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Partnering to Help Refugees

How the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is providing innovative solutions for people in need.

Olivier Delarue | UNHCR

As crises around the world become increasingly large and complex, relief agencies must respond with efficient and innovative solutions.

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As crises around the world become increasingly large and complex, relief agencies must respond with efficient and innovative solutions.

An agency that aids refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict must be highly coordinated and ready to provide supplies and relief to those who need it most, often in locations that are difficult to access.

That is why the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has offered protection and assistance to tens of millions of refugees since its creation, formed UNHCR Innovation, a unit that formally fosters, documents, and rewards innovation occurring within the agency. UNHCR Innovation also explores innovations happening outside of UNHCR, and finds ways to adapt them to refugee challenges.

For an organization like UNHCR, a fast and agile supply chain is paramount. In many UNHCR operations around the world the last mile distribution of aid still relies on human data input using paper or spreadsheets.

This paper-based system leaves room for human error and inaccuracies in data. It also opens up the possibility of families or individuals receiving more distributions than allocated, creating a lengthy distribution process and making it difficult for the agency to accurately track which individuals receive which supplies.

Integrating Private Sector Solutions

Modernizing operations does not require a humanitarian agency to reinvent the wheel. Private sector innovations can be adapted to the refugee context. Investing in these partnerships is central to UNHCR Innovation’s strategy.

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Partnership models mitigate some risk by adapting a solution that is already successful in the private sector.

UNHCR Innovation seeks expertise from outside partners to help collaborate and solve problems. This approach goes beyond funding. Rather, the organization borrows from specialized knowledge and expertise to create innovative and sustainable solutions.

Typically, when it comes to innovation, humanitarian agencies tend to be more risk- averse, and for good reason. In the private sector, failure and risk impacts market share. But for the humanitarian sector, failure and risk impacts lives.

The partnership model allows a humanitarian agency to mitigate some of this risk by adapting a solution that is already successful in the private sector.

The Last Mile Challenge

To solve their last-mile distribution of relief aid, UNHCR and UPS created UPS Relief Link. UPS Relief Link combines the use of a hand-held scanning tool and durable identification cards to deliver superior efficiency by eliminating paper records in the refugee camps.

Using this solution, UNHCR and UPS have been able to distribute supplies more quickly, document that provisions are distributed equitably, and minimize data inaccuracies through their pilot programs in Ethiopia (Dollo Ado) and Mauritania (Mbera).

UPS Relief Link also makes it possible for UNHCR to integrate its refugee registration platform with a distribution platform using light, flexible, and reliable mobile tools.

Thanks to innovative partnerships such as UPS Relief Link, UNHCR can gain better business intelligence, match the right assistance with the right people, improve security, and measure efficiency and effectiveness.

What partnerships are fueling innovation in your area of expertise?

Olivier_Delarue2
Olivier Delarue leads UNHCR Innovation’s partnership-building efforts with the private sector for amplifying, connecting and exploring innovative solutions and approaches to field based challenges in refugee situations.

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