UNHCR Innovation Fellowship Program 2023

International Non-Governmental Organization
Nov 2023

About the Client

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is a global organization mandated to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people. Committed to finding solutions for the world's most pressing humanitarian challenges, UNHCR fosters a culture of innovation through its Innovation Service. This service empowers staff with the necessary skills and resources to address complex issues and improve the lives of the communities they work with and for.

One of the cornerstones of the Innovation Service's strategy is the annual Innovation Fellowship Program, co-designed and delivered in collaboration with UNHCR’s Global Learning and Development Center (GLDC) since 2013.  This prestigious program cultivates innovation champions within and beyond UNHCR by equipping participants with the capabilities to drive positive change.

The Challenge

UNHCR faces the ongoing challenge of fostering innovation within its operations to better address the complex and dynamic needs of refugees and displaced communities worldwide. Each year, UNHCR recruits a new cohort of internal staff as well as members of partner organizations to become Innovation Fellows, participating in a six-month-long program aimed at building their innovation capacity. The objectives of the Innovation Fellowship Program include:

  • Equipping Fellows with innovation skills, tools, and approaches to use in their everyday work.
  • Empowering Fellows to identify and experiment with solutions to operational challenges and integrate innovative approaches into their projects.
  • Encouraging Fellows to spread innovative ways of thinking and acting among their colleagues, partners, and refugee populations.

The ask 

For the fourth consecutive year of collaboration in the program, UNHCR approached InsightPact with the request to spearhead the design and delivery of the Innovation Fellowship Program 2023. The objective was to empower Innovation Fellows with the skills and mindset needed to identify and implement innovative solutions to operational challenges within their respective divisions and field operations.

The Approach: 

UNHCR and InsightPact took a collaborative approach to design and deliver the Innovation Fellowship Program. This ensured the program addressed UNHCR's specific needs and fostered a culture of innovation within their organization.

Our collaboration emphasized four key aspects:

  1. Open Communication and Shared Goals: From the outset, we established a strong foundation through open communication and trust. This included jointly launching the program and aligning on goals.

  1. Continuous Improvement: We fostered a flexible and iterative approach throughout the program. This involved working together to create workshop and webinar content, actively seeking feedback, and making adjustments to ensure ongoing improvement.

  1. Combining Expertise: The program design benefited from the strengths of both teams. InsightPact's experience with innovation frameworks informed the initial program structure, while UNHCR's context provided valuable insights to refine the content and ensure its relevance.

  1. Empowering Staff: The program wasn't just about delivering information. We incorporated interactive sessions and practical exercises to equip UNHCR staff with the skills and mindset needed to drive innovation within their teams.

The Solution:

InsightPact addressed UNHCR's challenges by fostering a culture of innovation built on our established "Approach to Innovation" framework. The program consisted of 3 key components:

  1. Training Provided by Experts: A series of highly interactive and participatory workshops, spread over four cohorts, immersed participants in a dynamic learning experience. These workshops explored various innovation methodologies like Human-Centered Design, Modern Agile, Liberating Structures, and Systems Thinking through engaging activities, discussions, and reflections. These sessions equipped fellows with diverse tools to tackle complex challenges.

  1. Designing and facilitating Space for Hands-on Learning: A four-part webinar series provided fellows with in-depth training on specific tasks relevant to their innovation projects. These webinars focused on collaboration, problem framing, ideation and selection, and experimentation and testing. The webinars delved deeper into the practical application of tools and methods like empathy maps, Futures Triangle Mapping, and prioritization matrices, building upon the foundation established in the workshops. This focus on practicality ensured that fellows could immediately apply their learnings to their specific projects and contribute to a more innovative environment in their respective offices.

  1. Nurturing a Safe and Inclusive Learning Environment: The program fostered a safe and inclusive learning environment where participants felt comfortable sharing ideas and experimenting without fear of judgment. Activities promoting trust, empathy, and active participation encouraged collaboration and knowledge exchange among fellows.

The Results:

Through a multifaceted approach, the Innovation Fellowship Program 2023 significantly enhanced the innovation capabilities of Fellows. This was achieved by:

  • Equipped Fellows with Diverse Innovation Tools: Through interactive workshops and real-world application exercises, fellows gained a strong foundation in various innovation methodologies. These methodologies provided fellows with a toolbox of approaches to tackle complex challenges and develop creative solutions.

  • Increased Confidence in Applying Innovation: The program wasn't just about theory. Hands-on activities and real-world scenario application exercises equipped fellows with the necessary confidence to apply their newly acquired skills to their daily work. 

  • Empowered Facilitation Skills: By learning facilitation skills through Liberating Structures and other methods, fellows gained the ability to guide discussions, manage conflicts, and build consensus among diverse stakeholders within their teams. This empowers them to become champions for innovation within their departments, promoting collaborative problem-solving approaches.

  • Knowledge Exchange Network: The program fostered a strong network among fellows across different cohorts and departments. This network provides a platform for ongoing knowledge exchange, peer support, and collaboration on future innovation initiatives.

"We worked with InsightPact on our annual Innovation Fellowship, an online learning program, which guided 80+ participants from across UNHCR, the wider UN ecosystem, and partners beyond, through the ups and downs of an innovation journey. Co-creating the Fellowship with the InsightPact team was beyond satisfactory. Their team continued to bring the most up-to-date innovation theories and methods to the course and applied a truly learner-centered vision in planning out each engagement, making for engaging and inspiring learner experiences and a dynamic, fun, and forward-thinking co-design process."
Zsuzsa Nagy-Sándor, Innovation Officer, UNHCR Global Learning and Development Centre