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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Clinicians at HEAL Africa Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo use the MediCapt application to support forensic documentation of sexual violence.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to dramatically change our world in coming years. Among a small group of humanitarian practitioners, there is a rich debate regarding the opportunities and risks that AI holds, yet the future of AI in humanitarian aid is being overwhelmingly shaped by voices in the Global North.1 How will the humanitarian system be inclusive, safe, ethical and equal for all, if we do not give space for more voices to be part of the debate? There is no doubt that AI may hold promise for the world of humanitarian innovation. At the same time the humanitarian principles of ‘do no harm’, neutrality and impartiality set the standard and highlight the potential risk an unbalanced AI agenda holds.  

Last year 360 million people worldwide needed humanitarian assistance — up 30 per cent since the start of the previous year.2 This huge demand is falling on a chronically underfunded and overstretched system. With innovation funding becoming more focused on developing efficient and effective solutions, the humanitarian community is under pressure to keep pace with emerging technologies. However, the information available is often lacking a humanitarian perspective, reinforcing barriers to entry, and inhibiting the potential for effective and informed adoption by the humanitarian community. 

The speed at which AI is evolving makes it difficult for many humanitarian actors to meaningfully engage. Coupled with the magnitude of both the risks and opportunities technology brings, there is urgent need to bring together diverse practitioners with a deep understanding of the challenges facing vulnerable communities to collectively define the problems that future AI systems can and should respond to. 

The Learning Journey

To build capacity in the humanitarian community to engage in these issues, we’re launching our AI for Humanitarians: Shaping Future Innovation funding call. Up to £250,000 is available to bring together up to 10 grantees, to take a problem-led approach and collaboratively explore the opportunities and risks associated with AI in humanitarian innovation, and identify future areas of impact for further investigation and potential investment.  

Successful applicants will take part in a 6-month learning journey where they will be guided through a curriculum to build their knowledge, take part in group discussions and complete hands-on exercises trialling AI tools. They will hear from guest speakers and experts providing real-world insights in best and next practice and receive one-on-one support from mentors. Each will produce a concept note responding to their chosen problem field. The cohort will also co-design a set of recommendations for funders and policymakers informed by the learning journey activities. 

Who is eligible to apply?

Our mission is to amplify the experience of communities affected by crisis. We are seeking practitioners that have a deep understanding and direct experience of the humanitarian problems facing those communities, including humanitarian practitioners, responders and innovators, at both the national and global level.   

Successful applicants will need to speak English to an upper-intermediate level to take part in the group activities, though we will, as far as possible, make learning materials available in other languages. Access to an internet connection will be needed as some learning sessions will take place online.

We welcome applicants to apply as a team if they would like to explore the problem with partners from other organisations or localities. However, there should be one main participant who is fully committed to engaging in all the learning journey activities. 

How to Apply

You can submit an expression of interest application to take part in the learning journey. The Challenge Handbook provides further details. You will be asked to define the problem you would like to explore and the potential of AI to respond.

Defining the problem  

As far as possible we invite you to identify those problems that, if solved, could have the greatest impact. When defining the problem, you can make use of the tools available in our Humanitarian Innovation Guide. 

The problem could be an operational issue of coordination between delivery partners, gathering and synthesising evidence to support decision-making, access to support services and much more. We recognise that sometimes the biggest impact can come from making a relatively small change in a much larger process. 

The potential of AI

At this stage we are not expecting applicants to solve the problem with an AI intervention identified. We would, however, want applicants to be aware of some of the existing challenges or barriers to adoption. The Challenge Handbook has a series of questions to support applicants in defining the potential impact that an AI intervention could have. 

We want to support humanitarian practitioners from diverse contexts to look to the future potential of AI, to engage with the development of AI systems, and be responsive to emerging plans to govern them. We acknowledge that AI is not the solution to all problems. Taking a problem-led approach directed by those with experience will give us the best chance of deploying AI effectively and in a way that doesn’t compromise humanitarian principles which are essential for protecting communities in crisis. 

If you would like to find out more please go to our funding call page. 

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