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.
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Please note that this opportunity has now closed. Find out about our current and previous funding opportunities.

The humanitarian sector has long acknowledged that the participation of people affected by crises in all stages of humanitarian programming can improve accountability and the quality of humanitarian assistance, as well as strengthen the resilience and capacity of those affected (ALNAP, 2003).

Despite lots of policies and guidance that echo the need for participation, there has been slow progress in mainstreaming such practices in humanitarian settings. Where participation does take place it often builds on pre-existing structures and representatives which may exclude the most marginalised and vulnerable, such as older people and people with disabilities.

The Problem

Although available data on disability is not comprehensive, global estimates suggest that around 15% of people in a given population will have some kind of disability. This may be substantially higher in humanitarian settings (WHO, 2011). Older age intersects significantly with disability as an estimated 46% of those over 60 have a disability (ADCAP, 2018).

Despite representing significant proportions of a given population, people with disabilities and older people are often excluded from decision-making in humanitarian programming. As a result, the rights, perspectives and agency of older people and people with disabilities are frequently overlooked, leaving them to be disproportionately affected by crises.

In recent years, there has been a renewed effort in moving beyond the rhetoric of participation and embedding it into humanitarian practice. Examples of this are the “Participation Revolution” workstream part of the Grand Bargain (2017), the participation commitment within the Core Humanitarian Standards and the Humanitarian Inclusion Standards for People with Disabilities and Older People (2018). Yet examples of mechanisms that enable the meaningful participation of older people and people with disabilities in humanitarian programming, as well as evidence around their effectiveness, remain rare in the sector (HIF Gap Analysis, 2020).

The lack of inclusive mechanisms for participation means that people with disabilities and older people often face a range of barriers to participating in decision-making for programmes and activities that directly affect them. Representative organisations such as organisations for people with disabilities (OPDs) and older people’s organisations (OPAs) are also often left out of discussions where their voice and expertise could contribute to the development and implementation of more inclusive programmes.

To enable the sustainable mainstreaming of any inclusive mechanisms for participation, they will need to be backed up by evidence of their effectiveness. However, there are currently few approaches, metrics and tools on how to assess the effectiveness of such participation mechanisms. Our Gap Analysis found that there is a lack of documented evidence on the impacts and outcomes of increased participation of people with disabilities and older people in decision making. There is also a need for increased understanding of the effectiveness of OPDs in enabling meaningful participation.

Women at an educational session on dealing with extreme heat in Karachi, photo taken by Elrha.

The Challenge

We are looking for innovative mechanisms to increase the meaningful participation of people with disabilities and older people in humanitarian action, and innovative ways of assessing the effectiveness of these mechanisms.

Projects will be at the Invention or Adaptation stage of humanitarian innovation. Projects at the Invention stage will generate ideas and develop a prototype for early-stage testing. Those at the Adaptation stage will match an existing solution to a new problem and context.

Get the full details in the Challenge Handbook

For further information about the Challenge, assessment criteria, expected deliverables and application timelines, as well as a glossary of key terms, please read the Challenge Handbook.

Read the Challenge Handbook

Challenge Handbook in accessible formats

The Challenge Handbook above is an accessible PDF, but it is also available in EPUB format.

If you require any Challenge materials in an alternative format please contact us.


How do I apply?

To apply for the Challenge, fill out the Expression of Interest (EOI) via our Common Grant Application platform.

Already have an account? Login to start an application.

Don’t have an account? Sign up to open an account and start an application.

If you require any Challenge materials in an alternative format please contact us.

What do we mean by meaningful participation?

When talking about meaningful participation we take it to mean that people with disabilities and older people are able to participate fully and effectively in decision-making and in the processes for designing, developing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating humanitarian programmes, policies and interventions, as relevant. Participation is an individual choice not limited by cultural, identity, attitudinal, physical, communication or legal/policy barriers.

What is the total funding for the Challenge?

We have a total budget of 900,000 GBP available for this Challenge.

From this, we envisage funding a selection of projects with varying budgets, generally between 150,000 and 300,000 GBP. Please consider the range provided as suggestive and align proposed budgets and timelines with your project’s ambition.

