Humanitarian innovation: The next step for greater impact


  • Jennifer Wilde
  • Dan McClure



innovation, technology, aid sector


Since 2010, the aid sector has invested significant funds in innovation practice, implementing pilots and other practices borrowed from Silicon Valley. While this has supported some impact, the aid sector has now hit a plateau with innovation, struggling to scale what works, frustrated by ‘digital litter’ (unsustainable technology projects), trying to overcome the small innovation trap, and ‘pilotitis’ (fatigue from implementing small-scale projects that never scale up). Many innovation leaders in the social and development sectors are realising that the ‘lean’ innovation approaches commonly used do not work well for the complex challenges in their sector.

To create the change and impact that our work demands, organisations must be able to work with real and messy challenges, and create large-scale innovative solutions. The sector is beginning to use system innovation to move past simplifying challenges in lean experiments and hackathons. This paper discusses how system innovation can support humanitarians to take the next step to innovation effectiveness, to create real impact in communities.


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Author Biographies

  • Jennifer Wilde

    Jenny Wilde has over 15 years of hands-on experience as a senior manager in humanitarian response and as an innovation expert. She has supported innovative organisations and initiatives in countries as diverse as the USA, South Sudan and Nepal. She has pioneered initiatives that break from conventional innovation models and enable global scale.

  • Dan McClure

    Dan McClure acts as a senior innovation strategist for commercial, non-profit and governmental organisations, specialising in complex system innovation challenges. He has authored a number of papers on system innovation methodologies and agile enterprises. McClure is the former chair of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund’s Advisory Board and is actively engaged with aid sector programs addressing cutting-edge issues such as scaling, localisation and dynamic collaboration-building. This work builds on decades of experience as a system innovation strategist working with global firms in fields spanning finance, retail, media, communications, education, energy and health.


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A robot made in South Korea turns a wheel on a pipe







How to Cite

“Humanitarian innovation: The next step for greater impact” (2021) The Humanitarian Leader, p. Working Paper 016, July 2021. doi:10.21153/thl2021volno0art1420.