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It was a beautiful day in Amsterdam, while I walked to the venue through the eastern harbour area

Today I was in Amsterdam, participating in the Partos Innovation Festival, a yearly meet-up of those working on change and innovation in development and humanitarian aid. It was a much larger gathering than I had expected, and through the day I encountered a wide variety of projects and ideas. It was clear I normally operate in different environments, as some of the projects were making (technology) choices that wouldn’t have been made elsewhere. Clearly all of us work within the constraints of the capabilities, experience and knowledge available to us in our networks and sectors. The day started with two worthwile keynotes, one by Kenyan designer Mark Kamau, one by human rights lawyer Tulika Srivastava from India.

20181011_102905 Partos Innovation Festival

The reason I attended was that I was a jury member for one of 5 innovation awards presented today, the Dutch Humanitarian Coalition for Innovation’s “Best Humanitarian Innovation Award”. Together with Klaas Hernamdt, we go back a long time in the FabLabs network, and Suzanne Laszlo, general director of UNICEF Netherlands, we had the pleasure to judge a short list of 8 projects, from which we already selected 3 nominees two weeks ago. Today the winner was announced: Optimus, that through data analysis and optimisation models, helps the WFP to save millions of dollars while distributing food of the same nutritional value to those most in need. This allowed the WFP in trial runs to feed 100.000 people more against the same costs. This is crucial as food aid is continuously struggling with getting enough funding.

While Optimus were deserved winners I must say the other two finalists came close. Of the overall 40 points they could get in our judging method, all three ended up within 2.5 points of each other, while the other 5 nominees fell further behind. Personally I liked Translators Without Borders very much as well, who ended up in second place. I also had the pleasure of meeting Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India, who with a cheap and distributed early flood warning system came third, twice in the past week. It seems to me his effort might benefit from building closer ties to the maker community in India, and I will try and assist him doing that.

Partos Innovation Festival
Klaas handing the award to the winners of the Optimus project, with the day’s moderator Marina Diboma

This Tuesday 2 October sees the annual event of the Dutch Coalition for Humanitarian Innovation. The coalition consists of government entities, knowledge institutions, academia, businesses, and humanitarian organisations in the Netherlands. Together they aim to develop and scale new solutions to increase impact and reduce costs of humanitarian action.

I was asked to join this year’s jury for DCHI’s innovation award. There is a jury award and a public award. For the jury award 8 projects were shortlisted, from which the jury has now selected 3 finalists that were announced last Friday. The public award winner will be selected from the same short list.
At the annual event of DCHI this Tuesday the public award winner will be announced, followed by closing remarks by the Minister of development cooperation mrs Sigrid Kaag, who is very well experienced when it comes to international development. The jury award will be presented to the winner on October 11th at the Partos innovation festival.

The three finalists my colleagues and I in the jury selected are all very interesting, so I briefly want to list them here.

Optimus by the UN’s World Food Program and Tilburg University
Data analysis and mathematical modeling optimises supply and distribution also by taking into account locally available food and conditions. Optimisation means delivering the same nutritional value against lower efforts. It has been successfully used in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Ethiopia. In Iraq it helped save a million USD per month, allowing the program to provide an additional 100.000 people in need with food packages. (link in Dutch)

Quotidian early warning solutions by Oxfam India
Flood prediction models in India are accurate, but still flooding causes many fatalities. The cause is often not being able to timely reach and warn everyone. Oxfam India came up with ways to integrate early warning systems with existing local infrastructure, and so create a low cost option for real time distribution of flood warnings.

Words of Relief / Translators without borders
Being able to provide key information to people in need depends on having that information in the right language. Information only saves lives if those who need it understand it. Translators without Borders creates glossaries which can be used for humanitarian response. Their Gamayun initiative wants to bring 20 underserved languages online by creating such glossaries and providing that as open data to all who can use it. They see it as a key tool for equality as well. In a slightly different setting I saw this work in practice, during the Syrian refugee wave in Germany, at a hackathon I attended such glossaries were used to build apps to help refugees navigate German bureaucracy and find the help they needed.

These three projects are very different, in terms of technology used, in the issues they address, and the way they involve the communities concerned, and all three highly fascinating.