In anticipation of the launch of the Accelerator Lab in South Sudan, the United Nations Development Programme underwent a search for “unusual talent” to add to our team. We wanted fresh thinkers, entrepreneurs, and a trio unintimidated by tackling “the impossible”. Through a competitive selection process, we found:
Lorem Aminathia - Head of Exploration
I’m interested in economic development through business and social entrepreneurship, especially looking towards sustainable business models that deploy and utilize innovative financial models. I’d like to look at how to provide affordable financial services to smallholder farmers, micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and youth in post-conflict settings.
QUESTION: What innovation in agri-business have you witnessed which you thought was the most impactful or interesting? What would be your dream to see in South Sudanese agri-business sector in one years’ time?
Lorem: I firmly believe that investing in the agricultural sector would be one of the quickest ways to accelerate development in South Sudan. One way to fast track that process is to encourage adoption of new technological innovations that address some of the core issues affecting this sector. One of the most interesting innovations I have seen lately is a web and mobile digital platform that enable agribusinesses to directly source from smallholder farmers. This enables agri-businesses to know the origins of agricultural products and how they are grown, facilitating a fully traceable supply chain, a vital feature in modern agricultural value chains.
Additionally, it enables smallholder farmers to have access to the livelihoods enhancing benefits through direct market access. As such, my dream would be to see a great adoption of such innovations by agribusinesses and small-scale farmers throughout South Sudan. It would accelerate the connection of our farmers, majority who are based in the rural areas to connect to the regional and national agricultural value chains, which would enable them to gain more from their farming endeavors.
Tong Atak - Head of Solutions Mapping
I'm a brick making, block laying, bread baking, engineering, building constructing, logistics providing, market supplying, social entrepreneur. I have deep passion for development and have used business as a tool to spur growth and development across South Sudan. I have over five years of research and development experience with Nokia in Europe, as well as over eight years growing businesses across South Sudan, including a sustainable construction company and a local modern bakery. I hope that my previous experience in developing businesses can help me and the AccLab team identify ways to develop and grow grassroots solutions. I’m most excited to work from the bottom up to shine a light on the shaded areas of South Sudan’s vast innovation landscape.
QUESTION: In your opinion, how is the challenge of starting a business in South Sudan an “innovative” endeavor or, what about it requires innovative thinking?
Tong: Starting a business in South Sudan can be quite exciting and frightening at the same time. Due to our decades-long civil conflict our infrastructure systems are still in their infancy. Sometimes you end up taking on the extra load of things you would often take for granted in other parts of the world. Although the challenges may seem immense, on the flip side, it opens you up to a boundless sense of opportunity. Facing the hurdles daily you build a resilience that can help you pass through life tests.
If you look past the usual narrative in South Sudan you will see an innovative landscape where, through trials and tribulations, people have found ways of just getting things done. These novel ways of working, if zoomed out, can be the solution to some of our society’s greatest challenges. Through the Accelerator lab we hope to shine a light on these endeavours and help show the true beauty in the colour of South Sudan.
Jacqueline Poni - Head of Experimentation
I am joining the AccLab with a scientific background and with passion for quality assurance -- which is all about continual improvement of new and existing services or product. I have worked with both corporate companies and non-profit organizations, all of which focused on customer satisfaction. I have a keen understanding of experimental research. I believe in the bottom up approach because the people that experience the problem have innovative ways to deal with them. They may just lack specific expert knowledge to test and scale it up to the wider community. And hence, the paradigm of sense-making and collective intelligence. I also believe that we do not need to re-invent the wheel but share best practices and customize solutions to our local setting.
QUESTION: Part of the experimentation process involves making a hypothesis, testing, and potentially failing. Why do you think failing is an important part of innovation, and what can you learn from “failure”?
Jacqueline: We experiment in order to test out new ideas or hypotheses. These processes involves trying out and failing a couple of times in order to learn what concept works, and whether or not are assumptions are true and accurate. Failure is the beginning of innovation. Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave-up.”
I believe that failure builds resilience and in turn creates true confidence. Success then becomes a natural by-product and an inevitable part of building successful innovations. Failing is also important because it drives diverse thinking and teamwork; the collective ideas gained from seeking out “moonshots” adds to the innovation process. Failure then is truly the key to success.