Each project is expected to last between 15 and 20 months. All project-related activities must be completed by 30 September 2022. The total duration of projects should cover all activities including the implementation/piloting of the proposed participation mechanism, assessing its effectiveness, and the sharing of lessons learned with other innovators selected for this Challenge, as well as with the broader humanitarian sector.

For details about the funding for this Challenge, see Funding section in Challenge Handbook.

What is the rate that overheads can be included at?

Overheads may be included up to 10% of the direct costs listed in the budget. They should not exceed this amount, nor be calculated as a percentage of both the direct and indirect costs combined.

For more information, please see the Eligible Costs Guidance document on our Application Guidance page.

What are the timelines?

The Challenge launches on 8 July 2020. The deadline for EOIs is 7 August 2020 (23:59 BST). Apply via the Common Grant Application platform.

For help using CGA please watch this video.

For further information about the application process and timelines, see Challenge Handbook.

Who can apply?

We welcome applications from any legally registered entity (eg, civil society organisation – including representative organisations, international non-governmental organisation, national non-governmental organisation, academic/research institution, government, private company, Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, United Nations agency or programme).
Applications must consist of a partnership with at least one operational humanitarian organisation and at least one organisation for persons with disabilities (OPD) or older people’s association (OPA) working in the place of implementation (either can be the lead applicant).

Applicants are not expected to have confirmed partnerships in place for the EOI stage, but will be expected to provide evidence to demonstrate partnerships by the Full Proposal stage – such as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or similar.

Our portfolio of funded innovations reflects the wider bias in the humanitarian sector where funding is mainly allocated to larger, international organisations, likely to be based in places not usually affected by emergencies. To address this imbalance, we are working to better localise our funding and support, and to increase the number of grants we award to organisations with headquarters in regions affected by crisis. With this in mind, we strongly encourage organisations based in regions affected by crisis to apply and to reach out to us with any questions.

For further information about requirements and success criteria, see Challenge Handbook.

I’d like to submit proposals to more than one Challenge, is that accepted?

Applicants are welcome to submit proposals to any of the open Innovation Challenges.

One organisation can apply for more than one Challenge. One organisation may also submit multiple applications to the same Challenge.

However, please note that you may only have one application in progress in the Common Grant Application system at a time. You can either:

  • Prepare your applications offline using the ‘Key offline questions’ word document. Then for each application you can paste your answers into CGA and submit one application at a time.
  • Create a new log in for each application.

For help using CGA please watch this video.

Can proposed innovations be implemented as part of Covid-19 response activities?

One of our core criteria is for your innovation to be implemented in a humanitarian setting (see glossary in the Handbook for more detail). We recognise that in existing humanitarian settings there may now be new or amended humanitarian programming to prevent and respond to Covid-19. Innovations implemented as part of Covid-19 response activities in an existing humanitarian setting will be eligible. Implementation as part of Covid-19 response activities outside of an existing humanitarian setting, ie in the general population of a country, is not eligible.

How will the funding call take into account potential difficulties arising from COVID-19?

We know that the global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted ‘business as usual’ operations in many humanitarian settings, and for many humanitarian organisations and responders. We’re confident that the problems set out in this Innovation Challenge are still relevant, solutions are still needed and that progress towards developing them can still be made. We encourage you to share any specific considerations or potential adaptations to your approach in response to the current global context in your application.

Are you able to facilitate collaborations?

Where possible, we will support applicants search for partners, but we are not able to commit to securing partners for applicants. If you have a particular type of partner in mind, get in touch with us and we will see how we can help.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. For any questions that are not covered by the Challenge Handbook or this FAQ section, please email us at, referencing ‘Meaningful Participation Challenge’ in the subject line.

Video: Everything you need to know 

Want to know more? In this short explainer video we’ll share:

  • An overview of the Challenge
  • What we’re looking for
  • Key criteria and how to apply
Play video

Banner photo: taken as part of the R2HC-funded project: ‘Adaptation and evaluation of a disaster mental health intervention for earthquake survivors in Kathmandu valley‘, Natural Hazards Center, Colorado University.

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