Mapping solutions is focusing on finding the answers, rather than dwell on the problems

As a process through which problems and needs can be addressed, concepts and knowledge can be shared discussed, and tested for a common good, solutions mapping is crucial in the context of the Accelerator Labs Network and this is not an exception for our AccLab here in Angola. Mapping solutions is also a way to give thinkers the opportunity to share their creations with a wider network of peer innovators that could help improve their creations through discussions or influence potential consumers of the products they develop. According to Professor Anil Gupta of the Honey-Bee Network , “for problem solving, solutions mappers ought to apply the technique of the 3 “Is” which stand for Inspiring, Interesting, and Intriguing”.

The solutions safari missions we have carried out so far did not only give us the opportunity to learn a lot about what is going on in different corners of the country, but it also solidified what we already knew about innovative creations: they are born out of the necessity to address people’s common issues within societies.

The first solutions safari I undertook was in the south of Angola and one of the first places we visited was an informal marketplace that lacked most of the basic services. So, we quickly found that several young people took the lack of electric power in the marketplace as a business opportunity and, to trade electricity from small generators, they assembled several power outlets on wooded boards to give people access to power to charge their cellphones, play music, and keep the TV sets on. I remember that after a brief exchange with one of the young men behind that initiative to understand their business, Judite told me how that could be a good example of a simple but interesting solution worth documenting. This does not go without saying that solutions are usually reflections of the kinds of problems a community face. In other words, the solutions are developed to address current issues.    

Photo 1: Improvised power outlets to sell electricity in Mutundo Marketplace, Lubango, Photo: ©AccLab AO/UNDP AO

 

Mapping solutions in times of COVID 19   

Shortly after the first COVID 19 cases were registered in the country, the authorities enacted the Presidential Decree 81/2020, of 25 March 2020, declaring a state of emergency both to prevent and combat the spread of the pandemic, causing the country to enter a full lockdown. Like everyone else in the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) country office, the AccLab team was forced to work from home. Well, telecommuting and mapping solutions hardly go together, as on one hand an activity entails leaving the desk and see people using their imagination to create a myriad of innovative solutions, and the other activity confines you in an enclosed place to virtually operate, which is quite the opposite of what solutions mapping should be all about. Nevertheless, a few weeks into the unaccommodating reality of teleworking, the virtual connections became the norm, and the online solutions mapping was born or at least became the only way to get to know what was going on out there as far as innovative creations were concerned.

Despite the already known negative impact of COVID 19 on every sector, with the academic community not being an exception, we were pleased to learn that a few academic institutions as well as entrepreneurs reacted to the pandemic by producing materials to help fight it. Such are the cases of the Polytechnic Institute of Technologies and Sciences (ISPTEC, https://www.isptec.co.ao) that produced alcohol in antiseptic glycerin gel, most of which they donated to hospitals and health centers in Luanda. On the other hand, the Faculty of Engineering of the University Agostinho Neto (https://www.feuan.ao)in Luanda produced facial masks. In Huambo province, the Higher Polytechnic Institute developed a hand washing machine with a water tap that could be activated with one’s feet, spearing users from the risk of contamination by touching the machine with their hands.

In Benguela province, NIBBLE, a small private company, developed what they called NK 4, a machine that not just allowed users to wash their hands through a self-activating water tap, it also took their body temperature, it disinfected their clothes through a chemical spray, etc. All these innovative creations were rolled out months into the coronavirus crises and, given the country’s circumstances, there could not have been a better response to help fight the disease. If we look at the fact that the funds the Angolan Government allocates for scientific research fall short of what would be desired, these timely innovative responses can be considered quite an achievement.   

Fig 2 : Alcohol in antiseptic glycerin gel by ISPTEC. Photo: ©ISPTEC

Mapping solutions in our context

Going out and meeting creators from diverse backgrounds developing different innovative creations is a challenging exercise for many reasons and we can mention some of them:

·         During solutions safari engagements by the Accelerator Lab team, we had to manage expectations because, oftentimes inventors assume that the Accelerator Lab/UNDP can provide financial support to all the innovative solutions we see;

·         As strangers, inventors are always wary to give us permission to document their work;

·         Most of the creators are not fully aware of the importance of registering their creations to safeguard the intellectual property of their work. This does not only make them even more reluctant to share their work, but it also might be a source of problems for the solutions mapper if anyone else uses his/her idea without their permission, etc.

Despite the limitations and difficulties to map solutions, the spirit of adventure and desire to discover innovative solutions to common problems keep leading us down new paths and exciting innovative creations that could contribute for the betterment of people’s lives.

 

Photo 3: NK 4 NIBBLE Enterprise, Benguela. Photo: ©AccLab AO/UNDP AO
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