feature whereby the local government of Sudurpaschim Province can make effective COVID-19 preparedness and response plan. The new feature of the app "Immigrant Assistant" pre-reports the entry of returnees which helps the local governments to take pro-active quarantine management measures and plan health checks. The app also supports intra local governmental communication and coordination. The Lab partnered with an innovative enterprise called CellApp Innovation for this. UNDP has also supported Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration in CMIS development to supported in the establishment and operationalization of COVID MIS which is helping the Government of Nepal and province and local governments monitor the situation but this partcular partnership with with CellApp focused on the immigration part only.

Photo: Solid Waste Management Association of Nepal (SWMAN)

2. Dignifying the lives of the vulnerable ones, the informal waste workers, through local gears:

After the government announcing waste collection as an essential service, the informal and formal waste workers were hesitant to return to work because they did not have access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and necessary safety guidelines. Waste collectors were subjected to stigma as potential carriers of the virus given their high exposure risks. Hence, we partnered with Solid Waste Management Association of Nepal to design and develop locally sourced PPE gears or “dignity kits” for 200 waste workers in Kathmandu valley. The gears which included face shield, masks, body suit, sanitizer, gloves and gumboots are as per the WHO standards. Along with the gears, we also organized remote training sessions on using and re-using PPE which has provided confidence and clarity to continue with business as usual during the pandemic.

In addition to this, in collaboration with Medicines du Monde, we are supporting 300+ informal waste workers on safe waste collection procedures during COVID-19 by delivering virtual workshops through the use of locally made Behavioral Change Communication (BCC) materials. 

3. Introducing automation and robotics to hospitals through Sister Robots:

With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, there was an increasing demand from health professionals regarding the need of certain solutions that would ensure they can continue providing services with minimal exposure. In our course of mapping and exploring location solutions, we discovered that Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN) has a working prototype of a robot that has the potential to carry food and medicines. [RR1] [BG2] The lab then worked with RAN on design, functionality and manual development, and transitioned their working prototype to a full-fledged working product called “Sister Robot”, which is 100% local and is cost-effective, and has the potential of scalability as well.

Photo: SABAH

4. Creating jobs for the marginalized women during the pandemic:  

3 out of 5 SMEs have lost their jobs due to COVID19 which is a huge problem for a country like Nepal where almost 75% of the economy is in the informal sector. Taking this into account, the lab has partnered with SAARC Business Association of Home-Based Workers (SABAH) on integrating 150 most marginalized women by providing them opportunity in making 40,000 cloth face-masks, complimentary to the WHO guidelines by optimally utilizing available natural resources and indigenous skills and supporting them in streamlining the supply chain by underpinning the backward and forward linkages.

To cut the long story short, the Accelerator Lab Nepal has always worked on mapping and reinforcing locally sourced solutions while mobilizing dynamic partnership of actors contributing knowledge, resources and experience. Also, a strong value that we have understood while venturing our experiments is that we want to connect our solutions with our country office’s priority areas, whether it is experiments related to waste management that could be linked with the Environment Portfolio or the SMEs economic recovery relevant with the Inclusive Economic Growth Portfolio.

Supporting local and staying connected has been our ultimate mantra, and we shall continue, to staying true to our roots!

UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment, It is on a quest of to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.