BY Gina Lucarelli | September 12, 2018
My brother is a mathematician and on family vacations, he talks about data in multi-dimensions. (Commence eyes-glazing over). But as the family genius, he’s probably on to something. Lately, in my own world where I try to scale innovation in the UN to advance sustainable development, I am also thinking in 3D, or, if properly caffeinated, multi-dimensionally. As new methods, instruments, actors, mutants and data are starting to transform how the UN advances sustainable development, the engaged manager asks: when and how will this scale? To scale, we need to know what we are aiming for. This blog explores the idea that innovation scaling is more about connecting experiments than the pursuit of homogeneous replications. Moving on from industrial models of scaling innovation In the social sector, the scaling question makes us nervous because the image of scaling is often a one dimensional, industrial one: let’s replicate the use of this technology, tool or method in a different place and that means we’ve scaled. This gives us social development people pause not only because we can’t ever fully replicate [anything] across multiple moving elements across economic, social and culture. Even if we could replicate, it would dooms us to measuring scaling by counting the repeated application of one innovation in many places. Thankfully, people like Gord Tulloch have given us a thoughtful scaling series that questions the idea that scaling social innovation is about replicating single big ideas many times over. [Hint: he says scaling innovation in the public sector is less about copy-pasting big ideas and more about legitimizing and cultivating many “small” solutions and focusing on transforming cultures.] Apolitical’s spotlight series on scaling social impact includes a related insightful conclusion: when looking at Bangladesh’s Graduation Approach as one of the few proven ways out of poverty, they suggest that while the personalized solutions work best, they might be replicable, but too bespoke to scale. So if scaling ≠ only replication, how do we strategize for scale? I’ve got a proposal: what if we frame the innovation scaling question more about doing deep than broad? The scaling question becomes: How will we move from distinct prototypes managed by different teams at the frontier of our work to a coherent, connected use of emergent experiments in programme operations? Scaling also means moving from fringe to core Scaling innovation in a large organization like the UN has a glorious serendipity to it. Did you hear that we are looking into impact bonds in Armenia? What about the food security predictor in Indonesia? Nice collective intelligence approach in Lesotho. Blockchain is being used for cash transfers in Pakistan and Jordan. Check out the foresight in Mauritius. UNICEF is using Machine learning to track rights enshrined in constitutions. UNHCR is using it to predict migration in Somalia. UNDP is testing out social impact bonds for road safety in Montenegro. These organic innovations are beautiful and varied and keep us learning, but we as a UN system are not yet scaling in 3D. These days, I’ve been talking to people (my brother’s eyes glaze over at this point) about how to see various methods of innovations not as distinct categories of experiments, but rather as connected elements of an emergent way of doing development. Towards a connected kind of 3D. Yes innovation is more of an evolving set of disruptions than a fixed taxonomy of new methods, but if we narrow our scope for a moment to the subset of innovations which have passed the proof of concept stage, can we start thinking seriously about how they connect? [As an important side note, thinking in terms of taxonomies of innovations is not a panacea. Check out @gquagiotto’s slides for a more thorough story on how classification is trouble for public sector innovation because it means we limit our vision and don’t see unexpected futures where they are already among us.] Projectizing innovation without keeping an eye on the links among the new stuff won’t get us far, and might even be counter-productive. Instead, what would it be like if innovations were deployed in an integrated way? A bit like Armenia’s SDG innovation lab where behavioral insights, innovative finance, crowd-sourced solutions and predictive analytics [among others] are seen as a package deal. I am looking for collaborators to learn more about how are all these methods and tools related. Do they help or hinder each other? Are there lessons that can be learned from one area and applied to others? Should some new tech and methods not be combined with others? 