In October 2010, USAID announced that they had awarded 8 organizations with Development Innovation Ventures Grants. These grants seek to work with a variety of partners to create innovative scalable solutions to core development challenges.
Here are a brief profile of some of the awarded organizations and how they plan to use the funding:
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) –Cellular Monitoring: Improving Governance in Afghanistan will determine whether mobile reporting can improve governance and accountability in countries. The Stage 1 grant would be used to develop and to measure the effectiveness of a mobile SMS election monitoring platform in reducing election fraud in Afghanistan during the coming parliamentary (Wolesi Jirga) elections. The proposed research design involves a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT), the ‘gold standard’ method for measuring the impact of innovative projects. The effectiveness of mobile monitoring will be measured by focusing on “quick count” monitoring—whereby Afghans at the polling stations send an SMS picture of the polling center tally which, by law, will be posted in the center after counting is completed
Innovations for Poverty Action – IPA will be receiving funding to design and evaluate an innovative financing model for farmers in Sierra Leone. As well as finance, the bank will also provide storage for farmers’ produce, allowing them to sell when prices are high rather than in the immediate post-harvest glut.
Lighting Rural Uganda with Solar (LRUS) – The ultimate goal is to develop a model that can be tested in an area with low levels of electricity available and then rolled out across the country. The project objective over a 12-month period is to promote Rural Solar Access via Consumer Cooperatives enhanced societies (ACCESS) retails in Uganda’s least electrified district of Kalangala. Working through existing structures at the village level, the project Solar ACCESS retails is owned by its members. The leadership of ACCESS retails will receive training in various topics.
Dimagi Inc – Dimagi’s mobile phone application, CommCare, includes multimedia prompts to deliver maternal health education The Accredited Social Heath Activist (ASHA) program serves impoverished families in rural areas with a nationwide goal of ensuring at least minimal access to healthcare for all of India’s poor. The availability of mobile networks in otherwise disconnected communities has created the means for novel information exchange, but these channels have yet to be used to their full capacity. Dimagi’s mobile phone application, CommCare, includes multimedia prompts to deliver maternal health education, regardless of literacy level or local dialect, and its workforce management platform will help promote more consistent, quality care, extending the reach and effectiveness of the ASHA in the community.
SiGNa Chemistry –E-Bike The E-Bike: Practical, Scalable, Pollution-Free Mobile Transportation by SiGNa Chemistry will develop the E-Bike, an affordable fuel-cell powered bicycle that provides both a clean, efficient mode of transportation and a portable, general purpose power source. The 300 W fuel-cell power module that powers the E-Bike will incorporate SiGNa’s unique clean energy storage solution, which operates at one-sixth the cost, weight and volume of existing battery technologies. The prototype bicycle will be rugged, lightweight, and have a base range of up to 100 miles, which is 300% farther than the range achieved by equivalently-sized high-performance batteries. The portable power module will be designed for easy removal from the bicycle so that it can also be used as a stand-alone power source for non-transportation functions. The only emissions from the E-Bike will be water vapor and air. Usually, scooters are powered by internal combustion engines (one of the highest emitters of green-house gases and air pollutants).
Jhpiego Corporation –Pilot Study of a Proteinuria Self-Test for Early Detection of Pre-Eclampsia, an extremely affordable, reliable test to detect pre-eclampsia among pregnant women. This screening gives a result that is easy to read. The technology and its delivery have the potential to reach millions of underserved or unreached pregnant women and its use has the potential to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, thereby contributing toward Millennium Development Goal 5. Jhpiego, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (JHUCBID) will continue to refine the technology design and engineering of the Proteinuria Self-test, and then conduct a pilot study in a rural district of southern Nepal to assess the test’s acceptability and feasibility for use at the community and household levels by community health workers and pregnant women.
This model of funding is taken from the private venture capital model with the hopes that investing in higher risk ideas the impact will be greater. Using business techniques in the social sector is not always effective but providing an opportunity for organizations to try untested research based ideas may prove to be a stronger way of problem solving than continuing with the established methodology. Only time will tell, but many of these initiatives sound like they may create instrumental change. We will continue to check back with these organizations to gauge their progress towards their goals. For more information on the Development Innovation Fund visit USAID.gov