Fostering an Innovation Ecosystem in South Sudan

Written by Buay Tut, Head of Exploration

Co-creation and baseline solutions mapping study in Aweil, Norther Bahr el Ghazal and Marial Bai. Photo: UNDP

The South Sudanese diaspora is well known on a global scale, garnering recognition and attention in various industries including athletics, public service, and entertainment. Most recently, individuals such as Athing Mu; a South Sudanese American 800M gold medal Olympian and Ayor Makur; Australia’s first woman parliamentarian, are carrying awareness of the skills and knowledge South Sudanese have to offer the world. While the global diaspora is getting much deserved recognition, the incredible work being done in the country, often does not get a similar spotlight.  

The Accelerator Lab launched a regular convening, called Meet and Greets, in June, to serve as a platform to highlight and celebrate the innovative work being done throughout the country. Since our first meeting, new solutions have captured our attention. Here are highlights of three initiatives driving South Sudan forward and in the right direction: 

Youth in Wau and Kuajok transforming aluminum cans into cooking pots. Photo: UNDP

1.  Circular economy: Youth enabled jobs and alternative forms of income creation: 

Youth in Wau and Kuajok are collecting scrape metal and discarded aluminum cans, and bringing them to recycling sites to be sold. At the sites, the cans are melted down and cast into common household items such as pots, pans, and cutlery. These products are then sold, generating income for the community. This initiative has widespread implications for the environment, economy through the creation of jobs and revenue generation,  and furthermore, improving community building between three distinct community actors (youth, business women, and the consumers).

Former soldiers and ex-servicemen in Eastern Equatorial state sustaining food production. Photo: UNDP

2.   Community food security, poverty, and instability alleviation: Sustainable food production utilizing former soldiers and ex-servicemen 

Presently, it is estimated more than half of South Sudan’s population could face acute food insecurity in 2021. Yet over 90 percent of South Sudan’s land is arable. The juxtaposition of food insecurity in a land so blessed is jarring to many observers. One of the biggest challenges faced is the insecurity to farm in the bushes caused by armed elements which are made up of former soldiers and ex-servicemen who lack opportunity and sometimes turn to crime to make ends meet. One local initiative is working to integrate these individuals into the community, provide them with tools, and materials to begin commercialized farming. This initiative has implications for community level food security as well as household poverty alleviation, through increased food self-sufficiency/reliance as well as improved community-level security.

Locals in solution mapping baseline study using Sanduk banking. Photo: UNDP

3.   Traditional meets digital: Sanduk savings schemes takes women’s economic empowerment from analog to digital while honoring traditional practices

South Sudanese women out of necessity and with a spirit of self-reliance, engage in start-up economic activity by setting up small scale businesses that can help to provide their families a supplementary income. One of the major challenges these women face is access to savings and loans schemes to strengthen their economic standing and the resiliency of their income-generating activities. Over time, to solve problem this themselves, women developed a traditional savings scheme called ‘Sanduk- Sanduk.

In a Sanduk- Sanduk, each member deposits money periodically and the collective disperses the pooled savings to one recipient per iteration. This system is used both in Sudan and South Sudan, and has helped women across both countries plan savings as well as raise start-up capital at an interest-free rate.. The Sudan and South Sudan Accelerator Labs are teaming up with UNDP’s Africa Borderlands Centre to work with these groups and other partners to explore building a financial service product offering that is adapted to the localized context that can expand the existing Sanduk - Sanduk scheme and formalize these groups into more robust savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs). This initiative will result in economic and social empowerment of vulnerable women/communities, as well as build local and indigenous knowledge via the celebration, honoring, recognition, and scaling of pre-existing local practices.

Locals entrepreneurs and peace committee members in Warawar. Photo: UNDP 2021

These are merely a few of the local initiatives taking place in South Sudan. Innovation does not always have to be extravagant and on the forefront of technological development. It can also be in the changing of mindsets, bridging knowledge of cultural practices, or simply put, finding a new use for old practices or ideas. Collective intelligence principles allow us to work smarter together and generate new insights. The UNDP AccLab in South Sudan is on hand to support, scale, and enable networked learning and knowledge-based solutions.

The first UNDP AccLab Meet and Greet in Juba took place on 7 June 2021 with the support of UNDP South Sudan and the Scenius Hub at DefyHateNow, a youth-initiated hub that provides a physical space and platform for South Sudanese to explore, build and grow together.

The South Sudan Accelerator Lab will hold its next Innovators and Makers Ecosystem Meet and Greet on Thursday 16 September 2021 from 4:30pm-7pm at Scenius Hub. Find out more here.

Joint Border Peace Committee members in Warawar

Leader and members in joint-peace committee in Warawar

South Sudan Accelerator Labs focus group discussion on using Sanduk Banking for women's entrepreneurship

South Sudan Accelerator Labs and Female Entrepreneurs part of the local Sanduk in Northern Bahr el Ghazal