After 5 years of awarding HIF grants and receiving over 1,700 applications, we have a good sense of what constitutes a strong application. Here’s some advice to help guide potential applicants:
The most regular pitfall we see is when a proposed project is not in the scope of what we deem ‘humanitarian’. Any idea that we fund must be focused on improving humanitarian response – the work of organisations during and immediately after a natural disaster or conflict to save lives, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations. At the HIF, we are guided by the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) definition:
“‘Humanitarian aid’ is aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies.”
We often receive applications to fund agriculture development, the building of new schools or school latrines. These and other such projects with broader development goals are not in scope.
Novelty on its own is not a virtue. The proposed innovation should clearly have the potential to improve operational humanitarian performance. We use the guidance cited in ALNAP’s work:
“Innovations are dynamic processes which focus on the creation and implementation of new or improved products and services, processes, positions and paradigms. Successful innovations are those that result in improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, quality or social outcomes/impacts. They consist of 5 broadly defined stages: recognition, invention, development, implementation and diffusion.”
Although innovation and technology are often linked, they are not synonymous, and the adoption of new technology is not necessarily sufficient. The cross-application of established ideas and technologies into humanitarian settings may be innovative but only if the application shows a deep understanding of the needs and context of the communities it seeks to help.
What is the problem your innovation addresses? You must demonstrate a clear understanding of the operational humanitarian sector and the needs of communities affected by crisis. A good business idea or system improvement is not necessarily what is needed. You also need to consider, who are your target customers or beneficiaries?
So often innovative solutions are suggested that already exist, or there are more efficient and effective solutions to the problem in question. We strongly suggest that you research existing solutions before putting time into applying for the grant. We don’t want you to waste your time! You must be able to justify with evidence how your solution is better than what already exists.
Often we see an exciting idea, however the methodology is weak and we cannot clearly see how the planned activities would meet the objectives. Please review our monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) note on our Recognition and Invention website pages before you apply.
We often see an unbalanced budget, with large sums being paid to consultants and rapid timelines. Please be as realistic as possible when it comes to the work plan.
Applications need to evidence the right mix of partners to 1) design a robust project plan with a coherent methodology and M&E plan and 2) have contacts on the ground in a crisis in order to have access to those affected by disasters for testing and stakeholder input.
If you do have the right mix, then ensure you prove it! Letters of interest and support from partners and the wider humanitarian sector are recommended. It helps if you can show the reviewers that your partnerships are set up and your collaborators engaged from the start. If you work in the private sector or a university we need to be sure you can access the field and that the humanitarian sector is a potential consumer of the new product you want to develop.
What is your plan for developing your innovation and bringing it to scale if the initial project proves successful? We like to see that this has been thought through as we don’t want HIF projects to simply join the ‘pilot graveyard’. You need buy in to your idea from the humanitarian sector as a whole.
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