Participants at the Makueni Innovation Challenge virtual launch

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It is a great honour to be joining you on this special occasion of the launch of the Makueni Innovation Challenge 2.0, coming shortly after the inaugural Kenya Innovation Week where many of us were present and had yet another opportunity to witness the sheer brilliance and genius for which Kenya is known.

It is also very encouraging to see that the theme for this innovation challenge is ‘Unlocking Digital Transformation Potential for Climate Action’ coming hot on the heels as Makueni very successfully hosted the 7th Annual Devolution Conference on the theme of Climate Action and where I was honoured to personally participate.

I also want to most sincerely thank Governor Kibwana for his warm and generous hospitality while we were in his beautiful county which is well known for its exemplary public participation model, and indeed this innovation challenge is yet another example of how public participation is being applied in the innovation and climate change space to crowd in solutions and ideas from the public.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Climate change’s capacity to impact every aspect of human life is not only daunting but real and it is more urgent than ever to respond and react to it now before it is too late. Indeed we have heard the calls from Glasgow that the world is digging its own graves by continuing to subsidize fossil fuels and setting us of course to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees celcius. We are well aware of the terrifying human and economic consequences posed by climate change. Pre-COVID-19 analysis showed that climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030. By 2050, it could depress growth in global agriculture yields by up to 30% and result in additional costs to coastal urban areas of more than USD 1 trillion each year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic aftershocks across the world have brought into stark focus the already critical issues of poverty, inequality, the environment, and the changing climate and how inextricably linked these are. The design of recovery interventions will be crucial, as decisions made now will create systems, institutions, and assets, and define development directions that will last well into the future. Thus, recovery measures must be cognisant of long-term, sustainable, and inclusive solutions that put countries on a sustainable recovery pathway for them to build forward better, fairer and greener.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to the World Economic Forum, digital technology itself has the potential to cut global emissions by 15%. The rapid growth in digital economies around the world as a result of the pandemic could therefore make a significant contribution to climate action. As major economic activities go digital the need for travel will reduce, significantly cutting carbon emissions. Automating and maximising the efficiency of processes particularly in agriculture, industry and manufacturing would also reduce carbon emissions.  Over and above that is the potential role of technology in connecting people to ideas and solutions.

At UNDP, digital transformation is a key focus as is climate change and we all have a role to play in facilitating an enabling environment for innovators to thrive if we are to find lasting solutions to our climate challenges. Globally, our recently approved Strategic Plan (2022-2025) has digital as a strategic enabler, and this is complemented by our Digital Strategy, these frameworks underpin UNDP’s determination to stay at the forefront of development thinking. At the regional level, in Africa, UNDP is working towards delivering an agile UNDP Africa Digital Strategy and Programmatic Offer that is supported by a robust multi-stakeholder digital collaborative. Nationally, UNDP is also determined to stay at the forefront of development thinking and action. As part of our SDG integrator role, we are bringing together other UN agencies to co-create and collaborate with our Accelerator Lab and SDG Accelerator Lab as key drivers for infusing innovative approaches to development thinking in Kenya. The SDG Accelerator Lab is a multi-sectoral platform that brings together the Government, the development sector, academia, civil society, private sector and communities to accelerate and stimulate the innovation ecosystem towards growth and development. The Lab was launched in September 2019 through a Communique signed by the Government of Kenya on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. It is powered by our own UNDP Accelerator Lab which is a part of the UNDP Global Accelerator Lab Network initiated by the UNDP Administrator Mr. Achim Steiner. The UNDP Accelerator Lab Network is a service offering that explores new data, partnerships, solutions and testing prototypes and hypotheses to scale and grow local solutions to global and national challenges with youth unemployment being the frontier challenge we have selected for our Lab in Kenya. It is an added value to the development sector in Kenya that will augment the already vibrant technological innovation culture.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Innovation plays a significant role in a country’s development progress. The ability to develop solutions to emerging and pressing challenges is fast-tracked by the development of a robust innovation ecosystem. Today we will launch another call for many brilliant innovators to come forward with their ideas and solutions to address climate change complementing the country’s fin-tech, ed-tech and health-tech sectors as a result of the dynamic growth of Kenya’s Innovation Ecosystem. It is important to continue to nurture and harness that creative and innovative resource and ensure that we are able to address the challenges of fragmentation. At UNDP, we appreciate that innovation challenges like this Makueni Innovation Challenge 2.0, can be a mechanism to harness innovations and solutions across a wide demographic scope. Innovation challenges also provide a platform for learning for innovators and stakeholders alike and are a source of intelligence on the emerging opportunities for investment, programming and engagement. It is important therefore that these innovations find their way into a one-stop-shop like the Huduma Whitebox.

Last year, in a partnership between the Ministry of ICT, Youth and Innovation, Konza Technopolis, UK Kenya Tech Hub, the Countrywide Association of Innovation Hubs and Thunderbird School of Global Management, UNDP supported the launch of the Great COVID-19 Innovation Challenge. We have also engaged and supported other challenges such as the GEN U Youth Challenge with UNICEF, a Disability-Inclusive Innovation Challenge and a Creatives Innovation Challenge.

We have witnessed innovations that use Artificial intelligence and LED technology in crop farming and diagnostics, use of solar power in waste management, business support software and digital applications for people development, just to mention are some of the innovations surfaced by these innovation challenges. They all point towards the great resource we have as a country in our local innovators.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Under the UN, National and Country level COVID-19 Socio-economic Response Plans, the “green recovery” is at the core of efforts to build forward better. In this connection, green infrastructure for a green recovery is an especially critical area to focus on at both the national and sub-national level.

For there to be advances towards climate change adaptation and mitigation, efforts must be made to change behaviour, attitudes and perception with regards to climate change and the environment. Through the Accelerator lab and many other programmes implemented by UNDP such as the Green Economy Youth Activation Programmed (GrEYAP), we are engaged in collecting unique data, mobilising the community and grassroots solutions and testing approaches and improving how citizens play a role in the green economy. We have identified opportunities to harness and support innovations and solutions by MSMEs and CBOs that will result in increased jobs and dignified work opportunities in addition to protecting the environment.  A concerted national effort to harness and support youth and community-centric solutions is necessary to advance climate change action in Kenya. We must also continue to work together to advance the youth’s skills in problem-solving and innovating. The relevance of this innovation challenge can therefore not be understated. I want to applaud Makueni County Government and all the stakeholders involved in this innovation challenge and encourage innovators to take part in the challenge. We must continue to work together to transform and safeguard the future of this country for generations to come.

Thank you.

Asanteni sana.

Shukrani.

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