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Moon Shots and Puddle Jumps: UNDP Innovation Facility

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UNDP
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The scale and ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals demand a major shift in how development is done. Massive breakthroughs in innovation are required to truly Leave No One Behind and achieve the ambition of the 2030 Agenda. This requires “moon shots” – bold, visionary inventions and technological breakthroughs – as well as “puddle jumps”: important, incremental advances that support the most marginalized and ensure no one is left behind. This concept, coined by MIT’s Jason Prapas, is at the heart of how UNDP pursues innovation for development. Over the past four years UNDP, with invaluable support from the Government of Denmark, has supported trials to find better solutions to persistent development challenges. The Innovation Facility has provided seed funds and advice to more than 140 experiments in 87 countries. Many of these initiatives have tested the potential of frontier technologies – from drones, to block chain and artificial intelligence – while many more have explored ways to support marginalized populations. From impact bonds and social entrepreneurship acceleration programmes, addressing youth employment in Serbia and Iraq, to co-designing services with rural populations in Pakistan and Bangladesh, to leveraging mobile phone data to gain real-time insights on poverty in Sudan, to embracing behavioural design to combating gender-based violence in Egypt, Georgia and South Africa. The 2017-2018 Review of the Innovation Facility presents case studies from across the globe, and essays on emerging topics; it also takes stock of what UNDP has learned in the process. The lessons from the Innovation Facility’s investments – both our successes and failures – are key for UNDP to transform itself for a new era of sustainable development. They help inform UNDP’s vision, which puts innovation at the core of how the organization does business. Development actors like UNDP, Governments, and bilateral institutions need to be bold. We need to challenge traditional paradigms of development and ways of working, starting with our own. The Government of Denmark is the first country to invest in Techplomacy and establishing a Tech Embassy, with a physical presence in Silicon Valley, Copenhagen and Beijing, transcending borders and regions and rethinking traditional diplomatic representation in the process. The partnership between the Government of Denmark and UNDP on innovation is entering its next phase, building on what we have learned, and formulating bold new hypotheses that we will jointly test. With more dynamic and open institutions that put innovation at our core, we will take another step towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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