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With a fifth of the world’s population currently living in fragile situations, a renewed sense of urgency permeated the halls of the Istanbul Congress Center, which recently hosted the world’s first World Humanitarian Summit.
Convened by the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the WHS was a direct response to the many humanitarian crises that continue to affect large portions of the world’s population because of conflicts and disasters. The WHS gathered participants from diverse sectors to rally around five core principles: Prevent and End Conflict, Respect Rules of War, Invest in Humanity, Leave No One Behind and Work Differently To End Need.
Given the “Work Differently” principle it was no surprise that the word “innovation” was one of the most commonly overheard at WHS. Innovation has almost fallen out of grace in corporate buzzword circles, but it’s still imperative when talking about how the humanitarian community should explore novel ways of delivering aid or boosting the preparedness and resilience of at-risk communities. In the last decade organizations such as UNICEF, UNOCHA, The Red Cross, UNHCR and WFP have been building innovation units, often adopting or adapting approaches and methods from the corporate world. In many cases, these approaches and methods speak directly to the importance of understanding people’s needs and aspirations better, and are thus often rooted in Human-Centered Design. frog has been working with many of these organizations, and it was a pleasure to see our past and current partners continue to evolve their thinking and solutions.
We were excited to participate at the first WHS. frog’s Principal Strategy Director Richard Tyson moderated a session on “The Future of Humanitarian Data- Opportunities and Challenges” and the panel resulted in a lively conversation around opportunities and risks generated by the use of data in a crisis scenario. UNOCHA’s evolving Humanitarian Data Exchange, a frog portfolio project, continues to represent a shining example of the promise that big data holds to improve decision-making and increase efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian interventions. UNOCHA also announced the launch of a new global humanitarian data center in Holland, which will shape new data-driven solutions aimed at addressing emergencies.
The need for simplicity and innovation was also the dominant theme for the session on “People at the Centre: How does this work in practice?”, which was organized by the Kenya Red Cross. Participants discussed and brainstormed approaches rooted in involving communities in shaping solutions to their own problems. For example, a joint UNHCR, Mercy Corps, and Google team presented Translation Cards, a solution aimed at improving communication between aid workers and migrants. This endeavor stood out not just because of its user-centric approach, but also because it embraced a “radical collaboration” model, using agile development and iterative evolution over more traditional approaches. Translation Cards was also selected for the “Top 5 WHS Innovations” session organized by the Red Cross with support from Cisco, UNICEF, and frog.
Accelerating the speed of change to transform humanitarian aid in the face of growing need is a goal where increased involvement from the business community promises to make a sizable difference. The Sustainable Development Goals have strongly encouraged the alignment of business and humanitarian intent, and WHS illustrated that these sectors are increasingly sharing a vision for the future that marries social and business value creation. It is very exciting to see this state of things also reflected in the newly-formed Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, which intends to foster a dialogue between different sectors and actors, encouraging knowledge sharing and fostering collaboration.
Many humanitarian challenges appear or feel insurmountable, but every journey starts with one step. The World Humanitarian Summit helped take that first step forward by prioritizing working together and embracing the complexity of these big problems. We can hope to one day live in a world where the needs of all human beings will be accounted for, and there’s ample space for design and designers to play an active role in helping to shape the transformative efforts that will hopefully get us there.
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Photo credits: Minu Limbu/Unicef Kenya
Fabio is the global lead of frog's Social Impact practice, bringing human-centered innovation to collaborations with organizations such as UNICEF and the World Economic Forum.