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The Rise of Innovation Labs

In the past decade, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, innovation labs have taken a major role in the social innovation scene. If you’re not familiar with the term, innovation labs are physical or virtual spaces that are created by corporations, NGO’s or even governmental bodies to foster innovation and collaboration. Innovation labs are emerging in numerous fields including technology, finance, and environment among others. One of the most important contributions of innovation labs is the co-creation of more adequate solutions that address multifaceted and complex problems that both the people and the planet face. Most often, such labs encourage out-of-the-box solutions for wicked problems based on the collaboration of a diverse group of interdisciplinary innovators and stakeholders.

Youth from various backgrounds work together to creatively solve a problem
Youth from various backgrounds work together to creatively solve a problem

What is innovation?

There are many types of innovation. Unlike invention, innovation does not need to involve a radical discovery of something new. Simply, innovation can entail improving or replacing some components in a pre-existing solution to make it more effective or more efficient. “Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way” says Tom Freston, an American entertainment industry executive. Innovation often requires a different perspective i.e. identifying certain gaps, and realizing some opportunities to improve products, services, or processes. Innovators usually think outside the box and use their knowledge and experience to renew an old concept or idea by using modern techniques to fit the needs of the current era. In the world of entrepreneurship and start-ups, innovation is required to create a competitive advantage. Moreover, innovation is crucial in solving social and environmental problems that affect our world thus it is a main ingredient in successful social enterprises and social innovation projects.

Why partake in innovation labs?

Joining an innovation lab is a great opportunity to get paced up with 21st century skills such as collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, human-centered design, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship, among others. It is through gaining hands-on experience in creating solutions to real problems that gives you an edge over others in an ever-growing competitive labor market where the future of jobs looks nothing like it used to be thanks to the fourth industrial revolution.

Youth embarking on this journey and gaining this experience will be able to unlock their hidden potential and increase their self-confidence. Exercising out-of-the box thinking and adopting new perspectives helps innovators in becoming change agents and future entrepreneurs. Moreover, networking and meeting like-minded people is a great asset of being part of an innovation lab. “If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” Steven Johnson

Examples of youth innovation Labs

The number of innovation labs is significantly increasing in the world, with special focus on developing countries and a thematic focus around the UN 2030 agenda or what is also known as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Several UN agencies have their own innovation labs such as UNICEF innovation labs and the UNRWA innovation lab which have different variations in different countries. For example, UNICEF in Lebanon has launched the GIL Program which stands for the Generation of Innovation Leaders and mainly works on equipping the less-privileged youth in Lebanon with employability skills through innovative programs and projects.

Another innovation lab that is international in nature is the UNLEASH Innovation Lab. The lab hosts 1000 social innovation talents every year from across the globe who work collaboratively in diverse teams on solving wicked problems related to particular sustainable development goals. The main aim is to present the best social impact projects throughout the program which takes a competition-like format. With COVID-19, this program as well as others have opted for a virtual format and have expanded their portfolio to offer more opportunities such as hackathons, startup acceleration programs, etc. Usually, many of these labs involve access to mentors and experts from various industries which is always an additional perk. Moreover, some offer awards for the best teams or project ideas after evaluation by an expert jury such as cash awards, further development opportunities, incubation, and the like.

The participants of the Unleash innovation lab in Shenzhen,China with the co-founder of Shabab Lab
The co-founder of Shabab Lab participates in UNLEASH 2019 in Shenzhen, China

 

Shabab Lab

Shabab Lab is a virtual innovation lab where the youth (shabab in Arabic) can tinker and innovate to create solutions to problems that they are passionate about.  On our platform, youth learn to develop technology for the social good thus creating meaningful social innovations and social enterprises that help make the world a better place. Unlike other innovation labs, we don’t  expect or demand break-through innovations. We are always open for the youth to bring their ideas and incrementally improve them by being exposed to like-minded people, successful stories, mentors, and best practices. You will find lots of interactive courses on our platform that will serve as the building blocks of your journey towards social innovation, change-making, and entrepreneurship. We adopt the UN 2030 agenda as a framework for the youth to select worthwhile problems and come up with meaningful solutions to a specific challenge in  their local communities. We believe in the saying ‘Think Globally, Act Locally!”

Shabab Lab is not only a vehicle of innovation; our aim is to build a community of change makers, team players and passionate youth who adopt a can-do attitude and act as role models and inspiration for other people in their circle. As Rob Siltanen once said: “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Youth from the North of Lebanon collaborate in the PeaceTech Youth Hackathon
Youth from the North of Lebanon collaborate in the PeaceTech Youth Hackathon organized by Riyada for Social Innovation in Summer 2019

Shabab Lab is youth-driven and youth-focused and leverages over three years of experience in conducting successful innovation programs by Riyada for Social Innovation across Lebanon and several other Arab countries. The platform aims to equip the Arab youth with 21st century skills through interactive, hands-on courses and programs. Some of these programs will be offered to highschoolers directly by having their schools subscribe on the platform. It is the time to develop an empowered, skillful and resourceful generation that will utilize technology to make real change and create a better future.

It is the time for innovation, entrepreneurship, and social impact. It is the time of Shabab Lab!

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