The Accelerator Lab´s moonshot in Colombia

Colombia, an upper middle-income country, has steadily improved its development indicators, becoming part of the high economic performance countries. When adjusted for inequality, however, Colombia’s Human Development Index (HDI) losses 23.6 percentage points, second only to Brazil in Latin America and the Caribbean.

After an armed conflict of more than 50 years and a peace agreement signed in 2016 with the FARC guerrilla group, even today the development indicators of neighborhoods, districts and regions in Colombia are affected by the conflict. Those locations, where the armed conflict took place, have bleak development indicators, most of them below average, positioning them as the most left behind territories in the country.

These territories are hotspots, places where multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) gaps intersect (SDG Hotspots in LAC). Therefore, hotspots aggregate complex development problems such as poverty, hard exclusions, citizen security, gender inequality and violence, migration, vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, natural resource-based economies and lack of trust form citizens towards public institutions and policymakers (Caribbean Human Development Report).

In these left-behind hotspots is where UNDP Colombia, align with strategic stakeholders, require acceleration to reach the SDG: (i) leaving no one behind, tackling the hardest exclusions by gender, race, ethnicity or geographic exclusion; (ii) building resilience to natural disasters, economic downturns and social and political conflict; and (iii) promoting structural transformations that ensure sustainable development (UNDP Strategic Plan, 2018-2021).


Closing the last mile gap, reaching from both ends

The last mile concept is a term usually used in supply chain management that refers to the short geographical distance that needs to be reached in order to provide services to end-customers. Although the geographical distance might seem short, the last mile is also known to be the most expensive and complex gap to close for organizations and governments because the difficulties to reach their beneficiaries or citizens. Left-behind communities are those hotspots located at the far end of the public value chain, separated by the last mile.

The last mile gap is one of the principal elements for inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, mixed with an educational system that cannot respond properly to a fast-changing labor market. Countries in this region tend to face inequality gaps by doing “more of the same” (Desigualdad en la encrucijada), which means to rely on economic growth and just expect that poverty rates decrease.


Graph 1: Last mile gap in furthest left-behind territories

Source: AccLab Colombia, 2019


The first graph illustrates in one hand the urban hubs as locations where development services and opportunities, understood as the access to governance capabilities, infrastructure, public services, security and basic needs, are offered to almost the entire population. In the other hand, those left behind territories where there is a lack of adequate provision of development services and opportunities. Between those hubs and the left-behind territories we locate intermediate cities or in-between territories, where good quality of living is emerging.

Due to the difficulties governments and organizations experience to access the furthest left behind territories, the traditional reach for those areas and communities pass throughout the hubs or the intermediate cities and reached the left behind territories and people in a “spillover” way.


Graph 2: Last mile gap in urban hubs and intermediate cities

Source: AccLab Colombia, 2019


Even though there are left behind territories in Colombia, it cannot be ignored that within urban hubs and intermediate cities there also exist hotspots complexities and last miles gaps (see graph 2). For instance, Buenaventura exposes hard contrasts. While it is considered as an intermediate city with national economic relevance, some of its inhabitants are living between hotspots intersections. The city boasts great biodiversity and a rich culture; it is home to the country’s largest ethnic afro-descendent and indigenous groups; and it’s a first-class port. However, it coexists with unemployment rates of 20% (Dane, 2018), almost double the national rate, and has historically been affected by violence, which forced half of its population to flee.


Call for action to accelerate the grass root development

The Colombia Country Office, together with its strategic partners, have prioritized the furthest left-behind territories as their focus. The Acceleration Lab will implement a process of sensemaking in order to analyze UNDP´s current portfolio to see why and how projects are being implemented, and thus understand their relevance, coherence and interconnection to address a comprehensive strategy that addresses the challenges of the hotspots and last mile gap.

To achieve the proposed acceleration, the AccLab will make its first learning loop (see graph 3) and focus on the people living in these left-behind territories, through four stages:

Graph 3: AccLab learning loop

Source: AccLab Colombia, 2019


  1. Sense: Understand the emerging opportunities globally and in those left behind territories in order to determine where UNDP needs to prioritize attention.
  2. Explore: Gain a deep understanding of challenges, particularly by looking at how citizens are already developing solutions.
  3. Test: Design a portfolio of potential solutions to intervene at multiple points and continuously test them until we are confident of their work.
  4. Grow: Hand over the portfolio of solutions, through strategic policy advocacy or developing new private ventures.

This is how the AccLab will analyze patterns and cross cutting issues in Colombia, where UNDP, government, academia, the private sector and civil society jointly will work to close the last mile gaps. Spaces for reflection and work with multiple stakeholders will be provided to address hotspot challenges, so that left behind territories and communities can build their own paths while becoming accelerators of their own sustainable development.

As a first experiment, the Lab will use augmented reality to build bridges between populations from hotbeds and those living in left-behind territories, seeking to close development gaps, starting with mental barriers, a key component in addressing the challenges of inequality. In this way, UNDP opens its door to interact with the people and the projects that are promoting human development in the territories of Colombia, which are not always directly accessible, but that augmented reality makes visible for all.

In Colombia, we initiated our work since the end of August 2019, working hand by hand with UNDP´s country office and our strategic stakeholder to explore, map grassroot innovations and experiment to accelerate the closing of gaps in the furthest left behind territories and groups of people.

Join us! Find out more about the Accelerator Labs:

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