Ready, set, innovate!

AGORA moderator's picture

In Africa, as in the rest of the world, things are moving! We live in a world that is becoming more and more complex, whether it be in social, economic or political terms. With the introduction of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we now have to adapt and adjust our practices in order to achieve such goals both efficiently and effectively.

It's not uncommon to hear partners or even staff members complain, rightfully or wrongfully, about the red tape involved when it comes to UNDP procedures. Time-consuming processes or administrative tasks have been put into place and seem sometimes to take precedence over the quality of our interventions. Innovation can help correct such dysfunctions and thus allow us to be more productive.

So, how can we best define the term ‘innovate’? There are a lot of possibilities, but the one to bear in mind is the fact that innovation enables us to give full rein to the innate creativity that lies within us. It allows us to come up with original and powerful responses to meet specific societal needs – and such responses can be technological or organizational in structure, or even a leading factor in bringing about social or behavioural changes.

In Africa, innovative practices have been able to resolve several issues such as that of access to clean drinking water, access to reliable sources of energy. In Burkina Faso, for instance, women living in rural areas travelled to India to pursue training in photovoltaic engineering and now provide lighting for more than 14,000 people in their communities. In Botswana, where access to justice is often a pipedream for rural communities, a pilot project has been able to collect sufficient data to encourage the government to provide legal services where officers travel from one city to the next in areas most affected by poverty and sexual violence.

So, how do we innovate? What can you do to allow your creativity to flow and provide lasting solutions to the problems faced by our society and our times?

There is no magic formula. But bear in mind that innovation can benefit from structure. Practical tools such as Development Impact & You  (DIY) have been created and can help to promote and support social innovations. Devised with the collaboration of several partners, including UNDP, the DIY tool has helped professionals working in the field of development to come up with, adopt or adapt new ideas in order to achieve better results. Seven steps to innovation have been put forward:

(1) Identifying opportunities and challenges arising from change;

(2) Brainstorming;

(3) Developing and testing new ideas;

(4) Making a concept “fool-proof”, that is to say, testing the idea to ensure that it is viable before implementing it;

(5) Tender and implementation;

(6) Growth and scaling up;

(7) Revamping systems.

The next stage in the process is working together as a team, This means bringing together various skills to complete the project, not just seeking out traditional stakeholders, but rather widening the scope of debate to include civil society organizations with special emphasis on youth.

At present, in all countries throughout the African continent, "innovation hubs” are being set up with support from UNDP. Such hubs target young people who want to change the world by testing out new approaches and solutions.

Innovation can only exist in an environment that encourages new ideas to blossom. It is not linear, and requires a certain level of flexibility. For instance, the solution to a particular social issue can be found by seeking the advice of the craftsman plying his trade from the street corner.

It is in this regard that the UNDP’s policy on the challenges posed by innovation is most noteworthy. The policy facilitates the invention of unique solutions to meet the challenges faced in relation to development issues and involves an open and competitive process. Such a policy also helps to shed light on a particular problem or opportunity and forces communities to come up with new and creative ideas that can help to build a better tomorrow.

Cross posted from Marc Lepage innovation and knowledge management specialist with UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa.