UNDP Country Director, Jorn Sorensen

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level. So, let’s rise together above our challenges, think differently, and let us think innovatively to create sustainable solutions for sustainable development.” Quoting Albert Einstein UNDP Country Director, Jorn Sorensen delivered the keynote address at the 28th Annual OPA Conference – 2015 held in Colombo last week under the theme ‘Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development’.

He told the gathering that the society tends to look at innovations as inventions, as a futuristic technological development that will have everyone awestruck initially.  He said, “Innovations are deeply ingrained in the culture and history of Sri Lanka. Take the example of the magnificent rock fortress, Sigiriya. The rock served as a royal residence, perfectly camouflaged for protection, while offering all the luxuries to its tenants. Now, on the verge of the global launch of the Sustainable Development Goals as we talk of responsible consumption in goal 12 – We can go back to the wise words of a Sri Lankan King, who said: “Let not even one drop of water that falls on the Earth in the form of rain be allowed to reach the sea without being first made useful to mankind.”

“It was this type thinking of sustainable consumption that placed Sri Lanka as one of the countries with the oldest traditions in irrigation systems.  It was the result of innovative – Out-of-the-box- foresight to address pressing social and developmental issues at the time. This is the innovation, the new thinking that supports efficient processes that we are looking to support through the application of innovation for development; ultimately contributing towards sustainable human development in Sri Lanka. While Sri Lanka has a strong history of innovations, however, modern goals and the need to always be guaranteed of success have brought many challenges into the field of innovations,” He added.

UNDP Country Director Sorensen also said that the fear of failure and lack of support being the main obstacles while the lack of monetary investment to come up with, and test out new ideas is yet another obstacle. He highlighted the necessity of encouraging the creativity and risk-taking amongst the current and future generations. He stressed that the country should focus first at the very beginning by developing an education system that fosters curiosity that lead to creative thinking and innovations and to bring out local skills and talent for creative solutions and exercise the innovation muscle.

“In the last decade and half or so, 700 million people were lifted out of poverty in the region and average GDP growth rates in developing Asia have surged ahead of other regions. This prosperity, however, has failed to act across the board. Nearly two thirds of the world’s poor still live in this region, and the next tranche of gains in the region are threatened by persistent development challenges caused by climate change and rising inequality.”

He also spoke about the HackADev – Sri Lanka’s first social innovation hackathon, where ‘tech meets development’ – which is to take place soon in partnership with a private communication technology provider. HackADev has planned to engage young technology enthusiasts to look at persistent development challenges with a keen eye and propose socially relevant technological solutions to these issues, supported by the Sri Lankan private sector, and UNDP. An another project; ‘Unlocked’ being a series of blogs and offline spaces that ‘unlock’ voices providing a space for youth to voice their personal experiences, opinions and propositions on current social issues was also highlighted.
He invited all professionals to engage the UNDP in a dialogue to analyze innovative solutions which could shape the country. He said “Do not lose the innovative touch. Rise above challenges. Change your point of view. Cultivate innovation and let it grow so that Sri Lanka can achieve unprecedented rates of growth and do so in an equitable, inclusive and sustainable sense.”