How does Airbel decide which projects to take on?

With over 68 million people displaced, the world is facing an unprecedented crisis. To address the evolving and growing nature of this crisis requires not just more aid, but also new thinking.

That’s why we established the Airbel Center. Working alongside the communities the International Rescue Committee serves, Airbel designs and tests new products, services and systems in partnership with governments, the private sector and other aid organizations.

Airbel forms teams that ally the knowledge and experience of frontline humanitarians with new ideas, energy and resources from outside the aid sector. We combine rigor, creativity, and healthy skepticism to develop solutions that address real needs and are sensitive to context.

But there is an infinite number of problems we could take on solving, and a myriad of potential solutions to be tested. Airbel has developed four key selection criteria to help us select the most pressing problems which we are best-placed to solve. These four criteria guide us as we identify projects, invest in them, and carry them forward.

1. The problem is severe and without a solution

For us to take on solving a problem, research must show that it is severe in crisis-affected or fragile places. The severity of this problem should be measurable — either in scale or magnitude, or by the negative impact it has on IRC outcomes. There should be no available and viable solution to the problem currently. In other cases, the solutions that do exist are inadequate and lack a strong, demonstrable impact that can be delivered at scale in a cost-effective manner.

2. The solution is feasible to make a breakthrough within 5 years

For us to test a specific solution, it should be backed up by solid research suggesting it is feasible. This could be examples or evidence from other contexts or disciplines which could be reasonably tested in a different setting.

Importantly, the project hypothesis (or the theory of change) should clearly show how it intends to make a breakthrough in five years. For Airbel, a breakthrough means significantly and measurably improving the size, scale, or cost-effectiveness of impact in comparison to the current best practice.

The process and timeline for design, test, and scale of the solution must be clearly mapped within the five year window, and funding should be quantified and likely available

3. There is strong potential to scale the solution

Airbel always thinks about scalability. For us to take on a proposed solution, it should be feasible to deliver at scale by people and systems in crisis-affected or fragile places. Delivering at scale is measured by the number of clients reached, or the number of countries where the solution is applicable.

The solution should be assessed to continue being cost-effective at scale when compared to existing solutions. There should also be no major political, social, or security barriers to delivering the solution at scale. Ideally, partners that could scale a solution have been identified and are already involved.

4. The IRC is best-placed to incubate the solution

This means that the IRC has access to the expertise and skill sets required to design the solution. The IRC should also have the right field experience, systems, partnerships, and relationships needed to design and test the solution. The methods that Airbel use should be beneficial to design and test the solution, particularly the use of human-centered design, rapid prototyping, iteration and piloting,