This article was published by The Business Standard on January 2, 2023 [Source]
Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) is working in Bangladesh to promote humanitarian innovation in designing and deploying solutions through a tailored programme called AI4Resilience. The Business Standard spoke to the organisation’s CEO, Seema Patel, to know more about their ambitions.
Through a programme titled ‘Accelerating Innovation for Resilience (AI4Resilience),’ GKI is now working in Bangladesh to promote humanitarian innovation in designing and deploying solutions that can lead to changes. The Business Standard spoke to the organisation’s CEO, Seema Patel, to know more about the programme.
Can you tell us a bit about AI4Resilience – what you are trying to achieve?
Accelerating Innovation for Resilience is a programme funded by USAID and implemented in partnership with Global Knowledge Initiative [GKI], as well as Spring Activator. We are taking an ecosystem approach in this programme, looking to design and execute the process that activates a diverse range of innovation intermediaries, humanitarian organisations and support providers to consider the current innovation ecosystem for resilience and how we might better collaborate and innovate to strengthen it.
We are not, in this programme, looking to engage and activate individual innovations that might be able to support communities that are experiencing disaster, but really looking to understand and identify opportunities for strengthening that ecosystem for innovation itself.
Can you explain the word ‘resilience’? Is it related to climate change and disasters?
Resilience for us is a very multifaceted concept. It speaks about the capacity of individuals, organisations, and communities to recover quickly from shocks and stresses that they may be experiencing. That might be related to climate, disaster or natural events. There’s also resilience from the deeper protracted stresses that the community might face – everything from systemic inequity in society, and entrenched dynamics around poverty that impact people’s ability to recover quickly from shocks and stresses.
So we don’t conceptualise it as just being able to withstand disasters, but any activity that might put pressure on individuals’, organisations’ and communities’ ability to prepare for and recover quickly from those difficulties.
So how are you planning to do it?
Our approach to activate stakeholders across an ecosystem to work together collectively on a challenge is to bring different diverse organisations and actors together – in this case, global and local humanitarian and innovation actors across the private sector, public sector, civil society, support organisations and various intermediaries.
We are looking to build a collaborative experience. So what we started with is applying a systems mapping and sensing process. In June 2022, we brought people together to have the discourse on the current state of the innovation ecosystem for resilience, how it functions, where are the barriers, where are the opportunities for change [and then] identify where in that system we can collectively work to change it.
Through our mapping process, we were able to collectively identify 10 challenge statements within the innovation ecosystem that, if acted upon, presented the greatest opportunities for transformation, and better strengthen and scale promising innovations in the ecosystem.
From there, we submitted a call for response to these challenge statements and we received 66 applications across a diverse range of Bangladeshi organisations. We selected 23 to work with us over the course of months, to build on their ideas about how they address the challenges and opportunities in the innovation ecosystem.
We’ve been working with these inspiring teams, providing different types of support from design coaching, helping them to identify the root cause of their challenge, and building and refining their innovative ideas for how they might strengthen the system. We are also working with them to identify the kind of strategies and tactics and partnerships that might help them activate the solution and scale it in the system.
So we are running a challenging programme, but it’s unique in that it is really systems-informed and stakeholder-lead, and designed to drive action from our challenge participants to put their idea into implementation to build a stronger system for innovation.
When do you expect these participants to finish their work? Do you have a time frame?
We’ve got a wide diversity of ideas and programmatic solutions that have been proposed by our talent participants. These kinds of complex solutions take time and dedication to achieve their full impact in terms of supporting innovators in this ecosystem, unlocking new capital sources, building the knowledge and data ecosystem to help humanitarian actors; better understand how they may innovate within these complex situations.
Any of these solutions we see is going to take multiple years to grow, refine, scale and improve, but there is urgency to these challenges. Our programme is designed to build incentive and momentum to start now by supporting the catalytic early startup phase of these ideas. We announced our participants a few months ago and we will be working with the top solutions from the cohort at least until summer of 2023.
