On behalf of UNDP, I am proud to be part of this historic moment for the National University of Lesotho, to demonstrate its research  and development nexus through its various  innovation programmes,  UNDP is happy to support these programmes, as they have a high potential  enhancing  the livelihoods  the creation of better development opportunities for Basotho youth.

According to the recently launched UNDP Human Development Report 2019, the increasing levels of inequalities in the world are due to differences in the quality of basic social services, including health and education, technology and resilience to shocks, including those caused by climate change. As such, survival in the 21st century will be determined by the ability to respond to these and unknown shocks, as well as ability to take advantage of the technological innovations in the world today. Developing countries like Lesotho, are at risk of being left behind due to development challenges and inability to quickly adapt to these changing scenarios.  

Allow me, then, Ladies and Gentlemen, to applaud the National University of Lesotho for envisioning the NUL Innovation Hub and the NULISTICE as initiatives to harness innovation and entrepreneurial potentials of this country, especially young Basotho. In 2019, UNDP supported these and the Tsa Mahlale, a tv-based magazine programme on innovations, aired on Lesotho TV at 7pm on Tuesdays.

I would like to also congratulate Vodacom Lesotho, for actively playing a role in the development agenda of Lesotho. I hope the UNDP/NUL/Vodacom Lesotho collaboration on the NULISTICE2020 Hackathon, will continue beyond NULSTICE 2020 to build capacity of Basotho youth and unlock opportunities for development and employment.  UNDP has had relatively similar exercises of unpacking the innovative mindset of Basotho youth through Kigali Youth Connekt Africa Summit 2019 where UNDP supported youth to participate. It is to be noted that this is not the first UNDP engages in the Hackathons to facilitate the development of innovative solutions within a period of 2 years. I believe this is a new beginning of an era for embracing new technologies and collaborative working solutions towards the achievement of the SDGs, Agenda 2063 as well as the NSDPII.

The innovations we have seen, in this week, since the Hackathon on Saturday 18th and 19th January, have inspired new ways of approaching our human and economic development agenda. It is our anticipation that this will in the long run stimulate value addition and adaptation of resources, development value chains and platforms for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

We are also encouraged by the number of youth that applied and participated in the NULISTICE 2020 Hackathon (18th -19th Jan 2020) and the Expo (21 – 24 Jan 2020). There is evidence that Lesotho is embracing new ways of addressing human development challenges adopting contemporary approaches that include the 4th industrial revolution and technologies for development. There were 113 participants at the Hackathon, and only 8 were females, while there were 105 innovators participating in the expo. This reflects that our education is on the right track to close the gaps in basic needs but would require more action to address and reverse  the growing new generation of challenges in human development. However, the number of girls in the science and technology area is worrisome. A multi-stakeholder action is necessary to encourage participation of girls in science and technology subjects so we can have a more balanced workforce in this area.

UNDP is adopting differentiated and transformative approaches to development, by putting innovations at the center of our economic growth work and to ensure country level readiness for the 4th Industrial Revolution while remaining agile and responsive to the changing development context. In this regard, UNDP is   introducing several projects that promote local innovation and creativity to ensure relevant responses to complex challenges facing Lesotho today. The Enhancing Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development Project  (EYES) is aimed at building capacities for innovation and creativity, while the Accelerator Labs will unearth and scale local innovations. The NULISTICE Hackathon and EXPOs provide a conduit to feed the unearthed innovations into the national development agenda through Lesotho Accelerator Labs.

In this regard, UNDP appreciates and commends the efforts of all the partners in hosting the Hackathon and the Expo. We congratulate the winners of the Hackathon; and commit  to  working  with the Ministry of Development Planning to finalize and experiment the solutions which emerged from  the Hackathon  We have also committed to identify one project  that demonstrates novelty and potential to address some of the major development challenges of  Lesotho, from the Expo, that may be experimented under the Lesotho Accelerator Lab. We will announce this winning innovation in due course in due course. We congratulate all participants of both the Hackathon and the Expo; it takes a lot of iteration and feedback to perfect an idea that works, so Congratulations on this first iteration.  

As I conclude, based on previous experience, I’d like to emphasize the need for private sector participation in this space, not only to take up the innovations, but also to provide catalytic support to the young innovators including facilitative platforms for development and testing. It is only when digital data is made accessible that development in artificial intelligence and big data can be harnessed to generate new insights and solutions.

The policy and legal context also needs to be adapted to conform to the emerging changes. For a small economy like  Lesotho, the issues relating to intellectual property and copyrights in digital space, registration of businesses and patents  cyber security and competition; and management of contracts, as well as skills complement in this area, threaten to erode the development gains made so far and increase inequalities and power imbalances. There are new policies at national level that would be required to help Lesotho shape and realize opportunities of the digital economy.

Multistakeholder dialogues, partnerships between academia, private sector, civil society and technology community, are necessary to maintain balance between development and the operative space. We look forward to further engagement and collaboration in this regard to create an inclusive digital transformation and accelerate development of Lesotho. UNDP stands ready to support development efforts in this regard.

Khotso Pula Nala

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