Frugal innovation for developing countries

“Frugal innovation” is a trendy term for a widely known–yet often overlooked–fact: The developing world cannot afford to throw massive resources at increasingly complex technologies to solve its problems. The developed world’s “model is … too costly, elitist, and rigid and fails to address even basic socioeconomic needs,” explains innovation and leadership strategist Navi Radjou.

In his 2014 TED/Global talk, Radjou illustrated that the “more (and better) with less” strategy is indispensable in developing new technologies. In many cases, simply paring down technologies that already exist makes them more widely accessible.

Accessibility, along with sustainability, affordability, and quality, are the four cornerstones of frugal innovation. They ensure that the technologies make it to the populations that need them most and, further, that the technologies will thrive there.

Crowdsourcing is essential to frugal innovation. Some of the most effective innovations derive not from experts with infinite resources but from individuals who come from the very conditions of poverty they are trying to eradicate–“where the street is the lab,” Radjou says.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, for example, created a simple machine that has provided thousands of women with much-needed sanitary pads. He was a poor college drop-out living in rural India when he built his machine out of sheer necessity as he realized his own wife lacked access to basic feminine hygiene.

And in Kenya, two university students from rural villages came up with a system to recharge a cell phone battery using energy generated from a bicycle. “We took most of [the] items from a junk yard–using bits from spoiled radios and spoiled televisions,” one of the students told the BBC.

[Global Envision]

Austrian volunteers flock to better conditions for refugees

Built to house 1,800, the federally outsourced Traiskirchen facility, 20 kilometers south of Vienna, is now a temporary home to 4,500 refugees.

Until several weeks ago, more than 1,000 people were sleeping on the open lawn, bracing through rain storms and heat-waves alike without any shelter, a situation criticized even by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, who was largely seen as responsible for the inadequate response.

The United Nations and Amnesty International went a step further and describe conditions as “inhumane” and “degrading.”

Images of people sleeping in the open shocked Austrians, said Dunja Gharwal, one of many volunteers independently helping refugees in Traiskirchen. “Austria is a very rich country. We really sit here in abundance, and this is not necessary,” she said, calling it her country’s duty to welcome refugees.

On a recent afternoon, locals parked outside the gates of the former school and unloaded jackets and sneakers in all sizes, as well as thick coats, hats and gloves for the approaching winter to clothe those staying at the refugee camp.

Close to 7,000 volunteers have signed up with Caritas to help in recent months. “Those aren’t just people who’ve filled in on a weekend,” spokesperson Margit Draxl said. “It’s been going on for months, and without them, this help wouldn’t be possible.”

Some bosses allowed volunteers to take paid leave if they wanted to help at camps. Big conglomerates are initiating vocational training programs for young refugees. Austrian singers and bands are organizing a free concert called “Voices of Refugees” in Vienna to collect donations for asylum seekers. Austrian state broadcaster ORF recently set up a website aimed at linking Austrians with vacant apartments or houses with refugees and the organizations that assist them.

“There’s an almost unbelievable readiness to help,” Draxl said.

[VoA]

Going Above Two Percent Giving

Charitable giving has been stuck at 2 percent of U.S. GDP for 40 years, ever since we started measuring it. And in a world of increasing demands and ongoing fiscal belt-tightening — a world where government looks unlikely to step back in to support needed social programs — the nonprofit sector fundamentally has to contend with this fact: two percent just isn’t enough.

So what can we do in response? Basically, we have to do three things: 1) work to increase the amount people give, 2) make the most of every penny we get, and — crucially — 3) go beyond giving entirely.

Number 1 is the work of expert fundraisers, though it’s also the work of everyone else in the social sector. For one thing, we can encourage more giving by being better storytellers. We need to learn to express more clearly and creatively the problems we seek to address and the successes we are having. Too often nonprofit appeals and reports are wonky, overly complex, and just plain boring. Boring doesn’t inspire giving — great storytelling does.

Number 2 is the core work of most of us with jobs in the nonprofit sector, from the folks doing their best to deliver impact to the funders who support them. Rewarding organizations for under-investing in people, technology, effective management, and infrastructure is dumb.

And that brings us to number 3: getting beyond giving. At the end of the day, we are unlikely to get where we need to go merely by getting people to give more. While traditional donor-supported activities are critical to having large-scale impact, alone they probably won’t get us where we need to be. Many of our biggest challenges will require financially self-sustaining solutions. And we can find those solutions in at least two areas.

