Building Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Spaces

Fostering ideas to full scale implementation is on many people’s minds in the Humanitarian Technology space. Yet, true sustainability and effectiveness can only happen with local knowledge, culture and partners. There is a convergence happening in the humanitarian space as technologists, humanitarians, businesses and governments are seeking better long-term ways to move past ‘little projects’ to healthier local engagement. The occasional marriage of entrepreneurs and humanitarian organizations is growing. We’ve seen the power of communities like Kathmandu Living Labs, Yellow House and global digital communities. How can we keep fostering these types of communal ideation spaces? Well, UNOCHA’s intern Kate Whipkey and Andrej Verity just published a report on: Establishing a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Space. It was my pleasure to provide input into this important research.

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” The Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Incubator (HEI) would be a partnership between humanitarian organisations and humanitarian entrepreneurs. Organisations host entrepreneurs within their office and provide resources and insight to them as they develop and implement an innovative product or service related to humanitarian response. This departs from a traditional incubator as a stand-alone entity and instead enables deeper collaboration between humanitarian entrepre-neurs and organisation staff.”

How will your organizational incorporate these learnings? Are you considering opening a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Incubators (HEI)? We really need to convene all these actors mentioned in the research. What if a room of ‘doers’ or online forum could build out programmes to support civil society and NGOs? Would the technical companies support this? Could it be part of their CSR programmes or, better yet, have companies encourage employee sabbaticals to contribute as advisors and supporters for the local entrepreneurs? How can accelerators, incubators, labs, hubs and research institutes play a part?

In the conclusion of report: “As humanitarians worldwide engage in dialogue about changes to the humanitarian system, there is an opportunity to transform the way in which organisations respond, by adopting innovative practices that foster collaboration and ultimately contribute to building capacity. The growth of innovation spaces could signal a positive change that communities, entrepreneurs, and organisa-tions are teaming up to make humanitarian response even better.”

What does implementation look like?

With great interest, I read the UN Secretary General’s report for the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. The research from this intensive consultation process indicates the need for strong ideas with funding legs to support the change from parachute technology to really locally driven service design. As the HEI report highlights, there are already many groups leading the charge. But it is my hope that we can foster more of this with local entrepreneurs supporting the needs of their communities. Plus, imagine the possibilities of ideas created in Kampala not only helping people in their city but also helping people in Phnom Penh.

From the Secretary General’s report:

“109. To this end, we need to embrace the opportunities of the 21st century. Capacities to prevent and respond to crises are now diverse and widespread. Community-level capacity in many crisis and risk-prone environments has increased. Technology and communications have given more people the means to articulate their needs or offer their assistance more quickly. Yet, international assistance too often still works in traditional ways: focused on delivery of individual projects rather than bringing together expertise to deliver more strategic outcomes. We operate in silos created by mandates and financial structures rather than towards collective outcomes by leveraging comparative advantage.”

The pieces are falling into place. Now, how can we implement changes and support the changes already in progress?

Honoured to have contributed to Establishing a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Space incorporating on lessons and observations from RHOK, various social entrepreneurship zones plus being in an Accelerator programme with Qatar Computing Research Institute and Qatar Science & Technology Park.

[Image from the Noun Project (Look and Feel)]

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One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing, Heather! Your contributions were instrumental to the report – thank you. I think you’re right that the pieces are all falling into place and now it’s up to the collective community to take action.

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