Creating partnerships for innovations: our experience thus far

September 10, 2020

AccLab team meeting with some partners

By Roselyne Mwila, Head of Exploration; Salome Nakazwe, Head of Solutions Mapping and Nampaka Nkumbula, Head of Experimentations

Implementing development programmes is a challenging and complex undertaking especially in the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s partnership framework provides for the development of partnerships that improve implementation efficiency and effectiveness. The partnerships provide opportunities for innovation, creative collaboration, resource mobilization, and enhanced quality of programmes demonstrating clear added value not achievable by either UNDP or its partner alone. This contributes to the achievement of SDG 17. Partnerships are at the heart of the accelerator lab’s implementation model as most of the work to identify innovation depends on collaborations and engagement with different stakeholders that are working on interventions to improve people’s lives and foster development.

Times are changing and so are we. The Accelerator lab methodology proposes partnering with actors that UNDP does not ordinarily engage in response to the ever-changing environment. This means engaging the ‘unusual’ underutilized development partners and identifying partner driven development solutions to accelerate our impact in this decade of action.

The Accelerator lab Zambia has been exploring ways of creating a partnership platform that could expand and diversify our partner base comprised of communities, private sector and individual innovators not just as beneficiaries or participants in activities, but as actual co-creators identifying development challenges and developing solutions that have potential to impact their lives and the broader community positively.

Fancy words, big aspirations… how has it played out

We started with identifying frontier challenges through stakeholders’ meetings that were held with our partners. After identifying the key frontier challenges, we visited different institutions to explore opportunities for partnerships while looking out for solutions which were already being implemented. From one stakeholder to the other, snowballing technique was incorporated in identifying other players in each targeted sector. This helped to broaden the number and type of stakeholders in the ecosystem. So far, we have been able to map out the innovation ecosystem as depicted in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Source - Adapted from MIT

A database of institutions and organizations from government departments, regulators, local government institutions, private sector, civil society organizations and individuals involved in innovations have been identified and it is growing.

Figure 2: Some quotes from partners on the Accelerator lab in Zambia

What we’ve learnt so far…

It is a well-known fact that fostering new partnerships is challenging, the trust required needs time to let our partners build confidence in our methodology and ensure we have a shared vision. This means taking time to understand the benefits that the partnership will bring to the parties and assessing the risks associated with it. There is also the need to balance the competing needs of each of the potential partners to ensure that the core values of UNDP are upheld while at the same time the needs of the partners are also taken care of and ensure accrual of mutual benefits.

While it is easy to partner with the government and civil society organizations (CSOs), the partners that UNDP has traditionally engaged with, we learnt that it is not easy to partner with the private sector especially the start-ups and community grassroot interventions where ideas are commonly fostered and idea ownership cannot be easily traced. Some of the innovations that we have been able to come across are with individual innovators and sole trader private sector companies whose mode of engagement is not very clear. When focusing on innovations, there are issues related to the secrets of the trade that needs to be guarded with confidentiality. Most of these potential partners may not want to formalize the engagement with the Accelerator lab as they fear to lose their intellectual properties.

As we are rapidly trying to identify innovations within our communities, we are learning how to adapt UNDP operations to figure out how best to engage these ‘unusual’ partners (the individual innovators, sole traders and start-ups) and protect their ideas or innovations.

The path we are taking to build the partnerships required to accelerate development

We are in the process of formalizing the partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry responsible to foster innovations with the hope of creating a platform and space for all innovators to collaborate and showcase their ideas, prototypes and inventions. Through this platform, we will engage all the stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem to interact, share information and opportunities, mobilize resources, identify innovations and create connections.

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