Geneva 2017 Innovation Sprint: One Year in Review
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4 teams, 23 multi-stakeholder actors, 2 workshops, and 30+ interviews made up the 2017 Innovation Sprint.

The Sprint was an experiment initiated by the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem to foster new partnerships and new ways of collaboration for SDG implementation.

Varying levels of success were experienced through the process, however many lessons about how cross-sector collaboration can be sustained were gleaned.

In September 2017, the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem kicked off an Innovation Sprint, bringing together a cohort of 23 actors from the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem to identify areas where they could find common ground for collaboration and to explore how the Geneva community could foster new partnerships and scale or accelerate existing ideas and practices. The process was based on and adapted from the methodology pioneered by Google-X.

4 teams, 23 Multi-stakeholder actors, 2 Workshops, 30+ Interviews resulted from this Innovation Sprint. The four teams identified pressing SDG themes through a collaborative co-creation process:

Participation in Infrastructure. To explore how the technological and social dimensions of infrastructure can be brought together in creative ways to increase citizen participation in energy infrastructure.

Sustainable Food Systems. To explore how to create a policy framework that incentivizes sustainable practices in the complex agriculture business to feed the planet and build strong communities in the process.

Financial System Transformation. To explore how the local, Geneva-based finance community – comprising intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and representatives from finance, commodity trading, multinationals, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship endeavors – can work together to transform the local financial industry to be more sustainable and, in turn, serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Digital for Social. To explore how to increase equitable access to digital technologies that will enable local communities to achieve prosperity in sustainable ways.

It was recognized from the outset that these themes were not new, revolutionary or groundbreaking for sustainable development, and that a great deal of work was already underway to advance each of these topics. So why Sprint? We believed that these themes could benefit from a new partnership-building approach and that actors coming from different thematics and sectors could build new and creative solutions.

In the months following the kick off, the different teams engaged in an interview process with relevant stakeholders in order to prepare for the “ideation” phase aiming at developing pilot scale initiatives. Each team took a different, tailored approach to their topic.

The Infrastructure team engaged in an in-depth research process to explore the intersection of technological and social implications of infrastructure. While they did not develop a pilot as a group, the thinking the work developed informed infrastructure work at the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Food team’s ideation phase materialized into a “design your own food system” workshop that aimed to develop the food system of the future (2025) while taking into consideration the main contradictions of the food system – global vs. local, production vs. consumption, environment vs. human impacts. The team did not create a joint initiative, but individuals from the team took the thinking into their own work, notably in a collaboration between Geneva and a small city in Spain.

The Digital for Social team was keen to test their thinking in a test case and was connected to the Government of Niger through the UN Geneva SDG Lab. The team participated in the “Niger 2.0” workshop where, together with the Minister Special Advisor to the President of Niger, Mr. Ibrahima Guimba Saidou, they shared their experiences and ideas on how to accelerate implementation of “Smart Villages”, a project to achieve sustainable development through ICTs, specifically in the Education, Health and Rural Development sectors. This project is now underway and Niger is collaborating with IISD, the SDG Lab, ITU and other organizations such as WHO, FAO, UNESCO and Digital Impact Alliance, to implement it.

The Finance team developed its ideas into a new initiative by partnering with Sustainable Finance Geneva. The initiative is called the “Geneva Sustainable Finance Collaboration” and is made up of 40 individuals from both the private finance community and the international development community. The first workshop took place in June 2018 and connected the supply (finance) and demand (delivery of sustainable development) communities. The individuals explored their collective collaborative potential and identified three experimental streams to pursue. These three streams are now in a scoping phase and will go into pilots next year.

After one year of engaging in this innovation process, centered on design thinking, systems mapping and rapid prototyping, the Sprint ended its incubation phase. In reflecting on what they accomplished together, all the participants noted that they were surprised about the twists and turns the collaboration process took. Much was learned during the journey; three key takeaways from the participants and facilitators are as follows:

  • Processes such as the Innovation Sprint are most effective when they are centered around a real challenge. While it can be a good theoretical exercise to explore areas of commonality, the efforts of the participants could have had a greater impact if directed towards a specific challenge that needed new thinking.
  • It is crucial to have the resources (human and financial) to support sustained engagement in such a process. When there is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, there must be a proper process to channel this energy.
  • Trust between participants and within the process is fundamental to creating an atmosphere conducive for the development of tangible solutions.

While the process was an experiment, the diversity of ideas and perspectives that participants brought to it were able to unearth creative solutions. Ultimately, the Innovation Sprint showed the power of new forms of collaboration and partnership for achieving the SDGs.

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