Centres de compétence

seed, scale, structure:

How International Organizations Shape Innovation

Innovation in International Organizations is crucial to fostering transformation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Many organizations are embracing innovation as core to their strategy and developing different approaches to “organizing innovation” in order to be more agile, flexible and forward-looking. To shed light on different approaches and organizational designs for innovation in International Organizations this report highlights the innovation journeys of six Organizations - UNHCR, WFP, UNDP, ITC, UNAIDS and UNFPA . Learn about their best practices and challenges in our new research report!





Unleashing bottom-up innovation in International Organizations

Everyone is talking about social innovation but:

Do you know what bottom-up innovation really means in International Organizations?

Many International Organizations have come up with new ideas for how to spur innovation. The most powerful ones, however, are often not those designed at head offices, but innovations coming from the field, close to beneficiaries’ needs. Many intrapreneurial initiatives, entrepreneurial projects originating from within the organization, have been developed, but harnessing all the innovative ideas coming from the field and dispersing that knowledge among the country offices is a task that organizations were not always designed to undertake. From recognizing how to structure innovation internally to determining what initiatives to pursue, challenges appear at every step of the journey. Read our report to see the emerging patterns and details about 10 case studies of impactful and scaling bottom-up innovation already happening in International Organizations today.

Here are 10 initiatives with impact - Get inspired!



How innovation from within is transforming International Organizations as well as lives

We were particularly interested in understanding innovation structures, scaling methodologies, and key obstacles to innovation. After interviewing over 40 people, both in the headquarters and field offices of 15 different organizations and international NGOs, what we found was that innovation is not new and innovation is not just technology.

Here is what was less obvious. While the initial goals of these bottom-up initiatives are to improve the lives of beneficiaries, in many cases the actual impact is far greater. In fact, often these initiatives change the way organizations work and even sometimes expand the value proposition of the organization as a whole.

For example, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Building Blocks initiative is making WFP’s cash transfers more secure, more collaborative, traceable and cheaper using blockchain technology. But WFP’s mission is to eradicate hunger and poverty globally. So how does implementing blockchain for payments match this mission? WFP is stretching its mission of delivering food to vulnerable communities by broadening its platform and embracing the potential of new technology.

Image: REUTERS / Goran Tomasevic


Prof. Tina Ambos and Katherine Tatarinov (PhD candidate GSEM) spent the last two years researching bottom-up innovation processes and innovation structures in the International Organizations and created the largest database on intrapreneurial innovation initiatives. We are in close contact with over 20 different organizations who participate in our workshops and would like to share knowledge.

Our research found that bottom-up innovation has the ability to fundamentally transform the way organizations work and to make them more relevant. In the process of our research, we built an extensive network of innovators in International Organizations in Geneva and host workshops to share knowledge in the Geneva ecosystem, as well as events at the World Economic Forum in Davos and keynote speeches and publications. What started as a research project has expanded into a knowledge-sharing platform where stakeholders feel comfortable to share knowledge eye-to-eye (i2i Hub).

To expand the contribution of the i2i Hub we are looking for Founding Partners to support this effort.

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