First South Asian Social Innovation Lab established in Sri Lanka
The UNDP together with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Research have partnered to establish South Asia’s first Social Innovation Lab.
The USD 1 million worth project is co-financed by the UNDP and ministry over a three and a half year time span and is expected to begin operations in January 2018 with the aim of assisting national development initiatives by testing development concepts so that they can be utilised in relation to fast-tracked initiatives.
In addition to bearing the cost of over USD 500,000 the UNDP will also bring in regional resources and technical expertise.
“Foresight and innovation were two crucial factors of development planning. The establishment of the Social Innovation Lab would be one of the many very positive initiatives to bring Sri Lanka forward. It is imperative that development efforts are done in collaboration with multiple partners, and at this momentous juncture we are pleased to be partnering with the Science, Technology and Research Ministry. We are certain this joint initiative will pave the way for more collaborative efforts between UNDP and the Government of Sri Lanka to create impactful results to help Sri Lanka achieve sustainable human development,” UNDP Country Director, Jorn Sorensen said.
The UNDP will hire fresh staff to operate the lab and in an advisory capacity administer and manage them. An advisory committee chaired by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research with Sorensenand other representatives from the ministries of Finance, Wildlife, Sustainable Development, and Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure will receive reports on the progress.
Once the lab is up and running, other ministries will also be able to get involved. In addition the lab is also expected to espouse best practices from counterpart labs all over the world mainly g practices from Denmark, Singapore and Malaysia.
Not to be mistaken with a policy or idea-implementing agency, the lab will be able to comprehensively assess an initial idea within a given timeline. With the ever-changing political, social and environmental challenges, the Social Innovation Lab will be a rapid prototyping facility for development efforts – in the form of an idea, a problem or a solution – using foresight tools to take into account multiple alternative future scenarios to make the idea or solution future-proof.¹
A typical lab cycle will happen over a period of 28 days, which will be consulted by international and local experts related to the issue bringing in different perspectives ranging from behavioural psychology, sociology, big data analysis and digital design to provide a positive impact rather than a onetime fix. The solutions will be aligned with national priorities and the latest trends in public opinion and as a result the Government will be able to avoid any negative publicity caused from unsuccessful policies.²
However, for more in-depth issues the lab will run cycles of four to six months with extensive online and offline consultations. Preparedness and response for natural disasters, effective solid waste management and improved road traffic management were outlined as few significant issues the lab can find solutions to.³
According to the Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Susil Premajayantha the setting up of this lab is the first step towards ushering in a new period in Sri Lanka becoming an established knowledge hub where economic and social development became heavily reliant on science, technology and innovation to introduce essential farsighted value additions, adding that standard GDP allocation in developed nations for R&D and innovation development was a generous 3% and stressing the need for Sri Lanka to enter the fray in this regard.
Premajayantha said that the lab will be situated within the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) in Colombo.
“At a time like this, we are pleased to partner with one of the leading development actors in the country, UNDP, to establish Sri Lanka’s first Social Innovation Lab. It will provide a conducive environment to look at problems from different perspectives taking variant approaches to overcome obstacles and form sustainable solutions by engaging stakeholders. I am confident that this initiative will contribute immensely for the betterment of the country,” he stated.
At a time when the world is shifting towards technology and innovation-based ventures, Sri Lanka becoming the first in the South Asian region to establish such a lab sends a positive signal to potential investors in this sector about the country’s willingness to allocate funds towards developing the R&D and innovation sector.
Also the lab will provide opportunities for investors to test out their ideas and form possible partnerships with the government and other stakeholders.
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