Starting up in the Humanitarian Sector: Case: HumanSurge

Starting up in the Humanitarian Sector: Case: HumanSurge

Event – May 15th, 2018

To inspire and inform our network, DCHI organized a Third Thursday Meet-Up together with our partner start-up HumanSurge. During this event participants were told the story of HumanSurge, a start-up in the humanitarian sector and then were asked to brainstorm with HumanSurge to help scale the solution to the next phase.
Loek Peeters (founder of HumanSurge), presented the trajectory of the last two years in a nutshell. Growing from zero, to a platform with more than ten twelve thousand registered users, which so far has enabled many people to find a job in the humanitarian sector and has provided aid organisations with a good insight into available talent for both long and short term missions. Through this he has enabled NGOs to scale-up operations in emergencies such as the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh.

In his presentation he highlighted his journey from an idea born out of his own frustration; in working in incomplete teams, or having nobody coming to replace someone (asking the aid worker to stay, while a break would be recommended). The sector seemed stuck in a perceived scarcity of aid workers, while he argues it is more of a disconnectexperiencing the disconnect between finding available aid workers around the world and the ad-hoc job postingswork and the perceived scarcity of aid workers in organisations. He explained how between jobs he began to read about the start-up methodology and applied that to his own platform.

In the past three years Loek has been to Silicon Valley twice and has won multiple start-up challenges across Europe. Loek found a CTO while he was searching for programmers tofor develop his first prototype. After describing the challenges: who is the product for? Who is prepared to pay? And how he overcame them: finding believers, starting small, trying things and being prepared to learn about “vitamins” (nice to have) and “asperinsaspirins” (need to have). Growing gradually, introducing a free module for local NGOs, and now providing access to 200+ recruiters. They moved from solving only the ´candidate search´ component of the recruitment process to gradually expanding into the ´candidate screening´ component.

Loek ended describing the current phase, a platform with more than 15 paying customers and both sides using the platform. Next he wants to focus on the scalability of recommendations required to hire someone: A peer-2-peer verification of work experiences.
The question put to the group was “Can we imagine a platform on which national and international aid workers verify each others´work experiences?¨

Many ideas came out of the brainstorm ranging from suggestions to who should do the verification, on what features someone should be validated, such as line / field experience, intergrityand the integrity of it all. The question whether a validation is for due diligence or to really get to know someone better was also put to the group. Loek learnt that it really differs per person and organization.

Loek was pleased with all the input and is now defining next steps, which are to prepare a paper prototype and map the different suggestions to then validate these with experts in HR and humanitarian field again.
Good work in progress!

– Getting your solution to potential clients, including humanitarian organisations.
– Scale is too dependent on temporary funding or funding from one source.
– Wanting to scale too fast.
– Lack of investment / working capital / cash flow.

Lessons learned:
– Choose a scaling model that fits your organization (social enterprise, hybrid, centralized or decentralized, franchise etc).
– Be clear: what is your core offer. Stay focused on that. Kill your darlings if needed.
– Know your customer and their needs. Strong data-collection can help you with that.
– Connect to competitors or parties that deliver part of the solution that you work on.
– Work with a diverse team with diverse skills, including expertise regarding the way larger organizations are run.

– Offer a solution with an integrated approach to problems.
– Structure your organizational process.
– Use mixed revenue models.
– Develop a payment model that fits the client.

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