Women across Europe and Central Asia are stepping up to innovate for change amid a pandemic


Participants from Idea Campaign held in 6-9 August 2019 in Istanbul. Photo: UN Women/Giulia Gustavsen Angelini
Participants from Ideas Campaign held on 6-9 August 2019 in Istanbul. Photo: UN Women/Giulia Gustavsen Angelini

The global crisis caused by COVID-19 is compelling us to work together and think differently to leverage expertise, resolve and skills for recovery. Using the knowledge, ideas and practices of women and underserved communities is important for effectively implementing inclusive solutions. UN Women focuses on a fair and just recovery from the pandemic, by providing the space and opportunities for women to use their abilities and realise solutions. Women have always innovated and supporting their efforts is our common goal.

An innovation facility to boost leadership and learning

UN Women in Europe and Central Asia has launched an innovation facility which is aimed at boosting innovative leadership and learning within UN Women and among its partners. The goal is to continuously foster safe spaces for conversations and experiments to test solutions to critical issues in the region, while monitoring, evaluating, and documenting experiences.

Innovation Lab for Gender Equality

This week, the facility is organizing an Innovation Lab for Gender Equality which aims at supporting programme offices to explore and pilot new and rapid solutions that respond to problems faced by women and girls amid the pandemic. The approach includes the use of human-centred and innovative programme design, design research, behavioural insights, agile development, big data, tech-based solutions and innovative partnerships.

The Lab will challenge the way development actors often look into societal issues and propose specific solutions to address gender inequalities. Teams will go through a process of creative deconstruction of thoughts and experimentation to redesign existing tools and processes or replace them with better ones. This comprehensive initiative targets the leadership, culture and learning processes in the region, by building on our institutional expertise and experience, and the curiosity of our innovation champions.

Innovation Practices

UN Women is seeking to build a culture that facilitates dialogue on social innovation, creates spaces for prototyping and testing of innovations for programming, and allows for experience sharing and knowledge management will drive change. In the last five years, UN Women have seen innovation as vital for change in the region and has developed many initiatives on its innovation journey. For example, UN Women has supported the following innovations:

To promote young women and girls’ engagement in technology and innovation:

  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ‘IT Girls’ initiative provided a platform for 71 girls to apply their IT skills in tech competitions and a robotics/programming summer school, while a first all-female IT Girls hackathon ‘#CodeLikeITGirl’ was organized for 80 girls;
  • In Georgia, a pilot public-private partnership supported women’s income generation through ICT. Of 124 women trained in web programming and social media marketing, 50 women were linked with companies, non-government organizations and a state agency for summer internships. As a result, 42 per cent of the participating women reported increased incomes within six months of their training;
  • In Kosovo, over 1,000 girls were introduced to methodologies and tools of innovation, and how to pursue education and careers in ICT;
  • In Kyrgyzstan, girls' participation in STEM fields has been supported in inclusive ways. The Office piloted the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training approach, aimed at behavioral change for gender equality where GALS tools have been integrated into STEM educational plans for senior grade students in the pilot districts;
  • In Tajikistan, over 60 people participated in a two-day hackathon aimed at developing ideas to improve the lives of women living with HIV using technology.

To eliminate violence against women:

  • A regional programme Implementing Norms, Changing Minds used a ‘Ccommunication for Behavioural Impact’ methodology. The programme developed solutions and tested ideas that encourage reporting of violence against women, not only by survivors but also by witnesses to a crime;
  • In Georgia, a GPS electronic monitoring system was introduced that tracks high-risk domestic violence offenders and enables law enforcement to intervene before a crime is committed. Available services for survivors of violence includes an emergency response mobile app in several languages. The app also enables people with hearing and vision impairments to use it;
  • In Moldova, community level social innovation helped 3,214 women and girls know more about their rights and available services, and 1,923 men and boys learned more about the root causes and consequences of gender-based violence;
  • In Tajikistan, a mobile app connects survivors to psychologists and lawyers, and provides them with useful information;
  • In Turkey, ‘Light the Dark’, a digital campaign to end violence against women in public spaces, together with a lighting exhibition in a public park reached over 10 million people. To identify insecure public spaces for women and girls, a website featuring an interactive map of Turkey invited the public to add a ‘firefly’ on public places where they felt unsafe. This initiative generated gender disaggregated data on safety in public spaces across the country and highlighted issues of concern such as inefficient street lighting and sexual harassment.

Innovation Conversations

UN Women has also launched Innovation Conversations, a series of virtual gatherings to exchange ideas and build knowledge around the gender equality challenges of today and tomorrow and keeping women and girls at the centre of solutions. The topics capitalize on UN Women’s leadership as a knowledge broker on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  So far, we have organized four innovation conversations focused on the digital economy and the workforce of the future, applying behavioural insights, new models of social financing and reshaping the work of women and innovation during COVID-19, AI and climate change.  The aim is to reflect, reimagine and rebuild better via stimulating discussions across UN colleagues, agencies, donors, partners, academia, private sector, public sector, third sector and civil society.

Innovation Bootcamp: Ideas Campaign

In 2019, the Innovation Facility ran an Ideas Campaign offering a bootcamp style learning platform that built institutional expertise, shared experiences and developed a cadre of innovation champions. Across the region, UN Women offices developed proposals on societal gender issues and put forward innovative solutions. Among them, three were supported with technical assistance, interactive training and remote coaching to refine and implement their ideas:

  • The ‘Why Your Money Counts?’ initiative tested storytelling and user-experience within the framework of UN Women’s regional Gender Responsive Budgeting project implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and North Macedonia;
  • ‘I Say No to Plastics’ - a women-led community mobilization initiative in Serbia used behavioural change to reduce single-use plastic amongst households and coffee shops;
  • ‘Girls in STEM’ - in Kyrgyzstan an existing STEM training curriculum was embedded in a broader community-led empowerment methodology that transformed communication patterns and norms within the ecosystem.

Please direct any questions about innovation work in UN Women to Blerta Cela at [ Click to reveal ]