UNDP launches Lesotho University Innovation Pod

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the government of Lesotho last week launched the Lesotho University Innovation Pod (UniPod).

UniPod Project is part of the new UNDP Africa Timbuktoo initiative involving 10 countries including Lesotho. It aims to encourage students in universities to engage in innovation and design thinking. The UniPod Project focuses on supporting and growing innovative, scalable, and impactful entrepreneurship by African young people, while relying on a springboard of partners who together contribute meaningfully to building an African youth innovation and start-up ecosystem.

Speaking at the launch, the director of UNDP regional bureau for Africa Ms Ahunna Eziakonwa said the UniPod is the first step in the big initiative that her organization has undertaken. “Some go to the university of YouTube, some go to NUL, LUCT, LP but in the end, innovation is an equalizer.” This is because we are one of the agencies taking on board this idea of a powerhouse in the population of Africa. The future of development of will be determined in the continent of Africa because of the population.

The director continued that during harsh Covid-19 lockdowns they saw the innovation of the children of Africa when they were using everything they had within their environments to tackle the impacts of Covid-19. Owing to the much publicized youth innovation during the covid-19 peak, UNDP saw the opportunity to invest in the youth very seriously and intentionally. “From pitch to pitch, hackathon to hackathon. There is a need to take Africa youth innovators seriously,” she said.

She further outlined the vision of UNDP that inspired the UniPod mentioning that the innovation they realized among the youth owing to Covid-19 lockdown birthed the idea of Timbuktoo UNDP – a startup ecosystem financing initiative meant to spark a revolution on the continent.

“In the continent of Africa there are already 7 UniPods worth over one million dollars each of which 4 of them are from Nigeria almost all of them are in the think-tank industry,” said Eziakonwa mentioning that it is possible to make billionaires of the continent in a short time for this to happen Timbuktoo is the solution.

With the invested funds, UNDP therefore wants to address the gap in early-stage risk capital for African startups. It is covering that idea stage of business where no investor wants to touch, but UNDP is investing in it just so the youth can experience the value of debt. This so to allow the youth to take their idea to the next stage which is the implementation and industry later on.

Secondly the Timbuktoo wants to integrate and align the ecosystem. “We have a fragmentation of ecosystems all over the world and continent not connected in any way. We therefor want to be the PAN African ecosystem across eight countries of which each will serve the continent, simply put a one-stop-shop for Africa. The ultimate goal is to enable startups to leverage the ‘One Africa Market Plus’ opportunity. The global market is waiting for these young start-ups.

Timbuktoo UNDP further aims to mobilize and invest one billion dollars of public and private capital over 10 years to harness the continent’s enormous youth talent to transform Africa into a knowledge and innovation global powerhouse. The UniPod is the biggest solution to this challenge.

For the mountain kingdom, the Lesotho UniPod will be placed in one institution being the Lerotholi Polytechnic (LP). This was consluded after they provided the space to house software and equipment needed to translate young people’s dreams into reality. Although LP is the only home for the UniPod in Lesotho, the bigger vision is for every institution to have one furthermore, there is a need for this at both high and primary school level.

“It is exciting to hear an idea that we had which was just a test, has a meaning in the country for bringing value, creating cognizance, creating synergies across the board. We have even heard of promises of collaboration between institutions and institutes, actually the idea of the UniPod has gone beyond our expectation.”

This has inspired me to say for Lesotho although the UniPod was envisioned for one year, we will stay with you until it is successful. It is about bringing the value of the country to the whole continent. Eventually we as UNDP Africa aim for an Africa whose resources work first and foremost for the people of Africa. We are looking at breaking the tradition of low value exportation of raw materials yet this is a fully resourced continent.

We aim for an Africa that has sustainable energy of which a lot of startups will be about. We must ensure we build the infrastructure that is desirable to power c the energy needs across Africa. We want to build an Africa where no one is left behind but 50% of it is in the workforce. Women can no longer be looked from an angle of vulnerability or an afterthought. We have to ensure that women are seen as innovators and change makers. We aim for an Africa where youth are the drivers of the economy.  

Dr Oliphant, MoET says the UniPod is a gift well suited to meet the needs of the 21st century. As the ministry of education and training they believe the true value of higher education lies in the human capital and knowledge application. With the various institutions working in the same space, staff and learners should take advantage to work together. The space and facilities belong to Basotho and all that is needed is support.

Professor Tlali from Lerotholi Polytechnic says the Unipod will enable learners to do more research for the newly established online platform called Ipope. The program has introduced new programs at degree level though still technical. These are mineral mining, geosciences, renewable energy and mining of diamonds. aspires and is geared to become a preferred university.

Mabulara Tsuene, UNDP says the UniPod is expected to bring ideas together. From it, the prototypes can be created that can help the country.

Advocate Tefo Macheli, LUCT says people must see the UniPod as a way to enhance higher education as so output should be as such.

Professor George, NUL Innovation Hub says the UniPod has come at the right time to enhance a platform to cross pollinate, ultimately there should be community projects that showcase the learning provided. This is the best way to bring young people to work together.

Mpho Letima, GEM Institute says there is no gender aspect in the programming space or coding therefore UniPod must look into socialized innovative space.

Lehlohonolo Chefa, ministry of trade says the UniPod as they see it is a feeder program to the investment of entrepreneurship hub and linking into the international market.