First, a growing pool of nonprofits employs business-like practices to sustain themselves. Second, as a century of American philanthropy has demonstrated, much of our best work is done when it’s in our economic self-interest. Whether by supporting socially-driven start-ups through impact investments or encouraging socially-driven innovation at major corporations through our purchasing power, we can move forward farther with the business community alongside us.

[Huffington Post]

Not waiting on governments to respond to Syrian humanitarian crisis

Seventy-eight nations, plus 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), recently gathered in Kuwait to raise money for the relief of Syrian refugees. Kuwait opened the proceedings with a promise of $500 million, matching last year’s donation. The U.S. won the number one position with an offer $507 million, but many participants offered little more than good will. Overall the conference generated $3.8 billion of the $8.4 billion which aid agencies were seeking.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation. The country has lost nearly four decades of human development. Unemployment is over 50 percent. Life expectancy has been cut by an astounding 20 years.”

Some 12.2 million people, more than half of the population, are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. A similar number have been displaced — between 6.5 million and 7.8 million — within Syria, and three to four million have been displaced on to neighboring states.

One of the best ways to help those suffering from the Syrian conflict is through private relief groups. Indeed, the crisis has spawned a variety of relief efforts by NGOs around the world, many of which were represented in Kuwait. Private organizations tend to be more diverse and flexible than public agencies.  Many groups have a religious orientation. For instance, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services reflect Christian principles, while Islamic Relief USA is a Muslim organization formed in 1993.

Many other NGOs provide welcome relief throughout the region. CARE, Concern Worldwide, Doctors Without Borders, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Life for Relief and Development, Mercy Corps, Mercy-USA, Save the Children, and Shelterbox all assist victims of the Syrian civil war. Some groups operate directly in Syria, others serve Syrians outside their country; some organizations go to camps while others run refugee centers in surrounding nations; many NGOs emphasize particular forms assistance, such as education, children’s services, food, health care, and shelter. All make a catastrophic situation slightly less awful.

The many NGOs dedicated to aiding Syrians offer a wealth of options for those inclined to give. There’s no reason to wait for politicians to act.

[Forbes]

Médecins Sans Frontières origins

Bernard Kouchner was a Red Cross doctor who founded Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders as it’s known in the US and Canada).

Kouchner was moved to righteous rage during Nigeria’s civil war of 1967–70, when Biafran secessionists tried to break away from the federation. The International Committee of the Red Cross, hewing to a strict interpretation of humanitarian law, did not speak out on behalf of the Biafran cause and later shuttered its Biafran operation.

Kouchner, convinced that the Nigerians were set to commit genocide against the Biafran populace, was furious. He quit the ICRC and founded Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), aiming for a dynamic, courageous agency ready to rush in where the humanitarian establishment feared to tread.

Alex de Waal, writing in World Affairs, goes on to say, “Kouchner sees himself as a master of using the media to further humanitarian causes, employing his formidable network of contacts among journalists and opinion makers, as well as an instinctive sense of drama, to accomplish his aims.”

Since 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières has grown into an international humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases, its doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators providing medical aid worldwide. These doctors and nurses volunteer their time to help solve issues of world health. Private donors provide about 80% of the organization’s funding, while governmental and corporate donations provide the rest.

In 1999, Médecins Sans Frontières received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its members’ continued efforts to provide medical care in acute crises, as well as raising international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters.

Tripling of people impacted by humanitarian crisis

In the last 10 years, the number of people affected by humanitarian crisis has almost doubled, and the cost of humanitarian assistance has more than tripled.

The needs and conditions of the people affected have also changed. As Oxford scholars Alexander Betts and Louise Bloom explain in their recent paper “Humanitarian Innovation: the state of the art“, while in the past most of the refugees lived in rural camps, more than half of them live now in urban areas.

The average period of displacement is also much longer now: as much as 17 years, according to the UNHCR.

No wonder NGOs and governments are struggling to cope with this situation.

[Forbes]

The Role of the Private Sector in Humanitarian Crises

Ebola is a humanitarian crisis first and foremost, but it is also a mounting economic disaster for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The secondary impacts of the crisis: Farmers are unable to harvest their fields or get their crops to market. Banks and government offices are partially or completely closed. Some companies have suspended operations. Quarantines, curfews and border closures are preventing people from moving freely to work, to their fields or to market. Scores of people have lost their jobs. In Liberia, nearly half of those working when the outbreak was first detected in March 2014 are no longer employed.

