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The global governance of humanitarianism has historically been state-centric but although a state-led and state-coordinated response is crucial and saves lives, by itself, it has limitations. In response to the challenges faced by the sector, this paper puts forward an alternative vision based on the role of ‘humanitarian innovation’. The paper explores the potential of humanitarian innovation to transform core elements of the global governance of humanitarianism in general and refugee protection in particular. It is structured in three broad sections. The first section provides a background to the work of UNHCR and the way in which the organisation is gradually incorporating a role for the private sector and innovation into its work. The second section explains what innovation is and how and why it is relevant to refugee protection. In the third section, the paper sets out a vision for humanitarian innovation within the refugee context based on integrating a ‘looking inwards’ approach that builds upon refugees own ideas and agency and a ‘looking outwards’ approach that seeks to identify outside partners and solution-holders whose products, processes and mentorship might nurture and incubate innovation emerging at the local and national levels.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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