The COVID-19 crisis continues to be an unprecedented challenge for today’s world. It’s pushing the boundaries of the public sector in responding to the socio-economic fallout, of civil society in building and maintaining solidarity and of the private sector in transitioning to new business models.
Our region, Europe and Central Asia, like the rest of the world, is facing a combination of shocks - disruption of value chains and trade, reduction in demand on the overall service industry, especially tourism, and a decrease in oil prices. When you note that these shocks are coupled with ‘preconditions’ of our region, such as high degrees of economic informality, inequalities, overreliance on remittances, rapid depopulation and brain drain, and the consequences of a systemic de-investment in the public health system and other social safety nets, it is not difficult to see the strain that the pandemic has put on the countries of the region.
Yes, the pandemic will end at some point. But the recovery and transformation will take years, and the ripple effects it leaves in its wake will be seismic. This process is testing the extent to which countries and societies have the capability to respond both reactively and proactively, but it also has the potential to help us transition to more sustainable and mindful ways of consuming, producing and governing, and transform the values and norms that shape our societies. That would be some positive desirable outcomes in the midst of the gloomy forecasts.
Traditional development programmes are often founded upon overall linear thinking of cause and effect, but the uncertainty and complexity of the COVID-19 crisis challenges that. It’s clear that conventional and linear thinking will not save us now. In their place we need fast iteration, accelerated learning and the dynamic management of portfolios building resilient systems for the future.
While we brace for longer-term adverse effects, we should also see the crisis as an opportunity to use innovation and creativity to ‘recover better’ - not only recreate and ‘go back to normal’, but fulfill the ambition to create more sustainable and connected societies that are able to put innovative ideas into the service of their own development.
Our experience at UNDP with innovation, inclusive of the learning network Accelerator Labs, puts us in a position to effectively respond to the immediate impacts of the crisis, while also crafting the long-term path to transformation. Here are a few ways in which we are using creativity and innovation to effectively counter COVID-19.
1. Accelerated digital transformation:
Our offices across the region are creating digital platforms to help spread information, provide educational tools and support government services. In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Montenegro, our teams work hand in hand with the public sector on contactless public-service delivery - shifting how the public service works internally, increasing effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of social assistance and providing one-stop shop digital services to citizens. In Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia and Uzbekistan we are leveraging collective intelligence, through hackathons and innovation challenges, by engaging communities of innovators to identify solutions to contain but also respond to the cascading effects of the crisis, and to generate new insights using open data. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Kosovo* we are working with 3D-printing communities to manufacture PPE (face shields) and connect them with health services.