Uncharted Waters: Navigating Today's Challenges with the Power of Experimentation

By Christa Uwamahoro Munezero

January 18, 2023

The manual process of designing a prosthetic limb

The world is facing an unprecedented array of complex social issues that demand innovative solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the pressing need for new ways of thinking and problem-solving. Climate change, economic inequality, and political instability are just a few challenges that must be addressed. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has set out to resolve these challenges by fostering a culture of experimentation in social innovation.

In 2019, UNDP introduced the world's largest and fastest learning network of 60 Labs covering 78 countries. The network has since grown to 91 labs working towards an inclusive and sustainable path to development in 115 countries. The labs are focused on expanding the solution landscape and mapping grassroots innovations, tapping into the knowledge of people closest to the problem, and investing in forward-thinking ideas.

One of the key ways that UNDP is addressing these challenges is by working with partners to find innovative solutions. In Rwanda, for example, UNDP has been working with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of ICT to launch anti-epidemic robots to protect frontline health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project started as an experiment and is set to be repurposed for educational purposes in speech therapy for children with special needs.

UNDP has also been working with the Ministry of Local Government in Rwanda to design the NgiraNkugire system, an aid distribution platform to help vulnerable citizens during the lockdown. The system has successfully identified vulnerable beneficiaries, managed aid distribution and evaluated the impact of the aid. Now, the system is being upgraded to be used by the government to address social protection interventions that support community initiatives.

The #FutureSmartUNDP agenda, borne out of COVID-19 lessons learned, sets a new path of building forward better and smarter, a future that leaves no one behind. This includes working with innovators to solve mobility issues of persons with visual impairment through Smart White Canes.

In addition, UNDP is leveraging emerging technologies such as 3D Computer Aided Design Manufacturing of Prosthetics and Orthotics. These efforts are to improve the lives of persons with disabilities and make them more included in society.

Behind successful innovations, there are daring innovators who are working tirelessly to see their creative ideas come to life, who start their startups from their schools' computer labs or homes and dream of building massive businesses that will create impact in their communities, who empty their personal savings to fund their ideas believing that one day they will succeed. UNDP is proud to support these innovators and is committed to fostering a culture of experimentation in social innovation to help build a better future for all.

By working with partners, investing in forward-thinking ideas, and supporting daring innovators, UNDP is committed to building a better future for the world.

Christa Uwamahoro Munezero is the Head of Experimentation at UNDP Rwanda's Accelerator Lab.