About the Fund

It may surprise you to learn that great innovations can emerge from the most challenging environments. Problems, restrictions, and challenges often force us to abandon outdated assumptions and ways of doing things, sending us on a quest for new ideas and solutions.

At UNHCR, we’re no strangers to complex challenges. Political, environmental, and economic problems wreak havoc on the lives of forcibly displaced people every day. And since no one is immune to such ‘wicked problems’, UNHCR has had to build a long history of adapting and innovating in challenging environments in order to protect forcibly displaced people. But as the problems we face continue to grow in complexity, the rate at which we have to adapt needs to accelerate, and the spaces for innovation and experimentation need to expand.

This is where the Innovation Fund comes in. Our goal is to provide the necessary funding, support for experimentation and community in order to nurture innovation and adaptability within UNHCR. We want to get you through the first phase of testing your novel solution to a problem, which usually means getting you to the point where you’ve built something valuable enough in order to raise additional support to test or refine your idea.

While we provide funds to operations, it’s not only about the money. As a result of the mentorship and support provided by the Innovation Service, the Innovation Fund journey will broaden people’s horizons of how they view themselves and their work. We will support you and act as one of your biggest advocates, but we will also never shy away from asking the difficult questions and providing direct feedback when necessary.

What the Innovation Fund Offers

7 Things You Should Consider Before Applying

Are we eligible to apply?

The Four Areas of Work

Examples include data mining and natural language processing tools and techniques.

Examples include service delivery monitoring, participatory budgeting and other non-traditional or underutilized methods to meaningfully engage affected populations in our work.

Examples include exploratory and statistical techniques for analyzing potential outcomes of different scenarios before taking action and designing policy.

Examples include public interest communications, campaigns to refine, strengthen or reimagine our Organization’s culture, and other communication tools that lead to sustained, positive behavioural change using stories, anecdotes and other techniques.

Application Steps

  1. The Fund is open to all UNHCR staff and affiliates. Colleagues from all countries, working in any sector can apply.
  1. What we care about most is that you can assemble a diverse team of people with a sharp, but continuously evolving understanding of a problem you’d like to solve.

    Innovation thrives in diverse and collaborative networks, where opportunities for connections between people exist, and where ideas can mature and connect to other ideas. Since this can’t be done alone, you must apply to the Fund as a team. Functionally-diverse teams often excel at seeing a problem or situation as it truly is, given the diversity of perspectives assembled. With different pairs of eyes on a problem, it’s more likely you’ll craft a novel and relevant solution to the problem you want to solve.

  2. Once you have assembled a team that knows which problem it wants to tackle, you’ll need to propose an idea (the solution) that you want to test/experiment. The idea proposed can either be totally new, or it can be an adaptation of an existing idea/solution in a new way or new context.
  1. Your proposed solution must fall within one of four areas of work we have defined. We believe it’s necessary for us to explore the following areas in order to confront difficult problems with intelligence and foresight:
  • data and artificial intelligence;
  • inclusive intelligence;
  • simulation and modeling; and
  • storytelling and culture.

These areas of work are either underutilized or underexplored, and will allow us to test and support a range of strategies and processes that can better place UNHCR to work in an uncertain future on behalf of forcibly displaced people.

6 Tips For Submitting A Good Application

Here are the tips


Are we eligible to apply?

To apply for the Innovation Fund, you are required to:

  • Apply as a team. Teams must comprise a minimum of three people – but a maximum of seven, including the project focal point;
  • Be a current UNHCR staff member or part of the affiliate workforce;
  • Have the drive and interest to find new ways to solve challenges facing the organisation in its service to refugees.

What is the application timeline?

Proposal submissions: 10 December 2018 to 27 January 2019

First round of reviews: 28 January to 08 February 2019

Interviews with shortlisted teams: 11 February to 22 February 2019

Final review and selection: 25 to 28 February 2019

Do we need approval from our Representative(s) or manager(s) to apply?

Each context is different, therefore we don’t expect you to have approval from the Representative or even your Regional Office unless your context demands it. We recommend getting approval from your manager(s) and other individuals whose approval is necessary for allowing the project to happen before submitting your application.

What is the maximum budget we can apply for?

USD 80,000.

If our proposal is selected, what is the deadline to finalize testing our solution, and expending the funds?

We expect your team to finish testing and spending the budget allocated by December 2019.

Can the budget cover personnel costs? What about Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) related costs?

Yes, but priority will be given to project submissions that utilize most, if not all of the funds to procure products and services to test their solution using direct implementation.  

How will you select which applications to fund?

Project proposals will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • The project team: A diverse and multifunctional team.
  • The problem/challenge: A sharp, but evolving understanding of the problem the team would like to solve.
  • Impact: Both immediate and future impact on affected populations and/or the organization, particularly on internal processes and decision making.  
  • Idea/solution:  The creation of new tools, processes or techniques, or the adaptation of existing ones in new ways or new contexts.
  • Feasibility: The probability of success in testing the solutions and achieving the desired results, including potential risks.

Please note that refugee/community engagement is not one of the evaluation criteria, but is looked upon very favorably, especially for submission under the ‘Inclusive Intelligence’ area of work.

What are the reporting requirements like?

We aim to keep the reporting requirements as light as possible so that your team can focus on testing the solution. We do expect continuous engagement with the Innovation Service and periodical written reports.

Where can I find the budget template for the Fund application?

The budget template can be found in the original broadcast email or downloaded here.

What do you mean by testing/experimentation?

For more information on experimentation, read this.

What is innovation?

Please see our Innovation glossary for more information.

I have another question, where can I contact you?

You can contact us at [email protected] for any additional questions or technical support related to the Innovation Fund.

Ready to submit your proposal?
Click here to submit.

Deadline to submit: 27 January 2019

The Innovation Fund is possible thanks to a generous contribution from the Belgian Government, who are strong partners and supporters of innovation within UNHCR.