Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
Our purpose is clear: we work in partnership with a global community of humanitarian actors, researchers and innovators to improve the quality of humanitarian action and deliver better outcomes for people affected by crises.
We empower the humanitarian community. Find out how we can support you...

Enable partnerships

We enable people to work effectively together on research and innovation programmes.

We work with our funding partners to provide opportunities, and expertise, for the humanitarian community to develop and sustain effective research and innovation partnerships.

In 2018…

With the backing of six funding partners, we supported effective research and innovation partnerships within the humanitarian community. Together we provided opportunities for cutting-edge research and innovation around our focus areas, including humanitarian public health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), gender-based violence (GBV) and scaling innovation. This year we began developing a new programming area focusing on disability and older age inclusion (DOAI).


We published our ‘Too tough to scale? Challenges to scaling innovation in the humanitarian sector’ report, which provides an in-depth analysis of why more innovations aren’t successfully scaling. It identifies key barriers. And it draws on our learnings from supporting partnership development and funding more than 150 humanitarian innovations over the past eight years.

We continued to support the unique partnership challenges and needs of our global research and innovation communities and significantly increased our range of activities and guidance.

Through our Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), we further developed and shared our expertise around effective partnerships for humanitarian innovation. This knowledge is accessible through our new Innovation Insights webinar series, which is based on our Humanitarian Innovation Guide.

Through our public health research fund, R2HC, we provided dedicated seed funding to support the development of research partnerships; additional in-person and bespoke partnerships support and training to selected applicants; and written guidance on effective partnerships management to all applicants.

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Drive research and innovation

We invest in the highest quality research and innovation to address pressing humanitarian challenges.

We develop tailored funding mechanisms to support high-quality, timely and appropriate research and the development and testing of appropriate innovative solutions that can address these challenges.

In 2018…

We provided support to 122 research and innovation projects (currently live) around the world, of which 25 were new grants awarded during 2018.


Our public health research grants awarded in 2018 cover a breadth of research topics relevant to evidence gaps in humanitarian public health programming, including hypertension and diabetes care; trauma rehabilitation; intimate partner violence; pneumococcal vaccination; abortion services; and child-friendly spaces.

Through our HIF we worked on four challenge areas in WASH and GBV, supporting the development of new solutions to pressing problems through inclusive innovation approaches including user-centred design, operational field testing and innovative impact evaluation approaches.

Our User-Centred Sanitation Design through Rapid Community Engagement Challenge supported five projects, implemented by three sets of partnerships, to collectively address the lack of a methodology for quickly engaging with communities affected by crises on their sanitation needs. We engaged a Research & Evaluation Partner who has independently evaluated all five projects and shared the learning across the sector.


We developed our Emergency Household Water Filter Challenge to address the need for better evidence about the performance of household water filters in emergencies. We funded the testing of five pre-existing filters in emergencies, as well as two innovation projects to develop better emergency filters.

Our Challenge on Developing and Disseminating Guidance for Faecal Sludge Disposal Sites supported a unique partnership between German sanitation expert BORDA and Solidarités International. Together, they’ve developed a new understanding of how WASH practitioners access knowledge and guidance and are currently piloting a platform – Octopus – for faecal sludge disposal guidance. The platform will be embedded into the most accessed sources of WASH knowledge.


Continuing to focus on gaining users’ and local perspectives, within our GBV focus area we launched our second funding call on GBV Monitoring and Evaluation – ‘Taking a local perspective on measuring the impact of GBV Programming’. We’ve since funded five projects in 2019 that have the capacity and expertise to tackle the problem of impact assessment of GBV programmes from a local, contextual perspective.

We continued to support three grantees and their partners with bespoke expertise and partnerships guidance through our ‘Journey to Scale’ initiative. We helped them scale their innovations across varying pathways – from scaling to new contexts, or within new organisations, to new user groups.

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Transform practice

We commit to sharing quality research and innovations to improve humanitarian policy and practice.

We continue to develop effective pathways to ensure the humanitarian research and innovation we support has impact. We develop strong relationships between those who produce and those who use research and innovation for humanitarian response.

We make sure our funded research is accessible – published articles and journals are free to access and where we can support evidence to be translated into practical tools and guidance we do.

In 2018…

40 peer-reviewed articles written by our grantees were published and free to access in reputable journals including: PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Wiley Online Library Child Development, The Lancet, BMJ Global Health, JAMA, Critical Public Health, Trials, World Psychiatry, Journal of Biosocial Science, Chemical Science and Waterlines.

In June we held our Humanitarian Innovation Forum in Brussels. We brought together nearly 60 individuals focused on humanitarian innovation, including our grantees, donors, innovation hubs/labs/accelerators, global innovation actors, country-based innovation networks and consultants. Our Forum provided the opportunity to focus and build on discussion and learnings around the key challenges facing the sector, including the engagement of affected populations, ethical innovation, scale, monitoring and evaluating, building effective partnerships, as well as problem recognition and pilot testing innovation.  

We launched our online Humanitarian Innovation Guide at the Forum in June. The Guide is a growing online resource to help individuals and organisations define humanitarian problems and successfully develop innovative solutions. During its development, we held two workshops to ‘field test’ the content: the first in Beirut, with the UNHCR Innovation Service, and the second in Kathmandu, with World Vision’s Nepal Innovation Lab. The balance of local UN staff and a broad mix of local innovation and humanitarian actors enabled us to engage with a broad range of potential use cases. From its launch in June 2018 to December 2018, the Guide had more than 2,000 visitors viewing over 13,000 pages. Further chapters have been developed for inclusion in 2019.

In July we co-edited a special edition of the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Exchange publication on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Crises. This edition contains a series of articles featuring our R2HC-funded projects, sharing their studies’ findings, methodologies and approaches.


ODI’s Humanitarian Exchange magazine
Cover photo from ODI’s publication on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support. Photo Credit: Patrick Meinhardt/International Medical Corp

In October we published our Too Tough to Scale? Challenges to scaling innovation in the humanitarian sector report, providing in-depth analysis of why more innovations aren’t successfully scaling, and identifying key barriers. The report draws on our experience funding more than 150 humanitarian innovations and on our relevant learning and experience from the social and development sectors. The report was published alongside an accompanying webinar and launch of a blogging series to delve deeper into the particular barriers to scale identified.

We began developing our Research Impact Toolkit (RIT) in response to requests from grantees for additional support on how to deliver stronger impact through their research. We commissioned ODI to adapt its ROMA (Rapid Outcome Mapping Approach) tool into a RIT specifically targeting our R2HC humanitarian health research partnerships. The RIT provides grantees with a strategic approach to research impact planning and has enabled us to further develop and strengthen our own approach to advancing the global public health evidence base. We’ll be delivering workshops with our grantees in 2019 to roll out this tool.   

Our publications – developed by both us and our grantees – are available on our Tools and Research Resource, which is searchable by theme, region, author and institution.

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Become an independent charity

On 1 May 2018, we became an independent charity and company. From our beginnings in 2009 to that point, we had been hosted by Save the Children UK and had received invaluable operational support along the way.

The transition to independence has involved key restructuring to our governance bodies, the development of new robust policies and operating procedures.  

Read our Annual Report

Get the details of our achievements, structure and financial statements for 2018 in our Annual Report.

Annual Report

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