When the COIVD-19 pandemic reached Ethiopia in March 2020, the accelerator lab wanted to identify local solutions that could support the fight against COIVD. However, sourcing solutions across the country with lockdowns and other restrictions coupled withthe severity of the pandemic proved challenging. We were not deterred, and we had to think quickly and innovatively. We put together a competition and a challenge grant to identify innovators who could come forward with ideas and solutions suited to the Ethiopian context.

This approach quickly got traction and we secured a good response with some good innovations coming forward to showcase their talents. While the evaluation process was completed and some awardees identified, looking at the bigger picture, however, we realized that the competition format presented barriers to grassroots innovators to effectively. It became apparent that such issues as internet access, interest or sheer literacy to participate were barriers that may have hindered their participation.

Even worse, women innovators failed to come forward with the result that all finalists were male applicants. The low participation of women innovators in our innovation activities to us and to UNDP in general was a major lesson as this type of activity needs to pull the skills and knowledge from different actors in the innovation ecosystem, ensure gender equality and especially empower women. Having an existing database of local solutions – well balanced in terms of gender - that we can leverage at any time would have helped us move faster and have a better understanding of the work on the ground.  

Solution mapping, one of the pillars of the accelerator lab, is a tool for exploring and identifying local innovations that have the potential for a positive impact when replicated by the wider community. By sourcing solution from the communities facing the challenges directly, we will have a better understanding of the problem and a solution we can experiment with for scaling up. This bottom-up approach gives the community an active role in their development agenda as opposed to the top-down structure of infusing innovations designed by external developers.

We have also learned from Honeybee network, a partner of the UNDP Accelerator labs, that it is important to sustain the mapping process by recognizing and publicizing the best solutions to increase the likelihood of adaption by the community, by academia and research for further development. Therefore, using this methodology, we want to create a National Social Innovation Database with as many local solutions as possible that can be used as a starting point for any challenge we take on.

Partnerships

We know that collaboration is key to any work that we do, and this is no exception. We have identified stakeholders such as the Technology and Innovation Institute’s Grassroot and startups directorate, Ethiopian Innovators Association and other organization who have an interest in creating this collection of local solutions. This resource will have an impact on the work that we do so we want all who could use it in the future be part of the process as well. Similarly, in order to address our gender and inclusion objectives and increase the participation of women, we are exploring partnership with the Embassy of the State of Israel to organize targeted webinars to enhance skills on such areas as on proposal writing, etc, but also on soft skills that build confidence and trust amongst budding women innovators.  

But the partnership is not just on establishing the database, it will be in mapping the solutions as well. We want to leverage national and municipality level youth volunteer networks, university students, and local associations, especially those that promote young women, to support the identification of grassroots innovations in different parts of the country. We want to break the silo between the grassroots innovation across the country by adding up inputs from various sources into a national resource. 

What we plan to do 

The aim of National Social Innovation Database is not only as a resource for us but also as a national asset that can tell a story about how communities in Ethiopia are actively solving the challenges they face. It will have the infrastructure to capture information from various sources that will be maintained centrally to give an overview of innovations across the country. Our overall objective is to build a flexible yet robust system for collecting data with data protection and privacy measures.

This database will accelerate learnings on our challenge areas by sourcing quickly solutions that we can further explore through ethnography and experimentation. We will also actively promote and curate solutions on thematic areas for the engagement of the innovators with society so that they can learn from new ways of doing, producing and serving the unmet needs of their community. Such activities are particularly essential to community members that have a limited level of digital literacy or access with a special focus on women.

On a bigger scale, our long-term plan is to bring the lab’s methodology to our government partners who can use it to accelerate their initiatives through such collaborations. With solution mapping being one of the key pillars, we what to demonstrate its value and purpose through this process.

Our immediate next step is to get the buy-in of the idea with the various stakeholders and innovation-based grassroots institutes. We will extend our partnerships with the national youth volunteer coordination office to use youth network in the country to introduce and promote local solutions mapping. 

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