Peace&justice cafe: Humanitarian Innovation with WorldStartup and HumanityLink (November 30, 2023)  

For the nineth edition of the peace&justice cafe, the Hague Humanity Hub teamed up with WorldStartup, HumanityLink, Gemeente Den Haag and Holland Park Media to convene the peace&justice community around the topic of Humanitarian Innovation. Over 100 people joined the hybrid event to dive deep into humanitarian innovation from the perspectives of the current state of affairs, challenges faced and potential next steps forward.  

With the aim of fostering cross-sectorial connections for humanitarian innovation, the Hague Humanity Hub partnered with WorldStartup and HumanityLink to convene social enterprises, humanitarians, startups, academia and practitioners.  

Scene-setting with Chris Hoffman  

The event was opened by a scene-setting dialogue between the peace&justice cafe host Connor Sattely and Chris Hoffman from the partner organisation HumanityLink. Chris Hoffman is a humanitarian field expert currently advising organisations and companies on how to develop effective technology toward creating impactful humanitarian programming. 

Chris emphasised how innovation is vital to the current humanitarian crisis such as the climate change and health crises. He touched upon success stories from the use of AI, drones and mobile technology, but also clarified that there are barriers to the success of innovations – which is why having an honest conversation about the topic is crucial.  

Chris raised several critical challenges such as funding, policy hurdles and a culture and ethical norms resistant to change. Thereafter, he emphasised how these barriers can be overcome by cross-sector partnerships between for example the government, the private sector and local communities to combine strengths, and work together towards creating a policy landscape and pro-innovation culture which allows for new ideas to be tested while ensuring accountability and safety for the affected populations.  

Lastly, Chris actioned the audience to actively approach the culture of innovation regardless of which sector they are working in – highlighting the importance of cross-sectorial interactions and connections.   


Each peace&justice cafe features “roundabouts” with small-scale discussions hosted by experts from the Hague peace&justice ecosystem. These aim to be cross-sectorial and touch upon certain perspectives related to the overarching theme of the edition. The event is hybrid, meaning that some of the roundabouts were exclusively for the online attendees.  

Tracking Ukraine’s Deadly Harvest: Using Tech to Improving Demining – Hosted by Simon Tiller, Head of Halo Trust Europe 

Halo Trust is a demining organisation currently working in Ukraine. Demining Ukraine is a prerequisite for the safety of citizens and to re-boost the economy to further growth from e.g. agriculture. But as highlighted by the host Simon, it is also an opportunity to improve demining strategies and techniques. Simon addressed how Halo Trust uses satellite and AI technology to ensure a safer and more efficient demining process for the people involved. Halo Trust also trains the local populations in demining. He raised challenges such as operating during ongoing conflicts, the threat of attacks and contamination from the mines and as well as the lack of funding for further innovation. He called for support for greater policy cooperation between local governments and other stakeholders to enable a safe demining process and emphasised that economic development and humanitarian support must be considered hand in hand to move forward. For innovation to succeed, both are necessary.   

Read more about Halo Trusts work in Ukraine here.

How do you innovate in a space that allows no failure? – Hosted by Olivia Vereha, Director of Product at Commit Global  

Commit Global is an organisation supporting the maintenance and scaling of digital tools for good. They integrate these tools to form the civic infrastructure needed to solve critical global problems. Olivia’s roundabout focused on the challenges and characteristics of successful innovation, touching upon topics such as funding, localisation and failure. The roundabout highlighted the aim of help arriving to people rather than standardised solutions for innovation. Olivia highlighted that innovation does not always have to be complex and that indigenous local knowledge goes a long way. In terms of funding Commit Global highlighted that it is important to recognise the failure of a project sooner rather than later to make sure that unsuccessful projects are not a money-drain. Learning from failure and adapting the process accordingly is key.  

Read more about Commit Global’s humanitarian infrastructure tools here.

Humanitarian Observatories – Hosted by Tom Ansell and Gabriella Izquierdo from the Humanitarian Studies Centre  

The roundabout hosted by Tom and Gabriella delved into the buzzword ‘localisation’. Starting with the challenges of defining and applying localisation the discussion highlighted the problem that localisation initiatives are coming from international organisations rather than originating locally. The participants discussed different approaches to localisation emphasising that a top-down approach is inadequate. They reflected on the meaning of localisation for local populations and large NGOs, identifying a disconnect. For true localisation the communities require own resources and influence, not being pushed aside by large NGOs or international staff. Thereafter, as a learning exercise the group was asked to consider creative ways to include and integrate local people into decision making processes from the beginning.  

