Save the Children, in its founding, was a form of innovation—it was certainly a disruptive idea. Nearly 100 years ago in 1919—as Europe and the world reeled from the devastating effects of the First World War—a young British woman named Eglantyne Jebb made the argument for the first time that children had rights. This thought, coupled with Jebb’s call to aid orphans of the war in Eastern Europe was unheard of and deeply unpopular. But she persisted, believing that children were innocent of the crimes of their parents and entitled to rights as individuals. She founded Save the Children because she saw a wrong and was determined to right it—and the regular way of doing things simply wasn’t going to fix things.
Since then, Save the Children has pioneered new approaches throughout our history and we’re not afraid to try new things in pursuit of giving children a chance at survival, education, and protection. We worked with GSK to take a common ingredient in mouthwash and turn it into a potentially life-saving treatment that can save babies’ lives and we’ve partnered with MasterCard to safely and effectively provide access to food for families in humanitarian crisis through electronic vouchers.
In 2016, we took innovation to the next level and created a formal innovation program. My colleague, Kevin McAndrew, and I co-lead our innovation strategy with a small and mighty team of innovation champions* – nine technical experts across Save the Children’s programmatic and functional areas. In addition, we have the amazing support of Iris Wen, who keeps the wheels on the innovation pipeline and all of us!
The innovation champion role is a tremendously important part of our approach to innovation, so we have been careful to identify a group of individuals who understand the complexities of our global organization, have been naturally acting as innovators already, and are known as leaders and collaborators on the leading edge of best practice in their respective areas. The innovation champion positions are only funded at a 10-20% level of effort (LOE), pushing us to be truly efficient and focused. And we need to be, because the innovation champions are a key resource for staff as they develop their innovative ideas.
Innovation Pipeline – How does it Work?
Save the Children staff have the opportunity to submit ideas into our innovation pipeline twice a year. After gathering ideas from staff, they are analysed by our innovation group, developed into concept notes and finally pitched to our Innovation Council—a group of representatives from within Save the Children and external innovation leaders—to award seed funding for a pilot.
Next comes the true test: putting the innovation into action as a pilot project in the field, measuring results and determining if it can move forward. If yes, the innovation pilot moves out of the pipeline and into the next phase: replicating the idea and bringing it to scale to have the greatest impact for children.
Innovations at Scale
Save the Children’s greatest value is our unique ability to bring innovations to scale, thanks to our combination of pioneering ideas and a century worth of experience, global partnerships, and presence in 120 countries around the world. Innovation continues to be a driver in everything we do and is a key component in our Theory of Change, where we are charged to ‘be the innovator’ and develop and prove evidence-based, replicable breakthrough solutions to the problems children are facing.
Working to make the world better for children can sometimes feel like an uphill climb—but Save the Children never shies away from a challenge. While we’re constantly looking to overcome new obstacles to helping children, we’re also looking for ways to reinvent and reinvigorate our efforts to have the greatest impact.