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Institute for Design Innovation research: UNHCR Fellowship Project (Part 1)

14 October 2021

3 mins

UNHCR’s Innovation Service and the Institute for Design Innovation at Loughborough University London have recently undertaken research to examine the Innovation Fellowship Programme. This blog is the first of a two blog series.

To assess the impact of UNHCR’s Innovation Fellowship programme, our researchers first had to define what being an innovator means. Read the article below.

Characters by Ailadi

The Quest for Impact: Collaboration Sheds Light on Being an Innovator

The vision of UNHCR’s Innovation Service is an organization where colleagues have the skills and opportunities to question the way they operate, to imagine new and better ways of working, and to draw on novel tools and approaches to fulfil the mandate to protect displaced communities. The Service’s Fellowship Programme is a natural byproduct of this vision. Almost as old as the Service itself, the Fellowship has stewarded scores of UNHCR staff members and colleagues from partner organizations through the learning and unlearning of innovation.

Over the course of a year, the Fellowship is structured according to modules and tasks that cover topics such as the innovation process, collaboration, user-centred design, experimentation, influencing and communication. In addition, participants choose a challenge within their work context, and, incorporating the Programme’s teaching, follow the innovation process to arrive upon and test assumptions around a possible solution. Prioritizing the attainment of new knowledge and skills over the success of any individual project, the Fellowship encourages the participants to be ambassadors of innovation in the organization, and to bring fresh ideas and a creative flair wherever they work to find solutions alongside refugee communities.

The end of each Fellowship cohort is an occasion for asking even more questions. Reflecting on the year gone by, the Fellows remark on what they have learned, the connections they have made, and the hope they carry for the future of their work in UNHCR. The meeting is adjourned (or Zoom meeting ended), and everyone goes their separate ways. The concentration of innovation growth in the Fellowship team is diffused throughout an organization of over 17,000 people, located across 135 countries.

Does every raindrop raise the sea?

Innovation Fellowship Programme Manager, Emilia Saarelainen typically reflects on another year of the Fellowship completed. With the vision of the Innovation Service and the Programme’s extensive objectives in mind, she is eventually haunted by the questions that haunt most educators: Have we made a difference? Did the lessons stick? Or, in the case of the Fellowship, is UNHCR more innovative?

To read the full article, please visit the UNHCR’s Innovation Service web page or you can download the Adobe PDF document below.


To find out more about our Institute for Design Innovation and the Institute’s current research areas, please visit this web page.

You can read more blogs about of our Institute for Design Innovation and these areas of research here.

Our Institute for Design Innovation offer a number of taught and research postgraduate programmes, delivering high quality teaching in collaboration with industry and civil society to address real-life enterprise and social innovation needs.

You can view all of the master’s programmes offered within this Institute here.

To find out more about studying a PhD within our Institute for Design Innovation, please visit this web page.

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