Photo source: Rustavi Innovation Hub

With the pandemic disrupting educational routines, business activities and public services, Georgia’s urban populations are under stress. In an effort to encourage creative thinking about solutions to COVID-19 disruptions, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has teamed up with partners in the City of Rustavi to engage young people. The results of this year-long partnership were presented today at an online conference.

The programme was hosted by the Innovation Hub created by Rustavi City Hall. For Rustavi, the initiative represents a continuation of pre-pandemic efforts to transform Rustavi from a post-industrial Soviet legacy to a futuristic city building on a population of educated professionals and proximity to Tbilisi for a brighter future. Part of this effort has involved adopting cutting-edge practices in citizen engagement and service delivery, many of them supported by UNDP.

“What we value the most in this pilot is the community of actors working as one and guided by a common vision to contribute to building local solutions with local institutions and individuals,” said Rustavi Mayor Irakli Tabaghua.

The UNDP initiative engaged a range of partners. First, the Future Laboratory innovation consultancy provided mentoring and training to encourage teachers and students in 5th-12th grades in Rustavi schools to come up with ideas on how to tackle the negative impact of COVID-19. In an online “ideathon,” young “citypreneurs” then pitched their ideas to a jury composed of leaders from business, civil society and development sectors. The jury selected the eight best ideas, whose authors then received advice on pitching and presentation skills from the Business and Technology University (BTU). Finally, the successful teams were able to solicit funding for their projects on an Orbeliani crowdfunding platform.

The ideas generated by Rustavi’s young entrepreneurs included an app to help monitor the number of people, distancing and body temperature in an enclosed space; an urban farming platform for families seeking to garden while living in isolation; painting bus stations with lively urban graffiti to encourage social distancing; and innovative online chemistry and physics lessons.

The process and projects are presented on a dedicated website: www.ideagenerator.ge.

“We salute the energy and enthusiasm of the young people of Rustavi,” said UNDP Head Louisa Vinton. “They know it is a long road from an idea, however good, to a successful business, but we are confident that the skills they are learning and the experience they are gaining on the way position them well to serve as community leaders of the future.”

Alongside the ideathon for Rustavi students, UNDP also supported the Rustavi Innovation Hub in building partnerships with local businesses to create a business incubator called Business Starter for local youth. This has so far supported four innovative start-ups, all of them operated online: City Service, providing plumbing, electricity and IT services for the residents of Rustavi;  Sweep, a web application for housecleaning services; eWash, a technology for self-service car washes; and Farco, an automated farm and remote greenhouse management system for small and medium-sized farmers.

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