Essays

Check out our most popular articles from 2016 and discover our newly published essays for UNHCR Innovation’s Year in Review.

For UNHCR’s Innovation Service, our priorities are always to the field. Today, we are providing operational support to challenges within emergencies, education, data, and energy. We’re catalyzing the innovation environment within UNHCR, and connecting people, initiatives, and programs both within the organization and outside of it. We are nurturing and learning from innovations emerging from affected communities. Our next step is to anticipate the needs of the future. Read more.

Refugees and migrants, speaking a range of languages, needed critical information. They actively sought updates and advice, but often found a range of often misleading rumors on social media. When new waves of refugees and migrants were arriving quickly, UNHCR field staff often ended up answering the same questions over and over again. UNHCR needed a wider range of tools to increase two-way communication with refugees. Read more.

UNHCR’s Innovation Fellows play a leading role in creating the organizational change that will allow UNHCR to adapt with it. We believe that if you want to innovate, you need to focus on the people and that’s the very basis of the Fellowship. But how do we go beyond the Innovation Fellows and create a change in mindset across the entire organization? Read more.

Launched in June 2016, UNHCR’s Innovation Fund is an experimental resource that field operations could use to prototype or scale up good practices and test out creative ideas. The architecture of the Innovation Fund was designed to build capacity and invest in people across the organization who otherwise would not receive financial support. The Innovation Fund ended up allocating USD 1.2 million to applicants across twenty-eight countries during 2016. These were some of the lessons learned along the way. Read more.

UNHCR’s Connectivity for Refugees program addresses three key challenges: making connectivity available, affordable, and usable. In so doing, it is figuring out ways to bring the digital revolution to displaced people, and to the humanitarians serving them. Simply, we can’t undo the Internet and humanitarian sector will have to embrace technological advances. The challenge for UNHCR will be to lead in this, not be dragged by it. Read more.

Often in the humanitarian sector, we treat the symptom instead of the root cause of the problem. This was a lesson learned early by Rumbidzai Mapolisa, an Innovation Fellow based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Following her journey as an Innovation Fellow, Mapolisa and other UNHCR Zimbabwe staff catalyzed a transformation of how the country operation operates. Through strategically bringing the innovation process into their programming cycle, they are not only mainstreaming refugee-led innovation but are creating mindset shift in how traditional humanitarian aid is viewed. Read more.

At the end of 2015, UNHCR was concerned that the “size, speed, and characteristics of the movements” of refugees, particularly approaching winter, may result in adverse consequences for refugees attempting to reach Europe from Turkey. In response to these challenges, a small interdisciplinary team, comprised of five people, was requested to form UNHCR’s first Winter Cell. The Winter Cell evolved into UNHCR’s Intelligence and Analysis Unit and focused on facilitating proactive decision making, rather than reactive. Although short-lived, it was a successful effort to steer UNHCR towards a more data-driven organization, where the collection, analysis, and application of data was used strategically within an emergency. Read more.

Read our most popular articles from 2016

From documenting new translation apps to exploring what refugee-led innovation really looks like – these were your favorite articles of the year.

10 refugees who will change your perception of entrepreneurship

Despite significant hardships, refugees are pushing the limits of what most people recognize as the general entrepreneur spirit.

Making sure refugees aren’t lost in translation – with one simple app

UNHCR isn’t the only organization to have identified challenges around translation in the field. Find out what happened when we teamed up with Google and three other great partners to create one solution.

The European Refugee Crisis: 10 communications with communities challenges

UNHCR’s Emergency Lab traveled to fYR Macedonia to assist with the ongoing European Refugee Crisis. Here are ten unique challenges relating to communicating with communities on ground.

Why we need to stop turning refugee stories into aid agency vanity projects and start listening

An argument for why we need to stop turning refugee stories into HQ vanity projects and start listening to persons of concern.

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5 ways to better engage with bottom up innovation

Innovation from the perspective of refugees is too often missing in research and practice for refugee assistance. Here are five ways we can better support bottom-up innovation.

Is your app the best way to help refugees? Improving the collaboration between humanitarian actors and the tech industry

Too often, new apps are released with an expectation that convenience will suffice to attract new users, but without a clear understanding of how refugees use technology in their daily lives.

Using GIS technology to map shelter allocation in Azraq refugee camp

How UNHCR is using geographic information systems to manage shelter allocation for refugees in Jordan.

10 big data science challenges facing humanitarian organizations

We are already starting to see examples of how big data can help support both sustainable development and humanitarian action. But while innovative projects are showing the potential of big data, we must remember that there are still challenges that we need to overcome.

5 challenges to accessing education for Syrian refugee children

Creating opportunities for refugees to identify, develop, design, and test their own solutions goes a long way in developing a self-sustainable community.