Are innovation labs delivering on their promise?

Catherine Cheney at DEVEX: “Next month, a first-of-its-kind event will take place in Denmark, and it will draw on traditions and ways of living in one of the happiest countries in the world to unlock new perspectives on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Called UNLEASH, the new initiative will gather 1,000 young people from around the world in the capital city of Copenhagen. Then the participants will be transported to “folk high schools,” which are learning institutions in the countryside aimed at adult education. There, they will break into teams to tackle issues such as urban sustainability or education and ICT. The most promising ideas will have access to resources, including mentoring, angel investors and business plan development. Finally, all UNLEASH participants will be connected through an alumni network of individuals who come together at the annual event that will move country to country until 2030.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab. It is just one of a growing number of innovation labs, which bring people together to develop and test new methods to address challenges across the global health, international development and humanitarian response sectors. But while the initiative sounds new and exciting, the description reads much like many other initiatives springing up around the SDGs: identifying innovative, scalable, implementable solutions, supporting disruptive ideas, and accelerating development impact.

As the global development sector seeks to take on global problems as complex as those captured by the SDGs, innovation will certainly be necessary. But with the growing number of innovation labs not translating as quickly as expected to real progress on the SDGs, some in the industry are also starting to ask tough questions: How can these initiatives go beyond generating ideas, transition into growing and scaling, then go on to changing entire systems in order to, for example, achieve SDG 1 to end poverty in all its forms by 2030? Experts tell Devex the road to success will not be an easy one, but those who have tested out and improved upon models of innovation in this sector are sharing what is working, what is not, and what needs to change….(More)”.