Put innovation at the heart of refugee protection work

From Global development | The Guardian Fri Jan 4 2013, 10:53:41

Putting refugees in camps isn't enough - harness their creativity and help them become self reliant and prosper

The traditional model of refugee protection is donor-state funded and prioritises keeping people alive. It is the international analogue to the domestic welfare state. This is often necessary during emergency. But all too often people get stuck in refugee camps for many years. Over 6 million of the world's refugees are in so-called protracted refugee situations, with an average length of stay of 17 years - Somalis in Kenya, Eritreans in Sudan, Sudanese in Chad, Afghans in Iran and Pakistan, and Burmese in Thailand.

The existing humanitarian paradigm can be inefficient. It could fail to make use of the best products and processes available; prove unsustainable, requiring public money to be endlessly channelled into warehousing people; and may lead to dependency, often undermining people's ability to help themselves. Instead, there may be alternative ways of doing refugee protection, which draw upon untapped resources or build upon refugees' own skills, aspirations, and entrepreneurship.

Innovation is not about novelty or invention. It is about adapting to context. It is a methodology for change, often used in the private sector but, which is, with few exceptions, neglected in humanitarian work. It can be understood as a four-stage process: problem specification, looking for potential solutions, piloting those solutions, and scaling them where appropriate.

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