Humanitarian innovation in the service of NGOs

Par Guillaume DUCRETET-PAJOT Temps de lecture : 06 min

Project financed by the Belgian government

The emergence of new materials, new means of production and the miniaturization of certain components have enabled many technological possibilities, hitherto unavailable, to be widely used. Blockchain, Virtual Reality and Additive Manufacturing are all tools that are in search of applications.

The main risk of investing in these technologies is that they may not resonate with users and may ultimately provide them with very little value or may even impose constraints on them as they go about their business.

The mine clearance sector is one of the segments targeted by exploratory attempts to use these emerging technologies. You’ve probably heard of Humanitarian 3.0? In the current context, funding bodies and NGOs are increasingly concerned with effectiveness when it comes to achieving the objectives set by States in terms of decontamination and land rehabilitation. It is therefore essential to be able to identify, among all these opportunities, those that will really provide value and those that will clearly be a waste of time.


Our challenge: to rethink mine clearance processes in conjunction with the humanitarian NGO Handicap International

  • “How can I succeed in my innovation project in a sector as complex as mine clearance?”
  • “How can I ensure my investment is as cost-effective as possible in the field?”
  • “How do you manage a project in a situation of extreme uncertainty?”


Innovating alongside a humanitarian NGO – Handicap International

Jeep de l'ONG Handicap International au Tchad


Handicap International, an NGO and a major humanitarian organisation, called on us to take up the following challenge: to set up an innovation project, in other words, one that would involve extreme uncertainty, in order to develop new activities that would facilitate and improve humanitarian mine clearance. To do this, we spent 10 days with those involved on the ground in the mine clearance ecosystem in order to learn about their daily lives and to fully appreciate the problems they face. Chad was selected for this study, in particular the city of Faya-Largeau, the desert capital of the North.


Innovating means solving problems by imagining new solutions that will provide value to future users

(not to be confused with finding problems that could be solved by an existing solution)


The most important aspect of this definition is not finding the solution but rather properly identifying the key problem(s). For this study, we used a theoretical approach coupled with a field approach aimed at identifying the problems facing mine clearance actors as they carry out their various activities: planning operations, mine clearance/decontamination, capitalising on progress being made, reporting to the authorities.

As we observed the various tasks, our untrained eye in terms of mine clearance was invaluable in terms of allowing us to step back as much as possible and constantly question things that seemed obvious. For, such unquestioned assumptions are a common pitfall when it comes to identifying and understanding pain points.

A well-managed innovation process to move the project forward

We returned from this adventure with a host of memories and above all a list of sore points as long as your arm. We are now working on categorising them on the basis of various criteria: the frustration generated, their criticality, the number of actors in the chain affected and the frequency with which they occur. The potential of a sore point depends on the value it brings if it is resolved.


 In a nutshell, this initial period of immersive fieldwork involved:


12 000 km
of travel
34 participants

21 hours of interviews


50 sore points identified Detailed understanding of the challenges of mine clearance in Chad

In the context of a humanitarian project in collaboration with an NGO, the value of innovation is not directly measured in terms of the financial benefit generated by the sales of the new service or product.

This value is measured on two levels:

  • the ability of teams to do their work in improved conditions, more efficiently and, above all, with greater safety
  • the economic and social benefits for the country through the development of population

This first step of identifying and understanding the sore points of the participants on the ground, in a humanitarian context, is part of a well-managed innovation process that will be conducted over the course of 2019. This process is embodied in the innovation pyramid and aims to secure each stage of development. In innovation, failure does not come from poor execution of the perfect plan, but from perfect execution of the poor plan. It is up to us to come up with the right plan!

So, what’s the next step? To develop technological or organisational solutions in response to these identified sore points!



Innovation Project Manager


I have always been passionate about creating and designing new products and services and I currently work with all types of companies (from start-ups to large groups) to structure and operate innovation projects. I have a technical background with a particular focus on mechanics and materials, and I initially worked in R&D in the field of composite materials. Then I moved on to the world of innovation, where I took on the role of “maker”. I have gradually acquired new skills to allow me understand projects in their entirety (technical, marketing, business). On a day-to-day basis, I am as much involved in strategy as I am in operations, depending on the need.



  • Des retours d'expériences terrains
  • Des ressources et outils téléchargeables
  • Des cas d'applications
  • Une veille sur les tendances actuelles

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