9 elements of next practices in development work A few of us UN experimenters came together in Beirut in July to pool what we know on this. We had a pretty awesome team of mentors and UN innovators from 22 countries. We framed our reflections around the 9 elements of innovation which I see as approaching critical mass in the field. This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start to moving these methods from fringe tests led by various teams to core, connected operations. Here are the “nine elements of next practice UN” we are working with: Tapping into ethnography, citizen science and amped up participation for collective intelligence to increase the accuracy, creativity, responsiveness and accountability of investments for sustainable development. Using art, data, technology, science fiction and participatory foresight methods to overcome short-termism and make sustainable futures tangible. Complementing household survey methods with real time data and predictive analytics to see emerging risks and opportunities and design programmes and policies based on preparedness and prevention. Building on the utility of “superman dashboards” for decision makers to helping real people use their own data for empowerment, entrepreneurship and accountability. Leveraging finance beyond ODA and public budgets by finding ways to attract private capital to sustainable development. Evolving the way we do things and even what services we offer by managing operations through new technologies Applying psychology and neuroscience for behavioral insights to question assumptions, design better campaigns and programmes and to generate evidence of impact when it comes to people’s behavior. Carving out space for science and technology partnerships within the UN’s sustainable development work Improving how we support our national partners in managing privacy and ethical risks Moving from “that’s cool” to “aha it’s all connected” We need to start thinking of these 9 elements as connected. It might be that they reinforce each other - whereby focusing on data empowerment gives meaning, context and legitimacy to the use of big data to understand behaviors and online activity. Or that they undermine each other - in the way that citizen science can undermine innovative finance pay-outs, or behavioral insights are helping companies get around privacy regulations. Looking for the practical connections, here’s what we’ve got so far: Collective intelligence methods that listen to people organically can help determine whether your behavioral campaigns are resonating. Because people’s intell is often more granular than statistics, they could also be used to test whether new forms of finance are making an impact on health, education and other development issues. Small scale and/or internal experiments in the UN to manage operations with new technology help us know what the next generation privacy and ethics risks are. Experiments in gray zones can then inform future-oriented regulatory frameworks. Keeping a focus on helping people use data for empowerment is a good northstar when using new data and predictive analytics to ensure that cultivating realtime sources of data isn’t deepening the digital or data privacy divide. Using foresight methods or predictive analytics can point to signals of where to invest with innovative finance instruments [Follow Ramya from IFRC innovations for more on this. Hence some early connections form a budding conspiracy theory! If you are thinking multi-dimensionally too, or using a few of these methods and see where this line of thinking can be improved, help me draw more lines on the innovation conspiracy board! [Or tell me why this is the wrong tree to be barking towards… That’s always helpful too.] We’re working on a playbook to codify what we know so far in terms of principles and methods for each of these 9 elements. Stay tuned for that... and please do get in touch to throw your own knowledge in!
BY Dmitry Mariyasin, Vahagn Voskanyan | August 22, 2018
According to some estimates, implementing the SDGs will cost a whopping 172.5 USD trillion by 2030, while current aid flows to developing countries sit at 350 USD billion annually. You might want to read the previous sentence again or let us summarize it for you: we have 350 USD billion per year, but we need around 172 USD trillion annually to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Tricky, no? I guess the quick answer is yes, it is tricky. However, we believe that this gap can be partly filled by something called impact investing. This is, in short, investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. At the UN in Armenia, we are testing impact investing and other new funding mechanisms to explore how they can be best used in middle-income countries to generate financing for the SDGs. Our UN team, led by UNDP Armenia, is experimenting around a set of initiatives that are already turning to be great learning experiences that we are proud to share in this blog. Our impact venture accelerator To support initiatives that put social or environmental issues at the core of their businesses, we created ImpactAIM: an impact venture accelerator. In short, ImpactAIM is a programme to support sustainable companies to scale up their impact. One of the criteria for ventures to be part of this initiative is that their business must reflect the mission and programme priorities of the United Nations in Armenia. With this exciting idea in mind, last year we launched a call for proposals for companies to apply. We partnered with Catalyst Foundation and Impact Hub Yerevan, and received 96 applications from 25 countries! We were happily surprised with this great response and we moved quickly to select our candidates. After a detailed process which included almost 30 interviews, we selected seven ventures to be part of the programme: Dasaran, Armacad, Armath, WiCastr, Smart Kindergarten, Sylex and IoTLab. These companies are currently enrolled in an intensive program which combines study sessions based on cutting-edge methodologies and hands-on experience in areas that are crucial for the start-up/business