Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires investments in innovation, says new UNDP report

Innovation and emerging technologies increasingly change how international organizations invest in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Innovation Facility.

At today’s launch of the report, Spark, Scale, Sustain: Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, the Innovation Facility shared examples of how emerging technologies and new approaches can help to make development more impactful, citing more than 40 case studies including examples from Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, China, Lebanon and Serbia.

“When we design innovation experiments we focus on the development change, not the solution”, says Benjamin Kumpf, Manager of the Innovation Facility. “Innovation means foremost testing ideas, learning quickly and the ability to pivot, using the technology that is appropriate for the context.”

The new report illustrates initiatives that leverage innovation to leave no one behind and test or scale new ways to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, prevent conflict, manage the risk of climate change and natural hazards and advance gender equality. The large majority of these countries are crisis-affected, least-developed, landlocked or small island developing states.

UNDP’s investments in innovation have led to more effective development solutions, showcased in the report, and to new service lines to government partners. These include Public Sector Innovation Labs, Data Innovation and Alternative Finance.

UNDP has established six Public Sector Labs as effective means to include citizens in open policy-making and re-designing public services. The Labs help governments to design for ten years ahead and to engage citizens in policy-making. In Moldova, the UNDP-powered Lab is applying the emerging field of behavioral insights to improve policy formulation and testing, such as around tax compliance and medical adherence.

To improve the implementation of the SDGs with real-time information, UNDP and UN Global Pulse collaborated on several data experiments. In Tunisia, for example, the National Statistics Office is now able to track public perception of corruption in real-time based on sentiment analysis of online media and social media interactions.

Another emerging service line described in the report is support on alternative finance options to fund efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In Serbia, UNDP is working with the Government and Finish Innovation Fund Sitra on a social impact bond to address youth unemployment.

To solicit new ideas, methods and designs from citizens including people who are living as refugees, UNDP launched challenge prizes with partners, covering countries such as Sudan, Yemen, Malawi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Nepal and is now providing support to the winners to further develop their innovations and provide solutions to development problems.

UNDP’s work on innovation happens in partnership with the private sector, with academia as well as innovation hubs, start-ups and social entrepreneurs. The UNDP Innovation Facility was launched in 2014 with the support of the Government of Denmark. It supports UNDP offices and partners in testing new ways to solve development problems, provides funding for experiments and scaling and shapes a new norm within the organization to change business as usual.


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