A Search For Local Innovations In The Context Of COVID-19

February 12, 2021

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

The Accelerator Lab (AccLab) Zambia team in keeping with their mandate to test and scale up new solutions to global challenges; and seeking to engage diverse range of partners dived deep during the year 2020- sensing, exploring, testing and in some win-win situations growing some identified solutions thanks to the support from the County Office. It was a challenging year, spent wondering how possible it would be, considering COVID19 and its associated travel restrictions that came with it, to surface an  array of solutions that we knew offered some hope to accelerate the country’s trajectory towards the 2030 Agenda.

Conscious of the daunting task of ensuring no one was left behind, and the need to capture the kind of solutions that would resonate with the needs of the country, the AccLab team ventured out to spread their wings by engaging partners  in the innovation ecosystem.

During the many sensing journeys undertaken over the course of the year, it quickly became clear that there was a wide array of individuals, organisations from government, private sector, CSOs and academia, involved in coming up with innovative solutions to the many challenges faced by Zambians in their daily lives or crippling the economy of the country.

This would take years to identify and catalogue using traditional mapping methods, therefore, to achieve our goal this required a more strategic approach to solutions mapping. The government through the Ministry of Higher Education, offered such an opportunity – the National Technology and Business Centre (NTBC). NTBC is a government agency under the Ministry of Higher Education, mandated to facilitate technology development and utilisation in the country through technology transfer, adoption, innovation promotion and commercialization of innovative products. The Centre has over the years been working with several partners to identify promising innovations.

UNDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with  NTBC and a letter of  agreement with the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA). ZICTA among other things, exists to promote research and development and the use of new and appropriate technologies and the manufacture and production of relevant apparatus. With a track record of working with innovations in ICT and business development support, ZICTA brought on board expertise that would prove valuable to the partnership.

The three-organisation team tirelessly worked together to design and implement the National Innovation Initiative (NII) by merging the AccLab learning loop processes with the methodologies that NTBC and ZICTA use in their search for innovations. The NII main objective was to identify and map innovative solutions across 6 out of the 10 provinces in Zambia. The NII started with the innovation scouting plan which saw the setup of an online  call for Innovation that ran from 5th to 21st October 2020. The result was 213 submissions of different innovations that cut across the 17 SDGs. Popularising the Call for Innovations was done, mostly with support from NTBC provincial level partners, radio programmes and social media platforms of all the three organisations, but this was identified as an area that required enhancement to broaden participation from all the districts in the provinces especially in remote areas.

Evaluation Meetings

Following the close of applications, the evaluation committee made up of the AccLab and staff members from both NTBC and ZICTA was constituted to review the 213 submissions. Applications were screened and evaluated based on an Innovation Evaluation Tool that assessed applications based on 5 clear criteria; availability of a prototype/product, commercial viability, technical feasibility, novelty and its ability to have great societal impact. It was worthy to note that community level solutions holders carried the kind of ideas, technology-based start-ups and creative innovations that have potential to solve societal challenges including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 30 top innovations were shortlisted for Lusaka and Copperbelt while all the applicants from Luapula, North Western, Western and Southern provinces that received 21, 20, 16 and 14 applications, respectively were shortlisted for provincial Scouting and training.

The provincial scouting took place between 2nd and 22nd November 2020. The provincial meetings were a 2-day programme to get more insight on the 126 promising innovations through interaction and provision of a platform for the applicants to pitch their innovations.

As a learning point, it was noted that moving forward, more outreach campaigns would be required to ensure a much wider participation from community level innovators especially in remote areas. Mapping of stakeholders at district and provincial levels to widen participation and inclusiveness was on the follow-up actions of the team. In this light, more strategic partnerships would be required to popularise the work of the AccLab and our partners NTBC and ZICTA. One of the online engagements that Acclab has come up with is the continuous engagement through the submission of innovations on AccLab Solutions Atlas. There was also a need to have a process to validate the prototypes by independent people in that sector to enhance the process of the innovation scouting. This raised the need to establish a systemic way of incorporating those that are still at ideation to develop their ideas/ solutions to Market Viable Products and ready for investment to scale. At the end of the 6 provincial missions, 50 applicants were shortlisted to participate in the inaugural National Innovation Fair in Lusaka.

National Innovation Fair

Following the successful selection process, 50 Innovators were shortlisted to take part in the National Innovation Fair (NIF) that took place at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka from 2nd to 3rd December 2020. An interesting package of innovations were showcased ranging from value additions along the food value chain of locally grown food varieties which included honey, forestry products, agricultural products; production of Energy, electronic and solid waste as well as the use of robotics in agriculture and other sectors. Of interest too were innovations on social models including e-learning, COVID-19 health solutions, financial services and community-led business models.

The theme for the fair was “Accelerating Agenda 2030 through local innovations” The Fair was attended by 114 participants drawn from Government ministries/institutions, private sector, civil society organisations, media and the innovators. The fair attracted several dignitaries, who included the Minister of Higher Education Dr. Eng. Brian Mushimba, as the guest of honour flanked by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Ms Kayula Siame. Other dignitaries in attendance were the Accelerator Lab funding partners represented by the Italian Ambassador to Zambia Antonio Maggoire. Also, in attendance was the Finnish Ambassador to Zambia Ms. Pirjo Suomela Chowdhury and the heads of the organisations in the partnership namely NTBC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Katundu Kasase and Zambia Information and Communication and Technology Authority was represented by the Acting Director General Mr. Mulenga M. Chisanga.

Hon. Minister Brian Mushimba was guest of honour (c) flanked by Finnish Ambassador Ms. Pirjo Suomela Chowdhury (immediate l), and Italian Ambassador Mr. Antonio Maggoire. On the right is Permanent Secretary, Higher Education, Kayula Siame next to UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Roland Seri (r).

To mark the official opening of the NIF, His Honour Dr. Mushimba emphasised the need to promote experimentation of ideas in development processes to generate evidence that can be used to apply for funding opportunities. He emphasized government’s commitment to supporting the innovators with education opportunities for them to use the skills acquired to further develop their ideas and innovations.

UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Lionel Laurens speaking at the at event, emphasised that the overall objective of the National Innovation Initiative was to identify ingenious, inventive, original, ground- breaking ideas, technology-based start-ups and creative innovations that are solving societal challenges including COVID 19.

His Excellency the Italian Ambassador, Mr. Maggoire urged the innovators to look outside the borders of Zambia for collaborations and partnerships as the innovations they are coming up with are not only solving problems in the country but the world at large.

And her Excellency the Finnish Ambassador, Ms. Chowdhury highlighted the need for society to take advantage of the diverse innovations coming from their societies and the need for all the stakeholders to get involved in supporting and promoting the innovations.

The hallmark of the NIF launch was the announcement and presentation of awards to the top 20 innovations. Each winner was given an award amount of ZMW50,000 to develop their innovation further; conduct further experiment or improve their product range.  The 20 Innovators will be enrolled into the business acceleration programme riding on the need to improve their entrepreneurship skills. We will also provide opportunities for the innovators to engage our partners that will be able to provide technical support, validation, links to investment opportunities and the country office projects that are able to scale up the innovations.

Based on the successes scored in the 6 provinces, the AccLab and partners are geared and looking forward to spreading their wings and reaching out to the 10 provinces of Zambia in the implementation of the subsequent National Innovation Initiative.

AccLab Zambia Champions; Salome, Roselyne and Nampaka