Read more about the Humanitarian Observatories and the Humanitarian Governance project here.

Digitalising International Law – Hosted by Stijn Koster, Humanitarian Programme Manager at Save the Children  

With the aim of creating a map of humanitarian aid and data, Save the Children is running a project designed to digitalise international humanitarian law to protect civilians, aid workers and critical infrastructure. Currently piloting their project in South Sudan, Save the Children is aiming to mark humanitarian locations such as hospitals, schools etc with a “digital white flag”. The information aims to inform the enforcement of international humanitarian law and will be shared discreetly. To mark a location requires accreditation and peer review. The future of this platform is for widespread humanitarian use preventing civilian and humanitarian deaths. The roundabout participants discussed how the safety of civilians can be guaranteed and the scaling potential of the project.  

Read more about Save the Children’s work here.

Utilising the private sector – Hosted by Gerrit Jan van ‘t Veen, CEO of WorldStartup (Online)  

WorldStartup’s roundabout started with the question: How can the collaboration between the NGO and private sectors work to be beneficial to all stakeholders given their varying/different interests? Gerrit Jan stated that the private/not for profit dichotomy is outdated. Instead, he suggests focusing on a scalable, sustainable model and that the formation of the partnership should be secondary. Different ways to look at funding and profit levels were discussed. The call to actions identified the possibility of creating communities of investors familiar with specific areas of humanitarian support and to encourage humanitarian to be more entrepreneurial in how they think about humanitarian work and its role in accelerating impact, while also emphasising that the NGO sector is larger and more innovate, something which the private sector often overlooks.  

Learn more about how WorldStartup supports impact driven startups here.

Organisational learning – Hosted by Sarah Abdelatif from Propel (Online)  

Propel is a new software solution suggesting new ways for organisations to capture, access and reuse learnings to adapt, innovate and create lasting change on a global scale. The roundabout focused on how to best facilitate the sharing of knowledge. No one should suffer because the knowledge in one part of the world fails to flow to another was the main message of the roundabout. Sarah highlighted that despite today’s technology, there are too many barriers to the flow of knowledge, especially disadvantaging originating from the Global South. Local knowledge from the Global South is often overlooked indicating that all knowledge is not considered equal. Calls to action included campaigning for ethics in technology and user awareness when assessing misinformation.  

Learn more about Propel here.

Move slow and fix things: scaling innovations – Hosted by Max Vieille from the Response Innovation Lab  

Response Innovation Lab is a global collaboration between multiple international NGOs to support innovations in the humanitarian sector. The roundabout centred the challenges of scaling innovations in an environment where NGOs are asked to do more with less funding, and where the need for innovation is not reflected in funding. The participants reflected on competition in the funding market, the danger of quickly pushing innovations internationally and the disconnect between international organisations’ top-down approach and local challenges requiring a bottom-up approach. Exemplifying the problems with rushing to scale projects, the group reflected on a local success being acknowledged as such, and that not all solutions are best scaled. Max suggests an ecosystem approach where innovation is scaled in partnerships fit to the local context, emphasising how these partnerships can come to include different sectors depending on local needs.   

Learn more about the Response Innovation Lab and their model here.

The promise and challenges of using AI tools in humanitarian work – hosted by Sarah Weiler, intern at UNOCHA  

Sarah raised the topic of using AI tools in the humanitarian field, which is the topic of her internship at UNOCHA. The roundabout covered the challenges and opportunities for AI in the humanitarian field as mapped by Sarah in her research. The participants offered personal experiences guiding the conversation. The conversation covered the question of data in the humanitarian field relating to publishing data sets, data integrity, digital literacy and hurdles to machine learning. The conversation also touched upon the use of AI in translation and how the risks and rewards of AI enabling communication can be mitigated.  

Advancing Resilience: Developing Impact Credits to Counter Climate Displacement – hosted by Hawkar Ali Abdulhaq from Hasar Partners (Online)  

Hasar is a climate action start up that has developed “Climate Resilience Impact Credits” which aim to tackle community displacement caused by climate change, focusing on the Middle East. Based on the use of the Credits in Iraq, the roundabout also discussed the potential implementation in Europe, dependent on the effectiveness of impact investors and government funding. During the discussion on blockchain-based tracking, the participants raised the need for the evaluation of how people are impacted by the innovation, not only the level of transparency and accountability of the system. Hasar highlighted that the aim of this solution is to account for both immediate crisis management but also long-term sustainability of the communities through fiscal tools and cross sectoral partnerships.  

