Fostering innovation in the humanitarian sector

Start Labs is a collectively-owned incubator that aims to foster innovation in the humanitarian sector. It supports the development and piloting of new solutions to enable earlier, faster and more effective response to humanitarian crises.


Catalysing change for greater impact

When crisis strikes, solutions are all too often late, insufficient, poor quality or absent. We want that to change. We want to see innovation, both radical and incremental, because we want to strengthen the aid system, making it proactive and flexible in its approach and therefore more effective and efficient.


A reactive business model

Lack of resources to develop and share ideas

Funding is tightly controlled to avoid perceived risks


New financial mechanisms

will create a proactive model for NGOs

Collective access to partners

and funding to test new ideas

The time and space to learn

will help to change policies


Developing and testing new humanitarian solutions

We trial new ways of working before introducing them to the field. Innovations we invest in can be taken to scale by our members and their local partners. Support from our members means we have a higher tolerance for risk and can explore opportunities that individual NGOs would not be able to approach by themselves. Below we explain more about our current innovations.
Read about Start Network's parametric insurance mechanisms for humanitarian response

Loan facility

The first dedicated loan facility for humanitarian NGOs will be prototyped and launched to offer advance funding in situations where NGOs face lengthy delays in accessing traditional funding. Loans are repaid in the period following a disaster or event when grants and external sources to funding become available.

Parametric insurance

We are designing and piloting an insurance product based on an innovative drought forecast model with pre-set triggers for pay-outs. This will provide predictable funding for early response to ensuing drought-induced food crises across multiple countries.

Pandemics facility

Lessons learnt in the recent Ebola crisis will feed directly into the development of an epidemics facility to ensure early funding, with the potential to scale, for frontline NGOs to contain emerging pandemics at a time when other donors are not present.

Innovation taken to scale

Humanitarian surge training Bangkok 2016 © ActionAid

In the past, investing in innovation in the humanitarian sector was rare. The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs aims to change that by identifying and funding innovative solutions to disaster preparedness through a network of labs based around the world in countries prone to disaster. The DEPP Innovation Labs is a two-year £10 million programme, funded by UK Aid.

Read more


Until recently there has not been a mechanism in the global humanitarian system that can provide fast funding for NGOs in a crisis. The Start Fund changed has that. After piloting the Emergency Response Fund beginning in 2010, we were able to provide evidence of its need and its impact and then secure funding to take it to scale. In 2014 the Start Fund was born. We are now also able to use the Start Fund to respond to crises before they hit.

Read more about the Crisis Anticipation Window


OUR PARTNERS and funders

Helping us catalyse change in the sector

Helping us scope, develop and pilot innovations.

Further Information

Find out more about Start Labs