The accelerating power of collaboration in innovation and humanitarian response

WFP Innovation Accelerator
6 min readJun 10, 2024


Have you ever wondered what happens when a tech and humanitarian organization unite as an accelerator of change? In light of the ongoing crises across the globe, such collaborations to enhance humanitarian efforts are more crucial than ever.

By Lucy Bloxham

Over the past six months, the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator and Google’s Accelerator team, supported by Google, have embarked on a journey of innovation and disruption to bring the world closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the WFP Humanitarian Ventures Accelerator. This piece explores the role of technology in driving innovation within the humanitarian sector and examines the power of collaboration in the fight against global hunger.

“In the end, for me, it’s about — does somebody just talk the talk or do they also walk the walk? I can just speak from my perspective as a Googler, but I think that’s what we achieved…to also walk the walk together.” — Lukas Pollman, Customer Engineer, Google

The engine: A metaphor for change

Innovation is, and always has been, part of the very DNA of WFP. As Executive Director Cindy McCain recently shared: “Innovation is the engine that drives the organization forward, allowing it to reach the most vulnerable people, even in the most challenging and remote areas.” Yet, as with any engine, it is imperative to reiterate and build new models to improve its power, durability and sustainability. And, as with any engine, in order to achieve this, those behind the machine must work together.

Ten ventures created and developed within WFP were selected to take part in the WFP Humanitarian Ventures Accelerator to progressively build innovation solutions to global hunger and scale their impact. These innovations, which leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud computing and data analytics technologies, focus on improving emergency response, supply chain efficiency and support for smallholder farmers.

Adopting technology to enhance humanitarian efforts

One such innovation is GeoTar, WFP’s cutting-edge geographic targeting tool that revolutionizes decision-making through user-friendly geospatial vulnerability analysis informing humanitarian actors towards more targeted assistance.

When using geographic targeting to identify areas in need of assistance, outdated data can damage the effectiveness and fairness of food assistance. By taking into account climate change, agricultural capacity, service utilization and access, GeoTar creates detailed vulnerability maps to enhance operational decisions in WFP country offices for humanitarian assistance. The team uses both satellite and drone data in a specific region, for example: data on vegetation, access to services, and infrastructure like roads, hospitals and amenities. The data is then processed using machine learning and statistical modeling to make recommendations and forecasts as to where humanitarian efforts should focus depending on the vulnerability calculated.

A geospatial vulnerability index in Afghanistan, GeoTar.

Already being implemented in countries such as Afghanistan, Chad, Bangladesh, Lebanon, and Ethiopia, Geotar presents potential cost savings of up to US$100,000 per country office and contributes to a 30 percent increase in targeting accuracy. Geotar informed prioritization of 6.5 million people in Afghanistan in 2023. Recognizing GeoTar’s effectiveness and potential, the team wanted to expand the tool across WFP and make it more cost-effective and sustainable to maintain.

Using his technical expertise, Google Customer Engineer, Lukas Pollman, worked with the team to identify their vision and put together a realistic timeframe for their needs. He facilitated the transition of the platform from a laptop to a cloud environment, leveraging Google Earth Engine and enabling the delivery of specific data to local decision-makers.

So, what was the result? This shift to the cloud enables knowledge-sharing and scalability across WFP, meaning there is the possibility to establish it as a mainstream tool and make it easier to adjust and add additional features in the future, enhancing WFP operations even further.

“GeoTar’s advancements have allowed us to support an unprecedented number of countries in record time, reducing our response lead time to just three weeks from request to deployment. This agility, crucial in emergency response, has been greatly appreciated by our teams in Afghanistan and Chad, impacting the lives of six million and one million people in the two countries, respectively.” — Kareem Sadik, Senior Targeting Analyst, WFP Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division

AI for smarter mission planning

Securing transportation and accommodation becomes significantly complex and challenging when attempting to do so in remote, isolated deep field areas with geographical and logistical challenges. The UN Booking Hub, run by WFP for more than 20 UN organizations and thousands of humanitarian organizations, streamlines critical travel and lodging services, including United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights, UN Accommodation, and light and armoured vehicles. It is dedicated to ensuring the safe movement of international humanitarian communities when they are on emergency missions. However, currently each service must be booked individually due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders and different service providers in the field.

So the team’s question was: How could we improve this process to enhance cost efficiency and help humanitarians move?

Executive Director Cindy McCain about to take off from Al Arish airport. Photo: © WFP/Julian Civiero

Rania Mohamed, Solution Architect and Customer Engineer at Google, worked closely with the UN Booking Hub team to define and implement an AI solution to optimize humanitarians’ mission planning and travel resources, to cut down on planning time, accelerate emergency response and optimize utilization of travel resources.

“We decided, let’s make life easier for people. We are there to support people, whether the person is on mission or on the ground, is the fleet manager or the person who is managing the guest house or the vehicles or even running on operating UN flights.” Rania Mohamed, Solution Architect and Customer Engineer, Google

In just two months, the team had implemented an AI solution which identifies the most efficient path and optimizes resource use. Now, models are being developed to enhance search and recommendation processes. These models adapt to changes such as different drivers, guest houses or routes, ensuring the best option is always recommended. AI and Machine Learning is used to suggest these dynamic changes, optimizing the travel experience.

“Thanks to Google’s expertise in AI technology, we are able to implement a proof of concept and are ready to scale across countries and UN organizations in just two months’ time. We are delighted with the result and collaboration which helps more humanitarian workers to reduce mission planning time, accelerate real-time rapid responses, optimizes flights, accommodation, and transport resources to multiply efficiency and cost savings. It is also scalable to adapt to real-time changes.” — Gail Chan, Senior Innovation Manager, World Food Programme

Passengers disembarking a WFP-managed European Union Humanitarian Aid Flight Super Puma helicopter in Pama. Photo: © WFP/Benoit Lognone

The power of collaboration

“Technology and innovation is there to make people’s lives better, no matter what. It’s not there to promote cruelty or promote power or promote anything else other than really helping each other. And I think definitely with the tech companies, we have an opportunity to promote that.” — Rania Mohamed, Solution Architect and Customer Engineer, Google

Effective, meaningful collaboration like this allows us all to leverage each other’s strengths and find new, innovative mechanisms to respond to humanitarian needs.

“By harnessing the power of innovation and technology, together, we aspire to drive meaningful change and address global food insecurity,” said Stuart McLaughlin, Director, Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships at during the programme’s announcement at the 2024 World Economic Forum.

However, it was not only the innovations that benefited from this collaboration: “The fact both sides ended up learning so much more than we initially anticipated — learning from each other’s knowledge and unique challenges and coming together to work on something so crucial — it connects us all on another level and will last beyond the programme.” — Pati Jurek, Senior Program Manager, Google Accelerator Europe

In the current context of worsening crises and funding gaps, partnerships and innovation have never been so important. As the Head of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, Bernhard Kowatsch remarks: “Working together to bring together cutting-edge technology from Silicon Valley and big global problems faced by hungry people across the world, this programme can kick start the future of humanitarian response.”

And this collaboration was just the beginning.



WFP Innovation Accelerator

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