The UNHCR Innovation Fellowship is a 12-month learning programme for UNHCR’s workforce.

The Fellowship programme focuses on building Innovation Fellows’ innovation skills and competencies in addition to supporting them to facilitate innovation with colleagues, partners, and refugees in their own operations or divisions. Over the course of the year, Innovation Fellows learn and use innovation methods, tools, and embed new approaches in innovation projects. They focus on problem-solving, ideation, and experimenting solutions to real-life challenges in the field or at Headquarters. They are the organisation’s ambassadors for innovation and lasting positive change.

If you want innovation you need to focus on people, and that’s the very basis of the Fellowship.

This was a real paradigm shift for me, because learning about innovation brought me to think very differently about working with refugees. I realized that the existing framework for assisting refugees doesn’t leave much room for thinking outside the box and for self-criticism. This means we risk replicating the same mistakes, or not prepare adequately for change. By contrast, the innovation process allows us to think independently and address problems in a very efficient and timely manner.


I think of myself as part of a new generation of UNHCR managers. Slowly but surely as new colleagues are being recruited…we have the opportunity to show them a different arc. To show them from the get-go how things work here and let them know we’re all about change and innovation. We don’t want to stay still. We want to make the most we can with the least.


One of the main principles with innovation is that diversity is important. Being able to empathise. So seeing people’s, whether that’s staff or persons of concern or whatever, from a different perspective, I think is important. We need all the perspectives.


I believed my idea was so brilliant and that obviously once we deployed this platform, it would revolutionize the refugees’ lives. But after going to the Innovation Fellowship workshop, one of the first things they taught us was not to be married to our ideas and to test assumptions. Following the innovation process made me rethink my approach.


What inspired me most during the course of the Fellowship is how different groups of people, when you put them together, can come up with innovative solutions to challenges that we face in our operations’ day to day. And sometimes solutions to these challenges do not necessarily need money, but probably they just need readjustment or rearrangement of certain things within your environment and they’ll produce magnificent results. And I think that’s where the power of innovation comes in. It’s not necessarily me having having great brain, but it’s having great people around me that will bring something on the table.


Innovation does not need to be eruptive or the “next BIG thing”! Innovation is trying to look at things in a way that you have not done before, however small or big.


For me I think that embracing innovation within UNHCR, especially adopting this bottom-up approach where we allow refugees to be innovators, I think it’s going to have a great impact in how we deliver. It will have a great impact on how effective we are in actually delivering our services to persons of concern.


In order to get sustainable innovations and make the organization better, you do need to focus on mindset and culture. Organizational culture is not something to be dealt with when everything else is done, but it is a foundation of everything. It is about how organization’s people interact and work.

Emilia Saarelainen

Innovation Fellowship Programme Manager

Meet the 2018 Innovation Fellows

Zoe Campiglia // Associate Policy and Research Officer

Judith Chan // Associate Protection Officer (Community Based protection)

Amor Chandoul // Logistics Innovation Responsible (MSF)

Kennedy Chimsoro // Assistant Programme Officer

Shiva Ershadi // M&E Assistant (NRC)

Vinicius Feitosa // Associate Research and Information Officer

Isis Nunez Ferrera // JIPS Profiling Advisor

Peter Fitzmaurice // RSD Officer

Issak Hassan // Protection Associate

Sebastian Herwig // Associate Field Officer (Protection)

Abdul Razak Jaweesh // Field Assistant

Ipek Miscioglu Kuruuzum // Senior Protection Associate

Ivan Kwesiga // Senior Field Associate

Harrison Lanigan-Coyte // Resettlement Expert / Livelihoods Specialist

Tatiana Lovtsova // Protection Associate (community-based)

Zeru Maru // Assistant Program Officer

Melron Mwaba // Education Assistant

Diego Nepomuceno Nardi // Durable Solutions Assistant

Clarisse Ntampaka // Staff Development Officer (CBP)

Alessandro Pasta // Associate Protection Officer

Marzieh Shafieihanjani // Protection Assistant (Community-Based)

Pietro Tesoriero // RSD Associate

Raquel Trabazo // Head of Field Office

Rujia Yang // Associate External Relations Officer

Nouran Yehia // Associate Protection Officer


Am I eligible to be an Innovation Fellow?

To apply for the Innovation Fellowship Program, you are required to:
– Be a current UNHCR staff member or part of the affiliate workforce;
– Work for UNHCR through the duration of the Fellowship;

– Have the drive, ambition, and interest to find new ways to solve challenges facing the organisation in its service to refugees.

Can I apply if I don’t have a contract with UNHCR or if I am on special leave without pay?

Unfortunately not. The Fellowship also has wider UNHCR capacity building aims – it is for the organisation rather than a training for individuals per se. This means that we do need people who are working within an operation, and who will then work with that operation on an/several innovation(s). One of the key objectives of the Fellowship is organizational change.

I have an innovative idea and I need funding to implement it. Can the Innovation Fellowship fund it?

It is great that you have ideas to make our work and/or organisation better. However, innovation is about so much more than great ideas. Therefore, the Fellowship Program is not about funding ideas, but it’s about Fellows working on operational challenges using innovation methodologies (such as experimenting and testing) together with their respective colleagues.

Is the Fellowship about technology?

Absolutely not. While new technology can, and often does, play an important role in innovation, we’d like to think of ourselves as being technology agnostic. Over the course of the year, Innovation Fellows address operational challenges using innovation methodologies (such as experimentation and testing) which can involve either high-tech, low tech and even zero tech solutions.

How can a UNHCR  operation benefit from a staff member’s participation in the Innovation Fellowship?

Having an Innovation Fellow is a great opportunity for any country operation or Division. Fellows go through an intensive innovation training and are prepared to facilitate innovation in their respective offices and take their colleagues, partners and refugees through an innovation process that will lead to innovative solutions and a positive change for the operation involved.