I work in the Eastern and Southern African Regional Office on innovations, and a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to accompany Chris Fabian, Co-Lead of the Innovations Unit, to Zambia on my first scoping mission. While my first foray into the field wasn’t a standard mission due to a film crew following Chris around, I will take what I learned that week on my future missions. (Make sure to check-out Chris’s recent posts about the week here on UNICEF Stories.)

From the first informational meeting to the wrap-up presentation, for one week I met with UNICEF staff, implementing partners, and ministry officials. I observed best practices for describing and demystifying the work of the Innovation team, listening to programme colleagues, and engaging and empowering young people.

Lusaka, Zambia. 2013. Chris speaking to U-Reporters. Photo Credit: Georgia Hill.
Lusaka, Zambia. 2014. Chris speaking to U-Reporters. Photo Credit: Georgia Hill.

Over five days, I learned how best to collect information, make connections, and then draw a rough roadmap for how and where innovations can add value to programmes.

Here are a couple of my key takeaways:

  • Listening is important but it is also key to ask engaging and open questions. One of the core foundations of our work is to problem solve in a new or different way. Therefore, our innovation solutions need to address challenges and meet demands, and understanding the situation is critical to accomplishing this goal.
  • Go to the field and get out of the office. Stop imagining what the environment is like where the project is functioning and picturing how community members use the service or interact with the product. This small glimpse of reality is important when you return back to your desk.
  • Inspire people, especially our UNICEF colleagues. Our programme colleagues in Country Offices work tirelessly to develop and implement projects to address pressing problems. Sometimes in the midst of all of their work they need to be reminded just how cool and worthwhile their projects are. Make them excited through your excitement.
  • Always carry anti-bacterial handwipesThe more high fives the better!
Mazabuka, Zambia. 2014. A field visit to a rural health facility where Project Mwana operates. Photo Credit: Georgia Hill
Mazabuka, Zambia. 2014. A field visit to a rural health facility where Project Mwana operates. Photo Credit: Georgia Hill

I consider myself very fortunate to have had my first mission to the Zambia Country Office and with Chris. Not only did I learn great tips and tricks, but moreover, I was inspired by the passion there is about the impact innovations can have for kids. All of the excitement was contagious, and I am sure that when I flew back to Nairobi, I wasn’t the only person that was excited to get back to work on Monday.

Georgia Hill
T4D & Innovation Consultant, Regional ICT Office, Nairobi

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Related stories:

“Mwana and the Bongo Hive”* (Part 1 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

Reducing medical test delays from 30 days to 30 seconds (Part 2 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

Bongo Hive of activity (Part 3 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

Searching without the Internet (Part 4 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

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