Overwhelmed by the constant negative reports from government authorities and medical experts, one day I started to look for positive news to cheer myself up. Luckily, I soon realised that many new initiatives support a new way of collaborative business across sectors. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We are in this together – and we will get through this, together”.
Civil society and the private sector have rapidly come up with many innovative ideas and have been supporting people who face the challenges caused by the pandemic. Some industries have re-aligned their capabilities to produce hand sanitiser from ethanol (e.g., Heineken), while some business leaders have signed personnel partnerships (e.g., between Aldi and McDonald’s Germany) which allows employees of the burger chain to take up temporary positions with the supermarket chain.
Other global alliances have been established to cover a wide range of challenges. In, Norway, to support children who are out of school, UNESCO, UNHCR, The Global Book Alliance, and many others jointly established ‘Translate a story’. On this platform, anybody can translate children’s books into multiple languages.
Inviting interactive inputs – and solutions
I have also been helping the Dutch Coalition for Humanitarian Innovation (DCHI) to develop a collaborative online platform in response to COVID-19 related challenges. The platform, Source2Gather, aims to tackle new humanitarian challenges around the world by enabling organisations across different sectors to rapidly connect solutions, resources and capabilities.
It aims to inspire, inform and foster interactions with anyone who visits the site by linking challenges to both existing and new solutions. By keeping each other informed, we are trying to enrich our knowledge on innovative thinking, learning from one another, sharing challenges and solutions, while using all available resources to respond to these unprecedented times. As Sustainable Development Goal 17 states the importance of partnerships, we aim to achieve a genuinely inclusive cross-sectoral collaboration between solution owners and all relevant stakeholders from different sectors at the global, regional, national and local levels.
Working closely with the developers, I am advising on the direction and usability of the platform while observing initiatives. It’s been such a fulfilling experience to learn about so many innovative ideas that can help to combat the challenges. So far we have five themes: ‘promotion of new behaviour’, ‘information sharing’, ‘ education’, ‘hygiene and medical supplies’, and ‘impact on vulnerable population’. These contain several challenges such as ‘lack of hand sanitiser in the healthcare system’. The platform then suggests ‘matched solutions’ submitted by a range of solution owners (including the web team). The number of shared solutions is increasing, spanning from a self-made handwashing unit to global scale online learning tools. Solution owners represent the entire business and social communities: from small informal businesses to civil societies to international organisations to large manufacturers.
As a resource provider and a matchmaker, what is really essential is to have a holistic view of what type of solutions are available and where these can be rolled out. Therefore, we have been trying to share a wide range of innovative solutions that go beyond a humanitarian focus. We are inspired by solutions based on several criteria: innovative approaches or methods (medium, tools, target beneficiaries, timings, comparability) so they can be inspiring examples for practitioners in the current or upcoming epicentres and developing regions. For instance, there are already a vast amount of initiatives from the European Economic and Social Community platform. Now, via our platform, anyone faced by a specific challenge can contact a solution owner: to seek concrete answers and to become a partner in developing new ideas.
Presenting a range of solutions worldwide
Clearly, there are few if any one-size-fits-all solutions, as we are dealing with different regions with different types of governance, available resources, healthcare systems, and social norms. Therefore, I believe that a well-balanced range of solutions, available in both developed and developing regions, can break down silos and ensure further solutions for underserved populations.
Because the platform is interactive, our biggest challenge is to make sure that we share reliable and trusted information. We, therefore, set standards and valid criteria to submit a solution. There is also an opportunity to share challenges – as that will allow for new innovations, new partnerships and seek support in an approachable manner. If necessary we discuss the content with partners or solution owners; overall, the information needs to be accurate and reliable, as trust is a vital commodity.
Since the pandemic is evolving, the website will be equally dynamic and flexible. The ultimate goal of our website is to act as an open innovation platform to reach and inspire a broader audience to build capacity and better preparedness for whatever challenges appear in the next month, year or decade in the post-corona world.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Source2Gather; UN Photo / E. Debebe