Empty roads of Mahendrapool (Mahendra Bridge), Pokhara during the government-imposed nationwide lockdown Photo: Sanjay Shakya

The first positive case of COVID-19 in Nepal was confirmed on 13 January, 2020. Since then (as of 31  March), 993 people have been tested for the virus, with 4 active COVID-19 cases reported so far. As growing uncertainty engulfs the world, the entire country is doing its best to curb the pandemic. On 23 March, the government declared a 7-day nationwide lockdown in an attempt to contain further cases. This was later extended to 14 days. Together with the government, the medical, education, business, and development sectors have stepped up to face the threat. And since last month, we at UNDP Accelerator Lab have also been doing our bit to support the initiatives against COVID-19. To tackle the crisis, the Lab team here is engaged in mapping and exploring solutions around initiatives that are worth experimenting.

Research and experiments can make a big difference in times like these, especially when there are no specific medicines available for treating COVID-19. Lately, I have been looking into solutions that can possibly be experimented and tested through the Accelerator Lab. While doing so, I came across some brilliant ideas from diverse stakeholders.

 

I. Starting from home - Initiatives of UNDP Nepal CO and projects:  

UNDP Nepal Country Office (CO) and projects have been disseminating information to communities and focusing interventions towards vulnerable groups. Whether it is preparing multi-lingual information, Education and Communications (IEC) materials related to COVID-19, or engaging with local volunteers to make communities more resilient, ample vigorous strategies have been made by the project and CO colleagues. In terms of engagement with the Federal Government, UNDP Nepal is leading the Socio-Economic Early Recovery Cluster (SERC) at the UN Country Team level, where colleagues are emphasizing on the mobilization of resources (both public and private) and channeling livelihood support (financial and technical assistance) to vulnerable sections of the population.

II. Going global - Ideas of the UNDP Accelerator Lab network:

Ideas and solutions that are worth exploring and experimenting also come from the network of the UNDP Accelerator Lab, which spans 60 country offices. From helping small businesses and informal-sector employees stay afloat through a "pay in advance" service during the quarantine to collecting perception data to understand binge consumption, all of these ideas are important in today’s context.

III. Immersing with local governments:

While exploring solutions relevant to the COVID-19 crisis response, I learnt that local governments have been championing some extremely practical interventions. A perfect example would be Lalitpur Metropolitan City, which is one of the 753 local governments in Nepal. By manufacturing hand-sanitizers using local alcohol, as per standards set by WHO, and by providing women mask-making training, Lalitpur Metropolitan City has experimented with interventions that are important in terms of livelihood and early recovery at the current juncture.

IV. Exploring with grassroot innovators and social entrepreneurs:

Young innovators and social entrepreneurs across the world are using their expertise to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Nepal is no exception. An interesting social enterprise I came across was SmartPalika (meaning “smart municipality”), an integrated system that is working with 27 local governments. Using its quality technology tools, smart features, and artificial intelligence, the team at SmartPalika has supported information dissemination on COVID-19, and are currently working on automated reminders, such as prompting people to wash their hands. Additionally, a gamification system will soon be released. SmartPalika is also developing quarantine response and reporting applications for a few local governments, including Bharatpur and Lalitpur metropolitan cities. The applications will facilitate the reporting of quarantine data to the public. Likewise, other innovators too have designed open source platforms that give the Nepali public specific reliable information related to COVID-19.

What next then?

The Accelerator Lab in Nepal is considered to be a “vehicle” for addressing the issues of urbanization and unemployment. In the present context, and regarding unemployment in particular, we feel that it is important for us to work with our existing projects and the CO team, rather than take a siloed approach.  We are currently mapping private sector initiatives on socio-economic early recovery, with vulnerable groups like returnee migrants, informal job holders, micro-entrepreneurs (particularly women), slum and squatter dwellers, and waste collectors being the target population.  For this, we have been collaborating with the SERC, and using various tools like existing community vulnerability maps and databases, surveys, and monitoring systems. Moreover, as our principle is to work on “locally-sourced solutions,” we have been exploring solutions with local governments and grassroot innovators, experimenting with a few of the resolutions that they have in place, and supporting them in scaling up. Updates on this will come soon!

UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment, It is on a quest of to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.

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