By Ahmad Abboushi, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab Jordan 

It’s been almost a year and half since I joined the Accelerator Lab in Jordan (time does fly fast!). I vividly remember the first time I heard about the Accelerator Lab network. I was still finishing up my postgraduate studies abroad (in a completely unrelated field) when I first saw the job posting. Having worked previously in the field of international development, I was deeply concerned about its current state of affairs. In fact, I was so dissatisfied, I decided to quit my job and move into a whole new sector altogether. So understandably, I was carrying with me a “healthy” dose of skepticism. Nonetheless, once I started reading through the vision of the lab and its mandate, I was immediately drawn to the idea of being able to take part in re-imagining the future of the development sector. It wasn’t too long before I found myself writing the blogpost.

Reflecting on my journey to date, I can clearly see some interesting conclusions emerging on what worked well, as well as on what still needs to be figured out:

 

What works:

  • Building trust: the importance of building trust annot be overstated. Working with other UNDP colleagues who are much more senior and experienced means that the responsibility of demonstrating value falls onto us. One very effective approach we followed was utilizing our skillset in various country office wide initiatives, even those outside our typical cycles. This ranged from supporting half a dozen of Covid-19 rapid impact assessments to planning out and designing and facilitating  a brainstorming session with GBV survivors case workers. This can be a daunting task, but it definitely pays off. We now have a much stronger, personal relationship with the teams that we have already supported compared to those teams that we still didn’t get the chance to engage with.
  • Promoting mindset (not tools): the lab can quickly turn into a vending machine that hands out cool and gimmicky tools. Although this might be useful in (very) few situations, it is a risky approach that reduces the impact of the lab to short-term quick fixes. To counteract this, we’ve been working on instilling the lab’s mindset in various avenues and using multiple touchpoints. For example, when recruiting for a new lab member, we proposed a new process that includes a simulation exercise which builds on the technical assessment. This not only allowed us to recruit a great candidate with the right skillset, but also prompted HR and management to consider this approach for future recruitments. Furthermore, we recently launched a monthly speaker series, targeting general development practitioners, through which we host external speakers presenting new approaches to development.
  • Being pragmatic: just like the challenges we try to address, the lab work is filled with uncertainty. Earlier last year, we started working on redesigning the electricity bill in an attempt to reduce energy consumption in the country. However, the unexpected pandemic forced us to switch gears, putting our energy work on hold and focusing on the more pressing issue of the effects of the lockdown. Although this wasn’t intentional, such an opportunistic approach allowed us to launch a whole new cycle on masculinities, while continuing our work on energy reduction as soon as things got back closer to normal.

 

What we’re still trying to figure out:

  • Navigating the system: being part of an institution like UNDP involves dealing with a lot of internal policies, regulations and processes. Indeed, such a system is needed to ensure public accountability. However, it’s not necessarily the most conducive when it comes to rapid testing and risk taking. We’ve had some partial success in reducing the administrative load by getting dedicated support from our wonderful operations team. Nonetheless, is there a way where we can do things faster within the existing system?

 

  • Demonstrating impact: real and meaningful change takes time, and it is almost always a non-linear process (at least from what I’ve seen so far). On the other hand, people tend to lose faith in things that don’t show results fast enough. Over the past year, one persistent issue was trying to balance this tension between pursuing meaningful and lasting change and keeping the needed support and buy-in of all the relevant parties. Obviously, there isn’t a single magical solution for this issue, but I’m quite confident that there are ways we can make it better.

 

I look forward to updating you as I move further along my Accelerator Lab Journey. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on these successes and challenges. Do they apply to your area of work? Perhaps you have some better ideas or approaches. Please feel free to reach out!

 

 

 

 

 

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