Four large television screens in a London conference room broadcast the voices of 12 changemakers living in disaster zones to a packed audience. These standout entrepreneurs and social innovators had the rare opportunity to present their creative solutions to reduce disaster risks to a room full of potential investors and supporters on 8 May, 2019, at the Global Demo Day of the DEPP Innovation Labs in London. And they did so with passion and flare.
Resiliency is word that can fall flat in humanitarian or development policy but on this particular day it came through loud and clear with each and every live presentation patched in from Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya and the Philippines.
The event marked the culmination of a two-year global innovation programme CDAC Network is co-leading with Start Network to prioritise the local knowledge, resources and skills of communities vulnerable to or facing disasters. The programme funded by UK Aid has seen over 70 initiatives take root, ranging from high tech to low tech. All are designed to build resiliency and reduce harm in high risk areas affected by crises such as conflict and displacement, drought, flooding, typhoons and tsunamis.
UK visa issues preventing most of the innovators from speaking in person did not deny them the opportunity. Technology played its part and they were able to present in their own words and interact with the audience. A few were able to be in the room - two teams from the Philippines, one presenting a life jacket made from recycled plastic bottles and Ania Design Lab who’ve created a learning virtual reality disaster simulator. Those on screen were as engaging. Samuel Kingori from Garissa County, Kenya, a co-founder of Mathenge Maisha, a growing social enterprise to transform a common weed into nutritious, affordable flour, turned to the screen and offered the audience in London a slice of his “delicious cake”.
What is progressive about this programme is communication and community engagement is the centerpiece not an adjunct, informing inclusive and participatory approaches to building solutions in these highly challenging contexts. Over the last 18 months, the innovator teams have worked through a comprehensive curriculum to develop their ideas and turn them into scalable innovations and they’ve done so alongside the people these solutions are intended to benefit.
Many of the innovators are from disaster-affected areas. A key ingredient of their success is close and consistent collaboration with their local communities, so solutions are relevant, shared and designed to bring long-term, widespread relief. They’ve all received tailored support from four country innovation labs: TUKLAS in Philippines, Mahali
The programme has had a positive impact way beyond the resulting innovations. Companies, governments and aid organisations have come together on new and different footings and are thinking more intentionally about creating open and inclusive collaborative processes with and for the people they serve. People are listening and taking note. There has been a distinct shift towards mainstreaming communication and community engagement, evident in the way people are starting to talk about it as integral to their operations. This is innovation!