By Jonathan Wong, Head of DFID’s Innovation Hub
It’s an exciting time for innovation in global development. New actors are looking for new, transformative solutions. Foundations and social impact investors are looking to invest in innovation and technologies that have the potential to deliver both high social impact and economic returns. The technology, design and creative industries are exploring how their skills and expertise could have an impact in the developing world.
At the same time, more young people want to start enterprises with an engrained social purpose. Some of the most promising development innovations are being pioneered by commercially sustainable social enterprises that aim to deliver positive social change. We are entering the age of the social entrepreneur.
In order to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities this landscape provides, new ways of stimulating innovation and new models for effective collaboration are needed.
A VENTURE-STYLE APPROACH
I’m really proud that DFID has recently launched the Global Innovation Fund (GIF), a partnership between the UK, US, Swedish and Australian governments and the Omidyar Network. A not for-profit organization headquartered in London, the £125 million fund will invest in social innovations to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty in the developing world.
Borrowing from the experience of venture capital, GIF offers three stages of financing to pilot, test and scale innovations. The fund supports innovators who are committed to using and generating rigorous evidence about what works, and invests in innovations that can demonstrate evidence of success.
“GIF supports innovators who are committed to using and generating rigorous evidence about what works, and invests in innovations that can demonstrate evidence of success.”
GIF seeks innovative solutions that can scale up commercially, through the public or philanthropic sector, or through a combination of both in order to achieve widespread adoption. The organization will also support innovations through the funding “valley of death” — that is, the funding gap between early-stage donor grant funding and seed-capital and mid-to-later stage social and commercial investment. It will do this by providing funding to get innovations market-ready and to an investable state, and by brokering links with social impact and commercial investors.
GIF is grounded in the belief that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. It’s open to innovations in almost any developing country, across any sector, from any organization and from early seed testing to later-stage scale.
A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
While GIF will work to take proven ideas to scale, there is still work to be done in terms of sourcing new ideas from fresh perspectives — and finding ways to make development more accessible and collaborative.
Working in partnership with the human-centred design firm IDEO.org and OpenIdeo, DFID’s Amplify program is a place to experiment with the process for identifying innovative solutions to stubborn development challenges. It will tackle 10 development challenges over five years using an open, collaborative design process, and will provide funding and design support to the most promising solutions from each of the 10 challenges.
The program works by setting a challenge and sharing it on OpenIDEO.com, a platform of over 50,000 participants in IDEO.org’s online community. The participants then work through a four-stage design process, tackling the challenge in phases — from research to an open call for ideas into shortlisting and refinement, and finally evaluation and funding.
At DFID, we developed Amplify and GIF to support a broader base of innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and designers to apply their skills to development challenges.
I’m looking forward to seeing whether they are successful in developing more relevant, impactful, cost-effective, sustainable and scalable solutions. What is certain is that new approaches are required to exploit the potential of the rapidly shifting innovation development landscape.
Jonathan Wong, Head of DFID’s Innovation Hub