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Mindjet’s 12 Days of Innovation: 10 Shining Examples of Humanitarian Innovation in Action

Happy holidays, innovation enthusiasts, and welcome to Mindjet’s 12 Days of Innovation! This 2014 spotlight series features hand-picked resources, upcoming events, webcasts, thought leadership pieces, and more to give you an inspirational boost for the coming year. Enjoy!


On the 10th day of innovation, we’d like to share with you: these ten wonderful examples of humanitarian innovation in action.

1. The Liter of Light Project

From their website: “What do you get with sunshine and an old plastic bottle filled with water and chlorine? Thanks to Alfred Moser and a group of MIT students, you get a 55-watt solar bulb that refracts sunlight! It’s powerful enough to light up a home but more than that it’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and easy to make…The Liter of Light began in the Philippines with one bottle light. Eventually, the movement grew to brighten up 28,000 homes and the lives of 70,000 people in Metro Manila alone. Now Liter of Light is present in India, Indonesia, and even as far away as Switzerland.

MyShelter Foundation is relying on volunteers like you to spread the Liter of Light movement where it’s needed. Using the Philippines as our home base, we want one million bottle lights installed around the world by 2015.”

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2. CARE International’s People-Centered Early Warning System

From the summary: “The project addresses the need for sufficient lead time on warnings of rough sea events through satellite-based weather signals. This enables fishermen to make sound decisions for their journeys back to shore. The digital tracking of fishing vessels also allows for more efficient and precise rescue missions in the event of capsizing. This innovation helps to protect the lives and livelihoods of fishermen who are vulnerable to frequent and severe weather events at sea. By providing timely and reliable early warning information, loss of lives and damage to property, and thus the need for humanitarian response, is reduced. Community capacity in early warning and DRR is being strengthened through training and adoption of this system, thereby promoting a proactive rather than reactive approach to disaster.”

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3. The LifeStraw® Personal Water Filter

From the site: “The award-winning LifeStraw® personal water filter can travel with you anywhere. Weighing just 2 ounces and only 9 inches long, LifeStraw® is ideal for hiking, backpacking, camping, travel, and emergency preparedness. The straw-style filter design lets you turn up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water into safe drinking water, filtering out protozoa and bacteria.

For each LifeStraw® product you purchase, one school child in a developing country is provided [with] safe drinking water for an entire school year…Vestergaard and its distributor partners contribute part of the funds to distribute LifeStraw® Community institutional water purifiers to schools in developing countries. LifeStraw® Community is specifically designed to deliver safe drinking water to school children by removing waterborne pathogens and dirt commonly found in source water.”

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4. SMS Feedback and Accountability in Somalia

From the case study: “Capitalising on high levels of mobile phone usage in Somalia, DRC developed a system that allowed project beneficiaries to submit feedback by sending an SMS text, which was then logged, referred on and responded to.

The message and DRC’s response was then plotted to an online map, filtered by theme and location, using the Ushahidi platform (originally developed in Kenya in 2008 to map the spread of post-election violence). The project also sought to strengthen accountability more broadly by engaging local Somali communities and the diaspora in the work of DRC and other agencies, using social media channels. The DRC SMS project received funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) to develop and test the platform across Somalia, focusing on beneficiary experiences of a community driven reconstruction project in Somaliland.”

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5. Translators Without Border’s Words of Relief Crisis Response Network

From the summary: “[This program] is a global translation and localization initiative. Leveraging both human and technological resources, the project builds capacity to facilitate and improve communication among victims, field workers, and relief agencies during and after crises.

Following a crisis, one of the most immediate priorities for both relief workers and victims is disseminating and receiving information. However, language barriers on the ground frequently complicate response and recovery efforts. This gap became particularly apparent after the Haiti earthquake and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, when NGOs and frontline aid workers realized they were unprepared and unable to communicate in the primary languages of the affected populations…Innovation Factor: Social media, mobile communications, and digital technologies now enable real-time communication between victims, relief workers, and remote volunteers, dramatically increasing the flow of vital information in the wake of a crisis. Words of Relief aims to eliminate linguistic barriers that can impede vital response and relief efforts during and after a crisis.”

