Uzbekistan’s youth have come out of the woodwork to help our country thrive during the quarantine. This is the start of something great.
Call for ideas
On April 7, UNDP launched a nationwide call to Uzbekistan’s innovators, looking for IT based solutions to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst impacts on communities and individuals.
When we first ran this idea past our trusted partner IT Park, who had assisted our previous initiatives for supporting start-ups, they were very keen on helping us.
The first challenge we faced together was a deadline we had to set. We decided to make it just two weeks. It seemed impossible at first, but the quarantine and its consequences were pressing hard so we had to act quickly. We knew that Uzbekistan’s innovators would be eager to take the challenge.
And we were right! From every corner of the country we received more than 600 promising proposals. Over 130 of these were from women teams and were dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship and business development, reflecting the essential role small businesses play in Uzbekistan’s economy, and their particular need for support during the lockdown.
The outpour of ideas was very rewarding, but of course this was immediately followed by a great challenge. We needed to review 600 proposal and interview 110 teams spread from Tashkent City to distant desert and mountain communities, while operating from our homes.
It was an unprecedented new experience for both the challenge organizers and the participants, showing what can be done when the stakes are high enough and how impossible suddenly becomes possible. It was the first time for us in UNDP and partners to organize a challenge entirely online. Over a single weekend we spoke to hundreds of young motivated women and men from Tashkent, Samarkand, Jizzakh, Fergana, Urgench and Namangan. Despite this marathon effort, the enthusiasm was palatable in every conversation, re-enforcing the knowledge that we were on the right track.
That weekend we realized just how ingenious and resourceful our nation’s young people can be, putting IT into full use across Uzbekistan, considering the practicality of solutions even on a community level.
Ideas range from early diagnosis of COVID-19, based on breath and cough analysis through a mobile app, to portable UV-box device for disinfection of hand-held items, or online master classes with famous artisans and handicrafts, teaching how to craft at home. All these offer insights on the future of work on innovation and technology to better manage and fight the pandemic. We hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.
Many applications revolved around the topic that makes heart beats faster – vulnerable people who need help and support in these critical times.
There were also brand-new projects too, including online fitness classes, provision of mental health support, 3D printing of masks and spare parts for ventilators, other types of online services and much more.
But we had to select only 5 best projects and we did so. And the winners are….
For Healthcare sector:
1.Smart Mask – development of smart mask equipped with sensors that send data to smartphone app to compare with symptoms of COVID-19.
For Entrepreneurship and Employment:
2.Human House Online School – lectures and master classes by famous artists and artisans on architecture, traditions and applied art of Uzbekistan to introduce and teach how to do various crafts at home including entrepreneurial skills training - a course to teach youth and women entrepreneurial skills based on mobile app to start their first business.
In Education sector:
3.Cambridgeonline.uz - a platform that enables educational institutions and private tutors who were not exposed to modern technology to conduct online lessons in tas-ix and monitor the learning process.
Finally, 2 winners in Community support sector:
4.Portal “Life map” –an interactive map enabling to track people in need and help to find the closest volunteer who can extend assistance.
5.Birdamlik -a database to register the people in need and volunteers that also helps to match demand and help available.
Most important thing about our call for ideas is that there are no winners and losers. Those applications that did not make it to the final, will be flagged to relevant ministries, agencies, organizations and they will surely find support there.
We, UNDP Accelerator Lab and “Promoting Youth Employment Project” project funded by UNDP-Russia Trust Fund, started off our initiative only with four partners. By the end of the call, their number grew four times, 16 different partners readily joined us, providing support with project selection, mentoring and financing. This development was partly due to UNDP’s successful initiative of running Youth Startups Support Programmeand its role of an integrator platform and connector. Partners also almost doubled the challenge fund to allow more qualified solutions transform into realities.
And what did we learn during this journey?
So far, we’ve reinforced some our beliefs, learning a couple of important lessons:
· Youth engagement in development processes is important not only because 60% of Uzbekistan’s population is under 30 years old, but also because young people are great and vibrant partners for development, the partners that care about country’s well-being and its future;
· Youth in IT is very much aware and is part of global IT development trends. This is very inspiring and gives every reason for optimism for the outcomes ‘One Million Uzbek Coders’ launched by the Government in 2019, reassuring us that good IT-based solutions will be offered to address COVID19 challenges. For some young teams that were competing in the Challenge, regardless of the final results, it was mostly a very valuable learning experience and a chance to improve their non-IT, but essential soft skills, such as communication, collaboration and presentation;
· Investing in long-term, diverse partnerships is a key ingredient in being able to rapidly response in demanding times such as now.
We are sure there will be more lessons learned as we progress towards next phases of our Challenge. Great results are just over the horizon.