From Business as Usual to Business unusual: SDGPP Zambia’s Innovation Challenge



The interrelatedness and complexity of the SDGs calls for new ways of working to realize them.

By: Ceri Davies, SDGPP Zambia 

They call for innovation in the way we work and seek to deliver development results. Against this recognition, the SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia is working towards identifying and promoting innovative, scalable and sustainable solutions to addressing challenges adversely affecting the well-being of Zambian children. It is recognized that business as usual will not create the change needed to catalyze transformation and therefore innovative initiatives and partnerships are needed to tip the momentum forward to reach the SDGs.

The Platform recently launched an Innovation Challenge Prize. The challenge is to be operationalized through catalytic funds and will grant up to 4 selected proposals $40,000 each.

To determine the areas of focus for the innovation challenge, an interactive, collaborative workshop to identify pathways for innovations to lead to transformative solutions for children in Zambia was held on March 2017. Facilitated by Banny Banerjee, Director of Stanford University Change Labs, workshop participants explored the theme of systems-analysis. The identified leverage points, where more organizations and people can use their investment decisions in order to shift the needle on the well-being of children in Zambia, formed the 4 challenge areas that were the themes of focus for the innovation challenge, described below.

Challenge 1: A challenge to find innovative solutions to change attitudes of traditional leaders, parents and community members to reduce teenage pregnancies and prevent child marriages in Zambia.

Challenge 1 is particularly relevant in the Zambian context as girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to be out of school than boys (44.3% compared to 22.2%), which is attributed to teenage marriage and early pregnancy which forces girls to drop out of school prematurely (Zambia Sexual Behaviour Survey, 2009; UNICEF Report Card of Adolescents in Zambia). In 2007, nearly 13,000 girls dropped out of school because of pregnancy (UN Zambia, 2013) and in 2016, the number rose to 15,000. Teenage marriage is also much more common for girls aged 15-19 at 17%, compared to 1% of boys of the same age (Zambia Demographic and Health Survey 2013-2014). Further, 29% of adolescent women age 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

Challenge 2: A challenge to find solutions capable of real-time service tracking and response (availability, access, quality, delivery) for child services (health, education, social protection etc.) at the community level in Zambia. 

Poverty rates in Zambia remain high with 54.4% of the population living below the poverty line, with marked inequalities between rural (76.6%) and urban areas (23.4%) (Living Conditions Monitoring Survey 2015). The challenge of access to public services, particularly for the rural poor in Zambia remains a large stumbling block in reducing poverty. Structural barriers to accessing social services include limited service coverage, poor road networks, unaffordable services, poor quality of services and limited availability of supplies in rural public service facilities. Low citizenry awareness, lack of spaces for participation, poor real-time service delivery monitoring mechanisms for citizens are some of the factors causing service delivery deficiencies, which directly and negatively affects children.

Challenge 3: A challenge to find innovative solutions to support young mothers to meet their economic needs, have skills and knowledge for better capital generation and management, which translates into greater investments in children.

Issues of teenage pregnancy and early child marriage are closely linked to challenge area number 4, which seeks to address how young mothers can be empowered and supported economically to be able to invest in their children. Zambia is a highly patriarchal society where men are the decision makers in households and control the productive assets. This translates into large gender imbalances which disproportionately affect young women, who are excluded or have impeded access to land ownership, loans, education, and other economic empowerment skills.

Challenge 4: A challenge to find innovative solutions that use community-based service delivery models to improve the well-being of children, including those with special needs (Early Childhood Development, education, health, nutrition, HIV etc.).

Lack of adequate service delivery at community level is a major obstacle to reducing poverty, vulnerabilities and inequalities in Zambia. Those who face disproportionately high barriers in accessing social services are those below the poverty line. Children with special needs are highly marginalized and vulnerable due to lack of adequate awareness, policies, and services to address their needs. While public social services exist, access is impeded due to several structural factors described above and linked to challenge 2.

One hundred and nineteen proposals were received that responded to the 4 challenge areas. The most popular challenge area that received the most proposals was Challenge area 3, followed by Challenge area 1. The process to select the most innovative proposals in line with the pre-defined and advertised criteria is currently underway. The process is expected to be concluded within the next 2 to 3 weeks, with the final selection and award grants to the most promising proposals.

Stay tuned for more updates and information on who the selected winners are!


Ceri Davis is Research and Project Officer for the SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia, in the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in Zambia