White House Innovation

You can ask “an organization” all day long to do something, but the basic building block of getting things done is an individual.   Individuals from multi-disciplines with talented skill sets are those who spark ideas and they are also the gears that drive innovation. Humanitarian aid and technology are not new partners but in order for them to be effective they must come with effective systems, processes, collaborations, testing and adoption by the industry. Both FEMA and the White House recognize this fundamental idea.  This week, Cat Graham and Chris Thompson from Humanity Road were at the White House for the Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day on July 29th.

The event was hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and led by Brian Forde Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.  We were honored to collaborate with dozens of other innovators as well as private citizens, public officials, and technology companies and to learn about new innovative technology and collaborative solutions.  Each of the participants at this catalyzing event are part of the engine which is driving change for humanitarian aid.


Workshops were conducted in the morning and in the afternoon, participants listened to presenters on new innovations in disaster response. The breakout sessions in the morning involved a user centric approach and included members of the public impacted by disaster along with private industry, academia, nonprofits and public officials. Members in the the social media breakout session including Chris Thompson worked on defining problem statements that could be further explored for innovation. Ideas were crowdsourced from participants in the room and documented for follow up.

Economy Platforms was another breakout session and Cat Graham worked with members in this breakout session on identifying opportunities to support disaster through collaborative platforms.

The afternoon session was conducted in the auditorium of the Eisenhower building where selected presenters provided information on their innovative solutions. These included collaborative efforts and tech development types of innovation.

During the afternoon session, Tony Surma CTO of Microsoft Disaster Response announced the Yammer survivor network. This new offering is built upon successful previous deployments of Yammer which connect people to one another and support resources in response to the Boston Marathon Bombings and Hurricane Sandy.

No strangers to collaboration and innovation, Tony Surma and Pascal Schubert also spearhead the Humanitarian Toolbox a collaborative platform for humanitarian technology projects.

We saw new products and innovative partnerships and worked on ideas for more innovation this week. Moving innovative solutions from idea to implementation takes collaboration among the whole community.  And the event hosted by the White House provided a wonderful peek into the process and people involved and most importantly, we heard from disaster survivors about how these innovative solutions help after disaster.