The first UN system-wide Innovation Toolkit went live last week as part of a packed two-day event. The event saw representatives from more than 20 entities from across the system explore face-to-face and online how the UN can use innovation more widely to meet the challenges of our time.
Accessible anywhere, anytime by everyone within the UN, the Toolkit was initiated by the UN Secretary-General, the UN System Chief Executives Board (CEB) as well as the UN Innovation Network (UNIN) and is now hosted by the UN System Staff College (UNSSC). Uniquely built on UN experience with the expert support of leading professional service company, Deloitte, Toolkit users can now measure online their innovation readiness before moving forward with any one of the 21 tools to use innovation in their work – whether it be operational or programmatic.
Via a specially recorded message played as the new Toolkit went live on 21 November, the UN Secretary-General urged everyone to champion an innovation mindset. "Innovation across the UN system is essential for us to deliver at a scale and pace needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” he said. The Secretary-General’s message was echoed by other UN leaders in video messages and at the face-face event in Madrid, which was supported by the Government of Spain.
Meanwhile, Berin McKenzie, UNSSC Learning Portfolio Manager, kicked-off the online session with Christopher Fabian, the UNIN Co-Chair, introducing the Toolkit to participants. “The UN Innovation Toolkit will be useful in making a huge body of knowledge available to UN staff, and in helping them to find friends and allies,” Fabian said. Later, the online session brought innovators from different UN Agencies and also partner organizations, such as the Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design, in to discuss their innovation experiences and insights.
Sylvia Wong, the Innovation lead at UNFPA, shared how they are making progress in the sexual and reproductive health of youth and adolescents by collaborating with crowdsourcing platforms to generate and fund plans of action with a real chance of success. This is one of the 21 UN case studies featured in the Toolkit, which provide real-life inspiration on how the UN can and is using innovation to address complex challenges.
The following day in Madrid, event attendees participated in a 100 Day Challenge designed to harness their collective insight, skills, and enthusiasm to envision and outline critical steps to integrate the Toolkit’s use across the UN system, making innovation the “new normal”. As a result, teams were formed and tasked with implementing and iterating the plans developed at the session. These teams will be tracked for the next 100-days as they move to build on the inter-agency action agreed upon.
Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist, Frederick G. Pferdt gave a much-anticipated keynote address on the second day, speaking about the value of making mistakes. “Everyone always focuses on what didn’t work - let’s shift our mindset and focus on what works and what we can build on! No matter if an idea succeeds or fails, our response should be: What did you learn from it?”, he said.
Following this, Jens Wandel, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Reforms, engaged with participants on the opportunities within the current reform processes. He also discussed the innovation mindset that will help propel the system forward and prepare it for the future.
The two-day event concluded with a common feeling that this had only been the start of a longer and exciting journey. “This is the beginning of a process to do things differently,” said Acting CEB Secretary, Simona Petrova.
As the host of the Toolkit, the UNSSC will now spearhead ongoing training and promotion of the Toolkit and will proactively seek users’ insights and stories to continuously contextualize, scope, and improve it.
Before going live, more than 120 staff from 36 UN entities were invited to test the Toolkit and to contribute case studies.