Covid-19 Response

The Response Innovation Labs are responding to the Covid-19 health crisis in four country lab – Somalia, Uganda, Iraq and Puerto Rico. Below are the identified challenges in each response, the innovation selected to match solutions, and activities being undertaken in support. To get notified of updates, please subscribe to our newsletter – click here

Last updated on 5/15/2020.



  1. Quickly and effectively disseminating public health and other messaging to all population segments
  2. Reaching rural populations with messaging
  3. Hygiene for children and elderly
  4. Bridging the continuum of relief to recovery and economic resilience
  5. Gathering evidence around best practices in the COVID-19 response to know what interventions are effective



RIL is working with the Somali health tech company, OGOW EMR, who have been translating WHO guidance and working with their public health expert at John Hopkins’ School of Public Health to develop localized messaging on Covid-19 prevention through animated videos. To date, the Ministry of Health has endorsed and shared these videos, and there has been widespread dissemination across Somalia. 

The RIL is also working with Poet Nation Media and Grit Partners Consulting, who a couple of years back developed a pilot episode for a children’s entertainment program in Somali called Geedka Mooska. The episode was quickly edited down and used to pilot an episode on COVID-19 prevention targeted towards children.

View the videos here:

The RIL is also working to disseminate messaging across other mediums of communication such as radio, and the established health hotlines.  The Ministry of Health will be a key partner in the further development and dissemination of the up and coming videos. 

Funding support this far has come from RIL and SomRep Consortium, of which World Vision is the lead, and includes Oxfam, Care, Action Against Hunger, ADRA, COOPI, DRC.

The following INGOs and NGOs are supporting the promotion and publication of the videos: Somali NGO Consortium, the Nexus Consortium, the SomReP consortium, World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam, the Cash Consortium, IRC, WOCCA, Shaqadoon, iRise, HarHub, Hanaaqaad Hub,  M2A, Radio Ergo, the Cash Working Group, the BRCiS Consortium, DFAT, SIDA, SDC, and USAID.

Surprise Soap

RIL is working with a global innovator called Surprise Soap to contextualize the innovation down to Somalia and develop distribution channels. An additional aspect is being investigated on local manufacturing of the soap.  

Radio Drama

RIL is partnering with International Media Support (IMS), who run the Radio Ergo platform in Somalia. This short-wave radio broadcast covers the entire Somali speaking region, and their partnership with 18 local FM partners rebroadcast their programs. Together we have developed a radio drama that will entertain listers and address COVID-19 related subject matter. Poet Nation Media will also visualize a select number of episodes so that they can be used to help engage children.


  • Using the local Somali Ecosystem, the RIL conducted a mini-assessment focused on understanding the needs and priorities of the humanitarian actors in the COVID-19 response. Click to view results.
  • Coordination between different implementing agencies in Somalia to distribute and roll out the messaging across multiple media channels, including adapting it for frontline workers to use and disseminate at the household and community level.
  • Advocacy with donors and government
  • Networking and leveraging innovative actors to develop content and creative means of distribution
  • Networking with the private sector to scale up distribution (radio, Tel Cos…) and Subject Matter Experts, such as public health, child protection, religious leaders and experts,  to ensure content is credible and contextually appropriate
  • Contract management by seeking waivers and approvals for sole-source procurement, issuing contracts, etc. to respond and implement activities quickly.

The Somalia RIL is actively looking for continued funding to support the development of these videos. Additionally, if you have a channel to promote these videos in Somalia, please do so

Please contact if you have an innovation that responds to this challenge or would like to connect directly.



  1. Access to protective gear
  2. Lack of adequate handwashing facilities, and little micro-manufacturers around Iraq for production



A challenge has been identified that women and girls in refugee camps do not have menstrual hygiene pads. The global supply chain has been disrupted, and they are unable to source needed materials into camps. The innovation of SafePad – a reusable, anti-microbial pad, is available and funding is needed for the sourcing and dissemination. These have been piloted with great success last year in Iraq.

PPE Micromanufacturing 

Another global supply chain disruption has been the availability of PPE products in Iraq. The lab is looking into micromanufacturing of PPE materials through local makerspaces. Face shields are affordable durable, re-usable and cost-efficient, and can be manufactured quickly. In addition, they can easily be disassembled for sanitization, thus increasing their usability. Face shields are generally not used alone, but in conjunction with other protective equipment and are therefore classified as adjunctive personal protective equipment.

Micromanufacturing of a Food Operated Handwashing Unit 

The lab is looking into local micromanufacturing of the foot-operated handwashing units, which is characterized by its simplicity, easy installation and maintenance, and low cost. The innovative design allows people to wash their hands by opening the tap with their feet instead of using hand, in doing so preventing the possibility of infection through repeat touching of many hands to the tap handle in public wash facilities.



  • Alternatives to in-school education for children using low-tech options
  • Sensitization and preventative messaging to remote areas, without relying on traditional community mobilization options
  • Health Call Centers being overwhelmed with the frequency of calls
  • Maintaining food assistance to refugees while respecting social distancing rules



An identified challenge has been the ability to reach all households, especially those in remote areas in Uganda and refugee camps with awareness and prevention messaging on Covid-19, as well as maintaining communication on other programs for refugees during social distancing. Uganda RIL is focusing in on process innovation and working with a global innovation – Audiopedia – and a specialized NGO, Internews, RIL has positioned partners to work together to distribute household audio devices with preloaded messaging on the Covid-19 in the local languages. In doing so, it circumvents the need to hear radio programming at a certain time, enable those with disabilities more time to absorb complex information, which also helps prevent miscommunication. The devices can be reloaded and reused, thus living beyond just Covid-19 response. We are currently looking for funding to get this project up and running.


