Advice from this year's OECD prizewinners? Don't reinvent the wheel

Farmers participate in a training given by the African Cashew Initiative in Ghana. ACi is one of the winners of this year's OECD prizewinners. Photo by: Terrie Schweitzer / CC BY-NC-SA

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced Wednesday at its Paris headquarters the winners of its second annual “DAC Award for Taking Development to Scale.” Judged by development professionals across the public and private sectors for their scalability and innovation, 10 finalists and three winners included a mobile payment platform, a network of plant health clinics, a cashew manufacturer and a pay-per-use solar energy provider, among others.

Asked what he felt distinguished this year’s winners among the more than 10,000 applicants, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD Douglas Frantz observed that, in addition to meeting scalability and innovation criteria, all awardees demonstrated results while partnering with government.

“What we saw here across the board — and something I think is especially important for meeting the [Sustainable Development Goals] — is the ability to partner with local governments,” he said. “What we need to see more of is partnerships between innovative entrepreneurs, philanthropists and governments willing to adapt to the innovation coming their way.”

Others, like Janny Vos, strategic partnerships director at the U.K.-based nonprofit CABI and the recipient of the award for Plantwise, a network of plant clinics, observed a strong willingness to share information, access and business models with other development players.

“There is no pettiness, no possessiveness, we’re not reinventing the wheel, we like to work with partners and disseminate research of ourselves and others,” she said. “At the end of the day we want the benefit to spread and for local governments and others to feel ownership over these ideas.”

Devex spoke with this year’s winners about lessons learned while scaling up, goals for expansion and how they hope to shift the status quo for the traditional donor relationship.


Led by U.K.-based nonprofit CABI, Plantwise is a network of plant clinics that offers residents advice about agricultural ailments and pests, recording plant data in a “knowledge bank” in partnership with the national agricultural bodies. Plantwise has clinics in 34 countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia, offering an alternative to agricultural merchants that often offer advice, but at a steep price and inconvenient distance to rural farmers.

Vos said that from the outset, Plantwise is seeking to become a “[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]-type” institution for plants comprised of hundreds of independently-operated clinics. By 2020, she told Devex, it is hoped that Plantwise clinics will be wholly sustained by national governments, and that the knowledge bank will become a global resource for tracking agricultural trends and plant illnesses globally.

“We’re looking at mechanisms of keeping the knowledge bank — which isn’t owned by anyone in particular but we feel very responsible for — sustainable and critical as a separate resource for governments,” she said.

Branding Plantwise apart from CABI also sets the stage for the project’s long-term independence.

“That’s the beauty of calling it Plantwise and not CABI, because we have Plantwise in Malawi, Kenya, and they have very strong ownership of the program, and we try to facilitate and encourage that as well,” she said.

African Cashew Initiative

The African Cashew Initiative, founded in 2009, set out to increase the annual net income of 430,000 cashew farmers in Africa, increase the rate of cashew processing and production and create new jobs along the way.

Through a novel multistakeholder approach, ACi met and exceeded its income-based goal, adding more than $90 million to the salaries of more than 330,000 workers in 2014. As of last year, ACi added more than 5,000 jobs to the sector, 75 percent of whom are women. Utilizing its private and public sector partners’ advisory and technical expertise, ACi continues to work along the entire cashew value chain and establish linkages between farmers and processors and local production to regional and global markets.

Asked how ACi managed to balance the interests of dozens of stakeholders and partners — including the German aid agency GIZ; the U.S. Agency for International Development; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; U.S., Asian, European and African snack companies; and local and regional manufacturers, among others — Mary Adzanyo, director of private sector development for ACi, pointed out that the goal “was not to please everyone involved.”

“From the very beginning the private sector had their own interests in the business, and the public sector had its own stake in national government policies,” she told Devex. “I’d say that we have come really far in balancing the objectives of development with industry through joint learning — that’s the secret of our success.”

Adzanyo added that when you link industry with development, “you find everyone has a role to play.”

ReadyPay Solar

Brian Warshawsky, chief operating officer at Fenix International, the U.S.-based solar energy company that created ReadyPay Solar, a pay-as-you-go solar energy producer in Uganda, told Devex that the idea came about when Fenix saw a lack of access to solar energy at the local level in rural Uganda.

“Large scale [national and regional] installations are important for electrification and industrial use,” he said. “But in emerging markets, insufficient generation capacity and limited grid coverage prevent many rural customers from accessing electricity.”

The gap in access, he said, is mostly due to the high-cost barrier to entry for solar energy. For household use, the cost of equipment and maintenance is often too high for remote Ugandans.

“Our customers lease their own home solar systems, meaning they control their own power, and we focus on rural areas where the grid does not reach,” Warshawsky explained.

As a mainstream solar energy provider, Fenix’s biggest obstacle in scaling up ReadyPay Solar, the COO said, was the steep learning curve “to launching a product for base of the pyramid customers.”

One key lesson, he said, “was the paramount importance of end-consumer financing.”

Fenix originally sold solar home kits with a cash sales model, “but only when we implemented pay-as-you-go-technology did adoption take off.”

Lessons learned for the OECD

Frantz and others pointed to the awards as an opportunity to question OECD’s engagement with locally owned organizations and projects going forward.

“I think we need to first of all remain a resource and knowledge base for these programs, for all of them, and we need to keep open the avenues for cooperation and for sharing the standards, practices, experiences and the expertise that has developed over the past half-century or so,” Frantz said.

Frantz added he hoped the OECD can help support such partnership-rich, locally owned innovations and “get rid of that mythical image of the OECD as only for rich countries.”

“These prizes do that so well,” he said, “because we’re recognizing the work being done in the developing world by organizations that aren’t necessarily part of the old world view of the OECD.”

The DAC Prize 2015 was awarded in partnership with the OECD Network of Foundations Working for Development — NetFWD — and Devex.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.