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Oxfam Innovation Lab

Outside the Kabiyet Dairy in Kenya, a truck with the capacity to carry 10,000 liters of milk—all collected from local farmers—is readied to deliver it to a creamery about 40 kilometers away. Ami Vitale / Oxfam America

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The private sector has a vast and growing influence over people living in poverty. To end the injustice of poverty, Oxfam must find new ideas and new ways of engaging and harnessing the private sector to pro-poor ends.

To fulfill our mission in the 90-plus countries where we operate, we need to make those ideas work on a global scale. That is why Oxfam has created the Innovation Lab, a systematic way to identify core challenges with potential for market systems solutions, seek out good market-based ideas, run pilot projects to make them better, communicate what we learn, and encourage others to take up initiatives with a proven track record.

Oxfam has developed a model of innovation incubation that is based on timely intelligence gathering and strategic research. Based on findings from our rapid scans of trends and real-time assessments, we design new initiatives in a collaborative effort among Oxfam’s private sector department, strategic research unit, policy department, creative communications team, and country offices’ programmatic teams. Ideas for innovation pilots emerge from a mix of intelligence gathering on the ground and trends and horizon scanning at a global level.

Our private sector and research teams work together with country offices to develop a pilot. Our monitoring, evaluation, and learning team designs a system to provide real-time data for rapid pilot adjustments. Our creative team gathers journalistic stories and stakeholder profiles to generate high-quality mixed-media communications, showcasing personal perspectives and lessons learned. The Innovation Lab provides the space for collaborations between staff within these departments to generate the fully cycle of work involved in successful piloting.

Research informs every phase of the Innovation Lab's work. We perform strategic research to identify promising ideas and analyze the local market in which they will operate.  Our strategic research unit has a wealth of experience generating rapid scans of trends, organizing expert meetings on development challenges and potential solutions, and engageing in longer-term strategic research projects for designing evidence-based interventions. In addition to information Oxfam's own program and advocacy agenda, our research is used by philanthropic foundations, multilateral organizations, and other international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). 

Monitoring lets us know what's working and what isn't. We have built a world-class research and evaluation team. Once an initiative is up and running, we study its impact to be sure it's achieving measurable results. We are constantly learning and improving.

Influencing policy, always at the heart of Oxfam's work, is the key to allow great ideas to flourish. We partner with local organizations, producers, and entrepreneurs to advance locally sustainable solutions. Active citizens must have the capacity to engage with markets and market actors effectively and to hold governments and coproprations accountable.  

Oxfam has decades of experience working at local, national, and global levels. In collaboration with Oxfam offices in more than 90 countries, we are able to draw from and connect ideas across the world. We have developed an approach to the private sector tha t seeks maximum influence through a mix of pressure and partnership. We engage closely with business, government, and civil society leaders to ensure that solutions are systemic and sustainable.

The Innovation Lab is a natural outgrowth of our proven model to take great ideas, incubate them, and bring them to scale. We are increasingly turning to impact investing - coupling innovative financing mechanisms with social and environmental returns - as a way to grow our most successful initiatives. We now have projects at every stage of the pipeline: 

  • Women in Small Enterprise (WISE) This initiative is poised to make its first loans to allow women entrepreneurs in Guatemala to grow their businesses later this year.
  • Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) This new certification program focused on food safety, environmental stewardship, and farmworkers' rights is earning reveneue and expanding on farms throughout North America.
  • Behind the Brands (BTB) This campaign targets the 10 largest food and beverage companies in the world.  It has produced major wins, from improving the lives of female cocoa suppliers to ending land grabs in the sugar supply chain.
  • Rural Resilience Initiative (R4) This major innovation insures smallholder farmers against the risks of climate change, and is now active in two countries as part of its global expansion.
  • Poverty Footprint Study (PFS) This methodology was recently adopted by the UN Global Compact as a proven means to measure and surface companies' impact on human rights.

**For more information, please refer to the Oxfam Innovation Lab brochure**

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