Innovating towards culture change in the United Nations

WFP Innovation Accelerator
5 min readApr 29, 2022

Meet the 9 teams innovating towards culture change and a more inclusive workplace in the UN

By Michelle Joseph and Silvia Sironi

The World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator hosted a one-week virtual Innovation Bootcamp with eight United Nations (UN) agencies on 25–29 May, 2021 — to spark and catalyze promising solutions to address sexual harassment through leadership and culture change across the UN system. Nine teams dialed in from 16 countries for a week of innovation, human-centered design and behavioural science to strengthen their projects for implementation.

In order to improve workplace culture across the UN, WFP launched the UN Culture Change Innovation Challenge in collaboration with the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Task Force on Addressing Sexual Harassment. This is a UN-wide initiative to identify and support innovative ideas fostering a safe and inclusive work environment free from sexual harassment. Teams were selected after a competitive selection process to identify the most promising solutions.

During the Pitch Event on 19 May, the teams will get the chance to pitch their proposed solutions to key internal counterparts who can help drive further adoption and support for broader implementation. The Pitch Event will give teams the opportunity to share the progress they have made on their projects, as well as future plans and support needed.

Meet the teams:

1. Top Secret Helpline

Top Secret Helpine, a team from the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD), wants to create an application that will strengthen current channels through which staff can report cases of sexual harassment. The app will connect users with IFAD’s existing reporting channels in their native language and connect them to focal points for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse in all regions. This initiative would minimize barriers to reporting harassment cases, such as language and time difference, encouraging more people to speak up and seek help.

2. Mision Lias

Mision Lias, a team from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), seeks to develop an application that combines physical participation strategies with mobile application technology. The app will facilitate access to IOM’s reporting service for sexual harassment and abuse and include gamification elements to improve the learning process.

3. Barbershops to address gender and inclusion in the workplace

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has instituted robust policies and programmes to address sexual harassment and abuse of power. Yet, motivating staff of all genders to take actionable steps towards creating a more positive and inclusive culture is an ongoing effort. That’s why this team from UNHCR is working to create a space that encourages men to challenge sexual harassment and take responsibility for preventing it. It will create opportunities for staff to express themselves, listen, learn from peers, and help each other integrate practices that promote healthy and respectful professional relationships.

4. UN Digital ID Policy Integration of UNV Reporting Channels

UN Volunteers (UNV) is a talent pool of volunteers from around the world who can be deployed to volunteer with specific UN entities alongside UN staff. There is no system-wide reporting system for sexual harassment and abuse that connects UNV with all UN entities, and, each UN entity reporting system is different. The UNV team’s idea is to design a digital reporting channel within the UN Digital ID system, a digital wallet for UN personnel, for their personal, Human Resources, medical, travel, security, payroll and pension data kept over time. The digital reporting channel would follow the reporting protocols of a given UN entity and notify UNV when UN volunteers report incidences of sexual harrasment. This would provide confidential reporting channels ensuring better protection for UN volunteers.

5. ACT

Cultural patterns, norms and beliefs may influence how we think about sexual harassment. In some contexts, tolerance, silence, acquiescence, and victim blaming can take hold and become the norm. ACT, a team from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) seeks to change these patterns by developing an IT-based self-assessment tool to enhance a healthy working environment and increase self-awareness.

6. Our UN. Our Culture

Talking about sexual harassment in Iraq may be seen as a social taboo, which limits opportunities for colleagues to speak up or raise awareness of the topic. Moreover, colleagues of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) and those from particular races or genders continue to face a higher risk of sexual harassment. The Our UN. Our Culture team from IOM works to foster a workplace culture that upholds the shared values of the UN, promoting peer-to-peer accountability. The team aims to achieve this goal by actively engaging colleagues, especially those in leadership, to become changemakers. This will be complemented by new context-tailored learning tools focusing on different forms of sexual harassment, reporting mechanisms, effective interpersonal confrontations and diversity.


To prevent and address abusive conduct, UNAIDS is running the #RESPECT campaign, to increase colleagues’ knowledge and understanding of what behaviours are appropriate and what aren’t at the workplace. The initiative aims to build a harassment-free workplace — one conversation at a time and through constant review and iteration of the outreach strategy. #RESPECT is planning to reassess their campaign to further diversify interventions and activities, tackle power dynamics and better respond to the needs of people from marginalized groups.

8. #UsToo

#UsToo, a team belonging to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to develop a centralized digital platform that empowers employees, builds a community of supportive champions, and ensures accountability, transparency and progress. The initiative focuses on three distinct pillars: a Key Performance Indicators Dashboard, Anonymous Reporting and Training & Resource Platform. Over the course of the following year, the team plans to roll out a pilot program at the IAEA to test the platform, gather feedback, and iterate accordingly, before making the solution available to the larger UN system.


#UNA-IDEA is a team from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), working to create a culture of Inclusion, Diversity, Empathy and Accountability, free from any form of sexual misconduct. #UNA-IDEA is working to implement actions for UN personnel to take part in building an enabling work environment and instilling a sense of belonging. The project will kickstart regular discussions between diverse groups of staff to complement existing efforts connecting staff to management. UNA-IDEA will aim to cultivate a culture of dignity and respect through two activities: 1) a three-step community statement to which all entering UN premises must commit or recommit and 2) a “buddy” system or “mystery coffee” with UN personnel, providing pairings across groups, representing diversity in contract types, geography, etc.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch our videos on YouTube.



WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.