How GIF investments are harnessing the power of creativity.

By Lilith Foster-Collins

Apr 19, 2024

United Nations World Creativity and Innovation Day takes place on the 21st April, and is a chance to raise awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development.

Innovation offers the solution to many of the key challenges facing the world today. It can harness economic growth and job creation, as well as providing solutions to problems such as poverty eradication and the elimination of hunger.

Innovation is essential in coming up with new solutions to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and at GIF it is something we value and celebrate. We recognise that the best innovations for solving some of the world's most critical development problems can come from anyone, anywhere. We back innovations with the potential for social impact at a large scale, whether these are new technologies, business models, policy practices, or behavioural insights.

Each of our investments represents a new creative approach to solving a key problem. Ahead of World Creativity and Innovation Day, we celebrate how a handful of our innovations are contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals.

GIF investment One Acre Fund (1AF) tests and scales ground-up innovations in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, to assist smallholder farms to increase productivity and income. GIF invested $15m in the form of a grant, to help test and scale new farming innovations and conduct a randomised control trial (RCT) in Kenya.

The innovation has been hugely successful. By the end of 2019, 1AF had provided direct services to over one million farmers. Results from the RCT and 1AF’s internal monitoring found that 1AF farmers earned on average $96 more per year than comparable farmers. Results also showed that non-participating, neighbouring farmers were learning from 1AF farmers and earning $17 more in income.

The initiative contributes to Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals: to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Smallholder farmers are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the developing world: half of the world’s undernourished people, three-quarters of Africa’s malnourished children, and the majority of people living in absolute poverty can be found on small farms.

StrongMinds uses local community workers to lead Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy for treating depression for low income women in Uganda and Zambia. GIF’s grant of USD 1.6m supported Strongminds to significantly increase their reach through partnerships with civil society organisations and governments, as well as refine their IPT-G approach institutionalise a deeper gender focus across the organisation.

StrongMinds has increased the number of people, largely women, treated for depression from 22,943 in 2019 to 133,238 as of end of September 2023. Over the grant period, they also successfully built eight new partnerships for replication of the IPT-G model with various NGO partners and government agencies in both Zambia and Uganda. IPT-G has now been delivered by over 1k government community health workers in Uganda, and is being delivered to adolescents in government schools in both Zambia and Uganda.

Goal 3 is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, but access to mental health care is limited in many parts of the world. StrongMinds’ cost efficient, community based model offers a creative solution.

Breakthrough’s innovation Taaron ki Toli (TKT) aims to change gender attitudes, aspirations, and behaviours of students to shift gender norms in India. The initiative tackles Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and Goal 5, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The evidence based gender equality curriculum for adolescent girls and boys was evaluated by J-PAL and found that TKT leads to significant improvements in gender attitudes for girls and boys, as well as positive changes in boys’ behaviour.

S4S Technologies employs rural women as processors to operate their innovative dryers which use solar power to preserve the produce of smallholder farmers in India. They can earn double the annual income they make as farm labourers while operating the portable dryers from their own homes. Goal 8 is to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. By offering women well compensated work as food dryers, S4S addresses the challenge of expanding decent work as well as preventing food from going to waste.

Mr Green Africa recycles and sells ethically sourced materials with a traceable social and environmental impact in Kenya. Emerging market cities such as Nairobi grapple with significant waste management challenges, producing thousands of tonnes of waste daily, where approximately half is collected, and in the instance of Nairobi only 10% recycled. By collecting waste ethically and recycling it, the innovation reduces the need for virgin plastic resin. The initiative addresses Goal 12, to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

GIF investments demonstrate the power of innovation, how a single creative idea can be actualised, scaled and rationalised into real widespread change. Human creativity and innovation on an individual level, with the right structures and support, can be truly world-changing. It is only by harnessing the power of innovation that we can meet the Sustainable Development Goals and address key development challenges.