The Leading Path to Innovation

Apr 8, 2017

Mr. Brian Williams
UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative in Albania
Speech: 8th Infocom World Albania
The Leading Path to Innovation

Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Peleshi,
Dear Minister Harito,
Partners and innovators,
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a privilege to address this distinguished audience today at the 8th Infocom World Conference in Albania. I am excited to see that the theme of this conference – The Leading Path to Innovation - resonates with many partners not only in the private sector, but also in government and the international community.

We need to recognize that these two aspects – private and public - are critical for all of us.  On the one hand, innovation can help private enterprises remain relevant in an ever more competitive global economy, and on the other hand, Albania’s government structures, centrally and locally, must integrate innovation to achieve a step-change in the quality of public service delivery.  

Albanian society needs both sides – the public and the private – to work. The private sector will be the motor for jobs, growth in prosperity and access to a wide variety of products and services for Albanian citizens. But the private will only be successful if the public sector is regulating the market fairly, with rule of law, and through the provision of administrative and social services that result in a healthy, educated and productive citizenry. Getting both parts right is one of the keys to the world’s most successful countries. And in both cases, using innovative methods offers opportunities to accelerate competitiveness and efficiency.  

When we talk about innovation, many people think immediately of information technology, about smart phones, big data, and the gig-economy – like Uber or AirBnB.  And info-technology has proven to be a powerful vehicle for innovation. Yet we need to be mindful of the fact that technological advancements by themselves do not equal innovation, and they do not always translate to social and economic development. What we, businesses and governments alike, need to seek are the applications of technology which are accessible to today’s and tomorrow’s citizens, functional given the infrastructure that exists, and ultimately which are measurably contributing value to the lives of citizens.

I have spoken about the private and public sectors, but of course development organizations need to improve too. Societies and technologies are changing so quickly that yesterday’s standard approaches to institution building are too slow, too cumbersome and too expensive. While some principles, such as the respect for human rights or the need for inclusive, community-oriented processes, remain fundamental, the ‘how’ needs to change. UNDP acknowledges this fact and is encouraging experimentation across the board. Design thinking, innovation labs, hackathons, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are only a few tools that UNDP globally is beginning to employ, learning from social entrepreneurs and innovators around the world. UNDP aims to draw its partners – from government, from civil society, especially from youth – into these experiments, so that solutions are co-discovered, and co-implemented.  

    In Albania, UNDP has had the privilege of working with the Government for the territorial-administrative reform and innovation in service delivery. We are supporting the growth of ‘one-stop shops’ for service delivery at Municipal level. We are helping the Agency for the Delivery of Integrated Services in Albania become operational with the opening of regional ADISA offices. These centres benefit from modern technology, but keep people at the center.

We will help the ‘Innovation Lab’ reach out to and learn from successful practises in other countries. And feasibility studies for broadband connectivity in the remote and border areas of Albania to attain the minimum standards of broadband connection are also in the pipeline.

‘Design thinking’ is another approach that we have been promoting widely, which is a process which places the “end-users” at the beginning, engaging them in identifying the challenges and in co-creating solutions to topics such as Smart Cities, Child Friendly Cities, preventing Gender Based Violence, or promoting Eco-Tourism and Employment in rural areas.

Back in the beginning of 2016, we supported the Municipality of Tirana in organizing the Tirana Smart City Conference, where key concepts of citizen engagement, open data and innovative financing mechanisms were at the center of discussions.

Civic engagement, particularly of young women and men, is at the center of many of our initiatives. Less than two weeks ago, a 48-hour hackathon brought together young people in search of innovative solutions to address development challenges under the Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Healthy lives and well-being and Goal 4 on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education. This weekend another group of young people will work to find innovative solutions to address the phenomena of family voting in rural areas of Albania.

In fact, Agenda2030 in its entirety – the full range of the global 17 Sustainable Development Goals, from reducing inequality to sustainable cities to accountable governance to environmental protection – it will simply not be achieved without serious innovation by all of us.  

    At the UN, we are eager to build partnerships that can generate the small miracles that result from innovative approaches. Together with the government, private sector, social innovation champions, thinks tanks, accelerators, emerging entrepreneurs and innovation enthusiasts we can explore new ways to deliver on the SDGs promise to “leave no one behind”.

Thank you and I wish you a productive meeting!


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