Adapting a Problem-Solving Approach from Rural Gambia
Sense making and collective intelligence events have long been active in our local communities, but a village in rural Gambia might not necessarily come to mind when thinking about them. In parallel, the concept of a lab, is also not something villagers would envision as a place where solutions are designed and tested. The first task of the UNDP The Gambia Accelerator Lab was to find a middle ground in this divide to be able to effectively engage all stakeholders in the lab’s key processes of tapping into collective intelligence, solutions mapping and sense-making as tools, and creating and testing a portfolio of experiments.
The AccLab activities began with the introduction of the lab concept, and the approaches and tools we were going to use to engage with stakeholders within the UN system and UNDP’s external partners. This included entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and public sector officials. Midway through our on-boarding in what is our initial learning cycle, the AccLab held a launch event which hosted these stakeholders, but more importantly, key local development actors that we envisioned entering into partnerships with over the short to medium term. These initial activities were used to share our frontier challenge of youth unemployment while we developed a database of local actors and interventions contributing to or standing in the way of development and understanding why and how they were doing so.
Walking the fine line between the intended lab methodology and what we discovered in the local context meant that our approach had to be, in loose terms, universal. So, we took a Bantaba approach that adapts a norm from rural Gambia in which villagers gather around a well-known landmark (such as the community center or a large tree) to exchange ideas and address communal issues. This kitchen table metaphor where social problems and bread and butter issues are tackled, employs forms of collective intelligence, sense-making and problem-solving. Usually the dialogue leads to a consensus over what solution(s) to deploy around challenges or in an iteration process that facilitates solution building. If only things worked that simply in reality!
As we have been developing our database of the solutions, we also seek to work with these communities to share their stories, but also test their ideas in a wider setting and on a different set of issues more linked to the attainment of the SDGs in country. This began at the launch event in which we featured an innovation saloon. Among the showcases featured were two Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) linked groups in the form of a 3D printing startup and a local tech company which uses machine learning and virtual reality technology in its work. This group of young innovators engaged participants in the virtual reality experience by providing a tour of protected tourism sites across The Gambia — a crowd favorite given the role of tourism as the second largest contributor to GDP. Another notable feature was an SDG Association of students’ which setup an actual Bantaba at the event, localizing the SDGs by engaging attendees on the framing of the goals in key local languages.
These examples helped inform the central hypothesis in our initial experimentation around whether creating a shared space for entrepreneurs using 4IR technologies to operate for an allotted time, would lead to disruption in service delivery in the agro-industry. We have partnered with the first disruptive lab in The Gambia to make the test a reality and over the next few weeks will be inviting more actors in this space through hackathon style events, starting with one in 3D printing. In setting the tone for our second learning cycle, we have also initiated a Call for Solutions to mobilize ideas and solutions tackling youth unemployment. You can access it here through a UNDP supported initiative called GamJobs.
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Co-authored with Yahya Jammeh, Head of Exploration, UNDP Gambia, Accelerator Lab