Too tough to scale?

By Kathryn Ripley, Operations Director, Elrha

The humanitarian sector is suffering from a common complaint: innovation in the sector, whilst promising, is proving too tough to scale. Is this a true and accurate diagnosis of humanitarian innovation’s current condition, and if so what are the problems we face? More importantly, what can we as a sector do in response?

This is an important question and one we have been actively exploring, and with it in mind, we’re excited to release a new report on the challenges to scaling innovation in the humanitarian sector.

Read the report to find out the barriers to scale in the humanitarian sector, and how we can work together to change them.

In the report we share insights and examples from our own innovation portfolio, supplemented by inputs and reflections from others, both those inside and external to our sector. Over the last 7 years we have supported around 150 innovation projects at all stages of the innovation cycle including those that have gone to scale. In the report we unpack and share some of the successes and challenges faced by different innovation teams.

“Over the last 7 years we have supported around 150 innovation projects at all stages of the innovation cycle.”

The barriers to scale

The report outlines 13 discrete problems or ‘barriers’ to scale in the humanitarian system with specific ‘calls to action’ for how these can be addressed. It considers problems at an operational level, such as issues relating to gaps in knowledge and skills, as well as the more systemic barriers that are intrinsic to the humanitarian innovation ecosystem.

The report also covers barriers relating to gathering appropriate evidence of an innovation’s impact, and the significant challenges relating to funding that can effectively support innovation to scale.

Testing comprehension of humanitarian information in Farm centre camp, Maiduguri, Nigeria. Taken from one of our Journey to Scale projects: Translators without Borders Words of Relief. Photo credit: Translators without Borders

A bold ambition

The report concludes that there has been significant progress made on overcoming operational barriers to scale, but very little action has been taken to address the barriers at system level. To achieve transformative change, we need to address these key systemic barriers. To date, these remain both significant and intractable and, importantly, they can only be addressed through collective action and collaboration.

Our commitment is to focus on these more complex challenges as well as call on others in the sector to work with us collectively and in a coordinated way to tackle this tough problem of Scale.

To find out more and be part of this change, join our webinar on the 25th October - where we will be discussing this topic further as part of our Innovation Insights webinar series.

Register here.