New and Unusual: A Fresh Perspective on Partnerships for Sustainable Development from the UNDP Accelerator Labs

My First Orchard game from HABA

Partnerships for development

The UNDP Accelerator Labs act as conveners, partnering with usual and unusual actors.

Unusual suspects

This route runs local: grassroots innovators as partners

Pilot robot delivery to hospitals. Photo credit: UNDP Nepal

UNDP’s innovation train

  • PORTFOLIOS: Working with a diversity of partners intuitively goes hand in hand with building portfolios — suites of multiple complementary, simultaneous interventions that together can shift complex systems. Thanks to the Labs’ engagements with new actors, UNDP has been able to make connections and form “systems-level” insights. For example, UNDP Pakistan and the Regional Innovation Center in Bangkok adopted a portfolio approach to the circular economy as a result of the Pakistan Lab’s convening of new partners, including Unilever, Nestle and start-ups, to tackle plastic waste.
  • SCALE: Half of the Labs in our first cohort brought in new funding and UNDP leadership tells us that bringing in new partners is the number one capability of the Labs that added value to UNDP. For example, the UNDP India Accelerator Lab partnered with the private sector to help transform the national spice sector — worth $3.6B in annual exports — through applying blockchain technology.
  • COVID-19 RESPONSE: Partnerships have enabled UNDP to respond more nimbly and effectively to emergent global phenomena, namely COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, the Labs’ new partnerships brought in digital delivery methods — which became increasingly critical as the pandemic exposed and exacerbated the “digital divide,” or the ways that connectivity drives inequality.
Informal vendors hold the key to understanding food security in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: UNDP Zimbabwe
  • DIGITAL: Digital partnerships have positioned the Labs as “feet on the ground” for implementing and fostering an enabling environment for UNDP’s major corporate priority, digitization. UNDP’s Chief Digital Office now relies on Lab staff as Digital Advocates in country offices as well as the source of scalable Digital X projects. For instance, the UNDP Lebanon Accelerator Lab enabled an agile response to the Beirut Blast of 2020, as three days after the explosion, a partnership with the Surge Data Hub allowed them to leverage a data pipeline from social media for emergency response, which continues to be used today. In another digital example, the Cote d’Ivoire Lab’s partnership with SKT AeroShutter, an AI-enabled drone operator, secured valuable geospatial data to fight deforestation. Reflecting on this digital partnership, the Lab said:
Fighting deforestation in Cote d’Ivoire with drone imagery. Photo credit: SKT AeroShutter

A return on learning partnerships

Emerging evidence of ROI with UNDP Colombia Life Helmets: $1 invested, $333 returned.

Partnerships, people and scale




Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries.

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UNDP Accelerator Labs

UNDP Accelerator Labs

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries.

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