A year ago, we first met you with our philosophy ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’. Today, a year younger, and a lot more eager and curious, we have traversed around the sun, while accelerating development differently.

Photo: UNDP India

Our journey and endeavors are fundamentally driven by the purpose to do justice to the scale and speed of mainstreaming innovation in India. This has led us to engage in groundbreaking work on developmental innovations in the very first year of our existence.

From using geospatial technology, artificial intelligence and mobile technology to targeting hotspots of air pollution from space and leveraging Blockchain for agricultural value chains, the search for impactful innovations to address pertinent challenges has been an amazing experience.

As the first major scouting activity, the UNDP Accelerator Lab India conducted an innovation challenge in December 2019 to seek the best technological innovations for air pollution mitigation in India.

Since then, many key innovation pilots have been initiated with select start-ups. These have undertaken several missions to design effective and scalable solutions for diverse issues, which include converting agricultural waste to biofuel, mapping brick manufacturing units, and assisting regulators to use this data for enforcement. An indoor air quality improvement pilot using nature-based technology has also been established within our office premises at UNDP.

We also entered the policy advocacy arena by conducting a policy dialogue with key national stakeholders on the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, held on 7 September 2020.

Our journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Like most organisations and enterprises, we were impacted by the pandemic and our roadmap for 2020 was hit by disruptions.

But the team and our stakeholders and partners showcased tremendous agility and resilience, reinventing and innovating working styles and operational methods. In the face of adversity, our united efforts have risen past the evolving challenges as we together pulled off a productive year with multiple new avenues and partnerships.

Though the planned fieldwork took a backseat for a few months, most of the work was progressing remotely, and innovatively. Many of our interventions were designed as a mixture of different roles involving policy, technology, and behavioral interventions. Establishing a diverse set of innovation portfolio helped us to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Digital and technological innovations became the area of focus as it was easier to continue working on them. In fact, some of the work got accelerated during the pandemic because we were able to get focused insights and energies to work on them.

For instance, one of the projects on ‘IoT application for water conservation’ included our association with a high-tech farmer in Tamil Nadu with whom a remotely-run experiment was executed on the ground. The farmer agreed to install the necessary cameras, sensors and other equipment, allowing the team to monitor the farm, to record and access the data that was required on a real-time basis, and complete a quick experiment, which resulted in some interesting conclusions.

Similarly, as a part of its COVID-19 response strategy, the India Accelerator Lab designed and delivered an innovative game, ‘Corona Champion’ under pro-bono partnership with IPE Global. The game was designed to bust myths and spread awareness related to COVID-19 while offering an immersive experience to its users. The game has inspired several countries from the Accelerator Lab network including Morocco, Cape Verde and Timor Leste that translated the game into Arabic, French, Tetum, and Portuguese.

As UNDP Accelerator Lab celebrates its immensely successful first year in India, we are grateful to all our partners and peers across the 114-country wide network.  In observance of this momentous occasion, a first-of-its-kind Grassroot Innovation Database (GRID) was launched by by Prof K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India.

This platform has been co-created for public use by our partners GIAN [Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network] and Honey Bee Network Institution. It contains 1,500 solutions developed by grassroot communities, individuals, start-ups, students and other innovators from several states. The unique database caters to various sectors including livelihood, natural resource management, agriculture, agro-biodiversity, and waste management, among others. It can be accessed at grid.undp.org.in

We also hosted a multi-stakeholder Round Table Discussion on Investments for Innovation. It was aimed at bringing important perspectives on accelerating innovations through strategic investments.

Last but not the least, our Anniversary event would have been incomplete without recognising some of the best offerings from the innovation community. For this, we organised a special contest, #Innovate4SDGs, and found 7 promising innovations working at the intersection of multiple SDGs: Satyen Engineer, YHonk (noise pollution); Prof Kavya Dashora, IIT Delhi (nutrition); Shashwat Gangwal, InfinityBox (sustainable packaging); Yash Tarwadi, Solance (clean drinking water); Nidhi Pant, S4S Technologies (inclusive growth); Sarita Ahlawat, Aerogram (air pollution); and Pramod Priya Ranjan, Care Form Labs (gender empowerment).

The efforts towards identifying, testing, recognising and supporting scalable, impactful, and cost-effective innovations will continue well into 2021. The UNDP Accelerator Lab India is committed to accelerate development in India, differently, and it intends to take all possible measures and bring all stakeholders together for a unified impact.

The writers are:

Rozita Singh, Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

Swetha Kolluri, Head of Experimentation, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

Dr. Krishnan S Raghavan, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

 

The UNDP Accelerator Lab in India is part of the world’s largest and fastest learning network working with development challenges. Globally it was launched in 2019 with over 60 Lab teams covering 78 countries. The founding investors of the Accelerator lab are the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany.  The network taps into local innovations to create actionable insights and reimagine sustainable development for the 21st century. The network is expanding and soon there will be 90 labs covering 114 countries.

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