On May 2- 3 we got to be part of the first United Nations (UN) Interagency Innovation Bootcamp, hosted by the UN Innovation Network (UNIN) in collaboration with the Innovation Accelerator of the World Food Programme (WFP).

Our participation took place in the context of #DLT4Good, our new project dedicated to the co-creation of a European ecosystem of Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public and Social Good. You can follow #DLT4Good updates and related activities here in the blog.

Our engagement was framed simultaneously by two goals. First, our aim to establish partnerships with public and third sector organisations working on the same field or developing projects with similar scope, methods or goals. Second, our primary research activities targeted at evidence based advice to policy, grounded on qualitative and future-oriented methodologies in #DLT4Good, and at this stage anchored to participant observation and semi-structured interviews via multi-sited ethnographic explorations.

The Bootcamp

This first Interagency Innovation Bootcamp was hosted by the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Innovation Accelerator in Munich. This structure is supporting innovations since 2015 by identifying, nurturing and scaling up solutions to challenges in humanitarian and development contexts, and it has already run 16 Innovation Bootcamps with internal and external partners.

This Bootcamp was a week-long high-intensity training programme to spark and catalyse new innovation projects in particular across the UN. Innovators from eleven UN entities participated and benefited from allocated time, space, and expertise to focus on specific ongoing or emerging projects, refine their ideas, and take them to the next level with the help of internal and external mentors.

Over the week, 9 different projects had the opportunity to: learn about and apply key innovation methodologies; review problem definitions and test assumptions; brainstorm and fine tune solutions and rapidly test them with stakeholders; craft and communicate clear value proposition; connect and collaborate with other UN innovators and external mentors; pitch to a jury of colleagues from across the UN, representatives from Governments, academia, the private and social sector on the fourth day; and develop a sustainable actionable plan of action and funding proposal to advance their innovation project after the Bootcamp.

The Projects

To ensure complementarity of projects and enable cross-fertilisation of ideas, this first Interagency Bootcamp was focused on data-enabled and data-related innovations to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Preference was given to innovation projects and solutions jointly led by multiple UN entities and / or that could benefit or be scaled across different UN entities. The 9 projects selected for this Bootcamp were:

  • WaPOR Water Productivity Open-Access Portal (FAO)
  • FAST Fully Automated Speech2Text (UNOG-DCM)
  • NEAT+ Nexus Environmental Assessment Tool (UNEP + OCHA + UNHCR)
  • SDG Accelerator Fund (UNIDO)
  • Oky Period Tracker App for Girls (UNICEF)
  • Atrium (UNIN)
  • Blocks for Transport (WFP)
  • Conecta  (Young UN + ONE HR)

Connected with the main goals for our #DLT4good project, we had the opportunity to observe, mentor and work with the two projects developing Blockchain solutions for specific UN public and social challenges: Atrium and Blocks for Transport.

Atrium is a project of the UN Innovation Network based on the idea that several UN Entities are experimenting with blockchain but not in a coordinated manner. This project aims to create a common Blockchain structure while ensuring security, data privacy, governability and flexibility.

Blocks for Transport emerges inside WFP from the lack of visibility and untimely availability of documents that can lead to delays in food supply chains in the Ethiopia-Djibouti corridor. The project aims for the development and use of blockchain technologies to create a more visible humanitarian supply chain, and reduce both current delay situations and overall operational procedures and costs.

After the Bootcamp, both projects are now on fast track to develop and implement functional prototype iterations, and subsequently test their proposed solutions. While there is no guaranteed funding for a project that goes through a WFP Innovation Bootcamp, past teams engaged in the other Bootcamps by WFP have successfully used the opportunity to increase their chances of attracting necessary resources and connections to scale up their projects.

As EU Policy Lab we will continue to follow not only these two projects, in the context of our #DLT4Good project, but also future activities of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, in order to learn from their excellent track record in this field, and the next initiatives of UNIN, building upon exchanges on new models and solutions for innovation and stakeholder engagement in the public and social sectors.

Our special thanks for the invitation and warm welcoming by the Atrium and Blocks for Transport team members, Johanna Jochim (UNIN Manager), Sam Ng (WFP Head of Frontier Innovations), Bernhard Kowatsch (WFP Head of Innovation Accelerator) and Robert Opp (WFP Director of Innovation and Change Management).

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