The UNDP Accelerator Labs partner with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and Ashoka to advance its learning agenda on how informal economies affect circular economies

June 29, 2023

Kickstarting the partnership with a learning circle on the contribution of informal workers to the circular economy at the Dela Summit, in Älmhult, Sweden—a gathering of social entrepreneurs, IKEA mentors, strategy partners, and learning partners, who are joined by colleagues from the UNDP Accelerator Labs.

Ikea Social Entrepreneurship

New York - IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, Ashoka and the United Nations Development Programme Accelerator Labs are launching a partnership for joint learning on common development which will kick start in 2023 with a focus on the connection between the informal and the circular economy.

With more than two billion informal workers worldwide and about 85 percent of the economy in Africa considered informal, a vast part of the economy remains under the radar of most international cooperation initiatives yet hold great potential to address some of the most pressing development challenges such as waste management and pollution. This partnership will help comprehend how unregistered small-scale businesses and informal workers contribute to economic models that prioritize the continuous utilization of products and material, rather than their disposal.

With 91 Accelerator Labs creating vale in 115 countries, UNDP has been exploring new pathways to value within the informal economy and is now looking into deepening its knowledge about the potential for accelerating innovative circular economy business models. Specifically, 24 UNDP Accelerator Labs are already actively experimenting in the topics of informality, circularity and waste management. Through the Dela programme, Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship are able to tap into Ashoka’s community of over 4,000 leading social entrepreneurs from 95 countries and IKEA’s network of co-workers across the globe, uniquely positioning the partnership to surface robust insights on the innovation stemming from individuals and communities worldwide to design more circular supply chains and to shape more sustainable cities.

"This partnership is a key part of the Accelerator Labs’ Research and Development focus on the informal economy and will help us validate our hunch that the millions of women and men working informally in the Global South are creating value from what we consider waste,” says Gina Lucarelli, Team Leader at the UNDP Accelerator Labs. “Through this collaboration we want to test out our hypothesis and learn together about the connection between circular and informal economies to help shape the supply chains and policies of tomorrow.”

"This collaboration builds upon each organization’s networks,” adds Stefannia Russo, Programme Lead at IKEA Social Entrepreneurship. This is a unique opportunity to harness the potential of collective intelligence by bringing together innovators from across the world who are tackling social and environmental challenges to learn from each other. We’re excited to have UNDP Accelerator Labs onboard and by joining forces, we hope to foster innovative thinking and action that can unlock the potential for positive change." 

The circular economy, with its emphasis on resource regeneration and reuse, offers immense promise for resilient and sustainable societies. Simultaneously, the informal economy, a vibrant force in global economic activity, holds incredible potential for inclusive growth and poverty reduction. Our endeavor is to uncover the untapped wisdom at the intersection of these domains, unlocking insights and solutions that can bring about profound change.

At the heart of this collaboration and exploration lies the transformative power of campfire conversations—a methodology being tested by UNDP Accelerator Labs. These discussions gather diverse participants to explore the intersection of these two domains, capture bottom-up groundbreaking insights, and ultimately create knowledge products which will inform strategic planning, promote urgency, and inspire action that propels us towards an inclusive circular economy that benefits all.

The partnership kicks off the 2023 Dela Summit in Älmhult, Sweden—a gathering of social entrepreneurs, IKEA mentors, strategy partners, and learning partners, who are joined by colleagues from UNDP Accelerator Labs from Panama, Tanzania and Viet Nam who are experimenting with new circular economy solutions. This summit provides an ideal platform for harvesting practical insights and foundational knowledge, igniting the flame that will guide future campfire conversations.

“At Ashoka, we believe in the power of social innovation to drive positive change," concludes Stella Printezi, Programme Lead at Ashoka. "The intersection between the circular and informal economies presents unique challenges and opportunities, and we look forward to exploring this topic further within the context of social innovation."

About IKEA Social Entrepreneurship: 

IKEA Social Entrepreneurship creates greater opportunities for people who are vulnerable and marginalised to live a better everyday life. It contributes to transforming IKEA into a more circular, entrepreneurial and sustainable business. By working with pioneers and pathfinders who use their businesses to make everyday life better for those who need it most, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship is committed to creating a positive impact, striving towards a more equal and inclusive society. 

About Ashoka: 

Ashoka envisions a world where everyone can embrace their agency, live with dignity, has the skills to solve problems and create positive change for the common good. We select leading social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows) and accompany them along their journey – with catalytic investments, strategic guidance, and an unmatched peer-to-peer community. We learn from Fellows and create open-sourced knowledge resources for the broader social innovation 

About the United Nations Development Program Accelerator Labs 

UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. In 2019, UNDP set out to build the world’s largest and fastest learning network on wicked sustainable development challenges. Co-built as a joint venture with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany and the Qatar Fund for Development and with the support of UNDP core donors and Action Partners such as Italy, Nesta, HoneyBee Network, the UNDP Accelerator Lab Network covers 115 countries, and taps into local innovations to create actionable insights and reimagine sustainable development for the 21st century. | 

Media Contact

Erika Antoine, UNDP Accelerator Labs Communications,