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Moon Shots and Puddle Jumps – Innovation for Sustainable Development Goals

UNDP | Sep 07, 2018


This article was originally published by UNDP and is republished with permission.

New York, September 6 — To address the world’s most challenging problems, international organisations increasingly invest in transformative innovation, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Innovation Facility.

In ‘Moon Shots & Puddle Jumps – Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals’, UNDP Innovation Facility shares case studies from over 25 countries of how innovation can make development more impactful, citing examples from Bangladesh, Georgia, Honduras, Malawi, Sudan and Yemen.

“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 ambitions 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,” state UNDP’s Administrator Achim Steiner and Ambassador Ib Petersen, Denmark’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in their joint foreword.

Since 2014, the Innovation Facility has been investing in country-level experiments to identify better ways of working and help transform the UNDP, supported by the Government of Denmark. The investments in more than 170 experiments over the past years has amplified the funding for human development and mobilized twice the amount invested. It facilitated the creation of new partnerships and helped scale new ways of working. More than 60 per cent of Innovation Facility-supported initiatives have attracted further investments by government and private sector partners — a first proxy for scale.

The 2017-2018 Innovation report provides the readers a broader picture of the innovation journey at UNDP. Introducing innovation concepts – current and emerging service lines – it features initiatives that tested or scaled new ways to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, prevent violent conflict, manage climate change risk and advance gender equality. The vast majority of these initiatives took place in countries that are crisis-affected, least-developed, landlocked or small island developing states.

The case studies encompass a wide range of development innovation in action – some are pursuing moonshots, others puddle jumps: from a collaboration with Makers Space in Honduras to jointly design with persons with disabilities 3-D printed prostheses for inclusion; a spatial data sandbox to improve biodiversity conservation efforts globally together with UN Environment, MapX, NASA and UN Global Pulse; a joint experiment with NudgeLebanon and national partners to improve efforts on preventing violent extremism in Sudan based on findings from behavioral science; a trial to reduce costs of remittances in Serbia with the help of blockchain, scaling public sector innovation processes in ArmeniaBangladeshGeorgiaMoldova and Sri Lanka, among others.

As way forward, the report highlights lessons learned thus far and outlines pillars for the next phase of the Innovation Facility. “Over the past four years, we learned about the importance of ventures when providing funding for innovation. We pivoted from investing in great ideas to investing in diverse teams with the right combination of skills. On a global level, we learned that innovation requires deliberate strategies to pursue distinct objectives: incremental improvements, transformative innovation, curating bottom-up solutions and mainstreaming innovation”, said Benjamin Kumpf, Innovation Facility Lead in New York.


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