Big hits and blunders: A social innovation lab in Armenia

Aug 14, 2014

Making the big pitch: Using storytelling to pitch an idea at Kolba’s prototyping event in Vanadzor

When UNDP in Armenia launched Kolba over a year ago, it was the only social venture incubator and design lab within the organization.

Twelve months and a lot of (emotional) scars later, we thought it was time to share some of our big hits and blunders.

1.      Focus on the problem, not the product

We launched Kolba as a social enterprise incubator.

The start-up scene in Armenia got a small boost, but the ventures which graduated in 2013, while impressive, are unlikely to change the system anytime soon.

We propose to focus future incubation efforts on addressing specific development challenges; the organizational form for scaling the ideas should be a secondary concern.

2.      Bridge the digital divide

A mix of online outreach and workshops across Armenia generated a lot of interest.

We almost doubled the number of applicants, compared to the social innovation camp we hosted in 2012.

Over 70 percent of applicants were from communities outside of the capital, Yerevan. But we found that engaging young men from rural communities in the workshops especially difficult.

We’re not sure what to do about this – any ideas?

3.      Don’t befriend dictators

As one of our techies says, “Facebook is like a dictatorship, you have no control.”

But alas, building Kolba on a shoestring meant using Facebook as Kolba’s community space. Our own website was static: a space for information on logistics and a channel for applications. We have re-designed our online space to make it more interactive.

Any thoughts on how to improve it?

4.      Care for your mentors

We engaged a team of mentors from business and academia to support the ventures incubated by Kolba.

Some mentors need love and recognition. They also need more information on what is expected of them. We should take better care of our mentors in future.

StartUp Cup has a sleek mentor support programme that we like. Know of any others?

5.      Don’t pitch, prototype

Once our panel of judges filtered the applicants, we hosted prototyping events.

These were a lot of fun, but most of the teams focused on the pitches at the close of the event, rather than prototyping and testing their idea..

We plan to drop these events from the incubator and replace them with individual design workshops for each team.

6.      Make space

Kolba is a useful interface with networks of active citizens.

In order to enhance UNDP in Armenia’s ability to connect and co-create with these networks, Kolba should consider establishing a co-working space.

7.      Keep exploring

Alongside its incubation efforts, Kolba has been promoting design literacy within UNDP.

We think we should scale up our work involving citizens in the re-design of public services, as well as explore the application of behavioural science to UNDP’s programmes and projects in Armenia.

What next?

Our next incubation cycle focus on local government.

We are looking for activists as well as change-makers within municipalities to share their ideas for shaking up services, increasing accountability, and empowering citizens.

Watch this space for updates!

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