We hope that the dynamic programming we created for these challenge participants is such that they are agile, and able to move really fast in the early stages to put their solutions into action, but of course, we understand it doesn’t happen overnight and it will take resilience from our challenge participants as well, to continue to grow their solutions even after our support has been delivered.
So you are funding for the early stage and you are expecting that these actions will continue for years. How are you expecting the actions to continue sustainably? Are there profit motives in the ideas?
Our challenge participants represent different institutional structures – both for-profit and nonprofit – in the ecosystem. Integrating sustainability, both financial sustainability and the sustainability of impact, into their designs may look quite different. What we are doing, is from the very beginning and along the way through the coaching and mentoring, we are trying to make sure that integrating sustainability into the design is a priority.
Secondly, as they are developing their concepts and solutions, they are thinking about the kind of relationships and partnerships it would take, and the capacities it would need to resource their solutions and scale up.
Our support will provide in the months to come, opportunities to network and partner across the ecosystem, connecting humanitarian and innovation intermediaries, government actors and international donors, and creating space for peer-peer connections among our participants. We hope these shared spaces for networking and learning enable the exploration of creative, collaborative partnerships, so these organisations are able to build opportunities for sustainability.
Thirdly, our money is catalytic, but already our participants have, through the process, been thinking about what other funding sources would be viable for them [and] what kind of revenue models would support their impact over time.
What we’re hoping to do in this process is start that activation, build a new discourse across the humanitarian innovation ecosystem and mobilise new ideas [and] new relationships as well as new partnerships in this ecosystem.
This community is engaged and active, as seen in the mapping process. When we launched the programme we had a lot of dynamic dialogue with different organisations in the ecosystem that recognised how important this issue is. We collectively recognised that Bangladesh provides a unique opportunity to look across multiple complex humanitarian challenges that it faces – from the Rohingya crisis to climate-related vulnerability, to the impact of ongoing Covid-19.
The innovation ecosystem in Bangladesh is young and energetic and has sponsorship from the government and independent agencies and the private sector. We know that there are already promising innovations in the country working to address challenges such as sanitation, agriculture mechanisation, remote supply chains and other solutions that really can have an impact on communities in crisis.
Yet there is still energy and opportunity to connect these actors in new ways and bring new solutions about how we can strengthen the system as a whole, so that’s where our goals and hope are in the coming months.
What kind of organisations are you targeting and activating in the programme?
Because our challenge is focused on activating innovative humanitarian solutions, we have a range of organisations, including humanitarian NGOs, as well as innovation intermediaries – organisations that are supporting enterprises, startups and innovation-oriented organisations; that are providing capacity and coaching and mentorship to innovators, maybe running accelerator programmes on the ground.
We also have a range of innovation intermediaries that represent the capital systems, organisations that are trying to provide financing to startups, entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as a few interesting organisations from the academic community such as universities. So it is again a diverse range of organisations that play a role in either supporting humanitarian outcomes, or supporting innovators and innovation outcomes in the ecosystem.
So what is happening in the next phase of the challenge?
We had 23 participants in the challenge programme, and we just announced the top 10 finalists that will continue to receive more customised coaching, mentoring, design support, innovation solution support as well as an opportunity for deeper networking across partners and collaborators in the ecosystem.
Then from there, we will be requesting them to submit a final application for review. We have a diverse group of judges that represent strong technical expertise across a number of areas that will be selecting our winners. We will continue to work with those winners over a number of months to put in place their implementation.
We’re not just focused on the top solutions though. A big part of our goal is to establish networks and relationships and support learning and collaboration across this ecosystem as a whole. We think investing in the community of organisations that have shown interest and capacity to solve the complexity of building an innovation ecosystem for resilience in Bangladesh is something that is worthy of continued investment, and we will continue to support that through events and learning sessions and matchmaking.