Blog: What do you get when you cross a doctor and an impact investor?
A reviewer’s perspective on the Humanitarian Grand Challenge

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By Kirsten Gelsdorf
Professor of Practice and the Director of Global Humanitarian Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, at the University of Virginia.

09 October 2018. 

What happens when you have a Burmese doctor, a former head of MSF, an executive from Mastercard, a professor from Johns Hopkins University, a health specialist from a government agency, a former UN official, a Syrian refugee, and a venture capitalist all sitting at the same table? For starters, you have a range of different perspectives shaped by their varying backgrounds and professions — and what researchers insist are the best ingredients to become innovative. 
 
A few years ago, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Hewlett, Marshall, and Sherbin arguing that combining inherent diversity — traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation with acquired diversity — traits you gain from experience such as working in another country can be the key to truly unlocking innovation and creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas are heard.[1] While the humanitarian sector has long been talking about becoming more ‘innovative,’ last month I had an opportunity to truly experienced this practice come to life. 
 
In August, I was lucky enough to be part of an External Review Committee that evaluated the hundreds of proposals submitted to the Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge.  In early 2018, recognizing that hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in conflict zones are currently unreachable by traditional humanitarian aid delivery, Grand Challenges Canada together with the United States Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) launched a call to find solutions to reach the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people in conflict-generated humanitarian crises. 
 
This summer they received 615 applications from 86 countries and ran them through an initial Innovation Screen that narrowed the pool to 222 proposals which were given to external expert teams that included four reviewers each—one with expertise in the proposal’s priority area (health, water and sanitation, energy, and life-saving information); one ethics expert; one private sector expert; and one person affected by conflict. 
 
Individually, we spent the summer evaluating proposals on the basis of 18 questions. Some of which included: “Does the proposed idea apply to the most vulnerable in conflict-affected areas and have the potential to address inequalities?,” “To what extent will affected people be meaningfully engaged in designing, testing and iterating of the proposed innovation?,” “Is there evidence provided to indicate the likelihood of success, and a rigorous assessment of project risks, corruption/bribery risks, risks of diverting aid, safety and security risks, and associated mitigation strategies?,” “Is there a connection with the private sector that will increase the likelihood of success?” Finally, in Augustthe review process culminated with everyone coming together and meeting in Toronto to debate and discuss their analysis. 
 
So yes, this all may sound fairly standard. But here is where I think the magic happened. Around that table in Toronto discussing health and water and sanitation projects, Grand Challenges Canada brought together that inherent and acquired diversity. There were not just traditional humanitarian health and water and sanitation experts. In fact, there was an astonishing range that included a researcher, an operations manager and a technical expert—all of whom had decades of experience funding or carrying out global health projects and also decades of practicing medicine in their home countries of Somalia and Myanmar. From individuals who for the first time were hearing about the use of prosthetics in the aftermath conflict but meanwhile had spent decades thinking about sustainability of funding and investment. This meant you had the expertise to combine knowledge on the latest published research on a topic about proposed funding models seemed sustainable, and how local populations may in reality respond to the interventions. 
 
What did that mean? It meant a discussion and evaluation process that was not held back by ‘this is the way we have always done things’; ‘this can’t work.’ Rather, it was more a discussion on ‘if this works, if this can be done ethically, could it dramatically change our ability to assist people?’ It allowed for the debate and the discussion to move beyond a singular focus on technical intervention as the driving force of innovation, and instead, also unearth perspectives on an intervention may actually reshape accountability practices or apply more ethical perspectives in experimentation.
 
Despite the innovation rhetoric, all too often humanitarian policy and practice is still siloed to those who have traditionally had a seat at the table, and ideas are incremental. This makes many people question if the ‘innovation agenda’ is just a fad or a buzzword. I think the Grand Challenges review process shows that it is possible to bring that rhetoric to life and change working processes. New solutions are around the corner. This is an exciting time.  

Biography:

​Kirsten Gelsdorf is Professor of Practice and the Director of Global Humanitarian Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, at the University of Virginia (UVA). Prior to joining the faculty at UVA she worked for over 20 years in the humanitarian sector most recently serving as the Chief of Policy Analysis and Innovation at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Her career also includes serving on responses to major emergencies including the Ethiopian Famine, the Liberian War, the Tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, the Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake. She has a book coming out together with Daniel Maxwell, Understanding the Humanitarian World (Routledge Press, 2019). 
 

[1]Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin, “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation.”, Harvard Business Review, December 2013.  
 

News Release: USAID Administrator Green Announces Finalists for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, Along with Additional Investment to Assist Conflict-Affected Communities 

September 25, 2018, New York, USA –  Today, the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Honorable Mark Green, and the Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, The Right Honourable Penny Mordaunt, M.P., announced 23 intended finalists for Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge, at the 2018 edition of the Concordia Annual Summit in New York City.
 
