Accelerator Lab to develop new solutions to South Africa’s challenges

January 29, 2020





A new Accelerator Lab has been launched in South Africa to provide a network and platform through which new solutions can be developed to mitigate and solve the challenges facing the country.


Launched at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s conference centre, in Tshwane, on Thursday, the South African Accelerator Lab forms part of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) three-year global initiative to set up global Accelerator Labs to tackle the multifaced development challenges across the globe.









The lab seeks to identify radical new ways of developing solutions that go beyond business as usual, as well as deliver linear solutions discovered through unleashing the potential of local innovators, by making use of the collective intelligence and experimentation of the lab participants.

The labs across the world look to marry the UNDP’s expertise in climate change, governance and poverty reduction with a new set of capabilities to tackle the twenty-first century’s development challenges, which, for South Africa in particular, are poverty, inequality and unemployment.


Together with partners, the labs will analyse challenges within a local context to identify patterns and connections in search of new avenues to effectively address development challenges.

The budding network comprises 180 engineers, designers, data scientists and ethnographers from over 60 countries.

According to UN South Africa resident coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the UNDP’s “flagship programme” seeks to implement a new way of working together in development and is the UNDP’s way of “redoubling efforts to ensure that its pace is accelerated to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030”.

The SDGs, she told delegates, would likely not be met at the world’s current pace of development.

This echoes statements made by the UN last week at the launch of its ‘World Economic Situation and Prospects’ report, which stated that the broad-based deterioration of global economic prospects may cause setbacks in the pursuit of the SDGs.


According to the report, “a dynamic and inclusive global economy is essential to meet the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. However, global progress is not happening fast enough, meaning that the world may actually miss achieving some of the SDGs, it stated.

Bekele-Thomas further told delegates that the South African lab was one of 60 across the world, serving 78 countries, and that the Accelerator Labs were established with the assistance and partnership of The State of Qatar and the Federal Republic of Germany.

On behalf of the latter, Embassy of Germany’s science and education head Dr Lisette Andreae confirmed that Germany had pledged to invest €30-million across three-years for the Accelerator Labs.

Bekele-Thomas also called on learning and research institutions to enable students and the youth to participate in the labs.


In his keynote address at the launch event, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande cited the launch of the South African Accelerator Lab as “a timely intervention in South Africa’s innovation journey”.

He added that he believes the lab “will play a crucial role in advancing many of the policy intents and objectives of [the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI’s)] 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation”.

According to the Minister, the Accelerator Lab will play an important role in fast-tracking the implementation of the social and economic development priorities in South Africa, as defined in the country’s National Development Plan (NDP) and the SDGs.

“The country’s most important task for its national system of innovation, over the next decade, is to direct collective efforts and strengths to address the key challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment,” he told delegates during his address.


In partnership with various stakeholders, the DSI is working towards the finalisation of the first Decadal Plan on science, technology and innovation by June 2020, which coincides with the goals and targets of the NDP 2030.

Consistent with global approaches, Nzimande highlighted that the key feature of the Decadal Plan would be the introduction of a set of innovation missions, which are designed to facilitate much-needed coordination between stakeholders.

However, he noted that the success of the Accelerator Lab would be enhanced through its close alignment with the missions from the Decadal Plan, which would provide the context within which to assist the department.


Nzimande further added that it was the large-scale adoption of various forms of innovation for youth development that would be “the real game changer”.

This, he explained, would require better ways of identifying and using emerging and cutting-edge technologies and innovation across society, especially community-based and grassroots innovations, focusing on new business models and partnerships and finding better ways to address South Africa’s challenges. 







Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER


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