21st Century Development: 60 Accelerator Labs Aim to ‘Future Proof’ Progress

July 18, 2019

New York City - An innovative network of 60 Accelerator Labs are being launched worldwide to test and scale new solutions to global challenges like climate change and soaring inequality. These laboratories, launched yesterday by UNDP, Germany, and Qatar, will bring together grassroots ideas with new sources of real-time data and experimentation to meet the fast-changing realities of 21st century development.

"We are just at the beginning of this bold journey, but we are moving quickly. We have almost completed the set-up phase for 60 Accelerator Labs after screening 8,000 lab team applicants. We are already receiving great responses from government partners, tech hubs, and innovation labs around the world who are keen to work with UNDP’s accelerator labs on innovative solutions to challenges like urbanization, marine plastics and creating employment opportunities for young people," said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

During today’s launch in New York, Mr Steiner was joined by Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, Germany State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development and H.E. Khalifa bin Jassem Al-Kuwari, Director General of the Qatar Fund for Development. 

The speed and complexity of today’s challenges are different from previous eras in history, requiring an equally sophisticated range of development solutions to tackle complex problems and make faster progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Unveiled in collaboration with Italy’s Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea Protection and other partners, the Accelerator Labs will serve 78 countries and play a pivotal role in reimagining sustainable development in a 21st century often dominated by volatile conditions that the world’s 20thcentury systems are not equipped to navigate. The Accelerator Lab network will combine grassroots innovations with new sources of real-time data and experimentation, delving deeper and exploring solutions into issues such as the circular economy, youth employment, and climate change. 

“We are proud to partner with UNDP in this global experiment. We believe this is a bold move that matches the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. We have 10 years left to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and Germany is committed to investing in new ways that can accelerate our progress,” Dr. Flachsbarth says. “Time is of the essence and this network provides the actual laboratory for advancing this know-how.”

The success of these new Labs will allow UNDP to identify local innovations and help broaden their potential to accelerate development. “The grassroots approach adopted by the Labs emphasizes the importance of exploring socially acceptable and locally-sourced solutions that will make addressing 21stcentury development challenges more effective and efficient,” H.E. Khalifa bin Jassem Al-Kuwari says.  “By taking a leap of faith in investing the first 20 million dollars, we have been able to enhance our delivery towards our international commitments in the Middle East and Africa regions.”

As a key component of the Accelerator Lab Network, UNDP has created partnerships with Italy’s Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea Protection, Nesta, MIT and the Honeybee Network. To date, the Accelerator Labs have attracted over $70 million - $33 million from the Federal Republic of Germany, $20 million from the State of Qatar, $5.5 million from the Republic of Italy, and $20 million from UNDP core partners. UNDP is seeking additional partners and investment to expand its portfolio to test and grow a variety of solutions that match the aspiration of the Sustainable Development Goals.