Kuensel reporter YK Poudel interviews Gina Lucarelli, Team Leader of the UNDP Accelerator Labs, on the accelerator lab ecosystem in Bhutan and the need for experimentation on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Excerpts from the interview.

Could you describe the purpose of your visit to Bhutan and share your experience? Were you able to achieve the objectives of your visit?

This is my first visit to Bhutan and I came with a team of 57 members. Our team is part of a global network of social innovation experts from 90 countries across 114 nations, focused on reimagining sustainable development for the 21st century. Each country’s head of experimentation conducts small-scale SDG experiments with the potential for large-scale application. With the 2030 deadline approaching, only between 16 and 17 percent of the goals have been met so far.

Bhutan has been a pioneer in balancing sustainable development across social, environmental, and economic objectives. One of the fascinating things about Bhutan is the concept of GNH that ensures balance, considering not only income and profit but also the happiness of the people. I am particularly interested in seeing this integrated into the Gelephu Mindfulness City.

The visit has been successful. Our primary goal was to document areas for improvement and best practices in SDGs, making the invisible visible for all UN countries.


The UNDP hosted a global innovation fest for sustainable development measures. What was it all about?

Fifty-seven colleagues from 53 countries participated in the global innovation fest. This network, established in 2019, operates on a ‘building the plane as we fly’ concept, addressing unanswered questions in sustainable development through experimentation. Bhutan joined the network in 2020. This arts-in-science approach encourages cross-sector discussions and documentation of actionable paths. Every initiative and budget is for public benefit, and accountability is paramount. These experimentations ensure that every agency is held responsible for their actions.


Bhutan now has Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) InnoTech, a dedicated lab for technological advancements. What crucial assistance, beyond funding, can the UNDP Global Innovation Network offer to develop Bhutan’s innovation ecosystem?

Most labs in 90 countries collaborate with national agencies to integrate innovation services into public sector structures. Building an ecosystem with entities like super fab-labs and startups helps create a network that exceeds individual capacities. The Accelerator Lab Network can assist by building this ecosystem through grassroots learning on various SDG practices. For example, yak rearing in changing climates and tech-driven paddy farming are key areas in Bhutan. Globally, the network has mapped over 6,000 grassroots innovations, all local interventions.

Innovations can be frugal, nature-based, behavioural, and regulatory. These are the areas where UNDP Accelerator Labs can partner with DHI InnoTech to make a significant impact.


As the team leader of the Accelerator Lab, what are some of the key lessons you have learnt from other countries and the region that could benefit Bhutan’s eco-system?

The challenges of achieving SDGs are daunting, given the commitment, investment and achievement so far. One of the major challenges in innovation is scaling local projects, which often fail when methods and collective efforts do not match.

The impacts of climate change vary by region. So, it is essential to make investments and prioritisation based on these differences. This is why collective intelligence of various networks and national partners is crucial.

Secondly, open-sourcing innovations available for all can roll much faster than when it is protected. The digital public goods have the potential to unleash opportunities for scaling. The government of Bhutan has already learned from other countries and has been working collectively to avoid the same mistakes that other nations have made.


Do you have any more remarks on your visit to Bhutan?

Holding the fest in Bhutan was a right decision as we got the opportunity to learn from a nation that is already doing well in the area of sustainable development. The founding investors have been supportive and discussing innovative projects in Bhutan as well. The accelerator labs across the world are overseen by Harvard Business School – that research, experiment, and provide technical assistance. Programmes like this are crucial for discussing challenges confronting an eco-system and amplifying actions on SDGs.