Read more about Hasar here.

The role of innovation in disseminating conflict resolution competencies amongst refugees – hosted by Victor Baba Emmanuel Aligo, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the United States International University Africa (Online)  

This roundabout focused on a local initiative in Kenya which aims to teach conflict resolution to youth and refugees via low-tech mobile game simulations. This pilot combines the technology most refugees already have access to, mobile phones, with the interests of youth, mobile games, and active learning about topics related to present issues including conflict resolution and intercultural communication.  

Innovative technology for local empowerment and lasting impact – Hosted by Cecilia Pena from Relief Application (Online)  

Relief Application works to distribute innovative solutions and technology to people affected by humanitarian crises. The session touched upon how to use no-code and low-code applications. The group brainstormed how to strengthen adaptability in response, empowering local actors, adapting solutions to evolving needs and reducing the nr of intermediaries using case studies.  

Read more about Relief Application’s projects here.

Debrief with Chris Hoffman from HumanityLink and Gerrit Jan Van ‘t Ven from WorldStartup.  

The programme finished with a group debrief in which event partners Chris Hoffman and Gerrit Jan van ‘t Veen reflected on the content of each roundabout together with moderator Connor Sattely. The session started with a brief reflection on the role of the private sector between Gerrit Jan van ‘t Veen and Connor Sattely.  

Reflections on the role of the private sector with Gerrit Jan van ‘t Veen  

Gerrit Jan works for WorldStartup, a network organisation providing support for startups and ecosystem development for impact driven startups. Gerrit Jan shared his experience engaging with the humanitarian sector as a private sector actor. He highlighted that impact driven startups can have more in common with the humanitarian sector than what many think. Reflecting on the objectives of impact-driven startups and humanitarian organisations, many synergies can be identified according to Gerrit Jan. He discussed how entrepreneurs and humanitarians can learn from each other in terms of leadership and risk management. He also emphasised the need to debunk preconceptions about both sector such as all startups being seen greedy profit maximisations and the humanitarian sector seen as refraining from change and risk, and thus innovation. 

Reflections from the roundabout sessions  

A participant from each roundabout shared the main takeaway from their respective roundabouts, which Gerrit Jan or Chris were invited to reflect upon, thus allowing the participants to get insights into all roundabouts.  

Here are some of the highlights:  

Several organisations highlighted the importance of understanding the needs of the people the innovation aims to help and how this should be reflected in the interactions with the target group and through feedback mechanisms. Participants reflected on feedback through face-to-face interactions and not only data processing. Gerrit Jan illustrated living labs as a method of piloting ideas and generating feedback early in the innovation process. Chris emphasised the need for an action plan to process feedback properly. There was consensus that scaling takes time and that a local success must be seen as a success as there are few one size fits all solutions in the humanitarian sector.  

Roundabouts also reflected on the technology aspect of innovation. The participants in the Propel workshop noted that technology is not the only solution, but rather finding the right mix of technology as part of a wider scoping of the needs of the target group. Multiple roundabouts highlighted ethical questions relating to technology and discussed how no-tech and low-tech solutions such as video games can play a crucial role in civic education and knowledge exchange. Chris emphasised the need for mapping local needs and developing a relevant technological solution based on these needs rather than the other way around. Gerrit Jan also raised a point about the risk and threats of employing technology such as AI in the humanitarian sector, stating that the risks are not inherently different than in other sectors which he sees as an opportunity for cross-sectorial partnerships in navigating these risks.  

Moreover, Commit Global raised the question of communicating the need for innovation to donors. Gerrit Jan raised the idea that a certain percentage of donor funding should be earmarked for innovation to ensure the relevancy of the organisations’ work. He also called for research into the business case of innovation is necessary as donors struggle with risk in the humanitarian sector because it means that the money immediately reaching the target group is reduced for long-term development and innovation.  

Halo Trust noted that as the demining sector is niche, partnerships can be the key to raise awareness of their sector, both for funding and for raising awareness of the cause of the organisation. The call for more cross-sectorial partnerships became one of the most tangible calls to action.  

The event ended in lively networking drinks.  

Thank you to our rapporteurs: Isaac Johnson, Rachel Loschetter, Ruikun Sun, Jessica Pîncotan, Thomas Barrington, and Djurdja Mirkovic-Touray.