WHO IS KIM SCRIVEN?
Having an idea to change the way we help others is one thing – getting it off the ground and into reality is an entirely different matter. While there are any number of amazing stories about Aidpreneurs who have bootstrapped their way to success, even those who started with no funding eventually find themselves in a place where filling the coffers is necessary to scale, pivot or just grow.
My guest for the 123rd episode of the Terms of Reference Podcast knows a thing or two about funding innovation. Kim Scriven is the Manager of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. Kim is responsible for the development and management of the Fund, and oversees both its grant making processes and innovation management work. Kim has been a longstanding advocate for increased investment in innovation by the humanitarian system, previously working within the Secretariat of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), where his work focused on supporting innovation in humanitarian organisations, and promoting learning around innovation.
You can connect with Kim here:
IN TOR 123 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What an innovation for development fund is and how it works.
- The recent evolution and spread of innovation across humanitarian players.
- How funding is increasing, the ecosystem is getting busy, and more players are joining the fun, but risks come with openness.
- The need to understand risk, how networks can limit the impact of negative outcomes, but how ultimately it is inherent to both humanitarian work and innovation.
- How there are no secrets for innovation other than honest focus on rigorous learning and common sense.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Rising Fish Innovation
- Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA)
- Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP)
- United Kingdom Ministry of Defense
- Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
- Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Wendy Fenton, Humanitarian Practice Network
- Humanitarian Exchange Magazine
- Blockchain Technologies
- 1980s Ethiopia famine
- 1990s Rwanda (Great Lakes) refugee crisis
- 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami
- 2014 West Africa Ebola virus epidemic
- Mobile payments
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
There are a lot of people around the world who want improvements in the humanitarian system, in the way it delivers.
Kim wants to harness from that “culture of self-analysis and reflection about how aid works,” how it deals with emergencies: ’80s Ethiopia, ’90s Rwanda, ’00s South East Asia Tsunami, ’10s West Africa Ebola.
At the end of each there is still not a system to capitalize on good ideas.
Kim focused and gathered partners around funding for innovation. By 2010, there were no “cross-sectional mechanisms” for this, save some private R&D budgets.
“What makes innovation happen is in part funding and resources, but a lot of it is the wide relationships and cultures, in and between organizations that allow people to explore new ideas and test them, capture evidence, share them, then embark on the political process to embrace change.”
Kim’s fund has evolved from the ‘call for proposals’ model to include ‘challenges’ around specific issues (water), including involvement in actual processes, engagement and advocacy.
“Just how the system has embraced the idea of innovation and bringing new technologies” over the last 5 years.
Kim thinks it is leading to more funding for technology. Aid “wants to get serious.”
Impact and response has improved.
Technology-fostered microfinance in India most exemplary.
There were notable challenges during the dozens of experiments Kim ran for 5-6 years.
This gave them awareness on what works, at least on what wouldn’t work, an increased interest on evidence.
Systems, incentives and its effect. Organizations have policies and behaviors that hinder or conflict with positive impact.
Kim has clarity on scaling, and the need for partnerships is growing.
Transition from pilot to “low risk growth” is still a challenge.
Conversations with Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs who funds their scaling work. Kim is trying to convince them to engage in further commitments.
“Really diverse.” “Open to all comers.”
Establish humanitarian agencies and NGOs, UN, Red Cross agencies.
Also universities from all over the world, all sizes.
More entrepreneurial, “startup-type” ready to disrupt.
Private organizations and business, though “not as much as we’d hope.”
Best proposals come from collaborations between organizations, the more diverse the better, bridging domains.
An evolution, in the marketplace, more diverse sources for innovation. Smaller organizations are more active.
“Even if we’re very successful, we’re never gonna be big in the development space.”
Systemic change needs more ambitious and encompassing dynamics.
Big donor behavior needs to be reshaped.
Stephen: They have made some inroads, in the form of ‘labs and hubs.’
“The ecosystem is becoming busy” and that is probably “interesting.”
It tends to follow a period of consolidation. Participants need to be more “outward looking” to survive, keep building links for solutions to actually hold.
Promoting and structuring approaches to innovation is a priority everyone can join. Understand risk and return. Kim knows how important many lines of communication are for this.
What bars innovation, if anything
“Not surprisingly, large entities find innovation difficult.” Their modus is about stable deployment.
The politicization of aid, to the detriment of responsiveness.
Resource constraints when there are no business incentives. The problems they face cannot be solved by private sector thinking, making the comparisons moot?
Stephen: If businesses had the answer, they’d have the answer.
The entrepreneurial adventures of Kim and everyone
Many organizations fill in different mindsets, it helps connect all sectors.
Teams represent diversity of skills working together.
Kim wakes up on the ground, deals with businesses by lunch, talks to Academia and the Singularity University, joins the “lab movement” by sunset.
Barriers of entry to recognized humanitarian players will continue to recede.
Knowledge will come in larger volumes.
Reaction times will speed up.
But new risks will arise. Codes and conducts for accountability need fortifying.
Kim has modules to measure progress and “see what success looks like at each step.”
Having said that, “we don’t know what’s gonna work.” Risk is inherent to innovation, much more so in this field.
But learning is taken seriously.
There are acceptable and unacceptable failures.
With ALNAP they have developed case studies on projects funded “to understand factors of success and failure.”
Many players have taken care of maintaining a “rich account” of innovation practices, tools and methods.
Don’t tell me your secret. So, what’s your secret?
“There are a lot of things you can use to increase success. 1: Common sense.”
“There are specific things we want to see from funded initiatives,” in terms of planning and management, impact, implementation of tech.
Chances of success are continuously assessed.
Experts bring understanding, for partners to internalize, share further.
“People need to start with a good idea. This only comes from understanding.”
His Board of Directors: IT consultancy, UK’s Ministry of Defense, Institute of Development Studies. “It’s a broad range of expertise, and that’s a real privilege.”
Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Wendy Fenton, Humanitarian Practice Network.
Humanitarian Exchange Magazine.
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