Solar Cow powered study at home
In his book “Brave New Work: Are you ready to reinvent your organization” Aaron Dignan says,

I have met countless leaders who are frustrated. They are confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made their organizations strong are now liabilities in this era of constant change….They are being asked to invent the future, but to do so in a culture of work  that is deeply broken. They don’t have enough time to do their work, but pack their days with endless meetings, e-mails and data streams. The end result is wasted energy.

You may also recall that last November we mentioned “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis, in which he suggests that

…the fifth risk [is] the risk that a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to longer-term risks with short-tern solutions. “Program management” is not just program management. “Program management” is the existential threat that you never really even imagine as a risk….’ [p.73]

The relevance of these perspectives are fundamental to those in the humanitarian sector who believe in the importance of innovation and innovation practices. Aleem Walji, the Aga Khan Foundation (USA)’s Chief Executive Officer, throws some important light on both when it comes to prevention, preparedness and response. In his article Innovation Often Fails to Scale, he offers various practical approaches and notes amongst other points, that the Innovation Lab with which the Foundation worked,

required us to collaborate on experimentation in an utterly new way. We worked with other parts of the bank and a few outside organizations to incubate the Open Development Technology Alliance, now part of the bank’s digital engagement team. The alliance worked to enhance accountability and improve delivery of public services with technology-enabled citizen engagement, such as mobile phones, citizen science, and social media.

Finally, for those who were not able to attend the World Humanitarian Forum, which took place in London between 17-18 April, innovation was also a central theme. We’d like to flag two initiatives in particular:

  • Solar Cow, which links the use of solar power that school children can capture in portable battery systems located in local schools, principally at this stage in Kenya. The ‘cow’’s provision of electricity offers an acceptable rationale for parents to let their children attend school rather than needing them to work, because amongst other things it provides virtually free electricity for their homes. Electricity for poor households, and education for children — both thanks to a Solar Cow. See

    A Solar Cow in Kenya


  • LIFE – Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship is a project that supports and encourages entrepreneurship, job creation and cross-cultural engagement in the food sector. Through its entrepreneur incubation programme, LIFE creates sustainable livelihoods in Turkey for refugees and host communities. Both communities are interconnected through resources, services and opportunities to grow their business skills and networks. See

Where and how does truly transformative technology fit into innovations and innovative practices that the humanitarian sector needs to consider? This is something we hope to explore further.

The HF team value any ideas that you might have about innovations and innovative practices, and that you might wish to share with others.

No organization ever created an innovation. People innovate, not companies. – Seth Godin