About the SDG Lab

The SDG Lab is a unit of UN Geneva that is located within the Office of the Director-General. We’re a start up in the UN system, taking a new approach to the 2030 Agenda by creating space for new collaborations and new thinking around the SDGs. Our mandate covers the essence of all of the SDGs, rather than just focusing on areas like health, work or finance. So our approach is systemic – we are committed to an integrated agenda, and embrace complexity.

What is a Lab? We refer to ourselves as being a "lab" (or "laboratory") as we aim to create a space to experiment in – with the possibility that we might fail sometimes.

Our work is different from a start-up or an innovation lab at a private company - for example, we are funded by donors so we cannot teach you how to generate revenue from starting a lab.

However, even if you are not sure about starting a lab yourself, we hope this learning content can still help your initiative.

We act to connect the right people at the right time by identifying opportunities and nudging people into working together. We aim to provide an informal space not only for innovation and collaboration, but also to amplify good practices that are working at country level when it comes to SDG implementation.

The resources in this learning programme are designed to pass on what we’ve discovered, so that you can benefit from our experience as you chart your own course.

To create a neutral space for things to happen, we coordinate and facilitate, using our knowledge of the UN system to focus on things that need more work – and which will benefit from our attention. We're not a coordinator of the UN system. Rather, we coordinate projects or initiatives that bring about SDG-related action. Activities might include:

  • Organising events
  • Connecting people in the right way
  • Giving people advice on who they should talk to
  • Enabling the sharing of good practices and difficult challenges related to the SDGs
  • Creating a neutral ‘safe space’ for collaboration
  • Incubating new ideas and partnerships developed through initial convening (sometimes through project management)

Convening is another word for bringing people together. [Source: Oxford Dictionary]

In the context of sustainable development, convening power is ‘the ability to catalyze collective action by relevant actors to address global and regional development challenges’. [Source: World Bank]

SDG Lab defines its work by three main features - Connect, Initiate, and Scale Up.

By doing this, we stay open but focused, creating space for everyone – but also finding threads that can be taken forward.

Our experience suggests that delivering on the 2030 Agenda in a post-COVID period requires more emphasis on three key approaches: integration, collaboration, and innovation. These three ‘paradigms’ of the 2030 Agenda underpin the SDGs.

Click here for an op-ed article by the SDG Lab on how innovation, collaboration and integration are the key enablers to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

In this short video, SDG Lab Director Nadia Isler relates her experiences of how to advance the 2030 Agenda through Integration, Collaboration and Innovation.

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Integration is joining forces with diverse sectors of expertise, combining resources and avoiding overlap to accomplish much more together than you could individually.
Collaboration is about finding mutual interests and aligning incentives so all actors feel they have gained additional value.
Innovation isn’t just about products or services, but also processes. Even changing small things like how you conduct meetings can have a huge impact on your initiative. Being smart about how you implement the basics of innovation (i.e. productive meetings and streamlined processes) will give you extra space and time to focus on more impactful innovation.
As you unpack your assumptions and begin exploring how to start a Lab, it’s important to understand the Mindset of the 2030 Agenda in terms of the three paradigms of Integration, Collaboration and Innovation. Because we'll never find new, sustainable solutions if we only look at challenges in an obvious, compartmentalised way.

In this short video, SDG Lab Director Nadia Isler describes SDG Lab’s ‘DNA’ in the context of the paradigms - explaining what makes the Lab different.

Download Video Transcript