Walid Badawi Resident Representative speaking at the Great COVID-19 Innovation Challenge

[Salutations]

Engineer, John Tanui CEO Konza Technopolis and your great team Stella, Josephine, June and the rest of the team

Chief guest, P.S Jerome Ochieng, Ministry of ICT and Innovation,

Prof. Hamadi Boga, PS State Department for Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture

Ms. Sheena Raikundalia, UK Kenya Tech Hub

Mr. Chris Machin, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S Embassy

Philip Thigo, Director Thunderbird Africa

David Ogiga, Chair of the Association of Countrywide innovation Hubs

Mr. Daniel Seiberling, Resident Representative, Hanns Siedl Foundation

David, CEO Oracle

Representatives of County Government of Makueni,

Our innovators,

Investors,

My great UNDP Acc Lab team,

All protocols observed,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you all this morning for the Great COVID-19 Innovation Challenge Acceleration Demo Day. It is indeed a good day to see the culmination of an exciting and important journey for us all. Most importantly for the teams showcasing their innovations.

A year ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, none of us imagined the proportions at which our lives will be disrupted and changed – with such indescribable loss and suffering. Every continent across the world has been touched by the coronavirus, with more than 100 million people being infected since the first case was reported. The rapid spread of the virus has reminded us of our interconnectedness and interdependency. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is a watershed moment that will shape our lives for the foreseeable future. Not only has the pandemic affected lives and the healthcare systems, it has also had a drastic impact on businesses and industries around the world with simultaneous disruptions to both supply and demand chains across the world. This has affected normal business operations and the production of goods and services in addition to loss of lives and livelihoods.

While we find ourselves in this unprecedented crisis, we are navigating these complex, unpredictable and challenging times, with a glimmer of hope, as one cannot help but marvel at the opportunities this crisis has presented as we seek to Build Forward Better.

If there is a time when the ingenuity and resourcefulness of communities, particularly here in Kenya has shone through, then it is over the past 12 months. We have witnessed Kenyan brilliance manifest itself through homegrown innovations with little resources, that have contributed to localised and contextualised solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic. From the semi-automatic handwashing station invented by the industrious nine year old Stephen Wamukota from Bungoma County, to the ventilators developed by the 15 medical and engineering students from Kenyatta University who won the 2020 UN in Kenya Person of the Year award, to David Gathu and Moses Kinyua who created a bio-robotic prosthetic arm operated by brain signals, and  many other inventers like the 15 we are witnessing today. Indeed, Kenya is a hotbed of innovation and the creativity revealed by the innovations across different sectors, from agriculture, healthcare, transport, to commerce, validate the fact that Kenya is a melting pot of brilliance and resilience.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Kenyan Innovation Ecosystem is one of the fastest growing in the continent. We cannot understate the relevance of technology and innovation in advancing Kenya’s development trajectory. The tremendous growth experienced in the last decade supported by the increasing number of innovation hubs across the country, broadband connectivity and investments - locally and globally sourced has opportunities for the youth to gain skills and new opportunities for knowledge generation. We have also seen an increase in various partnerships between government and the private sector towards decentralization and local capacity building.

Allow me to take this moment to applaud the great efforts by the Government of Kenya under the leadership of the  MoICT and H.E. CS Joe Mucheru, in driving this growth, by providing a robust framework through the Digital Economy Strategy, but also in setting up of the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA), launching the Huduma Whitebox and establishing the Konza Technopolis Development Authority as critical agents spurring this booming ecosystem.  The commitment of this Government to harnessing innovation and building partnerships at both national and county level are evident.  UNDP also applauds the efforts by County Governments in driving the Constituency Innovation Hubs [CIH]. I congratulate Makueni County for your pioneering efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I also want to acknowledge the great work and commitment of all the partners here today for their support to our local innovators. The Great Innovation Challenge and the subsequent Acceleration Programme led by Konza Technopolis and the Association of Countrywide Innovation Hubs is a unique opportunity through which we can harness the collective capability of technology and innovation, to respond to the emerging challenges brought about by the pandemic and beyond. It is a space and platform to not only support innovators conceptualize, develop and scale ideas, but also facilitate cross sector learning.

