Introduction to the Global Innovation Fund

The Global Innovation Fund, or GIF, is social impact-first investment vehicle that works with mission-aligned development agencies, philanthropy, and other funders to find and fund evidence-based innovations with the potential to positively impact the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. We play a distinct role alongside existing development assistance by taking smart risks public agencies cannot using a range of financial instruments to achieve our mission. We help guide entrepreneurs through their journey to scale using a venture-style staged funding approach where more speculative ideas receive smaller amount of support and increased funding follows successful testing and achievement of proof points.

Often, entrepreneurs’ good ideas fail to generate their full potential social benefit because there is a mismatch between the kind of capital they need and the kind of capital available to these high-risk investments. At GIF, we help bridge this “pioneer gap” by providing grant, debt and equity financing to help the most promising entrepreneurs test, adapt, and improve their business model and innovations so they can attract commercial capital, or scale through public sector channels, and reach millions of people throughout the developing world.

GIF is supported by government development agencies such as the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Global Affairs Canada, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Swedish International Development Agency, as well as two Dutch foundations: Sint Antonius Stichting Projecten and Dioraphte. The Omidyar Network supported our launch, and we have co-financing partnerships with South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology and the Indian Rural Electrification Corporation, and launched a corporate fund anchored by Unilever in 2018 which has since been joined by Anglo American.

GIF is a company limited by guarantee and charity registered in England and Wales. GIF’s Board members are listed on our website. For full details on GIF’s governance structure, please refer to the GIF Governance Handbook.

Global Innovation Fund Investment Criteria

Any type of organisation may apply. This includes social enterprises, for-profit companies, non-profit organisations, government agencies, international organisations, and research institutions in any country. It is recommended that individual innovators, entrepreneurs or researchers apply through an affiliated organisation.

You can be based anywhere in the world, but the innovation must target people living on less than the equivalent of $5 per day (PPP) in developing countries. We are especially interested in innovations that impact people living on less than $2 per day (PPP) or vulnerable groups such as women and girls, the disabled, minority or indigenous groups, refugees or displaced communities, or other vulnerable populations.

PPP stands for purchasing power parity, and is a method used by economists to compare prices of goods in different countries. $5 per day PPP is an internationally recognised poverty line which is the equivalent to what could be purchased in the US with $5 in 2011. The World Bank provides data on the proportion of the population which lives below this line in developing countries here.

While we are open to applications in any sector in any developing country, we have precise criteria we use to assess the fit of your application. These are described on the What We Fund page of our website and summarised below: 

  1. Target market - We invest in innovations designed to bring benefits for those who live on the equivalent of $5 a day and we are especially interested in funding innovative solutions that impact those living on less $2 a day or other vulnerable or disadvantaged groups.
  2. Innovation and Impact - We define an innovation as any solution which has the potential to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries more effectively than existing approaches. So, to meet our criteria your approach must be a new approach which is not already commonplace, and you must be able to demonstrate how you think it can improve upon alternative solutions.
  3. Evidence - We expect that innovations we support are informed by evidence of what works. This evidence might focus on the changes in the lives of your beneficiaries or customers or ‘how-to’ evidence on how your solution can be deployed or scaled successfully. Our expectation of the level of evidence needed increases with the level of funding requested. More information on this can be found in the guidance on Stage of Funding. GIF also expects that our funding contributes to the evidence base for an innovation.
  4. Scale - GIF only funds innovation which have the potential to scale to benefit millions of people. Scaling can take place through in any number of ways– growth of a successful business or uptake by a government partner, for example. The million lives collective showcases some of the innovations supported by GIF and others which are either reaching millions of clients or on their way to doing so.
  5. Team - We look for innovations which are backed by teams which demonstrate a deep understanding of the problems they are tackling and the context in which they are working. Applicants should demonstrate the track record and skills needed to leverage the partnerships required to succeed and navigate the challenges which come with scaling innovations.

GIF receives a high volume of applications which do not meet GIFs core criteria above. The most common reasons applications are unsuccessful are described on our website.

Applying to the Global Innovation Fund

You can apply for GIF funding through a simple application form on the GIF website, but please carefully review the guidance before deciding whether to invest time in preparing an application. Start by reviewing What We Fund and What We Don’t Fund to gauge whether there is an initial match between your funding needs and GIFs investment thesis and criteria.

Our open application window opens four times a year – in March, June, September and October.

GIF has a staged funding approach, whereby the amount of funding available is tiered according to the level of maturity of your innovation and the activities proposed. The three tiers are:

  • Pilot – the innovation is at an early stage but you have a credible plan for how it can be developed and tested in a real-world setting. Funding of up to USD 230,000 is available to test core assumptions around operational, social, and financial viability.
  • Test and transition – the innovation has already shown promise of success at a small scale, and you have some information on your operational, social, and financial viability which you want to solidify before you scale. Funding of up to USD 2.3 million is available to support further growth and generate additional evidence on whether the innovation can achieve social impact and market viability, for commercial innovations.
  • Scale – the innovation has a strong evidence base and logistically credible plan for scaling to reach millions of people. Funding of up to USD 15 million is available to expand the reach of innovations with a view to reaching millions of people in the long term if successful.

In the event you are invited to submit a full application, the GIF team can advise on the most appropriate stage of funding for your proposal. More information on GIFs tiered approach can be found on the Stage of Funding section of the GIF website.

GIF provides a range of financing types, including grants, loans (including convertible debt), and equity investments. The fund expects applicants to present a clear rationale for the type of financing for which they are applying.

If you are a non-profit and your innovation does not involve generating revenues from users or customers, a grant is likely to be most appropriate. However, we have the flexibility to provide blended finance solutions depending on your funding needs.

