The Solutions Lab

Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure

Sustainable infrastructure is globally recognized as key to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement. Over the last years, more and more strategies, policies and tools have been developed to unleash this potential for sustainable development. Yet, public and private sector still struggle to put in place infrastructure that meets the four principles of sustainability: economic and financial, environmental, social and institutional. To analyze what hinders broad uptake of existing sustainable infrastructure solutions, to identify approaches that work, and to devise context-sensitive strategies for their scaling, the Global Solutions Initiative (GSI) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH are launching The Solutions Lab “Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure”.

Inadequate transportation and energy networks, a lack of basic sanitation facilities and insufficient communication infrastructure still affect the well-being of billions of people. To close this gap, and thus to lay the very foundation on which societies can build the prospects of a more prosperous and inclusive future, additional investments of $15 trillion must must be mobilized until 2040, according to G20‘s Global Infrastructure Hub.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that infrastructure can also incur negative effects on people and planet, including through involuntary resettlements or climate change. In both positive ways and negative, infrastructure touches upon all dimensions of sustainability: economic, institutional, social and environmental. Therefore, the G20‘s Osaka Declaration underlines that while “infrastructure is a driver of economic growth”, what is needed is not simply ‘more infrastructure’ but ‘more and quality infrastructure’.

As evidenced by the G20 Osaka Leaders‘ Declaration, sustainable infrastructure development is recognized by policy makers as key to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement. To this end, more and more sustainability tools, policies and strategies have been developed. Yet, public and private sector still struggle to put in place infrastructure that serves the overarching goal of a recoupling of economic and social progress within our planetary boundaries. To change this, the Lab will address two challenges in particular: First, sustainability considerations need to be systematically integrated at every step in the planning of infrastructures. Second, the benefits of sustainable infrastructure need to be quantified to strengthen the business case for sustainability.

To address these challenges, the Global Solutions Initiative (GSI) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH are launching The Solutions Lab “Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure”. The 8-month process brings together app. 25 experts from academia, policy, finance and infrastructure development to overcome implementation challenges and upscale sustainable infrastructure solutions.



The Global Leadership Academy called for interested members of the GLAC Community from the three Community pillars – GLAC Leadership and Innovation Labs, Global Diplomacy Labs and the Transformation Thinkers Network – who have developed change ideas or initiatives individually or in teams within or outside of the Global Leadership Academy’s Leadership and Innovation Labs.



Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Spain, Zimbabwe

The process

The Solutions Lab consists of three face-to-face meetings as well as a virtual dialogue process along the way. The 2020 Global Solutions Summit in Berlin will be an additional mile-stone which allows a delegation (tbd) to present the Lab process and interim result to a high-rank policy audience. In addition, there will be space and potential funding throughout the Lab process to organize (1) sounding boards which serve to test ideas amongst a specific target group and (2) outreach events which will help to advocate for Lab results and ideas. The Solutions Lab will run from November 2019 until summer 2020. Yet, implementation is expected to continue organically beyond the last Lab meeting in Milan.


The Solutions Lab promotes dialogue and mutual learning amongst a diverse set of stakeholders from the sustainable infrastructure ecosystem: The program stimulates the exchange of experiences across regional and professional boundaries (peer learning). This allows participants to thoroughly understand and appreciate the perspectives of a diverse set of players including the private, public and financial sectors as well as academia – a key prerequisite to create and scale innovative solutions for sustainable infrastructure. The process aims to develop viable networks which can be drawn on even after the official Lab process has come to an end.

Inspiring participants to take action: To move from dialogue to action participants will, in a first step, collectively analyze what has been hampering the scaling of sustainable infrastructure solutions to date. Here, the goal is to identify specific target areas where changes and innovation are needed. In a second step, the process will enable participants to develop concrete steps and recommendations to overcome these obstacles. The process will be accompanied by experienced change facilitators – but ownership ultimately rests with the participants.

Equips participants to take leadership as change agents: Finally, The Solutions Lab will inspire participants to take leadership and support them in their role as change agents.

Expected Outcomes

Implementation Strategies: How can sustainability solutions be scaled across work streams of public and private sector infrastructure development?

Tools and Approaches: How to adjust existing sustainability solutions to overcome the implementation gap?

Policy Briefs: What policies are needed to allow for a global uptake of innovative sustainability solutions?


In today’s world, economic, social and environmental issues are strongly interrelated. No matter the topic, an increasing number of actors is involved, cause and effect can be far away in space or time. Yet, most of our approaches are still developed and implemented in sectoral and organisational silos: the way we respond to our challenges no longer matches the complexity and dynamics of our most pressing challenges.

With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community recognized the strong interlinkages between all dimensions of sustainability and called for a holistic approach to global development. The SDGs represent a global realisation that the current situation is unacceptable, it cannot be transformed unilaterally or immediately, and there is a need for spaces that allow for a collective search for new approaches. The Solutions Lab creates such a space on the basis of the “Social Lab approach”.

A Social Lab is systemic and participatory. Where leaders and change agents have diverse perspectives on how to address their shared area of concern and no single actor has the solution, it fosters collaboration across organisations, sectors and often national borders. This helps create the necessary commitment of different stakeholders to work together towards common goals in the long run.

Rather than a linear and reactive approach (conventional planning, development and strategic responses have proven inadequate), addressing such complexity as outlined above requires an approach that is emergent and responsive to the changing nature of the challenge being addressed. The Lab thus provides a space for a purposeful detour that enables the group of participants to explore and uncover the existing reality, to co-create new ideas and to scale innovative solutions.

The Approach

GSI and GIZ are driven by a shared vision of a more sustainable and livable future for all. On the basis of their complementary skillset and networks, both partners decided to develop a new Lab format, The Solutions Lab. GSI provides participants with close access to G20 work streams and a chance to present the solutions developed throughout The Solutions Lab at the 2020 Global Solutions Summit. 

GIZ’s vast global network, in turn, provides ample implementation experience and an opportunity to scale up innovative solutions across more than 120 countries worldwide. Building on the know-how and the expertise of GIZ’s Working Group on Sustainable Infrastructure, content and key challenges for the Lab have been identified. The Global Leadership Academy of GIZ designs and facilitates the process, based on its years of experience in international dialogue processes.

In particular the Lab aims at:

Promoting dialogue and mutual learning amongst key stakeholders.

The program will stimulate dialogue and an exchange of experiences, both within and across regional and professional boundaries. This will allow participants to learn from the experience of others (i.e. peer learning) and to thoroughly understand the perspectives of all players – a prerequisite not only for creating but also for scaling sustainable innovation. The process aims to develop sustainable networks which can be drawn on even after the Lab process has come to an end.

Inspiring participants to take action. 

In a first step, participants will collectively analyse what restrains the scaling of sustainable infrastructure solutions in order to identify specific target areas where change and innovation are needed. In a second step, the process will enable participants to develop concrete steps and recommendations to overcome these obstacles. The process will be accompanied by experienced
change facilitators – but ownership ultimately rests with the participants.

Equipping participants to take leadership as change agents.

The knowledge gained and skill sets developed throughout the Lab will help participants to identify the preconditions that are necessary to scale up sustainable infrastructure solutions: by raising understanding of successful tools/approaches and by clarifying and overcoming existing barriers
to implementation.

Our Partners

We implement all our programmes in cooperation with our internationally renowned partners with whom we share our passion for dialogue and change and our commitment to high quality standards.

The Convening Partners

Global Solutions Initiative