Empowering a New Generation of Innovators in Jordan

UNICEF Jordan developing a network of social innovation labs

Arianna Freschi

23 August 2016

Mo’atesem is a 15-year-old boy, displaced from Syria and now lives in Jordan. He has been out of school since he was 9, although he has been attending the UNICEF-funded Makani Centre in Zarq’a. Mo’atesem is a maker. Learning from videos on YouTube, he has taken old electronic objects and created handheld fans, a recycling machine, and a milk foamer. He wants his next invention to be a planter.

There are children with the curiosity and motivation of Mo’atesem all over Jordan. UNICEF Jordan is developing a network of social innovation labs to support a new generation of innovators. Labs provide an informal space for Youth to have their voices heard, deliver a social innovation curriculum and a core set of technical skills. After participating in lab activities, children should be able to say:

I can build something from nothing
I can build my future.
I convert my dreams into reality.

A lab alone won’t do the trick. We can teach kids to identify problems, and come up with solutions that they can prototype and implement, but without an ecosystem of social innovation around the labs, we risk limiting the lasting impact of the Labs. While the concept innovation has taken hold in Jordan’s start-up scene, the idea of social innovation is still new.

For this reason, as a milestone towards developing its Innovation Labs, UNICEF Jordan convened a Workshop to catalyze leading Jordanian organizations to engage in social innovation in general and the labs in particular. The Workshop, facilitated by Amani Institute, brought together 25 people involved in the youth sectors, including local and international NGOs, the Private Sector, and key players in social and technical education. The participants have a shared commitment and passion for developing the next generation of Innovators in Jordan.

Working together – 25 people involved in the youth sectors, including local and international NGOs, the Private Sector, and key players in social and technical education.

Participants agreed that if implemented, a social innovation curricula has the potential to be transformative in Jordan, a country with a youth population of 66% and a youth unemployment rate of 33% (ILO estimate). Female youth unemployment is a particular problem, estimated at 55%, while male youth unemployment remains far above the national average at 28%. At the same time, given the richness of entrepreneurship in Jordan, the environment is ripe to engage people from across Jordan in identifying and tackling the challenges of their society.

In the ideation session, participants discussed their visions for innovation labs and how they can improve the opportunities and outcomes of the most vulnerable children. An understanding of how the unique value of the Labs in Jordan emerged. Firstly, the soft-skills curriculum delivered by the program, including problem identification and problem-solving, is essential for 21st-century resilience and employability. Further, creating an engaging, participatory space is crucial to foster social cohesion within the youth. Finally, the program reaches out to a unique target group, the vulnerable young people, ages 14-18, while existing programs focus on college-level students.

Amani Institute
Participants discussing at the Social Innovation Lab Workshop.

A ‘User Journey methodology’ was used to place participants in the perspective of beneficiaries in the three phases: i) outreach to the target the Youth, ii) lab activities and iii) post-program opportunities. Participants discussed how to localize a social innovation curriculum to the target Youth of 14-18-year-old vulnerable Jordanians and refugees and to embed any activities in local institutions.

Finally, participants discussed how their organizations could contribute to the implementation of innovation labs, creating a network of support. The attending organizations pledged commitments all three phases of the project: outreach, lab activities and post-program opportunities. Their involvement will contribute to the development of a network of innovation, a ‘web’ for talented kids like Mo’atesem to flourish and for their innovative ideas to be realized.

The Workshop showcased the excitement and commitment of participants to the Social Innovation Labs. A partnership model, leveraging and extending existing resources and expertise, is the best approach to support a new generation of Innovators. Moving forward, the Social innovations labs will be directed by a multi-partner executive committee, comprised of stakeholders from the private and public sector, who will hold shared responsibility for the initiative.