Event on Humanitarian innovation in East Africa Concept note

Preliminary remarks on challenges facing humanitarian innovation


If effective innovative products or processes are developed by international aid organizations, support from the aid organization for innovation developed by the persons affected by a humanitarian crisis – refugees, local NGOs, host communities etc. – is less frequent, whereas they may be “those with perhaps the most groundbreaking ideas for how assistance is provided, and sufficient knowledge of contexts to understand what will work”.

“As a whole, humanitarians are not yet fully exploiting the potential for collaborative innovation, whether this involves the organizations currently involved in humanitarian response, or reaches beyond to include new ideas and actors from outside the sector. In a variety of other fragmented sectors facing limited R&D budgets, innovations intermediaries have emerged or been developed to broker such relationships, thereby strengthening the innovative potential of a sector as a whole.”

 Objective of the event

  • Promote collaborative innovation between humanitarian actors / academic world / private sector to develop further products/processes that effectively address the following humanitarian problems facing people affected by armed conflicts:

–        access to water and health care,

–        prevention sexual violence,

–        Reestablishment of family links between relatives separated.

Makerere University and ICRC

Makerere University that has the ambition to be “the leading institution for academic excellence and innovations in Africa.”, offers a conducive environment for the event.

Co-organizers of the event are the:

–        School of Public Health – ResilientAfrica Network,

–        College of Computing and Information Sciences,

Other departments and colleges have contributed to this event, notably the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the lead humanitarian organization to provide assistance and protection to people affected by situations of armed conflicts, is interested to promote need based innovations that can improve the lives of people affected by armed conflicts (not innovation for innovation’s sake).


08:45 – 09:00 Opening remarks

Zoran Jovanovic, ICRC Head of Delegation

09:00-10:30      Panel discussion: How innovations can contribute to make a difference for people affected by armed conflict on: access to health care and safe water, prevention of sexual violence and reestablishment of family links?

The moderator will facilitate the discussion between 2 humanitarian actors and 4-5 innovation specialists on:

–        Why access to health care/safe water, prevention of sexual violence and reestablishment of family links are acute humanitarian problems for people affected by armed conflict?

–        How the innovations showcased can address these humanitarian challenges?

–        What are the ingredients for a successful innovation and more specifically for a successful humanitarian innovation, that impact people lives? 

10:30-11:15    Questions and answers with the audience

11:15-14:00    Exhibition on Humanitarian Innovations in East Africa

About 20 young “innovators” selected – by Lecturers of Makerere University and ICRC – will be given a space to present their projects that are either already implemented / operationalized or at prototype stage. Each project has been identified to be of high potential for contributing to address either one or more of the following humanitarian problems faced by people affected by armed conflict:

  • Access to health care and safe water,
  • Prevention of sexual violence / care for victims,
  • Reestablishing family links.

14:00-14:15   Closing remarks

RAN Chief of party (tbc)

14:15-15:00    Cocktail


International and national humanitarian actors.

Outstanding innovators.

Academic circles.

Social responsibility managers of private firms.

Diplomatic community.

International media.

Tools for engagement between humanitarians and innovators

  • Short video (10 min) of the event, to be posted on the respective online platforms of the co-organizers (School of Public Health – RAN, CoCIS, ICRC).
  • Catalogue of the innovative projects presented during the exhibition (pdf and/or paper copy) given to the humanitarian actors and other interested guests attending the event and widely shared within the humanitarian community.
  • One short survey Monkey survey two months after the event with the innovators that presented their projects to assess the results – as any collaboration started? – and one survey for the VIPs guest (what has interested you in the exhibition? What were the challenges met if no collaboration has started?).


Background on ICRC and innovation


Our goal is to improve our service to beneficiaries, and we have identified three main themes.

One of theme is access: we’re facing more and more situations where we don’t have access because of a lack of security and a lack of agreement with multiple parties to a conflict. So we have got to find ways in which we can work more closely with beneficiaries. This is one of the objectives of the Institutional Strategy 2015-2018. The second theme is about connection: today everybody is using social media in one form or another to speak to their own constituencies. For example in the Philippines, where there is a huge diaspora, when people are in humanitarian need they contact and seek support from their friends and relatives far away. We, as a traditional provider of humanitarian response, are somehow not part of that conversation at all. We need to connect with what people are doing, understand those needs and respond accordingly. The third challenge is about enabling: what frugal, low-resource technologies or approaches could enable people to satisfy their own protection and assistance needs? Rather than us always providing, why not innovate and distribute technologies that people can use? A simple example would be to give people solar powered phone chargers when there’s no electricity.”

“The nature of how wars are waged has changed; the expectations and needs of those affected by conflict are very different, the acceptance of the ICRC has changed quite radically. While the ICRC is innovative in an ad hoc way, the pace of change in its working environment requires a much more focussed and integrated approach to innovation. If the ICRC is to remain relevant and effective it must innovate.”

“In an organization working in so many diverse contexts, innovation can take us in many directions. In order to ensure that there is a concerted rather than dispersed effort; innovation will be directed towards support the realization of ICRCs institutional goals as articulated in the institutional strategy for 2015/8

There is a vast scope for innovation within the strategic priorities agreed for the institution. In the case of protection for example, there is potential for innovation through the use of new technologies (e.g. in PPCie) , working in new partnerships, empowering those affected to play a more active role in their own protection and assistance, understanding the changing priorities and diversity of people’s needs even in traditional areas of our action (e.g. prisons)  In all these areas an innovative approach can help explore and discover more relevant and effective ways to assist and protect those affected.”

“[ICRC] supported by innovation Supported by recent innovations, it connects more effectively with the beneficiaries of its programmes, integrating them into the assessment of their needs and the formulation of a relevant response, including through the use of new information and communication technologies.”

“It aims to distinguish itself by the collaborative and innovative nature of its work at field level as well as within legal and policy circles.”

At the same time, we are encouraged in our Strategy to “invest in in relationships with world religious and social leaders, approach business leaders and philanthropists, particularly in the Global South, and engage with global academic and policy hubs to mobilize their efforts in support of humanitarian action.”


“One of the thoughts that came out very strongly is that we need to innovate and adapt to this new world, based on the needs.  To do this successfully, we need to collaborate with the corporate sector, academia, the Movement and other partners much more than we’re doing right now.

A phrase that came up several times at the event was, “Nobody can do it alone.” Today we need more friends and more partners than we did in the past, while at the same time respecting our Fundamental Principles and NIIHA approach.”[9]