The finalists emerged from a pool of 615 applications received from 86 countries – 48 percent of which came from low- and middle-income countries. About one-third of the applications involved projects led by women. The finalists, who stand collectively to receive $5 million in funding, will now put their innovative ideas into action to implement solutions that will provide, supply, or generate locally safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, life-saving information, or health supplies and services to help the most-vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people affected by conflict. 
 
USAID and DFID, which launched Creating Hope in Conflict as a multi-organizational partnership, today announced an additional combined investment of USD$10 million. In addition, the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands announced its commitment to join the partnership and invest USD$7.5 million in this effort, which brings the total contribution for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge to USD$32.5 million. Grand Challenges Canada is implementing Creating Hope in Conflicton behalf of the investors.
 
The new commitment by the Dutch Government and the announcement of the 23 intended finalists are a testament to the power of partnerships to bring organizations together to respond more nimbly to complex emergencies and empower people to create better lives for themselves.
 
For more information on Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge, visit: humanitariangrandchallenge.org
 

The Humanitarian Grand Challenge

USAID and DFID launched Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challengetoenable governments and the private sector to work together alongside affected communities to address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering around the world.
 
The 23 selected seed projects will receive grants of up to USD$250,000 each over a maximum of twenty-four (24) months to support the validation and testing of new approaches. Final grants, subject to negotiation, will be signed later this year. The following are the intended finalists:
 

  • Iristick – Testing “smart” glasses that allow local health care workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo to receive real-time medical expertise remotely from doctors.
  • Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations – Strengthening the resilience of health systems in Yemen and Syria—while diminishing reliance on diesel fuel—by integrating solar power, electronic-vehicle ambulance systems, and remote telemedicine services.
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – Developing CareNetin Yemen, a community-based network of support groups that promote the inclusion of children and young people with disabilities.
  • Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania – Deploying 3-D printing technology to make high-quality lower-body prosthetics for people with disabilities in Tanzania.
  • Griffith University – Developing maggot-debridement therapy for effective wound care in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
  • Fundación Acción Contra El Hambre – Implementing chatbot technology to  diagnose and monitor malnutrition in Sénégal.
  • Alseeraj for Development and Healthcare – Validating the need for a tele-microbiology system in Syria to enhance capacity for diagnostic microbiological testing and the analysis of results.
  • Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation – Implementing high-tech water-purification and renewable solar-power systems in Yemen, with the goal of producing 1,000 gallons of safe drinking water a day.
  • Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research – Building and evaluating a safe-water optimization tool—by leveraging cloud computing and artificial intelligence—to ensure water is safe to drink at field sites in South Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Malawi.
  • SurgiBox, Inc., Massachusetts Corporation – Manufacturing an inflatable surgical “mini operating room” that fits into a backpack, to enable safe surgeries to be done anytime, anyplace, piloted in  Burkina Faso, Mali, and Uganda.
  • Change:Water Labs, Inc. – Validating and piloting a compact, portable, sewage-evaporating toilet that provides safe, private sanitation to homes with no power or plumbing in Panamá, Lebanon, and Jordan.
  • OmniVis – Developing a water-based smartphone diagnostic device for Yemen and Haiti that uses DNA-amplification to detect the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera, in less than 30 minutes.
  • Enersion, Inc. – Piloting an inexpensive, electricity-free cold-storage box in India and Afghanistan that can keep essential food and medication fresh for more than 20 weeks. 
  • Sun Buckets, Inc. – Testing a method to collect, store, and recover solar energy in portable containers for cooking, space-heating, and thermal pasteurization in Kenya.
  • Johns Hopkins University– Delivering a rapidly deployable telemedicine platform called Intelehealthto connect community health workers remotely with a network of doctors, with the goal of providing primary/specialist health consultations in hard-to-reach areas of Syria and Jordan.
  • Energy Peace Partners – Supporting renewable energy in Uganda and South Sudan by establishing the Peace Renewable Energy Credit, which monetizes renewable-energy generation from off-grid conflict settings, by linking robust international energy markets to fragile states. 
  • WATAN – Designing and testing a low-cost, locally sourced, mobile, plug-and-play battery module to produce stable and renewable energy for health care in Syria and Turkey.
  • Deutsche Welthungerhilfe E.V. – Introducing hydroponic vegetable and fodder-production at the Zam Zam displacement camp in Darfur, Sudan, with methods that use 90 percent less water than traditional farming to improve food security.
  • Rainmaker Organization for Sustainable Development – Piloting a system of solar-powered water pumps and sensor-driven drip irrigation in villages across South Sudan to support the livelihoods of conflict-affected people. 
  • Johns Hopkins University – Developing a tablet-based app called MIT Sana mHealthto provide guidelines and knowledge to healthcare providers who are treating diabetes and hypertension care in Syria.
  • ActionAid UK – Piloting a low-cost mobile platform, designed by women, to combat violence against female refugees in Jordan by reporting incidents and providing up-to-date information and awareness on rights, local services, and safe spaces.
  • Needslist– Implementing a chatbot program that aggregates real-time humanitarian needs from frontline responders, accessible to multiple stakeholders via secure database, piloted in Kenya.
  • Humanity Data Systems – Developing a process that simplifies the process of collecting large-scale data and feedback from the humanitarian community in Iraq, Niger, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Media Contacts

