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Refreshing GIFs Open Window

By Malcolm Spence, Open Innovation Lead  |   Posted 19th March 2021

One of the core tenets of the Global Innovation Fund is a commitment to Open Innovation, the idea that innovation can come from anyone, anywhere.

Since GIF was launched in 2014, we have maintained an ever-open window for applications and in that time have received thousands of applications from across the globe. The open application window enables us to encounter and uncover innovations we would otherwise be oblivious to and provides fantastic insight as to the dynamism of the international development sector. Perhaps most importantly, applications reviewed through the open window require GIF to continuously reflect upon where our capital can be most impactful.

In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, development challenges have become more acute. For the first time in twenty years, we are seeing an increase in poverty, with the total number of COVID-19-induced new poor in 2020 estimated to be between 119 and 123 million. The need for innovation and the kind of flexible capital GIF provides has never been pressing or more urgent.

The belief that innovation can come from anyone, anywhere, is at the heart of what we do, but this is not to say that we can fund any impactful development initiative. GIF’s criteria are intentionally open, yet purposefully selective. Over the last few months, we have worked to refresh how we position the open window and the application process to make it work better for applicants and easier for prospective applicants to assess their fit with GIF before submission.

A new ‘What we Fund’ section lays out in simple language what we are looking for. Our mission is to identify solutions with the potential to address development challenges at scale more effectively than existing approaches. This means the work we fund must be focussed on the poor and not already common development practice. Further, applicants must share the evidence which makes them believe their innovation can be impactful, cost-effective, and feasibly scaled to benefit millions of people. GIF’s grant to Breakthrough, for example, was informed by rigorous evaluation showing the positive impacts its gender equality curricula has on the gender attitudes held by adolescent girls and boys, and the commitment from the State of Punjab to scale the innovation state-wide. Another example from our portfolio is WhereIsMyTransport, which uses data and technology to map formal and informal transport networks and develop solutions for sustainable urban mobility in emerging-market cities. Given how crucial informal transport is for millions of urban poor, this data can enable them to plan better and save time, as well as drive efficiencies for providers and regulators. GIF’s investment is helping WhereIsMyTransport fulfil its potential to achieve impact at scale and reach millions of people.

In both cases, these innovators are using evidence to make the case that their innovation can tackle a development challenge at scale. The most common reason an application isn’t taken forward is because it fails to articulate these criteria on innovation, evidence and scale are met. For example, applications for work already widely practiced do not meet GIF’s innovation criteria. Similarly, we receive many applications for locally focussed projects with no pathway for scaling up the underlying innovation, a key consideration for GIF.

As part of the refresh of the open window, we have improved our guidance on the types of funding available and how GIF’s criteria differ across the three stages of funding we provide – pilot, test and transition and scale. We have laid out our application process and provided a new FAQs section covering some of the practical questions on the application process. A pre-application checklist allows applicants to take stock of all the things to consider before starting, and, lastly, the length of the application form has been reduced to make it easier for applicants to complete and focus on the key pieces of information we need to make an initial assessment against before reaching out to those that pass this initial screen to learn more.

The demand for the kind of patient, flexible and impact-led capital that GIF provides continues to rise, and while it is not possible for GIF to support all the impactful applications we receive, we want to hear from innovators across the world who are driving new solutions with the potential to achieve big impact.