UNDP-South Africa accelerator lab to transform approach to current challenges

Developing our youth is the key way in which South Africa can decisively address the interlinked challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, said Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology.


The Minister believes that it is the large-scale adoption of various forms of innovation for youth development that will be the real game-changer; that the country needs better ways of identifying and using a range of emerging and cutting-edge technologies, encouraging innovation across society – especially community-based and grassroots innovation – focusing on new business models and partnerships, and rapidly scaling up proven innovations and approaches.


Minister Nzimande made the comments at the launch of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) South African Accelerator Lab, which took place at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on 28 January 2020.


The South African Accelerator Lab is part of a network of accelerator laboratories that the UNDP, with its core partners the State of Qatar and the Federal Republic of Germany, is using to tackle multifaceted global development challenges over three years.


The South African Accelerator Lab will be one of 60 labs serving 78 countries.  The UNDP's aim is to find radical new ways of delivering development solutions – going beyond business-as-usual, linear solutions by unleashing the potential of local innovators, collective intelligence and experimentation.


Citing the role that the youth play in South Africa's innovation journey, Minister Nzimande said, "It is our strong belief that our youth do not carry themselves as victims of their personal circumstances nor passive recipients of ideas, but, given the necessary support, are active participants and innovators in changing their own conditions. It was this same youthful energy that was galvanized to defeat the apartheid regime, and we must harness it to build a better South Africa for all, young and old."


The Minister added, "In particular, I look forward to the accelerator lab finding effective ways of building on the post-school education and training foundation that the Department of Higher Education and Training is currently putting in place."


Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa, said that the accelerator labs would work together with national and global partners to find radically new collective approaches to dealing with the complexity of current development challenges.


She commended South Africa's progress in improving the lives of South Africans, saying the provision of access to education, health services, water, electricity, housing and social protection were just some of the notable gains in realising human rights since democracy.


"There has also been significant progress made towards harnessing science, technology and innovation in contributing towards addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality by improving access to basic services, such as safe drinking water, sanitation and electricity," she added.


Dr Ayodele Odusola, Resident Representative of the UNDP in South Africa, highlighted that the UNDP planned to have 100 labs by the end of 2020.  The initiative, leveraging the power of grassroots innovation, aims to scale up innovation to speed up the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.


"The development challenges of the 21st century are moving faster than our tailored solutions. Our current approaches are not making enough progress against today's emerging development challenges", he said.


Echoing Minister Nzimande's comments on the need for youth development, Dr Odusola expressed the view that the newly launched lab would offer an opportunity to find the radical new approaches that are often driven by the youth.


He commended South Africa's pace-setting role in the global innovation system, which still shaped the world today, for instance, the world's first heart transplant and the invention of the computerised axial tomography scan.


The Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Advocate Richard Sizani, said that the accelerator lab network would assist with quick solutions to the complex and non-routine challenges that hamper development.


"This initiative could not have come at a more appropriate time," he said.  "South Africa is embarking on the second phase of implementing the National Development Plan (NDP). Government, working with all sectors of society, requires better and more innovative ways of doing things to achieve Vision 2030."


"As the Public Service Commission, we are proud to be associated with the UNDP, which is the integrator of the SDGs. Therefore, when reflecting on the work of the PSC, we realise that our mandates often cross paths at the junction of development-orientation", Advocate Sizani said.


Dr Lisette Andreae, Head of Science and Education at the Embassy of Germany, said Germany has invested €30 million in the accelerator labs over three-years.


First Counsellor Silvia Marrara, Deputy Head on Mission at the Embassy of Italy, said that Italy's Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea is a strong and convinced supporter of initiatives aimed at accelerating socio-economic development based on innovation.


"The UNDP Accelerator Lab initiative, as a global and international effort that involves more than 60 teams in five continents, has the capacity to build the new values and relationships required to bring together government and public authorities, academia, industry, citizens and banking, crossing boundaries among stakeholders and favouring a co-creative process in the interest of our societies and our common goal," she said.


Minister Nzimande is confident that the accelerator labs will play an important role in fast-tracking the implementation of the social and economic development priorities of South Africa, as set out in the NDP and SDGs.


"I am keen for South Africa to draw on the rich experience and evidence of what works in the various UNDP offices globally, and particularly the 59 other accelerators that are in various stages of development.  We hope the UNDP will greatly assist us in our efforts to work with and learn from others," concluded Minister Nzimande.




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