Crisis Driven Innovation: the case of humanitarian innovation

John Bessant, Howard Rush, Anna Trifilova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Innovation is often presented as a survival issue and this provides a powerful metaphor to focus attention on the need to manage it effectively. But in the humanitarian context it takes on a very literal meaning. Crises, whether natural or man-made, require rapid problem solving if agencies and aid workers are to avoid the huge negative impacts of such disasters. That makes consideration of how innovation takes place in this sector an urgent challenge. How can the humanitarian sector best organize to enable innovation and what are the roles for key actors – donors, agencies, and most importantly ‘users’? Our paper summarizes the nature of the challenge and reviews experience so far in humanitarian innovation (HI). There is a second issue which we also explore. Arguably crisis conditions provide a ‘laboratory’ for exploring alternative approaches and generating novel innovation trajectories which might diffuse more widely – the concept of ‘reverse innovation’. Are there lessons which could be learned for mainstream innovation management? And if so, what are the mechanisms which might enable such learning and experience exchange to take place?
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Innovation Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Electronic version of an article published as Int. J. Innov. Mgt. 19, 1540014 (2015) doi: 10.1142/S1363919615400149 © copyright World Scientific Publishing Company


  • Humanitarian innovation
  • crisis-driven innovation
  • reverse innovation


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