Youth Empowerment Programme & Innovation Portfolio Journey

Posted October 7, 2019

In this three-part series of blogs, we look at the journey between UNDP Pakistan’s Innovation Portfolio and the Youth Empowerment Programme to design, test, adapt and scale innovative approaches for achieving youth-focused development goal.

The world around us is changing at lightning speed; as technology adapts and updates, so must our own “human systems” evolve in a way that keeps pace. The rules, systems and approaches we live by, need to adjust to our hyper-informed, creative and technological age. As development actors at UNDP, we face specific challenges in this new era; the sheer scale and scope of threats faced by humanity alongside the ambition of the 2030 Agenda, means that we can no longer do business as usual – the time to move from risk aversion to risk expectation is now.

UNDP’s Strategic Plan of 2018 – 2021 places innovation at the core of the way we must do business. Our own Resident Representative a.i., Ignacio Artaza, encourages colleagues to think big and push boundaries, to experiment and co-design new ways of achieving development outcomes, work with new partners, find alternative models of financing, and be creative and agile in scoping Pakistan for new and effective ways of overcoming frontier challenges. Our own expertise working on social issues needs to meet the start-ups, technology, and private sectors in order to test, adapt, iterate, scale and learn from innovative initiatives.

Since 2017, UNDP Pakistan’s in-house Innovation Portfolio has worked to mainstream innovative approaches and tools into programmes. For this, the earliest entry points were through “innovation champions”; the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), ‘Kamyab Jawan’- literally meaning Successful Youth. Since early 2018, YEP has focused on mainstreaming innovative approaches into programme design for achieving youth development outcomes in a sustainable and “future-focused” way. The emphasis is on recognising young people as the future of Pakistan and working to equip them with future-ready skills and encouraging social entrepreneurship to catalyse positive social impact and growth. For the past two years, YEP and the Innovation Portfolio have been on an exciting journey co-designing, experimenting, testing and learning innovative approaches for achieving positive programme outcomes.

In this series of blogs, we share three examples that illustrate how the Innovation Portfolio and a major programme worked together in developing new solutions to the challenges faced by Pakistan’s youth:

The SDG Bootcamp journey: supporting social entrepreneurs to solve Pakistan’s problems

Entrepreneurs, and in particular social entrepreneurs, are playing a vital role in helping transform our economies into sustainable systems.  At UNDP we saw an opportunity to innovate for searching for new solutions to tackle joint objectives of youth unemployment and equipping young people with future-ready skills, while collectively working to solve complex social problems. We wanted not only to play a role in preparing young people for the job market of the future, but also support the development of an ecosystem conducive to social entrepreneurship.

To do this, we needed the right kind of partner. A tenet of UNDP’s innovation teams is that we need to partner with “unusual suspects” to convene, connect, and engage new actors in co-creating innovative solutions to development challenges. This approach gave us the opportunity, in 2018, to launch a partnership with DEMO, an impact-focused enterprise, to co-create a first-of its-kind entrepreneurship bootcamp for young social entrepreneurs focused on SDGs. The model was piloted in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in October 2018 and brought together 20 inspiring young social entrepreneurs for 5 days of innovation & disruptive thinking. The pilot cemented our belief that across Pakistan there are young people with exciting, innovative ideas for bringing about social change. It also showed us adaptations that were needed in the curriculum and which we made before iterating with a second national-level SDG Bootcamp [1]. 

The impact of this approach is real; under the two bootcamps we have supported 41 social ventures, worked with 25 local partners, reached 1.2 million people on social media, and collaborated with 100 Pakistani changemakers at the bootcamp summit. On top of that, 4 of our social enterprises have all raised rounds of investment for their start-ups aimed at solving critical development challenges in Pakistan.

With DEMO, UNDP Pakistan’s Innovation Portfolio and the Youth Empowerment Programme built an innovative partnership based on a shared vision of social entrepreneurship as a means for empowering young people to improve their lives and work to overcome the problems they identify within their own communities. Social entrepreneurship to UNDP and DEMO is a means of involving the next generation of youth in realizing their best futures and we went about co-designing an approach which we piloted, adapted, iterated and are now looking to scale with the support of more non-traditional partners looking achieve social impact in Pakistan. Follow us to see how we continuing to scale the SDG Bootcamp model!

In the next blog post, we will talk of our experience implementing innovation challenges & using mobile technology to training remote youth populations on entrepreneurship – stay tuned!

[1]   UNDP and DEMO teamed up again to organize a National SDG Bootcamp under the framework of the regional UNDP Youth Co:Lab initiative - a programme co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation. Youth Co:Lab is an initiative co-created in 2017 by UNDP and the Citi Foundation to establish a common agenda for countries across the Asia Pacific Region to empower and invest in youth, so that they can accelerate the implementation of the SDGs through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship.


Ilena Paltzer
Ilena Paltzer has worked for UNDP Pakistan as Innovation Coordinator, and for the FATA Governance Project on Coordination, Partnerships, and Innovation. She has also worked for the UN in South Sudan, across the East & Southern Africa region, and New York. Ilena is interested in finding new approaches for achieving sustainable and holistic social impact and pushing the sector to reconsider the way we "do development". She is also particularly interested in innovative ways of strengthening women's agency and engagement in these processes