For more information about USAID and its programs, please visit: www.usaid.gov
Press Contact: USAID Press Office
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320
Email: USAIDPressOfficers@usaid.gov
Twitter: @USAIDPress
 
For more information about DFID and its programs, please visit: www.dfid.gov.uk
General Media Inquiries: 
Email: mediateam@dfid.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 20 7023 0600 
Twitter - @DFID_Press
 
For more information about Grand Challenges Canada, please visit: www.grandchallenges.ca
Email: communications@grandchallenges.ca
Telephone: +1 416 583 5821 ext. 5581
Twitter: @GChallenges
 

Blog: Including Women in Humanitarian Crisis Response

By Natalie Boychuck
Former research assistant to the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, and a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs

Image: Natalie Boychuk

September 11, 2018.

Being a woman in humanitarian crisis is devastatingly far from easy; a fact that Noura al Jizawi, a Syrian revolutionary, mother, and masters student at the Munk School of Global Affairs understands too well. Noura was kidnapped by the Assad regime for her role as one of the leaders of the revolution and was held for seven months in Syria’s most notorious prisons, where sexual violence and lack of access to menstrual hygiene and obstetric care are common.

This is not only a problem for political prisoners. Women and girls who have been displaced in Syria are incredibly vulnerable to sexual violence. One woman described that, “There was a girl in Aleppo, and one of the army thugs liked her, and so he raped her before her parents and others.” Sexual violence isn’t only about sexual gratification. In the context of conflict, sexual violence is used to destroy the dignity and spirit of women and girls and to crush their potential. It’s this reality that keeps me up at night thinking about how humanitarian assistance can get better at reaching the most vulnerable women and girls.

Approximately 26 million women and girls of reproductive age currently require humanitarian assistance. These women and girls are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, early, child, and forced marriage, and human trafficking, and often lack the resources they need to meet their basic needs. For instance, approximately 500 women and girls in humanitarian crisis die every day from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. It is unsurprising that since the 2016 Humanitarian Summit, there has been a growing consensus in the humanitarian community of the importance of addressing the unique concerns of women and girls affected by conflict.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy emphasizes the reality that when given the opportunity, women and girls have the potential to influence and improve humanitarian responses. In short, engaging women and girls isn’t just the right thing to do; it has the potential to revolutionize the way we provide assistance to the people who need it the most. Noura is a perfect example of this. After escaping Syria to Turkey, Noura began working tirelessly to protect women and girls trapped in Syria, founding a nonprofit organization helping female victims of torture and speaking as part of the Women’s Consultative Committee in Geneva advocating for political change.  

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) wrote that “the humanitarian community continually fails to properly engage women and girls in plans, responses, and recovery efforts that are launched on their behalf.” It’s clear that in order to best reach the most vulnerable women and girls with the assistance they need, humanitarian programs need to get better at speaking to women and girls directly and working under their leadership. This has made me think deeply about what we can do to engage women and girls at Grand Challenges Canada as funders of global health, Indigenous, and humanitarian innovation.

We recently closed the Request for Proposals for “Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge,”which we launched with the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). I was disappointed when I learned that of the 615 applications we received, only 33 per cent  came from women. Still, I am proud that the Humanitarian Grand Challenge that took this information as an opportunity to find ways to better reach women in humanitarian crises where they are.

Since the close of the Request for Proposals, we’ve consulted with women’s rights activists from conflict-affected areas to better understand the barriers to women leading projects and learning about opportunities for funding. We’ve pushed to ensure that we have gender parity in the external reviewers who volunteer to assess proposals, to ensure that women are not impacted by gender bias in our funding decisions.

Trying to help vulnerable women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence is not an easy area to work on. The causes are complicated and multi-fold, and barriers to reaching young women just to understand their needs are incredibly difficult and expensive to overcome. And yet, Noura’s story shows that women are capable of designing solutions to the challenges they face and that when they do, they have the power to completely change the status quo. I’m looking forward to seeing the Humanitarian Grand Challenge support bold, women-led projects doing just that.

Natalie Boychuk is a former research assistant to the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, and a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs studying Peace and Conflict.

