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Innovating Aid

By Neha Bhat | November 18, 2013

Nicholas Rutherford: Sustainability is driving improvement in procurement as NGOs turn to long-term development programs.

Humanitarian aid and development assistance have gone through drastic changes over the years. Natural disasters and drawn-out conflicts have put pressure on aid delivery systems, and the global economic crisis has squeezed budgets in donor countries, forcing their aid agencies to make tough choices—like battlefield medics triaging the wounded.

Even the Syria Appeal of the UN High Commission for Refugees has been only partially funded since its launch, despite the millions now displaced. Meanwhile, post-earthquake Haiti remains the "poster child" of failure and neglect—billions of dollars in aid expenditure reflect few concrete results except persistent cholera imported by peacekeepers.

There are also ethical concerns over wasteful and fraudulent use of monies earmarked for development assistance. These factors—persistent trouble spots, shrinking budgets, and calls for accountability—have prompted a search for new, more efficient solutions.

Interest and research in humanitarian innovation has grown in recent years, often with the support of private corporations and foundations such as Microsoft, IKEA, and UPS. In 2012, the Humanitarian Innovation Project was launched at the University of Oxford—with a particular focus on refugee livelihoods and market-based solutions to foster refugee entrepreneurship.

In March 2013, Policy Innovations interviewed the new UNHCR Innovation unit on its approach to cultivating innovation in the refugee context. That conversation was the genesis of this interview series on innovations and innovators in humanitarian and development aid, especially those based in the Global South.

We hope that these discussions will facilitate the spread and growth of good ideas and institutions.

—Neha Bhat


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