Fernando Fischmann

Beyond the hype: how can 'innovation' make impact?

12 November, 2014 / Articles

Innovation, a buzzword beloved of middle managers and tech evangelists, is probably one of the most overused terms in development. And it’s hardly surprising. As traditional donors and agencies cede ground to the private sector it is inevitable that the old ways of working will have to change.

This is already happening. The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit has dedicated a whole conference strand to innovation, while in September donors at the UN general assembly pledged to set up a development innovation fund. Barely a day goes by without some new app or gadget being touted as the future of social entrepreneurship. And much of the media attention on Ebola has focused on the need for a miracle vaccine, instead of examining the vital yet unglamorous issue of medical infrastructure.

What’s been fascinating about putting together the AidEx 2014 exhibition is the range of opinions we’ve garnered from companies, UN agencies and NGOs about what innovation means to them and the communities they aim to help.

Luke Disney, who heads the North Star Alliance, a public-private partnership delivering healthcare services via mobile clinics, is cautious: “Too much of the time innovation is simply about looking for technical solutions, which seems to chime with the quick-fix age we live in now.”

Learning to fail is also important. This isn’t easy for risk-averse donors and agencies to accept, says Kim Scriven, of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund: “Part of the challenge is highlighting that it’s okay to fail when trying to improve aid delivery processes.”

So, based on these and other conversations here are a few thoughts from those who need to work together differently in future.




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