Three Insights and Innovations from the EiE Alliance

40 innovators spent six months accelerating education solutions for emergency situations. Here's what happened.

In 2017, the Education in Emergencies Challenge saw hundreds of people from around the world come together to answer the question:

How might we improve educational outcomes for children and youth—particularly girls—in emergency situations?

Following the close of the Challenge, the Australian Government (DFAT) and OpenIDEO felt the energy of this community and the world’s need for the work of the innovators involved. The two teams worked closely with the Challenge community to co-design the Education in Emergencies (EiE) Alliance: a six-month open innovation network intended to support innovators, leverage resources and collaboration tools, and fuel ongoing innovation in this field.

The Alliance brought together diverse stakeholders in the EiE space, supporting 40 promising innovators from the EiE Challenge Shortlist, funders, and industry expert advisors. In the Alliance, these advisors offered hundreds of hours of support by hosting 60+ Mentor Sessions, providing feedback and tools for teams to advance their solutions. Throughout, innovators connected and shared about their challenges, swapped ideas and inspiration, and learned from each other using the online platform. 

Innovator teams connected with Advisors around the world—pictured here on a video call—to apply human-centered design and progress toward their goals for impact together.

Three Insights from the Alliance

Over the course of the Alliance, we gained a few key insights we're glad to share with you.

1) Source inspiration from different global contexts and teams to fuel innovation. By sharing vulnerably and openly about her work with others, not only did Fakhira from Power99 find new ways to improve her programs and storytelling, but she inspired multiple innovator teams as they successfully scaled their work to over 100,000 beneficiaries in the hardest-to-reach parts of Pakistan. Her approach: being traditional enough to integrate across larger partners, but innovative enough to be inspirational and impactful to the children she serves.

"Before working with EiE I wasn't thinking out of the box. I was only thinking about focusing on my local community and my organization. But working with the EiE community has shown me the value in seeing what other people around the world are doing. This community inspired me and I learned a lot." 
          — Fakhira Najib, Power99

2) Leverage resources to increase a small team's capacity. InnoKido, as a smaller team, was looking to figure out a sustainable financial model and ways to scale impact creatively and resourcefully. They sourced a range of diverse perspectives from mentors and peers. Through collaborating with other Alliance members, not only did they redesign their business model, but they also created a video from scratch in the same time frame as larger teams.

“Over the last month, I’ve spent more time with people from the Alliance working on my project than with my own team. It’s been very inspiring and helped push us forward!”  
          — zeynep aykul, InnoKido

3) Sharing needs and best practices yields exponential growth.  We saw many innovators swapping skills to support each other, including key lessons learned through their work. This shared capacity and knowlege helped others save the time and energy of finding answers alone. Buddha Burman from BoomBuzz discussed best practices with other teams around connectivity and tech solutions in hard-to-reach communities, giving essential insights to other innovators interested in developing in this space.

A mentor from Google’s Jigsaw team shared with the Alliance:

“Leverage existing systems. Every system you don’t have to recreate gives you exponentially more time back.”
          — Marc HowarD, GOOGLE

Three Grant-Winning Innovations

During the Alliance, idea teams worked on crafting their storytelling skills by creating two-minute pitch videos about their work. As the Alliance comes to a close, we are delighted to award funding to three teams whose progress and videos stood out. Check out the winning pitches below:


InnoKido is a traveling STEAM education program/classroom that builds 21st century digital skills to/for/of the refugee and disadvantaged children in Turkey.


Playground Ideas supports anyone, anywhere to build a stimulating space for play using only local materials, tools, and skills. They plan to implement interactive play spaces in the Rohingya Refugee camp, Bangladesh.


Light of Hope has a solar-powered, portable, multimedia solution allowing teachers to turn any space into an interactive learning environment. They are implementing in the Rohingya Refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Congratulations to these winning teams, and thank you to all who engaged in the process. You can watch all videos and get familiar with the diverse group of innovators delivering impact for education in emergencies here.

There’s never been more momentum for change. As millions of young people flood the streets around the globe to demand urgent climate action, cities and social entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. Feeling this rising bottom-up pressure, governments, corporations, and multilateral organizations, like the UN, are accelerating their efforts to address massive global issues. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have provided a clear framework for action, and they’re helping align more actors than ever in the systems change we need.

OpenIDEO’s leaders, Jason Rissman and Luisa Covaria, spent the week diving into events and conversations, and came back to our team (and now you, our community) with three main themes they wanted to share as we work together to build a better world:

1. Ownership.

Since kicking off the Climate Strike a year ago, 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has been extraordinarily influential in striking up fierce conversations around climate change and inspiring millions of young people to start taking action. She delivered an unforgettable message at the UN Climate Action Summit, telling world leaders: 

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you." 

