Humanitarian Innovation: Key Trends from Round 1 of the Disaster Response Innovation Fund

Returning from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, one thing was clear; the topic of humanitarian innovation is becoming mainstream. MWC always provides an opportunity to find out about the latest innovations in the sector and this year there were no shortage of events and demos focusing on how mobile technology is and can be used to improve both society at large, and the lives of those impacted by humanitarian crises and emergencies.

Our programme has been working to support this growing interest, and to foster continued collaboration between the mobile industry, humanitarian sector and other key stakeholders. At MWC we announced the evolution and expansion of the programme into Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation. Whilst this marks an exciting new period in our work, this is far from the starting point.

In September 2017, with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the GSMA launched the Disaster Response Innovation Fund. The Fund was designed to invest in innovative solutions that leverage mobile technologies to “save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and after man-made crises and disasters caused by natural hazards, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for when such situations occur.” ‘Seed’ and ‘Market Validation’ grants of between £100,000 and £300,000 were available.


1. In total we received 274 applications, seeking to implement projects in 97 countries.


Certain countries stood out as clear hotspots for innovation implementation, including Kenya, Uganda, the Philippines and Nepal. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific each took a 36% share of the applications, however it was the breadth of countries targeted (over half of the countries in the world) which really impressed us.


All of the applications went through a rigorous eligibility and review process before being shortlisted. The successful applicants will be announced publically in June. Whilst we’re looking forward to working with the selected grantees, we are also interested in what the round 1 application process can tell us about humanitarian innovation and the organisations engaging in it. Analysis undertaken on the applications received has allowed us to extract a number of key insights, providing a snapshot of the activity in this space.


These insights will be used in part to inform the scope of subsequent rounds of the Fund which will be launched in mid-2018 and 2019, but we hope they are of broader value to those working in the humanitarian and mobile sectors, as well as those with an interest in innovation funding.


2. The amount of funding requested was 30 x the size of the fund 

We believe that this demonstrates a clear demand for funding to support projects of this nature.



3. Mobile network operators were the lead or official partner* in over one-third of eligible proposals

This highlights the interest of mobile network operators in collaborating as well as leading in humanitarian innovation.

*Whilst this doesn’t account for proposals where an MNO has a role but not as an official partner, it highlights that in the majority of cases proposals are driven by other sector organisations.



4. Proposals overwhelmingly addressed multi-disaster contexts

53% of applications targeted multiple disasters, i.e. applicants specifically mentioned measures tackling at least two different types of disaster. This demonstrates the desire to build systems and programmes that provide value and standardised approaches to preparedness and response, regardless of the disaster type.



5. The proposed socio-economic impact of the applications spanned across all 16 Sustainable Development Goals

In the applications received, not one SDG was left out in the minds of the applicants, who were asked to highlight up to 3 SDGs that their proposal would support impact. The top three selected across all applicants were SDG 11. Sustainable Cities & Communities, SDG. 13 Climate Action and SDG.17 Partnership for the Goals.



For further detail read the full set of Key Trends. The results of the Round 1 and further information on Round 2 will be published on the Disaster Response Innovation Fund page in mid-2018, or you can reach out to [email protected]


This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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