How can people’s own creativity and ideas be supported rather than undermined by expensive ‘top-down’ innovations brought in from the developed world? This paper highlights how people engage in creative problem-solving in the most challenging environments and calls for a more people-centred approach to humanitarian innovation. Case studies illustrate how people’s creativity and ideas are part of a iterative, cyclical process of addressing challenges and creating opportunities in their particular context. This bottom-up innovation is understood as one aspect of a broader phenomenon of humanitarian innovation that is overlooked in favour of improving organisational responses to humanitarian crises.
Facilitating and nurturing innovation at a community-level requires:
- A permissive environment with the right to work and freedom of movement
- Access to connectivity (technology), education and skills training, and banking and credit facilities
- Infrastructure and transport links
- Transnational networks.
Further work is needed to better understand how international agencies influence the innovation capacities of affected communities, and how they can complement, rather than undermine, local initiatives.
- Recognition of the capacity of crisis-affected communities to engage in innovation to increase support for and to inform humanitarian funding and programming.
- Adaptation of humanitarian organisations’ research and learning capacity to understand context-specific opportunities and constraints to bottom-up innovation.
- Support from national and international actors to create an enabling environment for innovation by crisis-affected communities.
- Bottom-up innovation does not mean complete non-interference. Interventions should support community-based preferences and be based on participatory methods
- Creation of a humanitarian funding mechanism responsive to community-led initiatives (rather than through local partners who may not always be representative of the community).