Written by Gerardo Noto, UNDP Resident Representative in Libya.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is what Albert Einstein called insanity. He refused to believe in the inherent unpredictability of the world. Is the subatomic world insane, or just subtle? He asked himself. What he defined as ‘insanity’ may rightly apply to some repetitive approaches to promote development. We support Governments to come out with new regulations but most of the time the gap between rules and reality does not close and people do not benefit of changes. We rehabilitate schools but literacy rates do not necessarily rise. We build hospitals but there are people still dying from preventable and curable diseases.
We have learned that there are too many development initiatives, although well-intended, that have modest impact on people lives. Is not clear by now that to make a difference in the field of development we should go beyond repeating the same actions and expecting different results?
I would say that we have been maybe too sane, taking the words of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of 'Don Quijote,' when he said that "Too much sanity can be the worst of crazy things; See life as it is and not as it should be.”
The concept ‘insanity’, ‘madness’ or ‘craziness’ is ambivalent as can be proven by its evolution throughout history. Madness has a negative connotation. It was linked to supernatural and demonic influences in ancient times. At the end of the 19th century, madness started to be conceived as a behavior that is positioned against social norms. Nowadays, “madness” has been acknowledged as an indispensable quality of genius and the wise. People as relevant as Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie or Leonardo da Vinci, were called crazy in their days and recognized of genius later and well-ahead of their times.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was founded in 1965 to help countries eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable human development. A crazy idea, wasn't it?
Since its creation, UNDP has envisioned life as it should be: full of opportunities for all, women, men, children and generations to come. We have re-aligned our support to 170 countries around the world to meet emerging priorities with a clear goal: help countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience to achieve inclusive economic growth and equality in a sustainable manner.
We are currently living at a time in history when our lives are deeply shaped by information and communications technologies (ICT). Human society has changed dramatically in ways hardly imaginable some years ago. There are infinite “crazy” new initiatives worldwide. UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, pointed out: “We realized that UNDP needs to draw on lessons learnt in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship to deliver a more dynamic approach to accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The 60 UNDP Accelerator Labs that are being launched worldwide to test and scale new solutions to development challenges, is our way of going “crazy” to bring new breeze to UNDP and sustainable development around the world.
In Libya, another kind of madness has been punishing people for a long time. After promising changes in 2011, divisions and violence have trapped Libyans in a protracted conflict preventing them to move forward on a sustainable development path to realize the amazing potential of its people and national resources. Too many lives have been sacrificed to war. Too many people have been displaced. Too many migrants have suffered exploitation and abuse or die at sea. Women have been heavily burdened by the consequences of war, suffering gender-based violence and violations of their human rights. Children have been prevented to access quality education. People do not receive health services badly needed. Basic services have been negatively impacted by conflict and neglected infrastructure. Lack of opportunities discourage young people who have seen their life projects interrupted. Sustainable development seems an unreachable dream.
In UNDP Libya, we believe that another path is possible and urgently needed. There are committed and dynamic actors ready and eager to build up a different country. There is a path through peace and inclusive development as an alternative to non-sense violence. We have chosen the ‘genius craziness’ to empower innovative actors and look for synergies to solve development problems. The Accelerator Lab in Libya has been designed as a development catalyzer through exploration, solutions mapping and experimentation.
UNDP Accelerator Lab in Libya began working to find like-minded and innovative people to help get ideas and try them out without fear of failure. The short cycle of experimentation and scaling up of successful ideas will allow the innovators to learn from successes and failures.
We have already set up a team within the country office to move forward. Following an intensive bootcamp, where the team was exposed to the most effective techniques and tools, they returned to Libya to implement their ideas on the ground. Our priority for the next 100 days is solid waste management - a daring problem in everyday life in the country.
The UNDP Libya Accelerator Lab will bring together: i) grassroots solutions from local organizations and individuals to try them up and to scale up, ii) private companies eager to work with their communities, iii) and governmental institutions that need support implementing policies and solutions to challenges like solid waste management. They will collectively map issues and solutions, and experiment and test out their ideas with the help of UNDP and their partners.
Due to the conflicts that Libya has experienced since 2011, most of the development initiatives that have been implemented in the country aimed at withstanding the impairments of war. Now, we are trying something else. They may call us crazy, but only craziness can make a difference. As William Blake said, “If the madman persisted in his madness, he would become wise.” We are definitely joining the world that is going crazy, as many say, to contribute to peace, stability and a better future in Libya. We hope soon people will look at our “crazy” efforts as a little shot at “genius” when talking about the Accelerator Lab in Libya.