Charity Support, Advice, Impact Measurement, Philanthropy Impact – NPC

Innovating from the inside out: Insights from ActionAid

By Judith Davey 29 July 2015


Innovation is a strategic imperative in ActionAid’s quest to change lives for good. Our international strategy calls for new thinking and the development of human rights based alternatives—innovative approaches that lead us towards a poverty-free planet.

Organisational learning is key to innovation, which is why 500 ActionAid staff and partners share best practice and learning from failure through ‘communities of practice’. Through our accountability reports, we share learning from failure and success with the board of trustees, staff and other members of the ActionAid Federation. Sharing openly like this means that we are role modelling a focus on learning rather than a blame culture

This focus on innovation is reflected through our work around the world. Some examples include:

  • Using mobile phone technology and solar chargers in Kenya to enable small holder farmers to check market prices and make informed decisions about when to harvest and sell their crops.
  • Connecting communities in the UK with those in countries where we work through music. We raise awareness among young people in developed countries, while helping young people in developing countries sustainable livelihoods from music.
  • Connecting UK supporters with survivors of acid attacks in Bangladesh through social media. Both beneficiaries and supporters found this uplifting.

Although we try to ensure that our culture encourages creativity, we still have more to do. The external environment makes it tough for innovation to thrive and it could get tougher still. An independent review of our work concluded that strategic funding enabled us to experiment, take calculated risks and innovate in order to enhance quality and effectiveness. Yet strategic funding is becoming scarcer.

Trying something innovative doesn’t always work. Many financial supporters don’t want us to take risks with the funds they’ve entrusted to us. This is understandable—as a sector we’ve not yet had a dialogue with the public to build understanding and consent. That is why ActionAid commissioned the recent Insights on Innovation report with NPC—to start the debate about how innovation can help us deliver more effectively on our mission.