development world. The selected ventures also receive intensive mentorship to help them strengthen their market base and increase their investment absorption capacity. We are also trying to leverage the existing expertise of different UN agencies into the programme. This is the case of UNICEF, currently mentoring ventures working on education issues, but we are working to better integrate the expertise of agencies across the UN system. At the end of the programme, we will introduce the ventures to a network of impact venture capitals and angel investors to broke potential funding opportunities. Impact Investment Catalyzing Facility With the launch of the impact venture accelerator in December 2017, we realized that there is much more that we can do to support the expansion of impact ventures. In order to do that, and to stimulate the flow of private funds towards SDG targets, we are piloting an impact investment facility which will have two main elements: To support the establishment of impact funds through partnerships with fund managers to attract financing into impact ventures. To introduce impact-focused financial tools in Armenia. For example, long term loans, loans with subsidized interest rates and credit guarantees, that will encourage banking capital to fund impact ventures that target SDGs. What this means is that UNDP is going to introduce available impact and SDG targeting funding opportunities to engage external financial facilities for further disbursements to impact-focused clients. Considering that this type of funding usually includes a grant component and technical assistance, banks will be incentivized to add impact and SDG targeting into existing structures. Looking into social impact bonds Here in Armenia we are also developing social impact bonds to respond to key SDG bottlenecks. A social impact bond is a multi-party agreement based on the idea of “pay for success”. The Government identifies a social problem that it has a) not been efficient in solving or b) lacking the necessary resources to solve it. The service providers who could efficiently solve the social problem are then identified, along with investors who are willing to pay the service providers upfront. The Government only pays the investors back when the pre-defined success indicators are reached or, in other words, pays only for success. Currently we are e working on the design of two social impact bonds: Improving quality of agricultural education in cooperation with FAO Armenia. Improving learning outcomes of the IT sector in cooperation with UNICEF Armenia. Our short but strategic roadshow During the last few months we have been spreading the word about impact investment. We participated in the Social Good Summit in Geneva and the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP2017) in San Francisco, where we met impact investors and made a strong pitch for partnerships with the private sector to achieve the SDGs. e now have a clear sense of what impact investors and key stakeholders outside the UN need and expect. We have also received feedback from key players in the industry and, together with INSEAD, organized Impact Investment for Development Summit in Yerevan in March 2017, which was the first time a dialogue on the role of impact investment took place in Armenia. Landing impact investments to the day-to-day reality Moving forward, we are looking into setting a legal framework that will allow the UN, private sector and other partners to make investments to support ventures promoting sustainable development. The fancy word for it is “impact investment platform”. The Impact Bonds, the Accelerator and the Catalyzing Facility are all specific and practical way to facilitate these investments, and help solve development challenges on the ground in Armenia and beyond. Working with the Armenian Government The Office of the Prime Minister in Armenia is eager to help accelerate SDGs. Our goal is to support Government to figure out ways of bringing academia and government together to engage citizens around the SDGs. We also hope to engage social entrepreneurs to identify funding. Since its inception four years ago, the lab continues to evolve, from a social venture incubator to an accelerator. The accelerator takes the profitable business and scales globally. We also set up, together with the Government of Armenia, the National SDG Innovation Lab to ensure that both public and private partners work in a coherent way. The Lab brings together contributors from the public and private sectors to experiment and create to unlock Armenia’s development potential. For each new project that we work on, including this one pertaining to impact investments, we always ask ourselves three questions: Are we building a user (citizen)-driven intervention? Are we helping advance innovative approaches that help leapfrog to SDG achievement? Are we using the potential of private initiative and capital to achieve our objectives? Will this work? Stay posted and follow us on Medium to find out!
Global development is a complex problem requiring a coordinated, comprehensive response. The new 2030 Agenda, with its expanded 17 Sustainable Development Goals, will require more coordinated UN support to governments as they develop and implement national policy frameworks. To address these evolving global needs, the UNDG launched the Delivering Results Together Fund in 2014.READ MORE