2020 Social Good Summit: A Sense of Digitalization, Youth Innovation, Social Impact & Covid-19

April 15, 2021

Photo showing innovators at the Awards Ceremony of UNDP's 2020 Social Good Summit in Freetown. Photo: @UNDP

When UNDP kick-started the Social Good Summit (SGS) in 2013, our team had always a clue of how colourful things would turn out-physically bringing together hundreds of guests including judges and participants under a canopy to award young deserving innovators. Yet, the emergence of Covid-19 is changing the story.

Following the 2019 edition of the Social Good Summit, UNDP’s Accelerator Lab and its partners planned on 2020 being a transformational year in the format for organizing the event. We hoped on having mini regional competitions before having a national grand finale event, with representatives from all regions. This was a necessary strategy in continuing our drive to take innovative thinking to the rural areas and to reach the last mile. However, Covid-19 had other plans and we were set with the challenge of organizing the event with little to no physical human interaction. As a result, the 7th edition of the Social Good Summit was an unintended experiment!

The Covid-19 pandemic therefore provided not the best moments but, an ideal opportunity for the Lab to start the process of digitizing the largely paper-based format and migrate the competition to an online platform. This was timely as it led to the Lab working with the Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYA) to upgrade the youth Ministry’s National Youth Forum website to a web-based mobile app that operates as a one-stop shop for all youth activities in Sierra Leone. This online drive could be seen as hamstringing our attempt to reach the last mile due to limited internet connectivity and poor smart phone penetration in rural areas, however it’s a sign of the looming future and Sierra Leone will ultimately have to adjust accordingly to be part of the “new normal”. The 2020 final event was also not the usual grand occasion where we invite 300-500 guests to witness the innovators pitching to a panel of judges who selects the winners.  The 2020 event placed panel of judges and the pitchers in a pre-recorded televised event and was also expanded to include a youth impact competition to run alongside the youth innovation competition. The later was driven by the (MoYA) in its efforts to recognize and celebrate young people who have in diverse ways contributed to their communities outside the scope of innovation with the title of National Youth Ambassadors. These Ambassadors are to be a source of inspiration and advocates within their communities and peers.   

Photo showing UNDP Deputy Representative, Rokya Ye Dieng & Minister of Youth Affairs, Mohamed Orman Bangura presenting award and certificate to Female Star Prize Winner Yembeh Kargbo. Photo: @UNDP.

The theme for the 2020 SGS is ‘Innovate for a better Sierra Leone’, translated into our local parlance as ‘Inovate 4 Bette Salone’. This theme couldn’t be better suited to the current situation we find ourselves in the world today with the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to create new ways to recover and improve government service delivery in priority areas including health, education, and finance, to ensure we build our nation back better and see the country we want.

As mentioned earlier, 2020 SGS competition had a regional flavour. All five regions in Sierra Leone, North, North-West, South, East and West had the opportunity to send one male and one female participant to challenge in the final pitch event. Applications were screened per region with the best male and female innovators selected to represent and compete in their respective gender categories for top prize winner and runner-up. Application forms were received through email, WhatsApp, web application and hard copies at identified regional offices around the country. Hard copies applications were drastically reduced compared to the previous years as many young people took the opportunity to use the online web application and social media. Over 150 applications were received for both the innovation and impact competitions with 80% of the applicants using the new media for their submissions.

Before the final event, the finalists were invited to attend a 4-day bootcamp to prepare them for their final pitch, which was   recorded for airing on television on the final day of the bootcamp. The 4-day Bootcamp was also a   transitional period where the 10 final candidates under the innovation component  were coached and given tips on how to present their pitch,  provide information that Judges could  be looking out for composure, respond to questions among others.  Some of the final candidates were new to pitching and needed some hand holding to understand what is expected from them during the finals.

The four prize winners of the innovation competition

1.       Top Female Prize winner:

Yembeh Kargbo – Western Region (Beads fashion design e.g jewellery and accessories)

2.       Runner-up Female:

Fatu Tarawallie – Northern Region (Waste plastic into women’s accessories)

3.       Top Male Prize winner:

Samuel Mattia – Southern Region (Hydroponics Agriculture)

4.       Runner-up Male:

Martin Dainbaquee – Eastern Region (Locally made poultry hatchery)

Photo showing partners and innovators at the 2020 Social Good Summit Awards Ceremony held at UNDP in Freetown. Photo: @UNDP.

The UNDP Accelerator Labs focus will not just be on handing out cash prizes, but to also work with our clusters, collaborate with other innovation labs/hubs,   and relevant stakeholders to work with and mentor these young budding innovators/entrepreneurs by providing entrepreneurial support and a ‘safe’ space to test the viability of inventions and ideas before potentially growing and scaling them up. 

Prize winners of the previous summit award in Sierra Leone have gone on to contribute remarkably towards development in the country. Among others, these contributions include, deploying an upgrade design of the traditional water well that has an inbuilt water filtration system providing safe water for domestic use in communities. This young innovator was the male runner-up prize winner in 2019, and as a result of the value the solution brings to communities, he was awarded a contract to install more of his design in 10 slum communities. Another noteworthy solution that was experimented by the Accelerator Lab was the auto irrigation system to encourage all year-round farming in determination to increase production and productivity within the agricultural sector. Remotely controlled, this innovation brings added value to our traditional practice whilst reducing water wastage and labour constraints.

In 2021, we plan to build further on the achievements of 2020. The accelerator lab’s frontier challenge will be looking at the problem of youth unemployment, focusing on how innovation and entrepreneurship can be a means of job creation for young people. Our approach will be strengthening of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem and supporting young aspiring innovators with product development, entrepreneurship training and access to finance (e.g. through crowdfunding) for the establishment of viable enterprises.  

Meet the first cohort of National Youth Ambassadors selected from all regions in Sierra Leone.

1. Northern Region – Alusine Lulu Bangura (Youth advocate and entrepreneur)

2. North-West Region – Isatu Moses (Social change campaigns and livelihood interventions)

3. Western Area - Benson Kandeh (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene-WASH)

4. Southern Region – Aminata F. Kandeh (Fish farming)

5. Eastern Region– Osman Yaah (Rural renewal energy)