Innovation: OCHA announces grant winners

30 October, 2013
8 March 2012, Ishinomaki, Japan: Staff at the Disaster Recovery Assistance Council office in Ishinomaki coordinate recovery activities. The experiences of local governments in the wake of Japan's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster is the focus of one of the winners of OCHA's 2013 Research and Innovation Grant Programme. Credit: OCHA/Masaki Watabe
8 March 2012, Ishinomaki, Japan: Staff at the Disaster Recovery Assistance Council office in Ishinomaki coordinate recovery activities. The experiences of local governments in the wake of Japan's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster is the focus of one of the winners of OCHA's 2013 Research and Innovation Grant Programme. Credit: OCHA/Masaki Watabe

OCHA has announced the winners of its 2013 Research and Innovation Grant Programme. The six winners will receive small cash grants to support their research into a range of issues related to humanitarian innovation.

“Innovation—finding ways to improve our work, to make it more efficient and timely and responsive to the needs of people—is a major priority for OCHA,” said Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, who heads OCHA’s Policy Development and Studies Branch.

“Our goal for this programme is to build the capacity of researchers to study topics that are relevant to humanitarian action, and to build an evidence base around humanitarian innovation.”

The six winners are from a range of backgrounds. They will explore an eclectic set of issues, from the value of cash aid during a food crisis, to the needs of local governments during large-scale crises (learn more about the winners).

Food crises and cash in Malawi

Thirty-year-old Stern Kita from Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs is one of the winners. He was involved in the Government’s response to the drought that hit Malawi in late 2012 and stretched into 2013.

Food insecurity is hardly a new experience for this southern African country. What was unique, however, was the Government’s comparatively wide-scale distribution of cash. Almost 150,000 people received unconditional cash transfers (compared with about 1.8 million who received more traditional food assistance).

“Cash had never been used at a large scale as a tool to respond to food insecurity in Malawi,” said Stern. “[I felt] it was important to assess how effective this innovative way of responding was.”

Stern points out that cash has many obvious benefits over the distribution of food. It’s easier and cheaper to distribute. It also empowers people to choose the food they want, and gives them the chance to invest in businesses or other activities that can reduce their vulnerability to food shortages.

With the OCHA grant, Stern will study just how effective cash transfers are as a way of responding to large-scale food insecurity.

“My study may show that cash is an effective tool to use in responding to food insecurity,” he said. “I expect an increase in donor interest and focus on cash transfer as a response tool, as opposed to food aid.”

Mapping local governments’ experiences in post-earthquake and post-tsunami Japan

Young Indonesian academic Mizan Bustanul Fuady Bisri is another winner. His focus is on understanding the experiences of local governments following the devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

Japan’s disaster management system is normally seen as a benchmark for other countries. However, the 2011 disaster challenged this capacity. For example, local governments had to coordinate with as many as 19 foreign Governments offering support, and were often inundated by new and unfamiliar humanitarian partners.

Some local governments were simply overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the challenge they faced. However, others found ways to overcome these challenges and develop new partnerships and ways of working that helped them respond to the disaster, and that could provide lessons for local governments in other disaster-affected contexts.

“The [eventual] research findings may be used by local governments in other countries to rethink who they should start building pre-disaster relations with that could be useful during disaster situations,” said Mizan.

“Hopefully we will see the potential for future partnership innovation and inter-organizational cooperation between traditional and non-traditional humanitarian actors.”

The winning applicants will submit their research papers by the beginning of 2014.

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