Dr Ayodele Odusola, Resident Representative, UNDP South Africa addressing Launch of UNDP South Africa Accelerator Lab

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Dr Bonginkosi Emmanuel "Blade" Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation

Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident Coordinator, UN South Africa

Advocate Richard Sizani, Chairperson of the Public Service Commission

Dr Lisette Andreae, Head of Science and Education, Embassy of Germany

First Counsellor Silvia Marrara, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Italy

Distinguished Panellists

Senior Government Officials Present

Invited Guests

Colleagues from the United Nations System

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me a great honour to welcome you to the launch of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) South Africa’s Accelerator Lab, a collaborative platform to co-identify bottlenecks to tackle the wicked development challenges like poverty, income inequality, unemployment and climate change and to co-design associated development solutions.

Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The UNDP Administrator in July 2019 launched at the global level 60 Accelerator Labs serving 78 countries, with the plan to reach 100 by the end of 2020. This initiative, leveraging the power of grassroots innovation, is to scale-up and speed-up the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Development challenges of the 21st Century are moving faster than our tailored solutions. 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 challenges. The Accelerator Lab, therefore, offers an opportunity to find those radical new approaches, which often lie in our communities, mostly driven by our youth.

Each country has its unique complexities and as such, requires context specific  solutions. South Africa’s triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, in the context of slow economic growth, is holding the country ransom and it is through dedicated innovation that the country can free itself from this encumbrance.

Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ground-breaking innovation is not new to South Africa. The country had played a pacesetting role in the global innovation ecosystem, which led to the invention of several devices that continue to shape the world innovation landscape till today.

  • The world’s first heart transplant took place here and the legendary Computed Axial Tomography Scan (CAT) was invented by a South Africa.
  • It was the first country in the world to refine oil from coal and to invent the swimming pool vacuum cleaner.
  • Do you know the glue that held the electrical box of the Apollo XI mission’s Eagle landing craft in 1969 was invented in South Africa?
  • Among other inventions from South Africa include the  invention of Dolosse to break up wave action and protect harbour walls and coastal installations;  Q20 to repel water and prevent rust; the Retinal Cryoprobe for cataract surgery which led to the Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation in 1975.

To rekindle this invention movement, South Africa has established and built a very sophisticated innovation ecosystem to deal with these development challenges, yet some gaps remain in achieving the SDGs and the national development priorities. Grassroots innovation has not been accorded priority attention, not effectively integrated into the national innovation ecosystem. The accelerator labs are a way of awakening the innovative spirit through collaborative efforts in seeking the right mix of possible solutions in a non-duplication manner.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past two months, UNDP embarked on an exercise to understand the ecosystem within which the Accelerator Lab is to operate; it is for this reason that we reached out, through a rapid assessment survey, to partners who have already established themselves in the innovation ecosystem at the local, regional and national levels in South Africa. Thanks to the wonderful support of the Department of Science and Innovation- who accompanied us in this exercise.

We are happy today to be able to share these findings with you.

Today, we showcase several innovators, who saw a need in their community and addressed it, demonstrating that innovation happens everywhere, even in our homes. Young people, changing and challenging the status quo, have created disruptive development solutions that continue to put Africa on a global map.

Permit me to mention a few of these emerging innovations across Africa that are positioning the continent for future of development: [1]

  • Here in South Africa, the Square Kilometer Array, is developing a ground breaking space exploration technology which, once completed, is set to be the world's largest telescope.
  • Frank Darko, a fina
  • l year student at the Takoradi Technical University in Ghana invented a water bicycle to address challenges of water transport.
  • Brian Gitta, a 24-year-old young graduate of Makerere University in Uganda received the Royal Academy of Engineering's Africa Prize for inventing a bloodless malaria testing device.
  • Osh Agabi, Nigerian inventor, has created a device that fuses live neurons from mice stem cells into a silicon chip -- for the first time – a device that detects explosives and cancer cells.
  • Arthur Zang, a Cameroonian entrepreneur, has invented a touch-screen heart monitoring device that records and sends heart activity to a national healthcare center for evaluation – a devise that accelerates rural access to secondary healthcare services.
  • A team of Congolese engineers, based at the Kinshasa Higher Institute of Applied Technique, have created human-like robots to help tackle traffic problems.
  • Three young Kenyans[2] have created a panic button app that sends a distress signal with the shake of a phone.

With the commitment of government institutions, private sector, academia and other partners,  young people, amidst the limited access to state-of-the-art technology, and other resources, I see a great future for Africa in general and South Africa in specific.

To harness the creativity and innovative nature of young South Africans, UNDP has established a youth challenge fund, termed YEAH – Youth Entrepreneurship Action Hub to offer to young people who want to make a difference in their spaces. In this regard, we invite partners and the Minister to support this initiative. Other youth initiatives undertaken by UNDP to advance youth include Linkages with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to build capacity of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds on science and technology entrepreneurship. 40-50 will be selected as a start, and for 6-8 weeks supported to set up their start-ups. There will also be Training of Trainers Programme so that national capacity to roll out the programme is sustained.

An internship and knowledge exchange programme targeting South African historically disadvantaged universities and technical and Vocational Education & Training colleges (TVETs), in partnership with MIT & Stanford university. Exposure by both the students and the academics from the historically disadvantaged institutions to these world class universities could make a difference.

Partnership with Stanford University. This is focusing on Waste-to-Wealth Initiative, using human waste to make fertiliser that can be sold to the market. The programme would target young people, who would execute it as entrepreneurs, and sell the fertilizer to the communities and the market.

Partnership to Global Young Innovators. This is focusing on Poor Man’s ATM “Kukua”, enabling local communities to create a reliable money-making machine. This involves an energy-efficient, solar powered egg incubator that will enable small-scale chicken farmers to have independence to hatch eggs, and thereby increasing their revenues and income.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are all kinds of UNDP efforts to advance and mobilise youth to help us to achieve the SDGs  and South Africa’s development priorities in this decade of action.

Honourable Minister, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

Let me conclude by thanking our founding partners in this quest, the embassies of Germany, Qatar and Italy, who provided the seed money to rollout the initiative at the global level. We count on you and other partners to support us to make meaningful investment on South African youth.

An investment on the youth is an investment for the future. 

I welcome you to the launch of the UNDP Accelerator Lab.

[1] For Frank Dako see

https://movinon-lab.michelin.com/lab/s/article/A-Ghanaian-student-invented-a-water-bicycle-to-improve-rural-mobility-in-his-communities-along-rivers-1543268992215?language=en_US For Brian Gitta see https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44481723; and Others, see  https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/16/africa/gallery/africa-innovations-that-could-change-the-world/index.html

[2] Marvin Makau, Edwin Inganji and Kenneth Gachukia.


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