The potential impact of innovation in supporting social and economic development in developing countries is very dependent on the engagement and maturity of the innovation ecosystems. As a long-term investment in development, UNDP recognizes the importance of Research and Development of ideas and creating a conducive platform for proof of concept as key drivers of human-centered inventions. The amazing solutions developed by our Kenyan innovators are not only game-changing, but have a huge potential to address pertinent challenges of unemployment, food security and access to healthcare. These include the use of Artificial Intelligence and LED technology in crop farming and diagnostics, GPS, drone and mobile technology in health care, business support software and advanced apps for organizational and people development just to mention but a few, all these point towards the great resource we have as a country in our local innovators.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all have a role to play in facilitating an enabling environment for innovators to thrive. As we advance the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, through the Accelerator Labs, UNDP is keen to foster partnerships that build on the knowledge and innovation capital to address development challenges affecting many around the world. At the regional level, UNDP is working towards delivering an agile UNDP Africa Digital Strategy and Programmatic Offer that is supported by a robust multi-stakeholder digital collaborative. The project focuses on achieving; increased access, skills and reach of 4IR technologies; scaled-up utilization of innovations within an enabling policy environment; knowledge sharing and management and leadership development in the 4IR in Africa.

Nationally, the UNDP Accelerator Lab provides an offer that explores new data, partnerships, solutions and testing prototypes and hypotheses to scale and grow local solutions to global and national challenges. It is an added value to the development sector in Kenya that will augment the vibrant technological innovation culture that already.

In addition to supporting the Great Innovation Challenge where UNDP provided close to $70,000 over last the 9 months, the Accelerator Lab has also initiated 3 other innovation challenges; 1) a Disability Inclusive Innovation Challenge, 2) a Creatives Innovation Challenge, and 3) a youth innovation challenge under GenU, where the Green Project Initiative – Kenya won, a social venture group from Mathare, that seeks to engage unemployed youth in providing their communities with clean, affordable, accessible, and reliable energy through the production of organic briquettes from existing waste in slums/informal settlements. The project will solve the high rate of unemployment among the youth, contribute to the fight against climate change by providing cheap renewable energy and help pioneer efficient management of waste which will contribute to cleaner environments.  

All these innovation challenges had the common aim of promoting inclusive development and leveraging local knowledge, solutions and resources.

In September 2019, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the Government of Kenya signed a Communique with the UN, the Rockefeller Foundation and Centre for Global Action (CEGA) at the University of California, Berkeley with the aim of building strategic SDGs focused partnerships to drive financing and innovations that help tackle complex development challenges. The Government of Kenya also announced the launch of a co-created SDG Accelerator Lab that will be powered by the UNDP Accelerator Lab network to bring together government, private sector, civil society, philanthropy, academia and young people in the solutions creation process. It is within this framework that the UN System in Kenya is working closely with the Government of Kenya under the leadership of the MOICT to support and enhance the already vibrant innovation ecosystem – to look into how we can better harness our collective efforts to tackle complex development issues.

So as I conclude, let me call on all of us to consider supporting Huduma WhiteBox.

As I referred to earlier, the WhiteBox is an initiative of the Government to leverage innovation to create job opportunities with a special focus on initiatives with high potential to contribute towards delivery of the Big 4 Agenda.

The initiative has 4 broad objectives:

  • Receive, evaluate and facilitate growth of viable Kenyan innovators to scale
  • Introduce qualified innovations to government for adoption and investment by investors
  • Facilitate capacity building through a network of partners (instructive and supportive environment in all stages of innovation and solution design)
  • Link innovators to market opportunities

As I close let me leave you with a Chinese Proverb:
“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

You can count on UNDP to be a long term partner in this initiative and we look forward to continued collaboration and engagement.

Asanteni Sana.

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