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6. Microjustice4All’s Legal Rehabilitation Methodology and Toolkit

From the summary: “Microjustice4All (MJ4ALL) is piloting a legal aid methodology and toolkit that provides fast and effective hands-on legal rehabilitation in post-emergency humanitarian crises to help victims solve their legal issues, (re)obtain their legal documents (e.g. ID and entitlements such as land titles), and fill out required documentation. This will help the victims to access reconstruction loans, aid relief, and to restore their livelihoods.

The innovation addresses the humanitarian challenge of providing victims in post-emergency situations effectively and efficiently with the legal rehabilitation aid they need, so that they can: (a) access emergency aid relief programmes and reconstruction loans, for which they need to present legal documents and/or fill out forms and other documents (for example for rebuilding their house), and (b) start rebuilding their livelihoods as soon as possible, without being limited by missing legal documents, such as identity and property papers.”

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7. Mobile Technology: Listening to the Voice of Haitians

From the case study: “In view of the Haitian population’s extensive engagement with mobile phones, the IFRC designed a system that used SMS to communicate brief health or disaster information and also alerted users to a free phone line offering access to more information via an IVR system. The free phone line allowed users to select automated voice recordings of information of interest to them through the keypad on their phone; they could then respond to surveys on IFRC programmes and operations and offer knowledge on particular subjects, again using the mobile phone keypad to select a response from the options provided. The Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) provided funding to enable an IVR hub to be built according to the needs of the IFRC and piloted in the context of the Haiti response.”

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8. Cambia’s Palliative Care: Making it Personal for a Return on Humanity

From the blog: “Health care is and should always be personal. It’s about the relationship between the doctors, patients and their families. Unfortunately, I think the health care industry has forgotten about the importance of this relationship. A transformation needs to happen to get us back on track — to once again, put the patient at the center.

Our Cause at Cambia is to serve as a catalyst to transform health care, creating a person focused and economically sustainable system. Palliative Care represents a microcosm of this type of transformation; its specialized medical care provided by an interdisciplinary team that offers an extra layer of support for people with serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for the patient and the family by understanding and respecting patient choices and personal definitions of quality. It’s a shift in approach that I’ve heard compared to the birthing movement transformation of the 1970’s.”

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9. Deloitte and STC: Scaling Humanitarian Response in Times of Crises

From the site: “Save the Children International is a leading global humanitarian response agency and the largest agency focusing specifically on the needs of children. In 2012, the organization responded to 77 humanitarian crises in some of the most challenging parts of the world.

[The] Deloitte UK project team worked collaboratively with a wide variety of stakeholders from across the Save the Children member organizations to understand the operational challenges to scale up and scale down and to develop a strategy that will assist SCI in delivering more efficient and effective operations. Deloitte UK also developed a decision-making framework based on the principles of good governance to define the structure, forums, roles and responsibilities for making strategic humanitarian response decisions.”

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10. The IKEA Foundation and UNHCR: A Safe Place to Call Home

From the site: “The IKEA Foundation believes that every child has a right to a safe place to call home, yet each year millions of children and their families have to flee their homes and seek shelter in another region or country due to war, persecution, poverty, drought, natural disasters or other factors. Many of these people find safety and shelter in special refugee camps run by UNHCR, or with the agency’s help.

The IKEA Foundation, philanthropic arm of the global home furnishings company, decided it wanted to do something to help. In 2010, the IKEA Foundation began to support UNHCR’s emergency response operations with in-kind donations. Building on this, in 2011 the IKEA Foundation committed to provide US$62 million over three years to UNHCR – the largest-ever corporate donation received by the refugee agency. The funding was to be used to provide shelter, care and education to people in refugee camps as well as vulnerable members of the surrounding host communities in Ethiopia, Sudan and Bangladesh.”

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