Collective innovation

Shaping a more effective humanitarian system

We are implementing experiments in early action, locally created innovations in disaster preparedness, and technology platforms to make humanitarian finance more efficient and transparent.

In future we will create a platform to share services and expertise, and to support the scaling of local innovation, so the system continues to adapt to the needs of those affected by crises.

Start Network is uniquely positioned to drive innovation as a tool to change the global humanitarian system


Since the outset, Start Network members have been innovating together, introducing initiatives such as the Start Fund and Crisis Anticipation. We’re building a strategic approach – selecting the innovations we work on and using the depth of the network to provide a route to scale initiatives with the best potential for impact.


We believe that people facing the problems are better placed to solve what’s in front of them. So, we aim to foster innovation and support people to develop innovation at a local level. Our approach to innovation involves forging partnerships across the private sector and civil society too, as they can bring ideas well-tested in other situations.


We also aim to work on innovations that aim to improve the global humanitarian system, to tackle challenges that no single organisation can solve on their own. We believe that pooling and sharing innovation capacity collectively is crucially important when there is so little availability of funds for experimentation in this sector. 



Our current innovation focus includes:


  • Shifting to a risk financing approach to ensure predictable and early funding to mitigate the impact of crises and save lives. Our risk financing approaches - ARC Replica and the Drought Financing Facility - are being tested, before being taken to scale across the network.
  • Providing local level support mechanisms to support local innovations in disaster preparedness. Our DEPP Innovations Labs are one such example of this.
  • Supporting emergent innovation in how the network develops, collaborates and learns together. This includes creating and testing a more efficient due diligence system, to enable greater diversity of organisations accessing aid funding.
  • Investing in technology where it can have the greatest impact on the system; transparency and collaboration are two such areas. Transparency through technology allows us to share and use data openly, to help make better decisions, while enabling stakeholders to see how funding is being spent. 







In 2020, we ran the Working Differently Challenge for Start Network members/hubs who are creating solutions to challenges within humanitarian sector.


Watch the announcement of the winners at Start Network's annual assembly


News, blog and opinion


DEPP Innovation Labs follow-up research

The DEPP Innovation Labs programme was a two and a half year initiative from 2016-2019 that supported the creation of four community-centred innovation labs in disaster-affected countries (Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya and the Philippines) to strengthen disaster preparedness and response. The programme was managed by Start Network and the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network. The labs offered skills training, business mentoring, financial support, and the necessary infrastructure to turn local ideas into viable, scalable solutions. All the innovation labs followed a human-centred design process to create local-level solutions that work for and with vulnerable people. Overall, the DEPP Labs supported close to 100 innovations covering a broad range of areas such as early warning communication systems, disaster awareness education tools, protective flood barriers, agricultural tech applications to counter the effects of drought and transport and accommodation solutions for refugees.


Blog Post

To address the humanitarian sector's biggest challenges, we need to get comfortable with uncertainty

There is no shortage of problems in our modern world. COVID-19, climate change, migration, and increasing economic inequality are just some complex social challenges that we are facing. These challenges surpass our existing solutions toolkit, requiring us to stretch our creative muscles and innovate in order to keep up.


Blog Post

How to help innovation flourish

In 2020, as part of Start Network’s commitment to localisation and collective innovation, we embarked on a journey to develop innovative and locally-driven solutions that place communities affected by humanitarian crises at the forefront of humanitarian action. We have been working with Start Network hubs to start building community innovation initiatives in Guatemala and the DRC.


Blog Post

Working Differently Challenge: What true partnership looks like

As the pandemic and its economic impact started to bite, A Single Drop for Safe Water (ASDSW) in the Philippines reflected on how humanitarian assistance should change in the face of this extended crisis. Working with social enterprises like Ashoka, Xchange, Firetree Trust, and Limitless Lab, we developed a programme that looked at and improved the systems in place for emergency response, and worked to strengthen these systems to better serve impacted communities.




LEARN about Collective Innovation

Start Network’s first virtual Assembly meeting took take place from Monday 12 to Thursday 15 October 2020, alongside our 10-year anniversary celebrations. Watch the recordings of the sessions on Collaborative Innovation and access all the learning materials below.



Labs and Beyond: Opportunities to Transform Innovation Support

Reimagining Systems of Support for Aid Sector Innovators To date, much of the work on innovation lab design has focused on serving individual innovators who develop well-bounded products and services. Other more complex forms of innovation, ideas that engage a diverse range of participants in a wider creative effort, have received less attention and have fewer formal systems of support. This paper explores these untapped innovation strategies and lays out the ecosystems of support they need to succeed. In this "post-lab" world, sponsors of innovation have a unique opportunity to expand their strategies for funding and mentoring impactful creative change.



The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme Innovation Labs Briefing Paper

The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs is a two-year programme that aims to foster, and eventually scale up, innovations that address key problems faced by disaster-prone communities.



Geoff Mulgan wants us to rethink how to use AI technology

Start Network has been looking into digital capacity, and blockchain solutions as part of its potential to solve structural problems within the humanitarian sector. Currently the system is overly centralised, funding is often slow and reactive, and the capacity to change is limited due to risk averse operating models. Start Network is embracing new ways of working that are locally driven, proactive and innovative. More recently the Network recently completed a series of pilots with Fintech startup Disberse and looked at using a blockchain based platform to make aid flows fully traceable, non-corruptible, fast and cost-effective. Read more about the learning from the first pilot, that was driven by Start Network member Dorcas.     



How to assess the impact of a Drought Risk Financing facility: A guide

This guide outlines some of the conceptual questions, and practical tools, that can be used to evaluate drought risk financing (DRF) initiatives. It offers a framework for thinking about the impact of drought risk financing, along with risk financing more broadly and the wider general issue of the added value of earlier humanitarian response.



Drought Financing Facility summary

The purpose of this report is to give an overview of the way the Drought Financing Facility is designed, including two proposed pilots in Zimbabwe and Pakistan.



Start Evolves Video: Emily Montier on the Family of Financing Facilities

The Start Network’s vision is a humanitarian system in which funding will be dependable and predictable, responses are based on humanitarian need and context-appropriate. For this to become reality, the Start Network needs to evolve into a global, decentralised 'network of networks'.



Start Evolves Webinar: Dan McClure on feedback loops for complex systems

The Start Network’s vision is a humanitarian system in which funding will be dependable and predictable, responses are based on humanitarian need and context-appropriate. For this to become reality, the Start Network needs to evolve into a global, decentralised 'network of networks'.