To solve humanitarian challenges with digital fabrication on a global scale: this is what the Global Humanitarian Lab vows to do. The newborn humanitarian organization was launched this morning at the World Humanitarian Summit.
“The potential of digital fabrication and crowdsourcing to foster innovation inside the humanitarian sector is big. Rapid prototyping technologies allow to transform an idea into a tangible solution, within minutes, hours, days depending of the complexity,” said David Ott, Chief Operating Officer and founding father of the Global Humanitarian Lab.
So what is the Global Humanitarian Lab and how is it different from other humanitarian organizations?
The initiative is inspired by MIT’s fabrication laboratory concept – or “fab lab” for short. Simply put, fab labs are workshops equipped with traditional and digital fabrication tools that allow free experimentation and learning. Rooted in an open source philosophy, fab labs are platforms for innovation. The Global Humanitarian Lab is a fab lab focused on creating solutions to solve humanitarian puzzles around the world.
But it doesn’t stop there.
While several organizations have set up innovation units in the past few years and recognize the need for coordination, the Global Humanitarian Lab chooses to steer away from doing ‘business as usual’ in the humanitarian sector. It aims to eliminate institutional barriers that slow down action and prevent actual collaboration from happening in the current humanitarian sector. The Global Humanitarian Lab will tap into the global community of grassroots innovators and capitalize on the private and humanitarian sectors’ expertise to boost bottom-up solutions.
“In my career in the humanitarian sector, I have encountered many structural challenges within the system. Too often the people we are really working for have too little say in how they rebuild their lives. They can be confronted by a diversity of relief organizations that offer out-of-date solutions that can only meet short-term needs,” said Olivier Delarue, CEO of the Global Humanitarian Lab and former Innovation Lead at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“To us, the unique and critical part of the Global Humanitarian Lab is that it puts ‘make’ at the centre of its concept. Spaces where people can make things together is fundamentally a culture that we need to foster in disaster response,” said Andrew Lamb, Innovation Advisor at Field Ready, a member of the new Global Humanitarian Lab.
A global incubator still at its own incubation phase, the Global Humanitarian Lab has already gathered wide support. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has supported the idea from the very start and ICRC President Peter Maurer is the new organization’s Chairman. Aside from founding members ICRC, UNHCR, Handicap International, Terre des Hommes and the World Food Programme (WFP), the initiative is supported by private sector entities including Hunt Consolidated, IKEA Foundation, Tent Foundation, UPS Foundation and Vodafone Foundation; academic institutions including the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (CBA MIT), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and University of Geneva; other humanitarian organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC); and the startup and tech communities, including the Fab Foundation, Field Ready, Impact Hub Geneva and IoT Bangalore. It has also received initial support from the governments of Australia and Switzerland.
You can read more about how this journey began here.