On December 13th, 2019, the Tanzania chapter of the UNDP Accelerator lab global network was launched in style……Wohooooo! what an exciting time! This lab is among sixty labs operating in seventy-eight countries worldwide. The initiative is UNDP’s new way of working in development. Together with core partners, the State of Qatar and the Federal Republic of Germany, the labs work together with national and global partners to find radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development challenges.
The Launch ceremony was held at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in the Tanzanian commercial city of Dar es Salaam. The theme for the event was ‘Tackling 21st century problems through collective intelligence’. UNDP Tanzania Resident Representative Ms. Christine Musisi gave powerful opening remarks on addressing 21st century development challenges. Acc lab’s core investors representatives from the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and the chargé d'affaires of the Qatar embassy gave their remarks in separate occasions.
The Highlight of the evening was a riveting, fun and exciting keynote address delivered by the UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Christine Musisi. In her remarks she spent minutes debunking the myths around the term ‘accelerator lab’ and provided deep explanation about what the lab is and what it expects to achieve. Furthermore, Ms. Musisi highlighted the importance of partnerships and collaborations in order to strengthen the Tanzanian nascent but vibrant Innovation ecosystem, quoting an excerpt from her speech;
‘Strategic partnerships are key in enabling us to finance and incubate innovations; test and pilot them; and scale them up to reach all relevant communities, specific groups or institutions’
Furthermore, Christine challenged the audience to think beyond logic and combine it with imagination to tap to opportunities as presented by the advent of 4.0 industry technologies such as AI, Robotics, IoT and Blockchain;
‘What kind of solutions are needed in an environment where inequalities are increasing, yet technological advances are emerging with potential solutions to expand outreach for some public services? How can we address the impact of artificial intelligence on unemployment; the potential for disinformation on social media and cyber-crime?
She concluded her remarks by urging all actors in the innovation ecosystem to use the Accelerator lab platform as an opportunity to rethink development in order to devise new methods and solutions to tackle the 21st century development challenges
Representing the guest of honor, the Director of Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) a government parastatal with a mandate to oversee Science, technology and innovation in the country was the Director of Research Prof. Mohammed Sheikh.
In his speech, Prof. Mohammed Sheikh re-iterated the government’s commitment to supporting innovation in Tanzania as way to accelerate the country to reach the SDGs by 2030. Both Germany and Qatar representatives, reaffirmed their commitment to supporting innovation in Tanzania and especially the UNDP accelerator lab program.
You may ask yourself, why the lab? And why now? Well, the world is witnessing a widening gap between current development practice and accelerating challenges facing humanity. The challenges include unprecedented rates of rapid urbanization, freedom of expression, mass surveillance, inequality, widening technological gap, cybercrime etc. Expounding further; just as highlighted in the recently launched Human Development report 2019 by the UNDP which points out that;
‘Just as the gap in basic living standards is narrowing for millions of people, the necessities to thrive have evolved. A new generation of inequalities is opening up, around education, and around technology and climate change -- two seismic shifts that, unchecked, could trigger a ‘new great divergence’ in society of the kind not seen since the Industrial Revolution’ - HDR2019
These systemic risks are faster than than the interventions addressing them and therefore they require new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things, in other words, the conventional national averages and periodic surveys for example; fail to paint a real picture of existing development context.
Quick question comes to mind, can we still design projects and businesses in the old conventional way? In my opinion, a slam dunk No! We need to make sense of emerging trends, test them to assess their impact on development, it is time we take full advantage of the opportunities as presented by the 4th industrial revolution( both tech and non-tech ) by looking at actors that are already using its technologies and think of how these local solutions can inform policy and programming at the national scale.
In the Tanzania context for example; we are cognizant of the fact that there is an existing innovation ecosystem in Tanzania which comprises of numerous businesses in various fields of development such as health, agriculture, energy etc., given the nature and dynamics of the existing ecosystem the lab envisions to act as an integrator between the government of Tanzania and actors in the ecosystem to support its ambition of becoming a middle income country by 2025 by influencing development programming, policy and also turning lab’s solutions to spinoffs.
A symbolic gesture happened during the launch ceremony, Innovators (data scientist, entrepreneurs, engineers etc.) from various walks of life were given an opportunity to showcase their solutions and some gave impact speeches (TED talk style) in the spirit of collaboration at the same time, school children ( in the spirit of leaving no one behind) from public primary schools five minutes’ drive from UNDP country office presented prototypes of solutions to problems facing school children and later a power -fireside chat comprised panelists from Embassies, private sector, the UN and The government of Tanzania. Building cohesion, collaboration and breaking silos is one of the basic tenets of the accelerator lab’s Modus operandi to say the least.
Incredibly, we got an amazing turnout of one hundred and twenty invitees, majority of them from the growing Tanzania Innovation ecosystem including, hubs, makerspaces, private sector, NGOs, the academia, UN agencies innovation labs, members of the diplomatic corps and the media. This fun and exciting event was a combination of speeches, fireside chats, Impact talks, local solutions showcase of businesses working in various development sectors including 4.0 industry technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Block Chain, Mobile devices and Robotics.
Well, the long-waited accelerator lab has finally landed, the task ahead remains, which is to position the lab as an integral part of the ever vibrant Tanzania innovation ecosystem by supporting the government of Tanzania to be on the driving seat on the quest for employing 21st century solutions to tackle 21st century development problems to catch up with the exponentially increasing relevance gap. We call for all stakeholders to join us and become part of the exciting mission.
By Peter Nyanda, UNDP Tanzania Accelerator Lab Team Lead & Head of Exploration
For more information about the accelerator programme visit: https://acceleratorlabs.undp.org/