Decreasing production, diminished trade, disrupted agriculture and rising prices are likely to cost upwards of $4 billion, according to the World Bank. The scale and complexity of the crisis is unlike anything the humanitarian community has faced.

A coalition of more than 48 companies with major assets and operations in West Africa has come together as the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group. Their members have provided direct support through donating funding, personnel, equipment, and through building infrastructure, as well as lending expertise in construction, logistics, and distribution services.

This is very much a win-win: The humanitarian sector gets access to highly skilled personnel; funding, new ways of working and specialized operations, such as logistics and communications; meanwhile, businesses reap benefits of business continuity, building or strengthening customer loyalty, as well as charitable credibility.

Coordination is key and it is the role of the United Nations to lead a comprehensive response to the crisis. UN agencies, donors such as the United States and England, as well at the private sector must provide quick, flexible funding to partners, increasing funding for community mobilization for prevention and preparedness not only in affected countries but in at-risk countries such as Guinea Bissau, Gambia and Senegal.

And finally, NGOs like Oxfam need to do more to partner with local organizations and consult community members to identify the most vulnerable.

[Huffington Post]

UN launches huge humanitarian appeal for 2015

Valerie Amos, UN humanitarian chief, said the number of people affected by conflicts and natural disasters around the world had reached unprecedented levels during 2014, prompting the UN to launch an appeal for $16.4bn in funding.

A year ago, the UN set out to assist 52 million people, but during 2014, the number of people in need has nearly doubled to a record 102 million.

More than 40 percent of the appeal $7.2bn would go to help 18.2 million people suffering from the war in Syria. The appeal also covers Central African Republic, Iraq, and South Sudan, the top humanitarian priorities, as well as Afghanistan, Congo, Myanmar, occupied Palestinian territories, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen.

The 2015 request, on behalf of 455 aid organizations, does not include money to help feed millions facing hunger in Africa’s Sahel region, which has seen repeated droughts and conflicts.

Amos said aid in 2014 helped avert a famine in South Sudan, fed millions of Syrians each month, provided medical supplies to 1 million Iraqis and paid for food for 903,000 people in Central African Republic.

But with 80 percent of the needy living in conflict-ridden countries, the demands for aid are outstripping the ability to pay for them, Amos said.

[Al-Jazeera]

International aid groups ask for support to help the Philippines

International aid groups have called for donations from all over the world for their relief efforts in the affected areas, mostly in the Visayas and Bicol region, of typhoon “Ruby” (International name: Hagupit).

World Vision has set up a disaster relief fund page asking supporters to donate at least $50, noting that many of Hagupit’s victims are also victims of 2013’s super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also set up a page where people can donate.

Meanwhile, World Food Programme (WFP) also called for financial support in its page while its USA office has called on supporters to donate using their mobile phones.

International Committee of the Red Cross have set-up a page intending to unite families separated by the typhoon.

Oxfam International for its part said it has prepared household water and hygiene kits for victims of “Ruby.”

[Yahoo News]

2014 a troubling year and a sign of things to come

2014 has been dominated by the humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, that have destroyed and disrupted the lives of millions of people. Protracted conflicts like those in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, violent natural disasters, as well as the Ebola crisis, are seriously testing the limits and response capacities of individuals, organizations, governments and the United Nations.

But 2014 is not just a troubled and turbulent year.  Regrettably, it is also a sign of things to come and a loud warning signal for us all to seriously heed.

All the evidence shows that humanitarian needs are now rising faster than our capacity to meet them. Over the past ten years, the amount requested through humanitarian appeals has risen nearly 600 per cent—from $3 billion at the start of 2004 to $17.9 billion today.

It is increasingly difficult to raise these funds. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme was forced to suspend its support to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, because of acute funding shortages. With winter fast approaching the situation is getting even more critical, and we must also not forget Iraq.

Fifty million people – the highest number since the Second World War — are displaced in their own countries or across borders.  The food price crisis of 2007-2008 led to protests in 50 countries.  This demonstrates how food price shocks can rapidly increase humanitarian needs and cause social unrest.

Humanitarian aid cannot be used to fill the development funding gap or be a substitute for political solutions that are so desperately needed, not least in Syria.

[Excerpts from opening remarks by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, at the Third Annual Global Humanitarian Policy Forum]