October 2013 – It was the first time for me to travel to this region, and I was fascinated by the mixture of different cultures. What was most intriguing to me was the advanced level of development in Armenia, both in terms of infrastructure and human capital. It really was quite different from any of the other countries I’ve been to with the United Nations.

A panoramic view of Yerevan from the giant stairway called ‘Cascade’. UNICEF Representative, Henriette took me to this beautiful place. Photo credit: Toshi Nakamura

I came to Armenia to support UNICEF and UNDP to further develop an innovative initiative called ‘Kolba Labs’. This initiative empowers the youth of Armenia to creatively solve challenges within their society. To date, Kolba Labs have engaged youth in three rounds of ‘Social Innovation Camps’ and have generated interesting ideas such as a virtual blood bank registry, which will make the match making process between the blood donors and recipients easier and more transparent. This has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health in Armenia, and could possibly be adopted by the government. The process of engaging youths seems to be working, so the next question now is ‘how can this process be sustained, beyond stand-alone events, and have more impact on the ground?’

Youth participating in Social Innovation Camp. Photo credit: UNDP

For a full week, I closely worked with – Bradley Busetto (Resident Coordinator), Henriette Ahrens (UNICEF Representative), Claire Medina (UNDP Deputy Resident Representative), Giulio Quaggiotto (UNDP Practice Leader for UNDP’s Knowledge and Innovation Team in Europe and Central Asia), George Hodge (Kolba Lab Co-Lead), and Weston Headley (partner at Impact SF). We met with over 40 people working at government, corporations and aid agencies to get feedback on the ideas and brainstormed a lot amongst the team for future Kolba Labs.

Review team brainstorming the innovation processes. Photo credit: Toshi Nakamura

I am fascinated that innovations like Kolba Labs actually exist in the UN – quite a change from the UN that I worked in until a few years ago! Based on the findings of the review team, the Kolba Labs team is going to put in place an operational plan to make it into a reality. It was an exciting week – thank you so much for the opportunity!

Toshi Nakamura

Toshi Nakamura is co-founder and CEO of Kopernik, the technology marketplace for the developing world. Toshi worked with UNDP in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and New York, before he decided to leave the UN and launch Kopernik with his wife Ewa Wojkowska.

“007” style – main conference room at UN House. Photo credit: Toshi Nakamura

Read about our Innovation Labs in Armenia and many other countries here