In a fast-changing scenario where modern technologies and disruptive thinking are transforming the way in which we approach problems and challenges, having an innovative mindset that is not afraid to experiment and fail is becoming ever more critical for organizations to stay relevant. Taking cognizance of this, UNDP India recently held a 2-day workshop on Innovation and Acceleration to empower its young workforce with right set of tools to tackle modern day challenges and remain relevant as an organization in this catalytic landscape.

The Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Biodiversity pillar at UNDP India is working at the forefront to tackle some of the most pressing problems to our ecosystems and natural biodiversity, an issue which is often underestimated partly to its inextricable linkages, and the workshop provided the team with many new tools and approaches to not only solve the challenges, but also taking a step back and looking at the larger picture, or as Giulio Quaggiotto, Head, Regional Innovation Centre, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub put it, ‘taking the view from the balcony rather that the dance floor’.

Innovations do not have to be top-down always, as was showcased by Prof. Anil Gupta from the Honey Bee Network who is one of the doyens in the field of grassroots innovations. Inclusive innovations are also empathetic solutions and emanate from deep personal immersion. This has inspired Vedant Rastogi, a young UN Volunteer with a keen interest in fine arts, to look at ‘leveraging art and storytelling as a tool to engage local and tribal youth in reviving traditional conservation practices in Ladakh’.

For Rebika, who looks after communications for the NRM team, it means going back to the basics and preserving the ‘human face’ of the hard-working, sincere rural folk who are the real conservation champions of the country and are recognized through initiatives like the National Biodiversity Awards, working against all odds to conserve and protect the health of their natural surroundings driven by their sheer reverence for Mother Earth. Ensuring that these stories are communicated in a much more personal manner through one-to-one interactive sessions as opposed to the opacity of digital and electronic media thus becomes very important.

‘Cross-disciplinary’ approaches are now evolving into ‘anti-disciplinarily’, encouraging teams to develop an entirely fresh perspective of looking at challenges. Taking cue from this approach, Manisha, who works on the Biodiversity Finance Initiative, is looking at Biodiversity conservation from the perspective of identifying financial gaps and devising innovative financial instruments that can also bring in non-traditional stakeholders into the picture through platforms like CSR and SDG finance.

Preparedness to fail and the ability to learn from those failures must become an integral part of the genetic makeup of any organization that wants to keep pace with the changes in the outside world and remain relevant. Pepped up by this approach, Parth, who is a part of the SECURE Himalaya team working to protect snow leopard landscapes, is keen to create a sandbox of AI-based technology solutions that can offer solutions to some of the most pressing problems in conservation and livelihoods in these remote landscapes including illegal wildlife trade, human-wildlife conflict and sustainable livelihoods among others.

Anusha, a young and dynamic professional with a go-getter attitude, sees the Accelerator Labs as an opportunity to invigorate collaborations with other teams within UNDP and also look at learnings from past projects through an entirely new sets of lenses. This will pave the way to infuse the spirit of innovation and acceleration in the team’s projects and work plans that not only improves implementation but creates an ‘innovation template for future projects’.

While innovation is important to usher in fresh perspectives, it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel, and this is where acceleration comes in as a means to build on existing solutions rather than starting from the scratch. It is important to maintain a balance of Innovation and Acceleration within teams that gives them the tools to deconstruct complex issues and offer impactful solutions that establish ‘street cred’, an important factor in convincing policymakers to embrace an innovative programme or project.

The development paradigms globally are undergoing a massive transformation where ‘lean’ and ‘innovative’ is replacing the ‘large’ and ‘institutional’. The workshop has encouraged the NRM team to go far beyond there comfort zones without the fear of failure and truly embrace external changes to catalyze internal transformations. 

Ruchi Pant leads the biodiversity pillar at UNDP India

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