Syrian Spectacles: Start of the Search for Scalable Socioeconomic Solutions

UNDP Syria
8 min readDec 30, 2020


“This is not that kind of Syrian story… this is about the kinds of stories flowing in Syrian streets” — Local AccLab Syria

Why? Why is it that in the midst of the worst economic crisis, you still find Syrians sharing their daily sustenance with those in need? Why is it that despite the conflict, you still find Syrians from all around Syria forming close bonds? Why is it that even after years of being under immense pressures, Syria’s social solidarity has remained resilient?

It is not because Syrians do not realize the current poverty they live in… they do… especially compared to the middle-class standards of life many used to enjoy. It is also not because Syrians do not live with the pain, they have been put through… they do… it has become ingrained in every moment in every household across Syria. Most important of all, it is not because Syrians do not recognize the need and importance of socioeconomic recovery and development… they do… and there are hundreds of social and economic solutions in need of room to grow.

This blog is not about Syria’s challenges… it is about a search for Syria’s solutions. Specifically, ways that Syrians have devised to overcome all the negative circumstances that surround them. A historic view of Syrian and their culture shows that they can return to prosperity once more due to the resilience built in our communities. Also, it might be much sooner than expected. Before proceeding with our blog, we find that a definition of the title is necessary 1:

Syrian (adj.): Belonging to the history, culture and country of Syria and all its native and diverse inhabitants.

Spectacle (n.): Something that is especially remarkable or impressive in nature when viewed through a different lens.

Search (v.): To conduct a comprehensive and careful inquiry in an effort to [Re]discover something concealed.

Scalable (adj.): Inherent growth capabilities that are activated when work and resources are allowed to be added to the system.

Socioeconomic (adj.): Emergent properties resulting from the combination and interaction of social and economic factors.

Solution (n.): The method and means needed to deal with a specific problem that results in an answer that can be explained and applied.

To start off, our team doesn’t claim to have solutions for all the challenges facing Syria… but we do know who does… Syrians…. Yes Syrians. Don’t be too surprised because what you will be reading from our future blog posts will show how a lack of reflection has led one of the world’s greatest spectacles of resilience being overshadowed. Unfortunately, this shadow has been hindering the scaling of many socioeconomic solutions but perhaps we can do something to change this negative cycle.

So who are we? We are a team of 3 Syrians… grateful for the opportunity to be local catalysts… energized by the energy of our youth, wisdom of our elders and good of our people… excited to lead the roles we have been assigned in the Local Accelerator Lab in Syria.

The Accelerator Lab in Syria is one of the newest additions to an existing network of over 90 labs around the world focusing on advancing learning on the world’s development problems and accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We do this by formulating 100-day challenges that highlight and address local Syrian solutions.

Given the unique and urgent situation, our team will focus the entirety of 2021 on challenges with a socioeconomic theme at local level. We hope that our international supporters share their constructive experiences and goodwill. We hope that our Syrian supporters take an active role with us in our different functions.

Grassroots Ready to Grow

“Solutions coming from people are the ones worth the attention” — Head of Solution Mapping | Local AccLab | Syria

Just like any new role in your career, the first three months are the hardest. My biggest question when starting my role was: how am I going to apply the tools and concepts I learned during the accelerator lab bootcamp to the Syrian context? However, I quickly realized that I am not alone; I am part of a huge learning network. There are 92 other labs and more on the way, some with similarities and some stories just like ours. All of them willing to share their experience!

When the time came to formulate our first challenge we were faced with many issues. One of these issues is external which is related to the transition period Syria is currently going through; towards a post-conflict context, where a new set of recovery needs are emerging. Although it came with its own challenges, we decided that our challenge would focus on helping us understand where the accelerator lab fits in the local development scene in Syria. Especially since there is a lot more happening in Syria than the world can see… truly some amazing grassroots ready at the opportunity to grow into sustainable forests. This is especially important given the unique socioeconomic challenges facing our country.

My role will be focused on identifying and mapping the stakeholders, potential partners, and enablers of the accelerator lab. I will also be working with the team to select the solutions and local initiatives that have had a positive impact and the potentials of becoming the connections that shape our next challenge. Most importantly, I will try to understand the current humanitarian and recovery scene in Syria through conducting field research and meeting with communities from different parts of the country.

