Innovation Goes a Long Way in Humanitarian Aid Efforts

Innovation Goes a Long Way in Humanitarian Aid Efforts

One of the best ways that technology puts a little good into the world is through the efforts of humanitarian aid groups, companies, and organizations that seek to use the latest innovations to make a big difference in the lives of others.

Innovation through humanitarian aid 1But often, when innovation happens, the technological possibilities might be amazing—but there are unexpected roadblocks along the way. And often, those roadblocks are internal processes.

In other words: it’s not enough to have a great idea or an amazing new product. The full spectrum of innovation—from idea to development to product, in addition to getting that product or service out the door and to its intended audience—needs full attention and dedication to make the goodness happen.

Alice Obrecht and Alexandra T. Warner note in their “More than just luck: Innovation in humanitarian action” report that one of the biggest problems facing innovative solutions and implementation in humanitarian fields is not necessarily the technology itself—but getting projects and solutions to scale quickly.

Amazing humanitarian solutions are developed, built, and even deployed throughout the world every day. In particular, providing food solutions in war-torn areas or refugee camps has become a major technological push for humanitarian efforts. Another big push aims to provide secure funds to families in need in refugee camps, such as UNHCR’s biometric cash system—it uses iris-scanning technology to verify and distribute donations to Syrian refugees in Jordan. That system alone has been around since 2012.

But one of the biggest issues facing continued advancement lies within organizations—in their internal processes for driving innovation among their teams of creatives, engineers, and developers. As it turns out, internal processes need as much innovation as the products and services themselves.

Innovation through humanitarian aid 2In her latest post for WAMDA, writer Tala El Issa explains how a bottom-up approach to innovation is changing things for a major humanitarian organization:

“One way UNICEF is trying to implement a bottom-up approach is through its innovation labs, which facilitate access on the part of youth to technical and social innovation training, and enable them to use the skills they acquire to solve their communities’ most pressing challenges.”


Teeb Assaf, an Innovation Program Officer at UNICEF, describes how a “bottom-up” approach at organizations helps to “create a system.” Such a process differs from a top-down model which becomes “a deductive method” that breaks down systems into component parts.

““A bottom-up approach pieces together elements to create a system,” explained Teeb Assaf, Innovation Program Officer at UNICEF. This differentiates it from the top-down approach, “a deductive method whereby the system is broken down into its components and then each component is analyzed.”


The efficacy of a bottom-up approach allows for a different model of innovation, in general. Rather than ideas coming from the top and trickling down through component processes, Innovation Labs—designed to foster new solutions through collaboration, teamwork, and group thinking—drive innovation in a new way. After all, as Obrecht and Warner conclude in their report, “humanitarian innovation is ultimately more than just luck: while successful innovation can be shaped by serendipitous events, there are clear choices organisations and teams can make in order to engage successfully in innovation processes that deliver improvements in humanitarian action.”

Does your organization have new innovation processes underway? Bringing in a strategic partner to help you navigate the ins and outs of innovation can make a world of difference. 2NDGEAR can help—check out our Managed Services page here.

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