There’s a new urgency and commitment to addressing the climate emergency, and it’s translating into actors at all levels—from individual young people to national governments—starting to take more ownership. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “We have been losing the race against the climate crisis. But the world is waking up. Pressure is building. Momentum is growing. And—action by action—the tide is turning.”

Countries have moved past negotiation and toward ownership, showing up with their own commitments in unison with this year’s theme for UNGA: "Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion." During the week, 77 countries committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 139 banks—representing a third of the industry—signed up to align with the Paris agreement objectives. The UN member states also adopted a landmark declaration on universal health coverage. These are just a few of many examples of stakeholders proactively bringing forward their solutions. 


Sharing his observations from listening to diverse groups of Americans this past year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the audience that he saw a “tremendous urgency and a tremendous spirit of do-it-yourself … a deep sense that it had to become a matter of personal responsibility right down to the local level.” Echoing his statement, we’re proud of OpenIDEO's globally connected innovators for taking initiative and developing a sense of ownership around local problems. They’re tackling issues related to food waste, people on the move, education, public health, circular economy, and so much more, with dedication and ingenuity.

As we move forward, how might open innovation be a conduit for increased ownership and visibility into the work different stakeholders are taking on? How might the work of so many of the incredible innovators in the OpenIDEO community inspire leaders to develop a mindset around design and prototyping in the work they are owning?

2. Technology

"We will have wonderful machines and dumb people if we don't invest more in education,” cautioned musician and entrepreneur,, during a World Economic Forum panel focused on the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—or the multiple technological revolutions that are transforming the way we live and work—to meet global development goals.

“It’s not about connectivity—it’s about access,” noted Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance at the UN Foundation. “How do we provide access to 50% of the world not connected to the internet? SMS and voice won’t do it. How do we create content and opportunities that are relevant?”

It's crucial that no one is left behind. While technological innovation is surely part of the answer, uneven access and unequal digital skills will lead to adverse effects. For tech to improve lives in a responsible and even way, and to avoid even greater increases in inequity, we'll need new models of targeted education, responsive innovation, and real cooperation between economic, political, and social systems.


Tech needs to facilitate inclusion in addressing societal problems, by involving those who are most proximate to the problems that well-intentioned new technologies are aiming to solve. We believe that collaborative thinking leads to greater innovation, and that including the voices of those with lived experiences will generate even stronger solutions. Open innovation is in its infancy, and we’re excited to help it advance to better surface and support the social innovators our future needs.

3. Collaboration

Today’s problems are interconnected, and only through systems change can we hope to make real progress. This will require more cross-sector collaboration than ever, but first, we need to improve how these collaborations are created and sustained. It’s time to introduce new models of collaboration that distribute leadership and allow all sectors to pitch in.

The SDGs have provided a powerful framework for what needs to get done, and some of the biggest players in the public and private spheres are putting their heads together to unlock the resources necessary to meet them. During UNGA, Google and the UN launched a partnership to develop real-time maps on weather patterns and SDG development activity, while the Gates Foundation and the World Bank announced a multi-million dollar commitment to support small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.

Public-private partnerships are a necessary ingredient, as are new collaboration models that offer participants more shared ownership and flexibility.

The road to healthy collaboration is fraught with challenges, from getting past cultural differences to agreeing to common goals to making the long-term commitments needed for systemic change. Making collaborations work is hard work -- it takes empathy, grit, and a real understanding that it’s the key to sustained progress.


We’re excited for open innovation to provide a unique opportunity to rally diverse stakeholders and together explore new possibilities. By providing shared learning opportunities, clear timelines and processes, along with compelling incentives, open innovation holds the potential to mitigate against these common obstacles and to quicken the pace at which solutions are being developed by scaling the design process globally. Direct competitors collaborating in a pre-competitive space to address environmental challenges is a promising sign, but we need to go further. We all need to adopt an experimental mindset as a collective and work to continuously improve our ability to collaborate.

The NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, which culminated in a pitch event at UNGA, was one such collaboration, with leading brands, industry experts, and innovators coming together to eliminate single-use food packaging waste by developing a more sustainable cup. 

It is incredible to be in a room where you can feel a community reach a turning point. This year at UNGA we felt that shift tangibly across fields and sectors. We look forward to a year of collaborations with our partners and community that reflect this movement. 

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