Some of you are already growing into NGO’s across Syria. However, I am sure that there is more to story and there is a lot of good grassroots work still to be discovered. My plan is to create a network of mappers from all around Syria who will help us identify local and grassroots solutions in order to ensure that my work is truly representative of the diversity and ingenuity across the country. Read more about it in my next blog post!

Figure 1: New NGOs Registered in Second Third of 2020 per Area
Figure 2: New NGOs Registered in Second Third of 2020 per Focus

Signals Calling for Support

“Sticking to the norms might hinder your ability to advance so don’t be afraid of exploring the unusual since it contains unforeseen prospects” — Head of Exploration | Local AccLab | Syria

As head of exploration, you are trying to discover the trends and uncover their direct & indirect implications. You’re considering the risks & potentials of these trends. All whilst performing mental calculations on how they can be used to handle & address the challenges that are considered a priority in Syria. We operate in a very complex environment. The issues we are trying to tackle are too complicated without available solutions. Our learning journey will start, and hopefully bigger challenges will motivate our innovation. Although the challenge we selected opened a chaotic can of worms, acting as an external observer reveals there is some logic in even the most irrational of trends.

My plan is to create a centralized platform where Syrians can contribute data and collectively analyze trends to ensure that we do not miss any unforeseen scenarios that may lead to a more sustainable Syria. One specific realization that helped me foresee some weak signals that could indicate a surprise recovery is the sheer resilience of the Syrian socioeconomic system. The bond is so strong between society and the economy that it’s almost impossible to separate the two macro systems. Perhaps this was part of the secret sauce all along. Yet, my focus will be on the weakest of signals calling for support. Initiatives across Syria that need to merge their weak signals into a collective wave.

A specific tool which highlights this in data and trends comes from the Atlas of Economic complexity. This tool shows the export and import of Syria both in terms of products and partners. A close observation reveals some of the picture… but it will only be in our next blog that you receive my full explorative analysis.

Figure 3: Syrian Exports 1998–2018 Categories [20 Year Analysis]
Figure 4: 2018 Syrian Exports Products

Designing Initiatives for Diversity

“I started by experimenting (v) how to experiment (v) only to realize that the best experiment (n) is experimentation (n)” — Head of Experimentation | Local AccLab | Syria

Before I start, I cannot help but take a moment to recognize and praise every bottle used as a storage container… every destroyed vehicle turned into a lively shop… every plastic bag turned fly trap… every chair that has had corrective surgery done on it… every shop turned solar delivery hub and most important of all, every experiment that has tried something different, no matter how small, to overcome the cloud of demotivation, mistrust and anger that has affected Syria and its socioeconomic situation. Your experiments speak louder than any quote, document, or picture ever could.

Your hands tell other stories alongside those above… I know… which is why I can only ask 1 thing in my capacity as head of experimentation. Share both the good and the bad. Your experiences are valuable experiments that can help shape the future we strive towards. In my role, I promise to develop portfolios of the amazing projects being worked on across the country. I hope to journey alongside you as you experiment, to help you test, improve and verify your ideas through templates and systems that will become at your service.

Given I know some of you have heard of the Accelerator Lab even before we have introduced it and you are as excited as we are about the launch of the Accelerator Lab in Syria; I have been working on something that I trust everyone can contribute to that allows us to create a unified methodology that uses the Accelerate Lab model to design initiatives for diversity…. Because not only do we have diverse challenges in Syria, we come from diverse backgrounds with diverse ideas, personalities, resources, beauty and strengths. These development challenges need micro-teams representing the roles of the Accelerator Lab that can act quickly and self-organize in the ways visualized below to tackle everything from simple to chaotic problems. Each in roughly 100 days (3 months) so we can speed up our learning and development cycle as a country.

Figure 5: Design Methodology for Organizing Chaotic Cans of Worms in a Manner that Exemplifies the Philosophy of Diversity in under 100 Days (DMOCCWMEPD100) [Otherwise Known as Pending Name]

Stay tuned for information about our launch event!