For Media Enquiries

Ken Tong
Communications Strategist
Grand Challenges Canada
+1 416 583 5821 ext. 5581

Blog: Very few donors fund humanitarian innovation, but there are plenty of ideas out there

By Chris Houston
Senior Program Officer, Humanitarian Grand Challenges

May 28, 2018

Photo: Chris Houston

Chart: 2018 HGC Applications

People affected by humanitarian crisis have the best understanding of the problems affecting them and will probably have the best solutions to those problems.

In February, we launched Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge, in partnership with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). We are seeking life-saving or life-improving innovations to help the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people impacted by humanitarian crises caused by conflict. These innovations will involve a connection to the private sector and input from affected communities in order to provide, supply, or locally generate safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, life-saving information, or health supplies and services to help conflict-affected people.

I’m really pleased that of the 615 applications we received from 86 countries, 48% are from low- and middle-income countries and 18% are from people in conflict-affect countries. I’m not really satisfied that only 33% of our innovators are women, but this disparity has forced our team to think about how to better reach and encourage womento apply for our next round of funding. We hope to invest in over 20 bold new ideas to help people affected by conflict. The 615 applications that we received represent over $150 million worth of requested funds. The fact that we only have the resources to fund 20 of these innovative solutions is an indicator of how much more work there is to do out there; and how much room there is for more partners and collaborators to create new opportunities for humanitarian innovation.

While the world spends a woefully inadequate amount of money on humanitarian interventions, it’s not because there is a shortage of people with ideas on how we could spend that money better. It’s difficult for governments to invest in innovation. The public that vote for them don’t want to hear stories about failure, which drives mediocracy. It’s a brave decision to invest in innovation, but the world is changing and since the World Humanitarian Summit, people are starting to realize that we can’t keep rolling out the same old solutions to ongoing problems. We desperately need to find faster, cheaper, better ways to help those in crisis. Change is necessary. Humanitarian systems are not reaching the people who need it most. The most urgent emergencies, such as those in Yemen or Syria, are massively underfunded. Even the most nimble international humanitarian agencies are struggling to access vulnerable populations, and yet they continue to receive most of the funding. Meanwhile, people closest to the needs, who understand the problems the best, fail to have their voices heard.

We have 615 ideas. We now need to choose the best ones. We’ll invite experts in the humanitarian system and people affected by conflict to review the most innovative and relevant applications. We’ll take advice from ethical experts and harness the insight of private sector leaders. We’ll choose the best ideas and we’ll take some bold risks. Along with my colleagues in USAID and DFID supporting this effort, I’m very keen to see what innovations get selected. Watch this space for the next update.

 

For Media Enquiries

Ken Tong
Communications Strategist
Grand Challenges Canada
+1.416.583.5821 Ext. 5581

 

News Release: “Humanitarian Grand Challenge” Seeks Bold New Ideas to Help Conflict-Affected Communities

USAID, DFID and Grand Challenges Canada Partner to Seek Innovations to Save and Improve the Lives of People Affected by Conflict

February 19, 2018, London, United Kingdom – Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green and UK Department for International Development (DFID) Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt launched the first-ever Humanitarian Grand Challenge.

Led by USAID and DFID, and implemented by Grand Challenges Canada, Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge calls on innovators around the world to submit ideas to save and improve the lives of the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable people impacted by humanitarian crises caused by conflict. The partners will invest a combined US$15 million over the next 5 years to support innovations that enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

Specifically, this initial call for innovation seeks solutions that engage the private sector and involve input from affected communities in order to provide, supply, or locally generate safe water and sanitation, energy, life-saving information, or health supplies and services to help conflict-affected people.

“Imagine the benefit of local solutions during humanitarian emergencies: if the rehydration fluids that were so desperately needed in the cholera outbreaks in Somalia and Yemen could have been locally made, or if hospitals in humanitarian emergencies could harness solar power to perform life-saving operations 24 hours a day,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. “Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge aims to spark similar bold ideas to reach the most vulnerable people who have been left behind by traditional forms of humanitarian assistance.”

Over 136 million people across 25 countries are in need of humanitarian assistance. While the international community is helping more people than ever before, crises are increasing in frequency and magnitude, and there is an increasing need for innovative and new approaches that can be deployed to address emerging and future humanitarian challenges.

In order to be eligible for selection, applications must be submitted by April 12, 2018.

For more information on Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge, and to apply, visit humanitariangrandchallenge.org.

For Media Enquiries:

  • OFFICE OF PRESS RELATIONS
    U.S. Agency for International Development
    T. +1.202.712.4320
    press@usaid.gov
     
  • DFID PRESS OFFICE
    UK Department for International Development
    T. 020.7023.0600 (Overseas +44.20.7023.0600)
    mediateam@dfid.gov.uk
     
  • PRESS OFFICE
    Grand Challenges Canada
    T. +1.416.583.5821 Ext. 5564 / +1.647.328.2021
    communications@grandchallenges.ca