It’s been two months since we launched UNDP’s Accelerator Lab in Ukraine. It’s been a bumpy ride from a naive first day of thinking “We’re going to change the world right now” and “Let’s design a ‘moonshot’ project for Ukraine” to “OK... I guess we have a plan for how to start improving the quality of life in Ukraine.” The latter might sound less exciting, but that’s direction and starting point that we actually have.
At the Accelerator Lab’s launch event on 6 September we invited those in attendance to take part in collective intelligence workshops, where we brainstormed possible solutions to development challenges. It was like standing under a waterfall of information, and by the end of it we were soaked with data and insights.
We’ve distilled that flow of information down to three principles that will guide the Accelerator Lab’s work in Ukraine: People, Policies, and the Planet – or the Three “P”s for short.
The first “P” – people – derives from the fundamental purpose of development, which is to make life better for people all around the world. A development goal has to benefit people first, otherwise what’s the point in doing it? And our general principle of development work is to raise everyone up, with nobody left behind.
The second “P” stands for policies: This refers to good governance, which is another essential factor for Ukraine’s development. It’s all very well having a great idea that will help people, but it won’t be of any use at all unless you have effective government to implement. For that reason, policy interventions and information outreach with government at all levels can be just as important for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as, say, an innovative tech product, or a renewable energy project.
The third “P” – planet – ties in the previous two principles and, indeed, the whole concept of sustainable development: We’re not going to have either people or policies if we don’t have a viable planet! That’s why the SDGs have a heavy emphasis on environmental issues, and why our development goals have to be sustainable too – there’s no point in developing if we end up damaging the planet in the process, which would eventually make life much worse for people.
What we’re not
Now that have our guiding principles set down, imagine you are part of the global network of 60 Accelerator Labs set up by the UNDP, aiming to accelerate development toward reaching SDGs. How are we going to go about it? First, you should know that Accelerator Lab IS NOT:
- A technology lab. The portfolio of interventions that the Accelerator Lab tests might include technology, policy interventions, coalitions of nonprofits delivering a service, or even business interventions.
- A think tank. The focus of the Lab isn’t on research and publication. It’s generating learning through taking action on challenges and by conducting quick tests or experiments.
- An accelerator for startups or particular technologies. Unlike other accelerators, the accelerator lab is not focused on taking any single solution to market or to scale. The Lab approach tests portfolios of potential solutions. A portfolio will contain multiple solutions, each using a different strategy to address a challenge (e.g. implementing a policy, or taking a behavioural approach).
Accelerator Labs are about “learning what works and what doesn’t in development, so that we can get faster results on the ground.” The labs are designed to work in learning loops: sensing, exploring, testing, and growing. Sounds interesting, right? But where do we begin?
This won’t be news to Ukrainians, but Ukraine occupies a pretty unique position in our Accelerator Labs network. After nearly two decades of political upheaval, the country has one of the most active, vibrant, and fast-growing civil societies in the world. For this reason, there are already many initiatives in the field of sustainable innovations that have years of experience applying sensemaking, solutions mapping, hackathons, design sprints, and so on.
So one of our first tasks will be to link up with them, seeking out their ideas, and seeding ideas of our own with them, and making sure we don’t duplicate efforts – somewhere out there in Ukraine someone might have come up with a solution to a problem we’re looking at in another part of the country.
Keeping this in mind, we’ve identified three preliminary challenges:
- The digital literacy gap is widening faster than society can adapt, which exacerbates the problems of vulnerable groups. What policy should Ukraine adapt to tackle the problem? How can we best teach digital skills to people over 60? How can we quickly gauge the level of digital literacy in Ukraine?
- Cities in Ukraine are becoming less livable – they’re not able to accommodate the high numbers of people migrating from the periphery, and are under growing pressure from climate change and the global biodiversity crisis. How can we use nature to help cities become more livable?
- People in Ukraine burn crop residue and organic household waste, with these practices not only being inefficient, but harmful for the environment. How do we change human behaviour? Can we change current business practices?
If you’d like to help us in solving these, and other social and environmental problems, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will find a way to involve you!