2020 was no ordinary year

 

While each year brings its own unique challenges, the fundamental difference in this year bygone was the onset of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The disease has had devastating effects across the globe, while its impacts on achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will continue for years to come. In Uganda, the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab, like many around the world, has also had to evaluate our approach to work and operate under vastly different circumstances.

This is not to say that 2020 has been absent of achievements. The Accelerator Lab has continued to explore, test and grow solutions for complex development challenges, thanks to the generosity of our partners the Qatar Fund for Development and the German Corporation for International Cooperation. Through their support, the Jumia E-Commerce Platform  supported micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and contributed to a growing e-commerce sector in Uganda with key lessons emerging on the critical need to strengthen resilience of small businesses to withstand shocks. The Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility on the other hand took aim at addressing youth unemployment through entrepreneurship and innovation, while the Multi City Challenge Africa has seen the Accelerator Lab work with partners across the continent to identify solutions for urban development challenges.

We are under no illusion that 2021 won’t bring its own obstacles and challenges, but at least with the benefit of hindsight we look back on 2020 with a sense of appreciation for what the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab has been able to achieve, thanks to a dynamic team, and a network of ever-inspiring partners.

Multisector partnerships drive innovation

Central to the success of the Accelerator Lab team throughout 2020 has been the depth and breadth of usual and unusual partnerships made, from government agencies to entrepreneurs, from academic institutions to development partners. Without doubt, the last year has showed us that re-imagining development for the 21st century can only be made possible through collaborative efforts alongside leading actors from multiple sectors.

In 2020 we saw our partnership with Jumia Uganda get off the ground, onboarding more than 2,000 informal market vendors and seven markets to the Jumia E-Commerce Platform and in turn aiding MSMEs to maintain operations despite COVID-19 related restrictions. The initiative has connected market vendors to consumers online, rural farmers to urban markets and sustained supply chains, while unlocking employment opportunities through e-commerce. It has also provided a case study to feed into the national strategy on e-commerce, and points to an exciting future for the e-commerce sector in Uganda.

We also saw our partnership with the National Forest Authority (NFA) take shape through implementation of our co-designed Data Visualization Platform. The initiative will support generation of real-time data to monitor forest cover throughout the country, enabling a comprehensive land cover map to be generated within 1-month compared with the 1-year timeframe when using rudimentary methods. By utilizing satellite data through a mobile application, NFA officials like Florence Nalunga can monitor forest cover from the ground without having to transcribe her notes in the rain. We anticipate that this initiative will continue to support governance of forests and related natural resources in Uganda through a strengthened evidence base and accountability mechanisms.  

Our budding partnership with the National Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) has also been taking great strides, with the Mulago Hospital Pilot Project helping foster the use of electricity for cooking. This joint experiment, hopefully the first of many, is helping incentivize large institutions to use electricity as an alternative to biomass (organic matter) fuels. The initiative has been largely informed by our recent Energy Audit, which identified alternative energy solutions to help reduce consumption of biomass and in turn protect Uganda’s forests. The audit has evaluated energy supply and demand dynamics, as well as trends in energy consumption within households and large institutions throughout the country, with initial evaluations emphasizing the need to scale up production, adoption and diffusion of sustainable cooking technologies and clean energy solutions. 

Image: NFA official Florence Nalunga testing the Data Visualization Platform on the ground

 

Challenging and supporting entrepreneurs

Central to the work of the Accelerator Lab team throughout 2020 has been our mandate to support entrepreneurs and MSMEs to build capacity, implement initiatives and create employment opportunities, especially in the face of COVID-19. We are confident that digital innovation will drive sustainable development efforts through 2021 and beyond, with entrepreneurs continuing to play a key role in this growing trend.

In 2020 we saw the Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility take shape, in partnership with Stanbic Bank Uganda, to tackle youth unemployment through impact-driven innovation and entrepreneurship. The initiative has targeted sectors with a high multiplier effect on creation of jobs and livelihood opportunities such as agriculture, manufacturing, renewable energy, information technology, tourism and creative arts, with 21 projects having been onboarded. The Accelerator Lab team has taken great pride in supporting the process of surfacing, evaluating and selecting interventions for support under the initiative.

We have also had the privileged role of participating in the Multi City Challenge Africa alongside our partners at the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), whereby citizens from five cities (Accra, Bahir Dar, Kampala, Kano and Mutare) are providing solutions for urban development challenges. With the two areas in focus for Kampala being 1) building urban resilience in slums and informal settlements, and 2) integrating the informal economy, this call for solutions saw 283 ideas submitted as well as 3,566 members of the public participating by either contributing an idea or voting for their favourite submission. Transitioning into its evaluation phase in 2021, we’re pleased with how the Multi City Challenge Africa has reawakened interest in innovation for development, and excited to see many of the submissions come to fruition.

The Accelerator Lab team continues to participate in initiatives that encourage the growing role of entrepreneurship in propelling innovation through 2021 and beyond, including the SDG Impact Accelerator programme, an open challenge seeking innovative solutions relating to digital agriculture in Uganda. We are excited to see how ongoing and future innovation challenges continue to support entrepreneurship, employment and unlock sustainable development for years to come. 

Image: Multi City Challenge Africa participants take part in problem definition training

 

Looking ahead to 2021

With 2020 behind us, we look forward to the year ahead with great optimism.

Priorities for the Accelerator Lab continue to revolve around synergizing key actors, nurturing entrepreneurship, enabling young people to innovate, investing in digitalization and the digital economy, maintaining political will and commitment to development solutions, and helping the people of Uganda develop a vision for their own future. Together with our current and prospective partners, the Accelerator Lab team are optimistic in our resolve to continue developing innovative development solutions for the betterment of Uganda.

 

By Berna Mugema, Head of Experimentation; Deborah Naatujuna, Head of Exploration; and Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping.

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