Changing the DNA of aid toward innovation

In a discussion at Chatham House last week, UNICEF Innovation Unit Co-Leads Erica Kochi and Chris Fabian discussed the various ways that innovative strategy and technology allow us to break down barriers to development across the world. For the full video coverage, please click here.

SciDev.Net provides an overview of some of the issues covered in the discussion:

The [UNICEF innovation] team claims that it has a 95 per cent failure rate. This does not scare the people in the team. They see it as a natural consequence of working with innovation and indeed of working with complex systems, like the environments in which children live and learn.

The problem, they say, is that the rest of the development community is not more open to failure.

Fabian, who has worked in the private sector in Egypt and Tanzania, says it strikes him as strange that agencies would prepare projects and budgets claiming to know not only what they will be doing in five years’ time but also how the world will be responding to their work.

The UNICEF team talked about a few things they are doing to change the DNA of aid so it was more supportive of innovation.

First, admit that we fail.

The team also said that the problem with innovation in development planning is that we tend to think big. So by the time we recognise something is not working, we have already invested a great deal of money, time and reputation. Instead, we need to plan to fail fast and fail cheap as we go.

The team also talks about having a portfolio of options, areas of work that they want to monitor and test. This is not the same as having a five-year strategy but more like a set of preoccupations that you want to invest in.

Finally, they are looking at changing the structural relationship between development and the private and technology sectors. So they have started a ‘venture capital-like’ project within UNICEF and will be bringing Silicon Valley incubator firms to UNICEF funding meetings. Reflecting an awareness that development goals need more than the development industry.

Read the full article here.

Recommended reading:

What innovation means to UNICEF

FAILFaire – Improving the lives of children by encouraging adults to talk about their failures

Conversation: Ecosystems for innovation and the role of innovation labs


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