Small data and big humanitarian challenges: why innovation matters

May 24, 2016

Istanbul - One small collection of data has the potential to overcome enormous humanitarian challenges, the first ever World Humanitarian Summit was told today.

UNDP joined with UN partners UNICEF, WFP and OCHA, the governments of Finland and Denmark, private sector partners Vodafone and Microsoft and the Flowminder Foundation, to share the latest on innovation and technology breakthroughs in the development and humanitarian sectors.

The innovators focused on the use of real-time information tools to improve decision making and empower citizens to create change, while reducing humanitarian need.

Importantly, they can also be leveraged to predict and monitor slow and sudden onset crises, to reduce their impact and enable affected communities to recover much more quickly.

UNDP highlighted the work of its Innovation Facility, which was established to foster the design of a new generation of development services, by testing promising concepts, methods and technologies. 

In 2015, through the Innovation Facility, UNDP provided seed funding to 62 initiatives in 45 countries that were designed to overcome development challenges and provided technical assistance to initiatives in a further 25 countries. 

Under one Innovation Facility in post-earthquake Nepal, UNDP partnered with Microsoft to develop a smartphone app that monitors reconstruction efforts in real time and ensures that poor families in the cash-for-work programme are paid accurately and on time. 

The information that was collected improved efforts to demolish and remove debris from more than 3,000 houses, employed more than 3,500 local people and benefited around 17,000 community members. 

State Secretary for Development Policy with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Martin Bille Hermann, underlined the importance of partnerships for innovation.

"The private sector as well as philanthropic foundations and academia play a key role in developing and testing new models and in assessing their impact," Mr. Hermann said. "Moving forward, we need to find areas of 'shared value' for the private sector as well as humanitarian and development organizations. Both need to benefit from working together; for profit generation on the basis of sustainable and responsible business conduct on one hand, and achieving development goals on the other hand."

UNDP Policy Specialist for Innovation Benjamin Kumpf underlined that innovation work was results-oriented. “We do not innovate for innovation’s sake but rather to identify solutions that create tangible and measurable changes in people’s lives,” he said. 

Contact information

Nicolas Douillet, +90 535 922 4991

UNDP Around the world