Blogs from UNIN Members
Innovation and creativity do not happen in a vacuum, yet often in organizational structures they are relegated to a specific space or team (e.g. an Innovation Lab) rather than set-up as a cross-cutting initiative. It is easy then to assume that the people who work within these spaces are doing the necessary innovation and new thinking to give their organization a competitive edge. However, innovation does not always work in such a neat, orderly way, and impactful innovation continually requires collaboration and perspectives beyond specific innovation teams.
We believe that creativity should flow within and around an organization, pulling different people from all parts of the structure into the design process. Yet, we so often encounter innovation as a specific unit or section, so how can we instead push to foster engagement in innovation beyond these units to better tap into employees’ creativity?
At its first meeting in New York on 24-25 September 2018, the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation discussed opportunities offered by digital technologies for accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and for empowering individuals and communities. Equally, it examined the risks associated with these technologies and current obstacles to digital trust and cooperation. A meeting summary is available here.
The overall objective of the Panel is to make practical proposals on how to strengthen cooperation in the digital space among governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders, and thereby contribute to a broader global dialogue on how interdisciplinary and cooperative approaches can help ensure a safe and inclusive digital future.
To protect this planet and create prosperity for all, we need moon shots and puddle jumps. The newly-released 2017–2018 Annual Review of the UNDP Innovation Facility under the same title calls for deliberate investments in different forms of innovation. Coined by Jason Prapas of MIT’s Tata Center for Technology and Design, moon shots refer to the transformative innovations and technological breakthroughs; and puddle jumps to important incremental improvements as well as efforts to address last-mile challenges. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are unlikely to be met without massive investments in different forms of innovation: incremental improvements, transformative innovations pursuing bold missions and bottom-up solutions.
However, a focus on unlocking innovation for the 2030 Agenda is not enough. Governments and development organizations need to invest in anticipatory innovation: addressing potential future risks and liabilities by designing experiments to explore them today. This is particularly relevant for frontier technologies and their impact on economies, on human freedom and our wellbeing. These are some of the key messages from the publication ‘Moon Shots and Puddle Jumps’.
In the social sector, the scaling question makes us nervous because the image of scaling is often a one dimensional, industrial one: let’s replicate the use of this technology, tool or method in a different place and that means we’ve scaled. This gives us social development people pause not only because we can’t ever fully replicate [anything] across multiple moving elements across economic, social and culture. Even if we could replicate, it would dooms us to measuring scaling by counting the repeated application of one innovation in many places.
Thankfully, people like Gord Tulloch have given us a thoughtful scaling series that questions the idea that scaling social innovation is about replicating single big ideas many times over.
So if scaling ≠ only replication, how do we strategize for scale? I’ve got a proposal: what if we frame the innovation scaling question more about doing deep than broad? The scaling question becomes: How will we move from distinct prototypes managed by different teams at the frontier of our work to a coherent, connected use of emergent experiments in programme operations?
In the middle of a muddy field next to a reservoir in north-western Malawi, a team of scientists are hard at work. Boxes of equipment lie scattered around a patch of dry ground, where a scientist programmes an automated drone flight into a laptop perched on a metal box. The craggy peak of Linga Mountain (‘watch from afar’ in the local language) looms over the lake, casting its reflection in the water.
With a high-pitched whirr of rotor blades, the drone takes off and starts following the shoreline, taking photos as it goes. Once the drone is airborne, the team switch from high-tech to low-tech mode. They collect ladles, rulers and plastic containers and squelch through mud until they reach the water’s edge.
The scientists measure the water depth with a ruler and carefully ladle water into the containers. Using a mobile app, they record the GPS location of each sample. Back on dry ground, they count the number of mosquito larvae in each container.
“Our business — development overall — is to manage risk, not to avoid it.” In a recent call with development innovators, UNDP’s Administrator Achim Steiner emphasized that it is high time we shift from risk aversion to risk expectation. There is no alternative giving the scope of the 2030 Agenda and the existential threats humanity is facing. The Center for Global Development recently found that the SDGs are unlikely to be met by 2030 without rapid, ubiquitous innovation.
Since March 2018, Achim Steiner convenes monthly one-hour conversations with intrapreneurs from UNDP Country Offices. These virtual discussions aim at inspiring new ways of working across offices and cultivating innovation in the organization. In the complex process of transforming organizations, this signal from the top bears more significance than the first impression might suggest.
According to some estimates, implementing the SDGs will cost a whopping 172.5 USD trillion by 2030, while current aid flows to developing countries sit at 350 USD billion annually. (…) We believe that this gap can be partly filled by something called impact investing. This is, in short, investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.
At the UN in Armenia, we are testing impact investing and other new funding mechanisms to explore how they can be best used in middle-income countries to generate financing for the SDGs. Our UN team, led by UNDP Armenia, is experimenting around a set of initiatives that are already turning to be great learning experiences that we are proud to share in this blog.
Too many people die due to delayed medical assistance every day in Uganda. Most people have a story about someone in their family or community who did not receive the medical attention they needed because the ambulance never arrived. In 2016 alone, 336 out of every 100,000 pregnant women died because they were unable to reach a health facility or emergency service in time to safely deliver their babies. (…)
In response, the Government of Belgium donated ambulances to medical facilities to ensure that people, and especially pregnant women, receive access to transportation and assistance.
To understand how these ambulances are being used and what other steps could be taken to improve emergency service delivery, Pulse Lab Kampala developed a digital application called Cheetah Tracker.
In November 2017, the remote Congolese town of Impfondo experienced rains that flooded vast areas of land and forced thousands of people to evacuate. For WFP, responding was a challenge, and determining needs took some guesswork.
Soon afterwards, as the government started work on repairing the infrastructure, WFP started looking at solutions to ensure a faster response to this type of disaster in the future. This is where Cloud to Street came in, a group that uses high resolution satellite imagery to estimate local flooding exposure and to monitor its impacts in near real-time, providing essential, credible and detailed information to first responders.
South Africa is still experiencing the world's largest and fastest growing HIV epidemic with approximately 288,400 new infections a year. Almost 60% of all new HIV infections occur amongst adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24.
Launched by the NGO loveLife, the iloveLife platform is an innovative cell-phone based system for young people offering interactive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights and connecting young people with clinical health services and facilities with the ultimate aim of promoting healthy lifestyles.
Through the support of the Innovation Fund, UNFPA added a clinic locator and rating system to the existing mobisite, iloveLife. The objective was to connect young people with clinical health services and facilities that offer youth-friendly services increasing both preventative care as well as treatment.