Pretoria, January 28, 2020: Over 130 guests from government, media, diplomatic corps, private sector, civil society, youth group, disability sector and development partner agencies working in the innovation space gathered at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria to participate in the launch of UNDP South Africa’s Accelerator Lab – one of 60 Labs across the world, serving 78 countries. The Labs aim to test and scale new solutions to global challenges as they bring together grassroots ideas with new sources of real-time data and experimentation to meet the fast-changing realities of 21st century development.
“Our current approaches are not making enough progress against today’s emerging development challenges. UNDP believes that to address these challenges effectively, the world requires radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development problems” said Dr Ayodele Odusola, Resident Representative, UNDP South Africa in his welcoming remarks.
The launch was addressed by Dr Bonginkosi Emmanuel "Blade" Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation; Ms Nardos Bekele Thomas, Resident Coordinator of the UN in South Africa; First Counsellor Silvia Marrara, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Italy; Dr Lisette Andreae, Head of Science and Education, Embassy of Germany; and Advocate Richard Sizani, Chairperson of the Public Service Commission who delivered messages of support for this initiative. Pepper, the first humanoid robot in South Africa introduced by Nedbank also graced the occasion, meeting and greeting guests as they arrived and introducing the Accelerator Lab team during the session. The programme included a panel discussion with specialists from government, private sector, civil society, academia and innovation to talk about “Advancing development through innovation in South Africa”. The event also showcased and heard from youth innovators and entrepreneurs.
In her opening remarks, the Resident Coordinator of the UN in South Africa, Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas highlighted the persistent challenge of income inequality in South Africa as indicated by the 2019 Human Development Report launched by UNDP in December 2019. She acknowledged the need for a sophisticated range of development solutions to tackle these complex challenges and hasten progress for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Time is of the essence and this network provides the actual laboratory for advancing this know-how. The Accelerator Labs will play a pivotal role in reimagining sustainable development in a 21st century often dominated by volatile conditions that the world’s 20th century systems are not equipped to navigate” she said as she hailed this as a bold move by UNDP that matches the 2030 agenda.
UNDP South Africa has partnered with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to implement this innovative global initiative. “Ground-breaking innovation is not new to South Africa. The country has played a pace-setting role in the global innovation ecosystem, which led to the invention of several devices that continue to shape the world innovation landscape till today” added Dr Odusola as he gave various examples of innovations and innovators in the African continent during his welcoming remarks.
In his keynote address, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology welcomed the UNDP Accelerator Lab as a timely intervention in South Africa’s innovation journey. Citing his confidence in the lab not only to fast track implementation and supporting government’s efforts to enhance and advance many of the policy intents of our 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation; but also, to support the much-needed coordination of resources to achieve this implementation. “In particular, we look forward to the Accelerator finding ways of helping to scale-up current grassroots innovation efforts and community-based sustainable livelihood initiatives” he said.
As he pledged the support of the Department of Science and Innovation to the UNDP, the Minister also stated the Department’s intentions: “we also intend to support and resource innovation in our technical and vocational education and training colleges, so that no area of potential innovation is left behind, whether it be grassroots or artisanal or high-level innovations” he added. The Minister concluded his address by congratulating UNDP for this initiative and further encouraged working with young people in the context of the young innovators and entrepreneurs who were present at the launch.
The panel discussion engagement saw young people expressing their thoughts on innovation and operating in the South African innovation landscape. They appealed for support as they offered their skills and expertise to those in attendance. A cohort of youth entrepreneurs who are participants in UNDP’s youth challenge fund programme YEAH (Youth Entrepreneurship Action Hub) was present and they pitched their initiatives. The youth innovators exhibiting their work were also invited to introduce their innovations to the audience.
UNDP presented the results of a rapid assessment of the South African innovation ecosystem. This piece of work was unveiled by UNDP, the representatives of the founding investors of the Accelerator Lab – the Embassies of Germany and Italy; the Minister, Resident Coordinator of UN in South Africa, The Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, members of the Diplomatic Corps, dignitaries, youth entrepreneurs and innovators. The Accelerator Lab also receive funding support from the Embassy of Qatar.
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