Accelerator LAB in Savaii

Since our last blog of Making waves in the Pacific, we have inexplicably found ourselves accelerating headlong into the month of February and with it, its own set of challenges on where and how the Accelerator Lab can work within the dynamics of a Multi-Country Office (MCO) in a Small Island Developing State (SIDS).

To put into perspective, we have been busy coordinating UNDP’s units to utilize the Digital X opportunity, designing and planning the solution mapping activity under the Global Action Plan (GAP) Frontier Challenge learning cycle, and design the first draft of our Annual Work Plan (AWP) and Budget allocations. In addition, we also learned of the requirement to officially launch the Accelerator Lab, UNDP’s annual Performance Management and Development framework (PMD) and of course carry out our first Portfolio sensemaking learning cycle with the MCO.

We have a saying in Samoan that will resonate with fellow Acc Labbers, and that is ‘fai ma le fatu’. Its literal translation is ‘do it with the heart’. In all honesty, our work as the Accelerator Lab has at times felt like a blur. And it is during these times that both the Head of Exploration and Solution Mapper have carried out most of their workload by simply doing it with the heart. In a nutshell, go hard or go home!

The Digital X application process was the best introduction of the team into gaining actual insights into the different work dynamics of the two Program Units within our MCO. In this instance, through several consultations, we realized the differing priorities represented by the different members of each Unit. Upon learning this, we then undertook some research into what was requested by the Governance and Poverty Reduction Unit and shared the results across for their final decision.

In understanding the reasons behind the different priorities, both the GPRU and the AccLab team were then able to focus on how we could collaborate more effectively in the future, and with this in mind, also understanding the need to set expectations better regarding roles and responsibilities. We did however manage to work effortlessly with the Environment and Climate Change unit where knowledge and experiences were shared, and from this collaboration, a submission to the Digital X was made possible.
Getting a taste of the different work dynamics within the MCO meant that for 2021, we needed to prioritize our own AWP. Clear directions, collective and actionable intelligence coupled with the mapping of local solutions and experiments would not only guide the work of the Accelerator Lab but also put the Lab onto more sure footing of how to better collaborate and work hand in hand with partners both internal and external.

At the same time, our Head of Experimentation was preparing to travel halfway across the world, away from family, on a one-way ticket in the middle of a pandemic, only to be dealt with heartbreak and frustration at being turned around mid-way due to airport staff power tripping in a pandemic. This was a blow to the Samoan team eagerly awaiting their third sister from another mother. To counter the diminishing morale, the Heads of Solutions Mapping and Exploration began to systematically learn the ins and outs of the dreaded Atlas system, the procurement system and started researching heavily into the Portfolio and Sensemaking Accelerating Protocol.

Amidst the internal planning, we also had our solutions mapping activity to complete our first learning cycle under the GAP. Closing the loop required planning and coordination with the Samoa Information Technology Association (SITA) to connect us with colleges/high schools on the big island of Savaii, and especially sliding through doors with a smile to expedite the process for us to travel. The week-long adventure with the blessing of a heavy rain advisory, dared us to cross overflowing fords when a vehicle lower than ours crossed safely 😊, taking the long way back due to risky fords, being lost with a signpost being relocated, plus the many political party signposts for the April election, networking and building new relationships with school principals and staff, setting up our online survey, assisting SITA with their training, and engaging with passers-by to reconfirm location, was all worth it as we were able to capture the ‘reality’ of the eLearning solution in the selected schools.

Throughout all this, Maria and Kaisarina had to rely heavily on Pragya, their Head of Experimentation, to lead the design process of introducing the Portfolio sensemaking to its MCO at its annual planning retreat. Double caffeine shots in the late evenings were a MUST as we worked on finetuning our portfolio sensemaking for our MCO Retreat. Like any team, we had many deliberations and patience testing as we each had to be heard, be quiet, and listen actively so that we understood WHY and HOW we are going to do this in either 4 hours or 8 hours from a normal 10-month process, and especially come to an agreement on the best way to share this learning with the UNDP team. Overnight changes to the retreat programme got our spirits hyped up working longer hours to ensure that we did not leave any stone unturned as we gave it our best from preps to trial day. ‘Doing it with the heart’ was how we rolled. Stay tuned for our next blog to find out the verdict 😊.
Co-authored by Kaisarina Salesa – Head of Exploration, Maria Bernard – Head of Solutions Mapping, and Pragya Mishra – Head of Experimentation, UNDP Samoa MCO Accelerator Lab.

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