Three-Year Running of the UNDP Accelerator Lab's National Innovations Initiative - Building Partnerships with Local Adventurers
March 17, 2023
A LEAP OF FAITH TO ACHIEVE DEVELOPMENT
The exhilarating and yet fulfilling journey of exploring for locally driven solutions to local development challenges has been an experience that has unveiled nearly 4,000 innovators from across the ten provinces of the country. Inspired by a desire to make societal impact with their initiatives, 130 innovators have been supported to develop innovations that respond to unique challenges of the country while working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UNDP Resident Representative, Lionel Laurens, confirms that the National Innovation Initiative (NII) journey spearheaded by the National Technology Business Centre (NTBC) under the Ministry of Technology and Science with UNDP’s financial and technical support over the past three years “has shown the tremendous potential of innovation in Zambia’s development. With the catalytic resources being invested amounting to almost USD1m, it is now time to have all key actors of the economy, in particular the private sector, increase their technical and financial support to the initiative to scale up the tested interventions including the creation of market linkages for the successful innovations”.
With support from the Accelerator Lab, the UNDP and its Government partner, the National Technology Business Centre (NTBC) have since 2020, witnessed a steady growth in the kind and type of innovations being discovered and displayed at the now popular NII Award Ceremony. Over the three-year period, different organizations have collaborated in the NII and have strengthened the Zambian Innovation ecosystem namely the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) in 2022 and 2021. In 2021, the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA)and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) participated in the innovation initiative.
Through offering agile incubators for local solutions to complex global issues, the Accelerator Labs are the UNDP’s answer to today’s fast paced world characterised by ever-evolving challenges. The UNDP Accelerator Labs were started in 2019 and can be found in 115 countries, reimagining and transforming the way the UNDP approaches development by learning what works and what doesn’t in sustainable development, testing new ways of working to address social and environmental challenges, and creating a new capability for decision-makers to explore, experiment, and grow portfolios of mutually reinforcing solutions to tackle today’s challengesand reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
"With the catalytic resources being invested amounting to almost USD1m, it is now time to have all key actors of the economy, in particular the private sector, increase their technical and financial support to the initiative to scale up the tested interventions including the creation of market linkages for the successful innovations”.Lionel Laurens, UNDP Zambia Resident Representative
TARRYING IN THE WILDERNESS TO GAIN UNDERSTANDING
From a participation of 200 innovators in 2020 a sharp increase to 3,100 submissions were received in the 2021 Call for Innovation, an achievement scored as a result of increased publicity and engagement with government partners at provincial level across the country. In each year, 50 innovations were shortlisted after a rigorous selection process that involved evaluators from government, academia, and private sector. Based on lessons learnt from the past two years, the 2022 NII Call for innovations took on a Challenge Call model that involved co-creation in challenge identification with provincial partners. The change in direction guaranteed that the innovations surfaced would be responding to prioritized challenges in the provinces and would be connected to the challenge owners. This process would allow for testing and development of the innovations in the challenge area towards commercialization. The identified challenges in the 10 provinces were packaged into five thematic areas that included solid waste with a focus on waste plastics and tyres, climate change effects on productivity of agriculture, low agriculture value chains/value addition technologies for processing agro-products, sustainable artisanal/small-scale mining innovations/technologies/solutions, and renewable and other alternative energy technologies to mitigate deforestation. 360 submissions were received out of which 25 were shortlisted as more responsive to the identified needs. Introduction of the innovations in the respective provinces demonstrates an opportunity to disrupt traditional models of development by introducing sustainable and locally driven solutions that are underpinned by the local context. This has been a great way for the NII to provide a fresh view to approach wicked development challenges. It will unravel and explore challenges and identified solutions through the eyes of local communities who are directly experiencing the challenges and seeking solutions.
SMALL STEPS, GIANT ACHIEVEMENTS
From the 2020 and 2021 awarded innovations, eight awardees with innovations with a climate change and energy focus, were linked to the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) and Copperbelt University (CBU). As part of the innovators journey, the Experimentation Programme is a pathway to scale by generating evidence to support the commercialization and investment for scale-up. By working in collaboration with the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR), and the Copperbelt University (CBU), UNDP has leveraged the technical expertise of these public institutions based on the memorandum of understanding UNDP entered into with the former Ministry of Higher Education in 2020.
For this reason, the UNDP launched the Climate Change and Energy Experimentation Programme leveraging on identified innovations to support solutions that were skewed to climate change and energy. These innovations have had the privilege to receive technical support and mentorship from the academia with a business technical consultant, Bongo Hive, coming on board to provide support in business development.
The women of Sinazongwe through Henrietta Milimo witnessed an enhancement to the formulation of their organic pesticide that protects their agricultural crops, which are already vulnerable because of the existing and persistent drought in the district. This was achieved in partnership with NISIR under UNDP’s Climate Change and Energy Experimentation Programme.
Since the innovation call was launched in 2020, at least 130 innovators have been shortlisted for financial awards and technical assistance and interviewed for recognition. From the 130 awardees 36 were female innovators representing 27.6 percent of all innovators. In awarding the innovators, there has been 30.6 percent females who have received awards in the call.
ONWARD MARCHING TO GROWTH AND PROSPERITY
With a 2022 theme that was forward-looking; Growth through Innovation & Technology, the UNDP recognizes the formulating of conducive policies that can help contribute to economic growth. At the 2022 NII Exhibition and Awards, UNDP made a plea to the Government of the Republic of Zambia for demonstrating commitment in unleashing innovator potential and its contribution to local development. The UNDP called on Government to forge additional innovative partnerships with a growing number of key stakeholders of the Zambian innovation eco-system so as to sustain the mobilization of required resources and ensure financial sustainability of the NII in its future years.
While the current NII has been very helpful to bridge the gap in the innovation journey, especially with respect to problem identification, solution finding and prototyping, efforts must be redoubled on support provided to the next stages of the innovator’s journey including experimentation, development and commercialisation.
To this end, UNDP has expressed its readiness to continue its support, including in assisting the government to establish a modern online Management Information System that will be used to track all the innovators throughout their journey. Similarly, UNDP has also pleaded to also have a deliberate agenda where females would be encouraged to venture into innovations and scientific research. Lastly, UNDP with Government of the Republic of Zambia will continue to address remaining challenges that still need further addressing. For instance it is vital to ensure that Zambian innovators who are being supported to develop their prototypes and whose innovations are being publicized will receive legal and financial support to enable them to protect their intellectual property.