Humanitarian Innovators Network – July 12th, 2019
Collaboration is one of the most fundamental aspects to Humanitarian Innovation, and something that DCHI, as a coalition, intrinsically advocates for. DCHI, therefore, facilitated a breakout session on collaboration at our recent Humanitarian Innovation Exchange, co-organised with Elrha and Centre for Innovation.
Collaboration is a known buzzword in the humanitarian innovation sector; organisations and advocates can run the risk of promoting collaboration for the sake of it, rather than truly knowing how to realise a meaningful impact. The discussion held in the workshop focused strongly on the need for collaboration, through questioning how many innovations truly come from within an organisation, or whether most rely on existing information and ideas outside their own organisations and sector. The DCHI Team Lead and workshop lead, Guido Jilderda stated: “You need relations, a network. Innovation is not just one thing, but what the network is doing together by listening and collecting together… I don’t think we can make impact, unless we collaborate. This is connected to an ambition to scale better. We tend to talk about innovation as being the end-goal, but it is always a response to a problem. The problems are too complex to solve by ourselves.”
The chosen case study to explore best practice in collaboration was the 121 project, by Dorcas and The Netherlands Red Cross, which offers smart cash solutions for a variety of problems. The project aims to tackle issues such as protection challenges within data privacy, unidentified people being excluded from cash services, and inefficiencies in data sharing among humanitarian organisations. This project is being developed through establishing a strong collaborative model within the field; thanks to their use of human centred design, the beneficiaries have a strong role in supporting new ideas, through offering vital context and relaying their actual needs. This case study highlights a strong case for successful and impactful collaboration within the sector, that truly tackles a distinct problem at hand.
A specific aspect that was discussed within the group discussions, concerned the issue of either mismatched goals or complementarity, when looking to collaborate outside the sector, or even between the field and Headquarter level. In the case of the 121 solution, this is not being developed in a way that is dependent on the corporate sector, as there were concerns over a mismatch in sectoral principles. In all three groups, this issue arose in varying ways with concerns over: sharing knowledge and the subsequent loss of power, with a recognition that there are few formal frameworks for sharing information; headquarter collaboration that can lead to artificial constructs of the reality in the field; and the difference in the size of organisations wishing to collaborate which can lead to a higher risk of cultural differences at the various levels, (un)equal partnerships and difference in risk averseness.
Guido acknowledged that “Collaboration is difficult; you have to be vulnerable and disciplined at the same time”. Participant in the workshop and Chair of the DRA Innovation Working Group, Martine Bergwerff reflected on the open nature of the discussion: “It was really useful to have the possibility to discuss openly and honestly how we see the need to collaborate as humanitarian innovators, but also how we feel about the challenges and barriers to really do this in an effective and impactful way”.
Overall, the workshop offered participants the chance to be a part of an open conversation around the many opportunities that successful collaboration can offer in excelling humanitarian innovation. It was also a chance to openly acknowledge the barriers that still play a significant role in deterring collaboration, namely the mismatched principles, cultures and goals across different organisations and sectors. Whilst remaining seemingly taboo, there was the overarching recognition that the Humanitarian Sector is competitive in its own way, but that this is often a challenge to acknowledge. Nevertheless, Martine stated that this only indicated that “there is still a lot to learn and gain from each other, that is for sure – but having the mindset [to collaborate] is already a great step forward”.
Sincere thanks to Anton van Wijk and Lars Stevens for presenting their 121 project; they offered inspirational insights into successful collaboration in action, and motivated an energizing discussion on what we should all strive towards to only improve the impact of future collaborations in the humanitarian sector.