Innovation. It’s a word we hear a lot around the ICRC these days. Earlier this year an Innovation Initiative was launched. And the drive to be more innovative as an organization is anchored in the Institutional Strategy 2015-2018.

The reason is straightforward. We live and work in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. It’s a world that constantly presents new challenges and demands new responses, including a greater capacity to innovate, change and adapt.

But we cannot do this on our own; so as part of an “open innovation” strategy, ICRC is reaching out to business leaders and other forward-thinking partners. More intensive collaboration with the private sector is another provision of the new Institutional Strategy. In June, ICRC also established a new Corporate Partnerships Unit.

On October 16th, together with the IMD business school and the Fondation Lombard Odier, ICRC launched a new humanitarian innovation process. It’s called “Global Partnerships for Humanitarian Impact and Innovation” (GPHI2).

Juan Luis Coderque Galligo, GPHI2 leader and head of the Corporate Partnerships Unit, outlines the process and what it aims to achieve.

Let’s start with GPHI2. What’s the idea behind this initiative?

The aim is to bring together ideas, expertise and resources to develop innovative solutions to humanitarian challenges so that we can better respond to the needs of victims of conflict.

The world is changing very fast and this means we need to adapt faster. The corporate sector and others can play a significant role in helping us do that. We need to connect and collaborate more with other thinkers and other ways of doing things.

Two weeks ago saw the launch event for this process in Lausanne. Who was there?

We had around 100 leaders from academia, think tanks, the humanitarian sector and the corporate sector. There were representatives from companies that lead the field in terms of business innovation such as ABB, Lombard Odier, the GSM Association, Philips, Holcim, Novartis, Swiss Re and the IKEA Foundation

We also had researchers and professors from the IMD business school, EPFL, and the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine.

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Médecins Sans Frontières and Terre des Hommes also attended. These are organizations that also have experience with innovative approaches such as digital registration, data protection and crowdsourcing.

The kick-off event was the result of a great deal of teamwork and at the event itself, there was strong ICRC representation from a wide range of departments, divisions and units, plus the leadership. Both the ICRC president and the director-general attended.

How did it go?

The event marked the start of a collaborative process which we hope will lead to real, tangible solutions to key humanitarian challenges.  It was designed to allow participants – ICRC and non-ICRC – to get a better sense of existing possibilities when it comes to innovative solutions and to foster a sense of creative collaboration.

The energy was very powerful. There was a certain urgency from all the participants about the state of the world, about the fact that the international system finds it more difficult to solve problems and about the fact that humanitarian action is more difficult today than it was a few years ago, yet the needs are increasing.

What issues did you discuss?

One of the thoughts that came out very strongly is that we need to innovate and adapt to this new world, based on the needs.  To do this successfully, we need to collaborate with the corporate sector, academia, the Movement and other partners much more than we’re doing right now.

A phrase that came up several times at the event was, “Nobody can do it alone.” Today we need more friends and more partners than we did in the past, while at the same time respecting our Fundamental Principles and NIIHA approach.

What challenges and priority areas did you identify?

The discussions focused on five main areas: access and proximity; the digital age and communication with beneficiaries, which is something that’s going to have a major impact on humanitarian action; another one was about frugal, sustainable innovation for beneficiaries; the fourth was about new partnerships; and the fifth was about the growth and development of our physical rehabilitation programmes.

So what happens next?

As we have said since the very beginning, this is the start of a process and we will have a detailed action plan for the road ahead before the year is out; but we are already seeing some exciting developments.

To give you just one example, the IMD business school, with whom we prepared and conducted the event, says it wants to accompany us on this process for the long term. This initiative is interesting for them because this is cutting-edge thinking in terms of humanitarian action, innovation and collaboration with the private sector. We have agreed that we will probably repeat this event over the next few years.

We also want to export GPHI2 to other countries. This process has started in Lausanne, but we will take it to the field and assist the field in anchoring the process in the emerging economies that are so vital for the future of the ICRC.

In addition, we are already in discussions with Philips about future collaboration over health provision – and I think we are going to see tangible solutions soon. It’s a question of matching their expertise with the needs of the people we serve.

Among the possible areas for exploration already identified by our Assistance Division are energy solutions for ICRC health facilities, training, health care equipment, data management, research, the growth and development of our physical rehabilitation programmes etc.

As our health colleagues said, it’s also about being inspired to think differently, about being aware of things we don’t know.

How will colleagues and partners be able to follow this process?  

We will organize a series of debriefings over the coming weeks. In addition, partners will be able to keep up to speed on how the process is going by following the Global Partnerships for Humanitarian Impact and Innovation blog. We will shortly be posting more presentations and video clips from the event on the blog.

As explained to Adam Beaumont, ICRC.