This is an excerpt from UNHCR’s recently released report: Innovation at UNHCR 2014. This report highlights and showcases some of the innovative approaches the organization is taking to address complex refugee challenges.

Much of the Energy Lab‘s work in 2014 focused on creating an enabling environment for innovation along with the implementation of a number of project prototypes. Each prototype was used to answer a question or set of questions relating to one or more assumptions developed around a solution to a specific challenge.

Progress through the prototyping process can be measured through answering the questions linked to assumptions. One good example of this was the Liter of Light prototype training in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. The overall goal of the project is to develop a series of locally sustainable businesses that manufacture, sell, and install solar powered lights. In the early stages of this project, before committing large amounts of time and effort, a number of critical questions needed to be answered:

  1. Could members of the refugee and host community be trained to manufacture solar-powered lights if materials and tools were provided?
  2. Would the lights manufactured by the community be accepted?
  3. Could damaged lights be repaired and maintained?
  4. Is it possible to source materials required for the lights locally?

Answers to each of these questions – whether positive or negative – relative to the initial goal can be used to measure progress through the prototyping process. These answers will either validate or invalidate initial assumptions, which will in turn create opportunities to modify the initial approach if it continues to show potential. They can also be used to inform “Go”/ “No-Go” points in the process where the initial approach could be proven to be unsuitable for the specific challenge.

If the project is worth continuing, a new set of assumptions will be developed with a new set of unknowns and questions that require answering. This process is often repeated a number of times before a robust solution is found.


We’re always looking for great stories, ideas, and opinions on innovations that are led by or create  impact for refugees. If you have one to share with us send us an email at [email protected]

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