Lessons from Uganda: Scaling Up, Scaling Out, Scaling Deep

August 30, 2022
AccLab Uganda lessons

The Accelerator Lab network is the world’s fastest learning network on development challenges

UNDP Uganda

In 2019 the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab, alongside counterparts in 59 other countries worldwide, embarked on a mission to introduce new methods of working throughout UNDP. This unique set of methods included strategies for engagement that would eventually allow us to build fit for purpose and scalable solutions to development challenges.

A few months into our journey, we began to curate a 100-day scaling plan encompassing several “lighthouse experiments” and together with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) the Strategy to Scale Innovation for Development was designed to focus on three primary means of scaling:

  • Scaling Up: Achieving greater numbers through adoption of the innovation.
  • Scaling Out: Institutional and policy changes through adoption of the innovation.
  • Scaling Deep: Impacting culture through innovation that alters behaviors and norms.

As we collectively set out to deploy some of these strategies, we discovered some interesting learnings along the way.

Acc Lab Team UG

UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab team introduces partners to the Accelerator Lab methodology

UNDP Uganda

Scaling with the Mothership

Many members of the 1st Accelerator Lab cohort of 60 labs (which has since expanded to 91 labs supporting 115 countries) will remember engaging with a particular piece of literature – Accelerator Labs: the challenge of engaging the mothership – before we even understood what the “mothership” was or where she was going.

Our first task was to make sense of pressing development challenges alongside UNDP’s Nature Climate Energy and Resilience (NCER) team in a bid to contextualize the Accelerator Lab’s new methodologies, insights, and learnings within the frontier challenge of deforestation. Our initial thought was that walking this journey together, right from the process of sensemaking to experimentation, would be a great strategy to scale. What we did not fully comprehend was how these methods would align with preconceived and preplanned project activities, finding ourselves in possession of experiments ready to scale and with resources mobilized, but also finding that handing over these experiments to technical specialists would not be as seamless as initially thought.

Introducing projects for scale into an environment already at full capacity would prove challenging, so we decided to accompany a lengthened handover process to ensure that UNDP’s Nature Climate Energy and Resilience (NCER) team could ably introduce this into the thematic annual work planning.

UNDP and Uganda Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) staff inspect the newly installed electrical system at Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit in Uganda’s National Referral (Mulago) Hospital

UNDP Uganda

Scaling with Government

Walking directly with Uganda’s Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) on our Biomass to Electricity Project to convert the kitchens of Mulago Hospital’s Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit to electricity allowed this national institution to quickly comprehend some of the major barriers to institutional conversion to electric cooking. In addition, ERA would adopt these methodologies and introduce an electric cooking tariff, not only for large institutions such as hospitals and schools, but also for household use. We found that, in terms of scaling up, the turnaround time when working with government was quite short.

Through this process, we have observed that working closely with a government institution on such experiments has allowed us to achieve much more in terms of outcomes but also in terms of making the scaling process much more seamless, allowing the Accelerator Lab team to take a step back and the ERA team to take ownership of the project. Here, as the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab, we almost find ourselves, in a position where we have departed the mothership and are sailing on our own independent vessel.

Informal market vendors at Nakasero market operating under limited capacity during COVID-19.

UNDP Uganda

Scaling with the Private Sector

The value addition provided in working with private sector partners is evident in their agility. We have witnessed this with our partner Jumia Uganda while working on our E-Commerce Platform to connect informal market vendors to consumers online. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this pilot project was launched in 3 of Kampala’s food markets and was soon scaled to 7 markets with over 3,500 vendors registered on the platform. Working with Jumia allowed us to quickly observe how this experiment could scale out.

With nationwide COVID-19 lockdowns easing, there was a risk of people moving back to their old way of physically heading to congested city markets which would hinder the scaling deep of this pilot. This meant that the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab worked alongside Jumia to design sustainable models beyond the initial response. Today, Jumia has adopted these learnings to expand this initiative to markets in other districts of Uganda and have expressed interest to champion the advocacy of UNDP’s ongoing support to the Government of Uganda to develop a National E-Commerce Strategy.

While sailing the open seas can prove unpredictable and at times perilous, we remain aboard the mothership and we continue to constantly experiment with different methods and strategies to navigate successfully through this unique journey of scaling up, scaling out and scaling deep to implement innovative solutions to development challenges.

By Berna Mugema, Head of Experimentation; Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping; and Ashley Prigent, Communications Specialist.