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Launch of 'innovation labs' to prepare for disasters in four countries

The four labs are in Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya and the Philippines

  • by Amrina Rana
  • 17 Oct 17

Demo of platform for Syrian families in Lebanon and Jordan © International Rescue Committee

News Article

Start Network has launched four new “innovation labs” in Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya and the Philippines, aimed at finding fresh ways to help local communities prepare for disasters.

The move is the first of its kind by NGO’s, as the labs will facilitate innovations by people on the ground that are driven by client needs, making the labs more locally driven than many other investments into innovation in the sector. The £10 million programme, jointly managed by Start Network and CDAC Network and funded by UK Aid, will end in March 2019.

The four countries were selected because they are particularly prone to natural and man-made disasters ranging from floods, typhoons, drought, earthquakes and armed conflict. These disasters cost lives and cause wide displacement and economic loss every year.

Innovations produced by the labs could range from developing better building materials and that are more resistant to flooding or earthquakes or easier to transport when reconstruction is needed, to new communications systems for communities to use in a crisis. New technology might be used to improve planning and crisis response systems within an affected country.

Neil Townsend, DEPP Innovation Programme Manager, said: “This programme is truly innovative. It is a real chance to support locally-driven change within the humanitarian system and to channel meaningful support to the people most affected by disasters. The labs will provide the mechanism to support lots of new projects across several countries, some of which will have the potential to take to scale and lead to system-wide change.”

“We are excited to work with the organisations selected to manage the labs as they have close connections with communities affected by disasters, and are able to harness their creativity, ideas and solutions.”

The Safer Communities Innovation Lab in Bangladesh

Launching at an event today in Dhaka, the Bangladesh Lab aims to examine and improve the direct impact of the built environment on emergencies, so important in communities facing natural disasters. The lab seeks to find and support ideas that build safer communities, and being based out of Korail, Bangladesh’s largest slum, it will ensure ideas are led by the local community. The lab is hosted by Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, a Bangladeshi community hospital and medical college and a consortium of partners.*

Prof. Dr. Quazi Quamuruzzaman, Chairman, Dhaka Community Hospital Trust said: “The lab will run out of a community that is globally known for its vulnerability. This is a completely new idea in disaster preparedness and risk reduction in South Asia. We believe that [the region] has immense capacities, which need to be tapped into in an organised way, recognised, and developed. We hope these scouted innovations will not only help the local community but will also be replicable and scalable to solve similar problems elsewhere.”

The TUKLAS Lab in the Philippines

The Philippines TUKLAS Lab will identify innovative ideas and entrepreneurs across the country, to nurture, test and scale promising innovations.  Managed by Plan International, the TUKLAS consortium** will establish four regional labs in the most disaster affected areas, keeping the priorities of the community at their core and encouraging ideas that meet the needs of vulnerable groups. The lab will give small grants to proposals selected in collaboration with community members. Proposals can be submitted now until the 30th November.

Dennis O’Brien, Country Director, Plan International Philippines said: “The Start Network and DFID should be commended for investing in community-level innovations for disaster preparedness. Disasters have become more frequent and severe, and it is the poor Filipino communities that bear the brunt. Communities here also always the first responders. Making sure that the innovative ideas come from these communities is very relevant and will make them better able to prepare for and respond to disasters.”

AIM Innovation Labs in Kenya

Adeso, iHub and Mastercard Labs are partnering in Kenya to strengthen rural communities’ resilience to recurring drought – to enable them to prepare, respond and recover. The AIM consortium will use a human-centered approach to innovation by working hand in hand with local communities in the counties of Marsabit and Garissa. These labs will improve links between local stakeholders and access to digital financial services.

Adeso Kenya Country Director Mohamed Ali Sharif said: “We’re very excited to be working with disaster-prone communities in Kenya using a different approach on how they can better prepare for disasters. Often innovators in these communities have great ideas on how to deal with their community’s issues and may have even tried to test these ideas out but may not have the right space or particular resources to sustain or realize these ideas in the way they intended. We hope that these innovation labs will give these innovators the space and added resources to contribute to their community resilience.”

Mahali Lab in Jordan

Mahali Lab, run by International Rescue Committee***, will identify and solve challenges posed by long-term displacement of people, caused primarily by the war in Syria. A series of “design challenges” will be launched to enable communities to propose potential solutions to problems faced by vulnerable communities throughout Jordan.  The theme of each challenge will be determined through consultation with Syrian refugees, leaders within host communities, and community-based organisations.  A community review board will select a small number to receive specialised support to fully develop their solutions. The IRC will invest in and support the most promising projects.

Lillie Rosen,  Community Innovation Coordinator at International Rescue Committee said: “The most exciting thing about this initiative is seeing people from the community come together and realize that they have the power to be active problem solvers and that we’re able to support them. We are creating a process and a platform that reflects their needs. For many, this is the first time they have this kind of space.”

*Consortium partners in Bangladesh include SEEDS Technical Services; University of New South Wales; Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED); and the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network, a civil society network of 56 national NGOs from across the Asian region.

** The TUKLAS Labs (tuklas means “discover” in Tagalog and the acronym TUKLAS Tungo sa Kahandaan ng Pilipinas means “Towards Preparedness in the Philippines”). Consortium partners in this lab include Citizens’ Disaster Response Center, Action Against Hunger and Care. More information is on the TUKLAS Facebook page.

***The Mahali Lab is managed by the Airbel Center, the innovation unit at the IRC. More information is on and Medium.

You can read more about DEPP Innovation Labs here.

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