On mothers, necessity and invention

A woman, two children and a dog hugging and smiling for a photo


UNICEF’s recent experience in Ukraine suggests that humanitarian crises both necessitate innovation to enhance responsiveness; and can be critical in driving innovation forward.

While the human cost of this war has been well-covered, it is worth underlining the magnitude of these impacts. The United Nations estimates that within Ukraine, there are 17.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and 7 million people have been displaced. The impacts on women and children have been disproportionate – at least two-thirds of children have been displaced, and 90 per cent of refugees who fled the country were women and children.

As in other large crises, the scale and rapid onset of the Ukraine war required swift action. A key pillar of UNICEF’s humanitarian response within Ukraine has been the provision of cash transfers to households with children to enable them to provide for their families’ needs with dignity and flexibility. To implement this pillar, UNICEF took a risk by developing a new online self-registration form to facilitate an accelerated reach to households in need, including in the hardest-to-reach areas. This online platform went live on the 30th of March and, in 2022, enabled the reach of 584,870 children in 225,000 households – a total of 1,026,746 people, with typical payments of approximately USD 900 per household. The use of online registration was particularly critical to the geographical reach of the programme, enabling UNICEF to make transfers to those hardest to reach and in the middle of the conflict. The piece reflects on lessons learned during this experience, focusing on innovation and risk-taking in humanitarian contexts and strengthening accountability to affected populations and people-centered data.