Throughout 2020, we explored challenges, experimented with ideas, and mapped local solutions on different challenges. The goal was to identify innovative solutions and create a strategy for scaling impactful solutions. This is the grow phase of our learning cycle and an important way the accelerator lab contributes to the development and innovation ecosystem.

Scaling at the accelerator labs is about creating models that easily grow local solutions and accelerate learning. The global accelerator lab network, in collaboration with Colombia University, has developed a strategy that identifies three major paths for scaling. Scaling up, which means “impacting laws and policy”, scaling out, which means “impacting greater numbers.” This includes replication and dissemination, increasing the number of people or communities impacted. The third type, scaling deep, is “impacting cultural roots” in the sense of changing relationships, cultural values and beliefs.

In Ethiopia, we think about scaling from the beginning of the learning cycle. We aligned the challenge areas with the activities of the country office in project areas. We also in mainstreamed the lab’s methods. 

We engage stakeholders early, especially unusual partners, to build collective ownership and sustainability for the insights we develop. We pay extra attention to not only mapping stakeholders in the ecosystem but also establishing relationships with them. This approach allowed us to share our work with various stakeholders and create relationships that we can leverage for scaling. We strategically built partnerships with key innovation hubs within the country since they offer access to local solutions and the budding innovation ecosystem. We also positioned ourselves in the country office to attract new initiatives and partnerships that allowed us to exercise and expand our work on multiple fronts. In these ways, the lab has taken steps to ensure the scalability of the solutions we identify.

Youth Employment and Generation Unlimited

Meeting dynamic youth through our first challenge on urban youth unemployment, we knew the value of the active involvement of young people in shaping their futures. Through exploration, we uncovered their desire for more agency and creating spaces for themselves. In the experiment that followed with student-led career and entrepreneurship programs at universities, we observed students move away from passively receiving information to actively participating in their career development when they felt they had the agency to do so. While these insights were interesting, we were seeking ways of scaling up and scaling out these learnings for a greater and lasting impact.

Generation unlimited (GenU) is a global initiative to build a multisectoral partnership to “meet the urgent need for expanded education, training and employment opportunities for young people.” As it is a frontrunner country, UNICEF started setting up GenU in Ethiopia in January 2020, and even if it was early days for the lab, we were part of the discussions on bringing UNDP onboard as a partner. Through our early engagement and the alignment with our learning challenges, the accelerator lab joined the GenU country team. The team is building a portfolio of investable youth programs and innovative projects for scaling. Since March 2020, the lab has supported Generation Unlimited, ensuring the active engagement of youth in dialogue, as well as creating a youth engagement strategy and a youth-focused governance structure. We are using insight from our work on youth unemployment and the innovative tools we use to identify interventions and direction for Generation Unlimited in Ethiopia.

At the first GenU youth engagement event, Accelerator lab member Wudasse Berhanu led an exploration exercise where the participating youth build a vision for education and skill development in 2030 through headlines for tomorrow. We followed this up by a backstabbing exercise to identify the work need to reach the visons. Through this imaginative and interactive exercise, we were able to uncover some common themes. These included the need for a market-driven education system and practical skills development through internships. Another common theme was the need to bring fundamental skill development earlier in the education system, best embodied by one the headlines created by the youth, “The first skills and entrepreneurship high school opens in Ethiopia.” 

We will be taking the insights from this engagement and the many more to come to build a youth-driven investment portfolio to be carried out by GenU and its partners.

As the government host of GenU, we are working closely with the Jobs Creation Comision to build and sustain the youth-driven investable development programs. This collaboration will enable us to reach the youth at a greater number and be a reference for policy revisions and cultural transformation in the way government and youth interact. In this regard, the lab is scaling the results of our first learning challenge through a national initiative, as well as bringing innovative tools to the process that is allowing us to learn faster.

Supporting the Ecosystem for Scaling

On the other hand, we are scaling deep by supporting the innovation ecosystem to create and strengthen the network between the different actors that constitute the foundation for fostering innovation and create community awareness of innovations. The process has helped spark the helped spark interest of academia to integrate our tools and methodologies in their centres of innovation and prove the value of grassroots innovations/innovators. While we will be working with one institution in the first quarter of 2021, we plan to expand our reach to other universities across the country.

We also see our work on developing a grassroots innovation mapping portal with the Technology and Innovation Institute as scaling solution mapping deep into UNDP and the government institutions who will be actively exercising solution safaris to create a national database. This exercise will show the value of solution mapping as a pillar for fostering innovation in development. It also shows the depth and breadth of the innovation ecosystem in the country. 

Some of the challenges for local innovators in the innovation ecosystem is the lack of access to enabling infrastructure, tailored business development support and entrepreneurship development coaching. The lab wanted to ensure the sustainability and profitability of COVID 19 solutions that participated in the challenge grant by going beyond funding. We introduced the concept of human-centred design to the product and service development process to ensure viability and desirability. The country office has hired an innovation hub to incubate and provide a full-fledged business development support to the winning innovators. With this partnership, we are equipping innovators with the right skills, tools, strategies, and connections to grow the solutions they have developed into the market.

To sum 2020, we learned and gathered insight on our challenges from waste management to COIVD-19 as we exercised our learning cycles with scalability and growth avenues always in our minds. We have experienced the importance of engaging with potential scaling partners early in the process. As we move on to new challenge areas in 2021, we look forward to expanding our scaling strategy to bring more depth in impacting behaviour and culture as well as scaling up into policy with concrete insights.

As always, we look forward to hearing your comments and suggestion through our email at ethiopia.acclab@undp.org 

 

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