Our commitment to open innovation extends to COVID-19 response work that has the potential to limit the outbreak and protect life. Find out more.

Apply for funding

Reflections on the Global Innovation Fund’s First Chapter

Posted 30th July 2015

Last July we put the finishing touches on the bylaws that would govern the Global Innovation Fund. We incorporated our initial board, I was brought on as interim CEO along with a small startup team, and we officially opened for business in London in September 2014.

Two weeks ago we were thrilled to announce the appointment of Alix Zwane as the Fund’s Chief Executive Officer.  When Alix takes the helm on August 3, it will mark the start of the Fund’s next chapter, and I wanted to use this post to celebrate the advancements of the team thus far and share a few reflections.

To identify and scale the most effective innovations in international development, the Fund applies a distinct mash-up of venture capital’s tools with a strong focus on evidence of social impact.  And this has captured global attention and resources.  In December 2014 we obtained $200M in generous support from the Fund’s founding partners: the UK’s Department for International Development, the U.S. Agency for International DevelopmentAustralia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Omidyar Network.  We’re also grateful for the support from 10 Downing Street and the White House and media coverage from the Financial TimesCNN (Op-Ed)DevexHuffington Postthe Guardian, the Center for Global Development.

Our distinct mission has also helped us attract high-caliber talent.  We have screened 2,000 job candidates and recruited our first 6 exceptionally talented hires who have over-delivered relative to my aggressive targets.  We are close to finalising a second set of hires and expect to expand the team again in the Autumn.  (You can keep an eye on our job vacancies here).

The overwhelming response from innovators has validated the Fund’s value proposition.  We knew that the best way to learn and get better at our jobs required us to open for business.  So we posted our investment criteria and instructions to solicit investment funding online and opened our application window in September 2014.  Over the last 10 months, the Fund has received over 2,300 investment proposals proposing activates in 115 countries.  The diversity (see figures below) and quality of these proposals confirmed our hypothesis that there are gaps in the market for smart, flexible capital that works across sectors. We have completed initial reviews of 2,200 proposals (the remainder arrived only recently) and as we anticipated, we have learnt important lessons.

 

We have an exciting and diverse set of initial investments, with more to come.  Our investment committees, which include external experts along with our team, have approved a diverse array of investments, including a convertible debt deal, a Series A equity round, two core operating grants and a Randomized Control Trial grant and we have begun disbursing capital.  Shortlisted proposals are also currently being run through our social and technical appraisal process. Stay tuned for the Fund’s 2015 public announcement of our first cohort of investments.

Like many of its investments, the Fund is an idea that is undergoing testing and scaling to deliver on its considerable promise. Despite rapid progress, most of the work for the Fund still lies ahead. We have had a lean startup mentality—trying to build pieces fast, make mistakes quickly and cheaply, learn from them and get better in the next iteration.

It has been an honour to work for the Fund over the last year, but the Fund’s best is yet to come.  What will I miss the most?  The people.  The Fund’s Board and staff are world class and have taken substantial steps to operationalising this novel approach to international development.  With Alix’s leadership, the power of this team, an inspiring mandate, and the support of a number of thoughtful partners, I am optimistic that in upcoming decades the Fund will blaze a trail as it helps its investees deliver big social impacts to millions of the global poor.

 

Jeffrey Brown

Interim CEO