HackaDev 2020: Accelerating new innovations in new normal


The COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways compromised the meaningful engagement of youth in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With the many development challenges posed by the crisis, and at a time when the world has the largest generation of young people in history – their contributions are essential to leading and defining the ‘new normal’ we live in.

National platforms for innovations enable young people to find solutions for these challenges, especially those that highlight the need for social cohesion, accelerated technology adoption and new socioeconomic direction – ensuring sustainability and resilience for both people and planet.

In-light of this, early this year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka launched its annual ‘HackaDev: National Youth Social Innovation Challenge’ for 2020. The virtual challenge which has already completed two phases will engage over 1300 youth from around Sri Lanka by crowdsourcing social innovations to combat challenges laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.

Speaking of HackaDev, Mr Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “the global pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink the way we approach development by building forward in a more socially conscious and sustainable manner. Young people are crucial to challenging the status quo to adopt to these new realities. UNDP, together with its partners, is committed to providing a platform for youth in Sri Lanka to showcase their innovative and entrepreneurial talents and become change agents for new development solutions.”

The public call for applications for the 2020 challenge launched in August represented submissions from all 9 Provinces in Sri Lanka, highlighting that young people around the island were stepping up in the pursuit of their innovative ideas for a better future. Notably, female participation for the 2020 challenge stood at 44%. 

Despite the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the pandemic, over 250 applicants pitched their ideas virtually at the Provincial level to an esteemed panel of judges from the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Teams enthusiastically presented their ideas ranging from – environmental conservation and preventing non-communicable diseases, to bridging the digital divide and providing youth with access to quality education and economic opportunities.

Following the national level selection, 45 teams with the best ideas will proceed to the Social Innovation Camps, where teams will go through an intense programme on social innovation theory and practice, based on accelerated and experiential learning methodologies to refine their idea into one that is desirable, feasible and viable. Selected teams will thereafter undergo a pre-incubation phase, receive seed funding including 6-months of incubation support to convert their ideas into sustainable enterprises.

HackaDev is Sri Lanka’s premier social innovation platform for young people. Over the years, HackaDev has transformed into a social movement that is thriving due to the strength of its community. The programme initially piloted in 2015, is now at scale, comprising of various components such as the Learning and Skills Academy, an Enterprise Incubation Programme and an Alumni network within which a ‘HackaDev Ambassador Programme’ has been set up to proliferate social innovation broadly. For 2020 alone, the alumni community has conducted over 20 learning sessions online, engaging more than 400 Sri Lankan youth. Additionally, HackaDev has invested in building the capacity of a number of facilitative trainers to scale social innovation learnings to an even wider audience in Sri Lanka.

The HackaDev National Youth Social Innovation Challenge 2020, led by UNDP via the Citra Social Innovation Lab, is implemented in partnership with Dialog Ideamart, Facebook and Youth Co:Lab – a joint initiative within the Asia and the Pacific Region between UNDP and Citi Foundation. As HackaDev moves forward, UNDP invites partners from all sectors to join hands with the programme as we collectively create better opportunities for young people to thrive in this decade of action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

For more information about the programme, visit: www.hackadev.lk