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Youth can strengthen accountability and integrity and reduce corruption by being involved in programmes that tap into their innovative ideas to create implementable, resourceful solutions to corruption-related problems. A vibrant and educated youth can be a catalyst for changing opinions on corruption.

Donors and CSOs have a crucial role to play in creating a more conducive environment to harness youth’s historical role as change-makers. Empowering youth to engage with accountability challenges in their country through idea creation and adaptive learning gives them space to trial, fail, learn, and re-design innovative solutions. There is significant potential in incubator-type programmes to increase accountability and reduce corruption.

Harnessing the power of youth in Nepal

Since the 1990s, the youth of Nepal have been a driving force in the country’s political and social transformations. The Accountability Incubator (‘the Incubator’), run by the international non-profit organisation Accountability Lab Nepal (AL), is a programme that enables young civil society leaders, called accountapreneurs, to build tools for accountability, participation, and social impact. With training, mentorship, and fundraising support, their project management skills are enhanced to mould their own ideas into a project with potential for impact and sustainability.

Supporting the change-makers: Effective strategies and tools

The case study in Nepal has demonstrated the elements within incubator-type programmes that can be improved to increase their effectiveness and impact. For example, training, enhanced learning, creative outreach, collaboration and networking, and considering appropriate funding options.

Our evaluation showed that participants wanted more personalised training, regarding this as something that fostered individual growth. ‘Satellite projects,’ such as one-to-one meetings between accountapreneurs and experts or a scheme matching current accountapreneurs with previous ones, can strengthen the mentoring process. More diverse training methods should be considered, which go beyond proposal writing to traditional grant-making bodies and include alternative funding options.

An adaptive learning approach can be used to inform others in the fields of accountability and anti-corruption. Feedback loops are essential to ensure that the learning experiences of participants are made aware to the public and funders, so that parties or funders interested in a specific idea understand which ideas have worked in the past or could be upscaled.

Collaboration, networking, and sharing are crucial, but it is important to create an environment that protects the intellectual rights of young innovators and is mutually beneficial. Currently, the programme’s support extends to an individual, and joint projects or incubation of ideas are not encouraged — even though many accountapreneurs are not developing their projects alone. However, accountapreneurs need to bring in their teams and share not only opportunities but also the burden of the work. Procedural adjustments could be tested to see the potential of a more strategic inclusion of the team around the individual.

A co-working facility can be a place for organisations and individuals to share resources and increase efficiency, and a space for collaboration, learning, and innovation. An alumni group of previous participants would create mentors for the younger accountapreneurs, and could be a source of future local funding for the programme. Networking with civil society organisations (CSOs), and other actors engaged in accountability, could establish channels to funding agents.

Although they receive training on fundraising, and attend networking events with CSOs and funders, many accountapreneurs face the challenge of funding their projects and generating a source of income. Earlier programmes provided seed funding, but this has now been withdrawn. Strategies on generating funds through collaborations, as well as innovative funding and training options, should be explored. For example, crowdsourcing and open-source options can enhance a public sense of ownership and partnership. However, challenges remain in identifying and implementing appropriate sources of funding.

Meeting the funding challenge

Analysis of the programme has shown funding to be a significant factor in the participants’ decision to apply. Offering seed funding may create negative incentives, which prevent innovative idea development. Therefore, assumptions regarding the funding of such initiatives need to be re-thought.

Earlier candidates who would ordinarily enter careers in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector were not so interested in participating – their main motivation for applying was availability of funding. However, when funds were not available to later candidates, the space for creativity, idea testing, and learning proved incentive enough. Therefore, the development of innovative ideas is not determined by the presence or lack of seed funding, and the findings are indicative of the need to rethink funding structures for innovation projects.

The Incubator encourages accountapreneurs to register their own legal entities. However, in Nepal, this prevents funding from international donors. This could be overcome by larger donors funding AL or other CSOs engaged in accountability innovations, or through linking accountapreneurs to other funding opportunities that focus on the individual.

Many ideas may survive via alternative funding options, but some will need more established funding beyond the trial phase. This will require flexible funding options from donors. For example, separating funding given to incubators and innovators to trial their ideas, or establishing innovation banks that fund idea piloting, but not incubators.

Conclusion: Recommendations for donors and organisations

Organisations running such programmes should not be a source of start-up funding. Instead they should develop strategic networks to form a bridge between incubating ideas and funding development and piloting, which can connect innovators to funding agencies, the private sector, and other funding sources.

Binding the individuals into specific networks structures and allowing spaces to create crowdsourcing options would be beneficial, and support an increased and sustained outcome. The funding of projects that aid youth in innovative thinking and adaptive learning should be considered. Therefore, incubators should be funded for the purpose of generating and testing ideas and allowing failures, rather than implementing successful ideas. It is recommended that seed funding should not be given to individuals as we have seen that, when such funding was removed, those applying to be accountapreneurs had motivation more suited to idea creation.

The learning experiences of innovators and their projects should be reported, creating feedback loops on success and failure, and enhancing innovative learning and potentials for upscaling. Such learning informs policy dialogue at government level and with international donors.