Tapping into new perspectives on humanitarian innovation

Last week, NRS International was honoured to visit some of the informal tented settlements in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Home to many thousands of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, our tour of the camps gave us a valuable insight into the needs and wants of residents. We saw which products lived up to their promise of improving lives, and which could be enhanced even further to best suit beneficiary needs.

NRS International | Tapping into new perspectives on humanitarian innovation

At NRS International, we pride ourselves on listening carefully so that we can manufacture products that can have the most impact. Public-private partnerships are at the heart of this approach. Our clients have amassed vast experience of humanitarian response, so we incorporate such expertise into our product design. And we listen to beneficiaries themselves, for they, after all, are the actual end users. Here are just a few examples from our subsidiaries…

Protecting the most vulnerable against fire

Destructive camp fires are all too common, and during our Beqaa Valley visit we heard of many such incidences in recent years. Some are accidental, whilst others are the result of arson, but one thing is certain: the loss of life and damage to property is devastating for refugees, who have already lost so much. Yet the risk of such fires can be dramatically reduced. NRS Relief was the first to develop and introduce fully fire retardant (FR) tents and tarpaulins, an innovation that guards against loss of property, injury and death from fire. Years of extensive research and development took place under the guidelines of UNHCR and IFRC, with the final products meeting the most rigorous international standards. Thousands of beneficiaries around the world are already protected from these FR tents.

Reducing the risk of water-borne diseases

When arriving in a camp, collecting water is a top priority for refugees. All camps, whether managed by governmental, UN or NGO agencies, generally have a supply of clean water piped into it. However, refugees often arrive with few, if any possessions, and so resort to collecting this clean water with dirty containers. This negates the advantages of a clean water supply, and increases the risk of water-borne diseases. NRS Relief joined forces with Oxfam as manufacturing partner, and the result was the Jerry Bucket, whose tight-fitting lid stays fixed on the bucket due to an improved rim lock design. This ensures that the water container is only used for drinking water rather than washing clothes, feeding livestock, and other unsuitable uses, and so cuts down the risk of disease.

Overcoming artemisinin resistance

Malaria persists in the forests of the Greater Mekong region. Slash and burn agriculture means that men or entire families often sleep overnight in deep forest or recently cleared fields. Normal LLIN tools cannot be used effectively in this context. Without access to healthcare these people are highly exposed and subject to improper malaria drug use and substandard drugs. This population represents a reservoir for malaria, and the consequent artemisinin resistance threatens the global fight against malaria.

In conjunction with local residents and by partnering with the Institute of Tropical Medecine Antwerp,  TANA Netting developed the innovative, fit-for-purpose Canopy Hammock with an integrated DawaPlus® 2.0 long-lasting insecticidal net. A separate rainfly protects against wind and rain. It can even be converted into a small tent for use in cleared fields. By involving beneficiaries every step of the way, this product had an immediate 94.6% user acceptance rate.

Brightening future prospects

Our new solar subsidiary, NRS Enlight, aims to create a better life for people living without reliable electricity by tapping into a free, clean and renewable source of energy around us: the sun. It has just embarked on a journey to give people access to life-improving tools such as clean light, (smart)phone chargers and home appliances, and to offer businesses reliable energy. By widening access to electricity, we can open up a whole new world of possibilities, for millions.

Recently we teamed up with the IFRC Shelter Research Unit to develop the Solar Shelter Kit, an innovative solution that will bring light and connectivity to beneficiaries living in tented settlements.

Adding new impetus in the fight against HIV

The newest addition to the NRS International family, Ulinzi Latex, will manufacture and supply high quality, totally reliable and affordable reproductive health products for the institutional market. By 2022, its aims to become the largest condom manufacturer worldwide by volume. Its products will play a key role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, and will empower the 225 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy, but have limited access to modern contraception.

Enriching public private partnerships with bottom up innovation

All these solutions are the result of a cycle of innovation that invites all actors, whether NGOs, governments, academia or beneficiaries to contribute to the end result. This cross-cutting process sees the true value of public-private partnerships being realised. Yet this top-down approach can be further enhanced by embracing the opportunities presented by bottom up innovation. We can learn so much from the beneficiaries themselves on the ground. Communities affected by crisis, wherever they may be, participating in creative problem solving, moulding products and processes to meet their unique challenges and opportunities.  By tapping into this deep well of knowledge, we can continue to develop products that benefit even more people in need.

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