  • An identified challenge as been, the use of bar (solid) soap at public handwashing stations due to theft and continuous handling with risks of further disease transmission. In response to these challenges, Engineers Without Borders USA and Uganda RIL have launched a call for Ugandan innovators on the design of a solid soap dispenser for public handwashing stations. The submission deadline is May 24th. Click here to learn more.  
  • Uganda RIL’s main focus is on the preparation of a COVID-19 Crisis Response Info Hub that will respond to emergency stakeholders (from Government, donors, NGOs, UN) needs in terms of information, best practices, and innovations and serves to connect responders with innovators and potential partners.
  • The innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Uganda is vibrant and in these times of crisis response to COVID-19, several innovation & incubation platforms in the private sector are trying to coordinate and support individuals and entrepreneurs in the development of practical solutions to the crisis. They have reached out RIL for support in connecting to the humanitarian and response community. However, sometimes their suggestions or innovations are not addressing real concrete challenges faced by humanitarians today, thus the Response Innovation Lab proposes to form a core group of the principle COVID-19 humanitarian response stakeholders (NGOs), support them in articulating core concrete challenges to the current response and support them in engaging with those innovation and incubation platforms.

Actions to be taken by the RIL are:

        • ensure innovators and entrepreneurs receive relevant insights in terms of the challenges faced both by 1) the most vulnerable groups and 2) the NGOs trying to serve these groups
        • provide ethical guidance and the framework of Core Humanitarian Standards to the innovators while they are developing solutions
        • ensure that solutions focus on most pressing needs and use appropriate approaches rather than looking at the easiest needs or shiny-tech solutions.

This will help innovators/entrepreneurs frame their solutions and contribute to the development of a cohort of tailored innovations for NGOs responding to the COVID crisis. Beyond the initial design sprint and mentorship, a small amount of prize money could be attributed to the best ideas to make a direct investment in refining their social-impact solution.

Please contact if you have innovations that respond to these challenges or would like to connect directly.

Puerto Rico


  1. Rural areas lack access to health care and risk exposure when traveling to facilities and doctors.
  2. Elderly populations are not able to access medical care or basic needs, such as groceries, without risk of exposure.
  3. Lack of Personal Protective Equipment plagues Health Care workers.
  4. Low-income jobs in service industries, such as retail, hospitality, childcare, and the informal economy cannot be performed remotely.
  5. Low income is associated with higher rates of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, factors that increase vulnerability to COVID-19.
  6. Most people living in poverty have no savings to weather a lack of food that represents an impossible financial hurdle.
  7. NGOs and service organizations lack the capacity to track funding opportunities available for COVID-19 response, including federal reimbursements for the emergency.
  8. Lack of internet access for children engaged in learning from home. 
  9. Poor contact tracing systems and a defaulting  


  • Comprehensive list of online educational and entertainment (EDUTAINMENT) resources has been compiled with many INGOs contributions and is made available to the population at large, via an Excel document. Emphasis given to STEM education resources.
  • An award will be given to Innovations from the Resuélvelo Boricua contest among students from 6th-12th grade in the Public and Private school system.  
  • Working with the Puerto Rico Science Technology and Research Trust (PRST) on the development of distance tele-medicine learning, which would supplement on-going investments from the Trust. The idea is to build health connection centers in rural areas where people can access communications with their doctor or health care provider as opposed to traveling long distances.
  • Hosting Convening Webinar events:
      • Understanding challenges and gaps from stakeholders, such as the federal agencies, health providers and institutions.
      • Initiating Podcasts with related content for resiliency and continuity of operations
  • Sharing designs from MIT on respirators in response to the Manufacturers Association request to PRST for local manufacture locally in medical devices facility.  Additionally, this includes support from SIEMENS to P18 PPE producers.
  • The PR RIL facilitated the matchmaking of The Sewing Cooperative with financing from other cooperatives to buy material for the production of face masks and gowns. 
  • The PR RIL is working on the 3-D local manufacturing production of hand-washing stations, a designed from Oxfam and developed in Tanzania and Uganda. These stations will be delivered to the League of Cities to place in their tent medical facilities erected outside large hospitals where COVID-19 screening is being conducted. 
  • Coordinating with AARP to track and document elderly populations in need on the Island. The outcome will be published resource listing for available assistance to the elderly.
  • Assisting in the geo-location of Puerto Rico communities with prevalent current conditions. .
  • Coordinating innovations and innovators with the needs of at-risk populations. The lab is looking to produce a catalog of local and non-local innovations to solve COVID-19 related challenges.  
  • Matchmaking private sector resources, such as agents of change, advocacy or direct services, with stated needs of the at-risk population. This is done predominantly for businesses and to promote restarting the economy. Included in this effort is the production of the Resilient Business curricula that will be shared with the university faculty and business promoters.
  • Referrals of innovations and existing resources from subject matter experts to agencies seeking solutions to problems of populations at risk.
  • Coordinating a list of funding sources and reimbursement procedures available from foundations and federal agencies. 
  • RIL is planning a Convene event with major transport carriers, such as ISPs, submarine cable companies, and local philanthropic groups (led by The Hispanic Federation) to identify solutions to problems of internet connectivity of school children. 
  • Currently, the PR RIL is looking for innovations to respond to the growing need of elderly populations needing groceries, but the risk being too high for them to travel. At present, PR RIL is supporting AARP, Hispanic Federation, Oxfam, League of Cities and World Central Kitchen with technical solutions to identify locations and inventories of elderly not on social service networks, thus would not be able to be easily located.

Please contact if you have an innovation that responds to this challenge, or would like to contact the lab directly.