GIF is prohibited from providing grant finance for purely commercial or profit-making activities. If your funding needs centre around setting up or growing a commercial business, it is recommended you apply for debt or equity. However, for-profit entities may apply for grant finance where the output will benefit the public in general. This may be when creating a new market, working in partnership with government or when producing resources that are intended to be of general public benefit (‘public goods’). For-profit entities can also apply for grant finance to undertake evaluation activities to understand and share the impact of your innovation on people living in poverty, or an evaluation that is expected to benefit the development sector as a whole.

GIF seeks to make a financial return on debt and equity investments that is risk-adjusted and rewards impact, does not harmfully distort the market and enables other capital to be crowded-in.

There are some activities GIF does not fund. These include:

  1. Theoretical research, or purely lab-based activities not linked to implementation of a specific proposed real-world pilot or demonstration project.
  2. Approaches only applicable in a single country (unless the innovation is expected to scale to a large proportion of one of the worlds the most populous developing countries).
  3. Innovations involving the support of a political candidate or party.
  4. Innovations where the primary purpose is to support the broader innovation ecosystem, such as incubators, accelerators, or other innovation funds.
  5. Innovations involving any product or activity deemed illegal under applicable laws or regulations or subject to internationally agreed phase-outs or bans as defined in global conventions and agreements (such as dealing with certain hazardous chemicals or ozone depleting substances, and any activity that endangers protected wildlife).
  6. Innovations that involve production or use of luxury goods, soliciting prostitution or engaging in human trafficking, terrorist activity, or use of prohibited drugs, gambling and pornography.

Yes, we are currently unable to accept applications in languages other than English.

GIF receives an extremely high volume of applications and therefore we are unable to comment on specific innovation ideas or proposals and whether they would be a ‘good fit’ before an application is submitted. 

Your application is subject to an internal review against GIF criteria by members of the GIF investment team. If we would like to learn more about your application, a team member will contact you to arrange a follow-on call. If your initial application is successful, you will be invited to submit a full application including information on your team, budgets, and plans. We will also request information on your organisation and key staff members to enable us to complete environment, social and governance due diligence including anti-money laundering checks in accordance with our ESG and privacy policies.

Information in your application may be shared with third parties to inform our decision-making process. Please see our Investment Privacy Notice and Application Terms and Conditions for more information on how we use the information in your application. The Application Process section of our website includes more information of the decision-making process.

GIF aims to respond to initial applications within ten weeks of submission. If you are invited to submit a full application, GIF due diligence processes typically take between six and nine months to conclude from receipt of your application.

We provide feedback on a case-by-case basis. Due to the large number of applications we receive it is not possible to provide each applicant with feedback.

Applicants can only submit one initial application for each project or idea, but an organisation may submit more than one application at a time if each application is for a different innovation.

Yes, you may submit a new application for an innovation which has been rejected previously, provided the new submission includes significant changes from the previous application.

The information provided in your application will be used by GIF to decide whether to progress to full due diligence and ultimately the decision whether to invest. GIF’s due diligence and decision-making process involves the use of external reviews and advisers. Please see the application terms and conditions and investment privacy notice for more information on how we will treat your information and for how GIF processes personal information.

Applicants are encouraged to complete a short survey upon submission of their application. We use this information to inform changes to our application tools and processes.

Use of GIF funds

If your funding application is successful you will need to comply with GIF’s Recipient Code of Conduct that outlines the fundamental environmental, social, governance and business integrity standards that GIF expects to see in place. Successful applicants will also be required to have an anti-bribery and corruption policy, a whistleblowing policy, and a grievance policy, as well as policies that outline its HR practices and policies. Depending on the size and stage of your organisation, GIF may require you to develop policies or processes that are deemed fundamental for your organisation to maintain ethical standards.

All successful applicants in contact with children and/or vulnerable adults will be required to have in place safeguarding policies and/or procedures that are proportionate, tailored to their work and which reflect local laws.

For more information, please see GIF’s ESG Policy.

GIF can provide targeted technical assistance and venture support to organisations in its portfolio to address critical risks or leverage opportunities. We can also provide access to our global network of innovators, experts, funders and investors, as well as support innovators to crowd in additional investment.

The investee fully owns intellectual property developed with GIF funding. However, in line with GIFs mission, such intellectual property must be used towards helping people in developing countries earning less than $5 PPP a day. For more information please see our Global Access and Intellectual Property Policy.

GIF seeks to maximise the social impact of its investments in innovations by using disciplined methods to (i) forecast the impact of prospective investments and use this information to guide investment decisions, (ii) track project performance and impact during implementation, using real time information to adapt and adjust as necessary and (iii) evaluate investments after their completion to better understand how investments fared (and why), using this evidence to guide future GIF decisions; and inform decisions made by other development partners. Our Practical Impact (PI) approach provides a structured way of forecasting the long-term impacts of early-stage innovations. During project selection and diligence, GIF computes Practical Impact as:

Breadth of impact X Depth of impact X Probability of success

Breadth is the number of low-income people projected to benefit 10 years after the initial investment. The ten-year horizon is chosen as an index of the progress towards long-run maximum scale of the innovation. Depth of impact is a universal measure that covers economic and noneconomic benefits. It captures relative changes in consumption or standard of living. Probability of success is assessed by considering the risks along the path to scale. For more details, please consult GIF's practical impact methodology.

GIF’s strong emphasis on evidence generation means that many investments will incorporate rigorous measurements of depth and breadth of impact. A more detailed description of our approach to research and evidence can be found on our GIF for researchers page. Please see the guidelines for research transparency for more information on topics including pre-registration, pre-analysis plans and open access publishing in GIF-sponsored impact evaluations.